by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Few Sons Are Like Their Fathers
It’s no secret that, just a few years ago, the Assassin’s Creed franchise appeared close to death. The victim of annual sequels that lost the magic built up by the fantastic first few games in the series, releases seemed to come and go without much fanfare or notice. That changed in 2017, though, when Assassins Creed Origins, after a brief break from yearly releases, came out swinging. Reinvigorated, with gameplay tweaks, RPG elements and a new setting that all seemed to click, fans and critics alike were back on board. One game doesn’t make a trend, though, and fans waited with bated breath to see if, moving forward, whatever came next could stand up to what came before it. Well, Odyssey is here, and it might just be the best Assassin’s Creed game yet.
THIS... IS... SPARTA!
Rewinding the clock further than it ever has before, Odyssey brings players back to the 5th century BC during the height of Greece’s Peloponnesian War- and what a sight it is. Taking place over a map that’s absolutely bonkers in size, it’s got everything that I want to see in a play space. Bright greens and blues contrast deep browns and reds, and everywhere I went I was filled with a distinct sense of “aliveness”. Memorable characters, bounty hunters and wildlife fill every corner, and there are secrets to be found under every rock. Much of what can be said about the setting also applies to the story, which comes across as distinctly more RPG than the series ever has. Not only are Alexios and Kassandra, the male and female versions of the playable character, more interesting and layered than most AC protagonists, but they’re also able to interact with their world in more meaningful ways. Dialogue options let you make decisions both big and small, some of which shape the attitude of your character, and others of which seem to have more sizable effects on the trajectory of the plot. Combined the branching skill tree, the even-more-emphasized-than-Origins role-playing focus really works for the game, and I can’t imagine going back.
Combat continues to evolve as well, and you'd be hard-pressed to call Odyssey a stealth game. Stealth still plays a role, and you’re welcome to focus on it if you like (I did), but almost equal viability has been added to more traditional melee and ranged combat as well. The options presented in the skill tree seem daunting at first (is it better to go all-in on one, or become well-rounded?) but I quickly came to appreciate the options laid before me. It’s as satisfying as ever to sneak up behind an oblivious guard, but it’s now just as great to Spartan kick a poor soul off a towering cliff edge. I’m also happy to report that combat is again not limited to the land, with the lovely naval combat that has surprisingly become synonymous with the franchise returning once more.
This Peril Too Shall Be Something That We Remember
While I really did enjoy the (extremely long, by the way) Greek campaign, anyone who has even casually followed the Assassin’s Creed franchise knows that the modern-day portions of the game have been a jumbled, inconsistent and largely inconsequential mess for quite some time now. Gone are the days of Desmond's budding narrative, ripped away and patched into something else on the fly. This isn’t a new complaint, but the issue only becomes clearer as the franchise evolves away from what it was and into what it looks like it’s going to be. We’re at a point where the developers need to pick a side: either cut their losses and let the games exist in their own eras, or commit to giving the modern day narrative some direction and coherence to move towards something worthwhile. As it stands, riding the middle line does a disservice to both and is my biggest complaint about Odyssey, and eventually it’s going to be something that fans make a bigger stink about.
I know we’re far removed from the fantastic Assassin’s Creed 2 at this point, but I’ll never stop bringing up that I miss the sense of “legacy” that it brought. For years, Ubisoft had a recognizable “mascot” in the form of Ezio - a face for the franchise that represented the series and, to a lesser extent, the company. This was because we were able to follow him for multiple games across multiple stages of his life. But, for some reason, that’s been eschewed ever since in favor of one-off protagonists. The franchise no longer has a “face”, or even much of a look now that the white robes and hidden blades have taken a back seat. I think Assassin’s Creed needs that again, especially now that we’re back to games players and critics are celebrating. It’s not something I hold against Odyssey as far as this review goes, but I can’t shake the feeling that the games need to slow down and dig into a set of characters again.
Despite my few complaints, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey truly is an incredibly entertaining game that proves Origins was no fluke. I’m back on the hype train, baby, and I can’t wait to see where the next stop is (even if I wish it’d rest at the same station for another year or two). No longer a simple stealth game, but instead a massive, detailed, sprawling roleplaying game, Odyssey just might be one of my favorite games of 2018 so far.
Massive, engaging world, memorable characters, well-done RPG elements, varied combat options
Modern-day sections feel unnecessary and dull