For those of you who have followed us for a while now may be aware of my love for the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Through good times and the bad, I have stuck by the series and was particularly keen for the arrival as Odyssey as Ancient Greece offers many storytelling opportunities along with gameplay and location scenarios. At the time of writing this, I have played for around 20 hours so have a good feel for the mechanics and the size of this game but wanted to share my impressions of the game at this relatively early stage for those of you who are still considering whether to take the plunge. For this playthrough, I have chosen Kassandra with the hope that when I eventually finish the game, I may be able to play as Alexios for a spell.
It’s best to start at the beginning… I don’t mean that start of the Assassin’s Creed franchise story wise, but I do mean the overall approach to the games as they have developed over time. We have moved away from the linear story driven campaign which required you to ride between locations on a horse without fast travel with fairly regular moments outside the Animus. We have moved away from collecting feathers and sea shanties while swooning at our protagonists. Combat has developed, the necessity to leave the Animus has lessened (although it is still worth doing if you really want to fully engage in the story) but the game itself has grown. Origins was a taste of what to expect from Odyssey as we move from RPG elements integrated into an Assassin’s Creed game, we now have an RPG. While I am aware that some fans may not be sold on this, it feels like the natural progression for the game to move away from the old style of things but still retaining some aspects of the franchise we have spent so much time playing. In fact, something I have heard many people say ‘I haven’t played an Assassin’s Creed since the second game’ and I feel this is a shame but for folks who didn’t enjoy the old style, maybe the RPG Creed is what you have been waiting for.
I thought the opening was great mainly because it starts you off in the Animus as you make your gameplay selections. This includes difficulty, whether you want to be guided through the game or explore for yourself and of course, who you want to play as. I liked this as a more interactive way of making your choices and it also reminds you that the Animus is still a thing which we have ignored a little bit in the last few years. While there are moments that pull you back into the ‘real’ world, I have tended to try and get back into the Animus as quickly as possible taking a cursory glance around to find out what’s happening on the outside rather than taking time to really see what the bigger picture it. I’m hoping Odyssey will find a way to keep me interested in both as I go through the story.
I feel that it’s important to mention that this game is huge. I hadn’t realised quite how big the map was until I worked out how to zoom out. Egypt was big in Origins. It felt vast and unforgiving. Greece is a different beast as while there are large areas of rocky terrain to traverse, there is also ocean dividing the map to offer sailing opportunities as well as ship combat which is now well established since the days of Black Flag and Rogue. While it seems the story campaign could be completed in around 50 hours (and I have only scratched the service at this point), the game offers hours of gameplay with a mixture of side quests, contracts, mercenaries, arena combat and even just exploration to keep you occupied for a while. As for the story so far, I’m not going to spoil anything… all I can divulge is that from what I understand, the story will be the same for their character. If I’m honest, there almost feels like too much to do and it can feel a little overwhelming at times especially when you accept a quest that has multiple parts. Fortunately, you can ‘collapse’ these quest chains and focus on the one you want to do in the menu which is handy, but at times I couldn’t decide what to focus on so just ended up running around discovering places or picking up a contract from the message boards until I could decide. However this is both a pro and con of the RPG style as you sometimes feel overwhelmed with activities but sometimes it’s great to be able to go off track for a while and do something else.
The combat has moved on from Origins slightly and offers a challenge of its own. Shields have gone and have been replaced with a parry option which if timed right allows you to knock an enemy off kilter and hopefully get another hit in quickly. It feels difficult at times with the main challenge being when there is more than one enemy trying to take you down. This reminded me a little of earlier Assassin’s Creed titles when a fort of foot soldiers had chased down Ezio and you had to try and take them out one by one while countering their attacks. I have to admit, there were a few times I grew frustrated by being overrun by enemies, however I realised that this meant that I needed to have a more stealthy approach for those big fights. The only issue is when the game throws quest related fights at you that you have to win… but are likely to require 3 or 4 attempts to overcome the challenge. The main thing to note though is that combat is even more of your decision now as your melee and ranged attack wheels allowing you to pick and choose your abilities to be used in a pinch. This includes the amazing Spartan kick of course but also can extend to flaming weapons or performing a sweet finishing move for melee and the ranged wheel has similar offerings for your bow. At times I find the wheels fiddly and I haven’t worked out how to prep my wheels for for the best combat moves. I tend to panic and misfire meaning I have to build my adrenaline up again but sometimes, I execute the move perfectly and take down the soldier I’m fighting by driving my Spear of Leonidas through their neck. You can assign the moves you want to play with but have the option of changing this when you unlock something else you want to try out. I still need to work on this aspect of the combat but I do enjoy the challenge of picking and choosing my attack methods.
Building your Alexios or Kassandra is a case of armor and weapons coming into your ownership by looting or completing quests in order for you to pick and choose what you want to wear, improving the gear you want to keep and dismantling or selling the pieces you don’t want anymore. I have found armor to be pretty disposable with only a few items that I’ve stored in my ship for later because I like the look of them and might upgrade them when I reach a higher level. I tend to save the epic or legendary equivalent items for improving or engraving with additional benefits such as increased damage or resistance but dismantle or sell anything else. With weapons, I prefer swords over long spears or heavy weapons so don’t tend to keep a variety of weapons in my inventory and, again, offload these regularly to stick with the lighter, more agile weapons. I’m hoping I’ll take the plunge and start using some other weapons soon but for now I just can’t help but go with the sword and Spear of Leonidas combination. Now I’ve unlocked the secondary melee weapon, I’ll probably try and have something heavier but then it’s a case of remembering to swap when the time calls for it. The look and feel of the armor and weapons is pretty good, they all look ‘cool’ in their own way and as far as historical accuracy goes but I feel the damage output doesn’t feel that great. Because enemies scale up to your level for the most part, it feels like it takes forever to actually kill anyone if you engage in combat. Even stealth attacks/assassinations don’t necessarily kill people outright (even at the same level as you if they are a captain or elite soldier) which is fine to a point, but it does leave you feeling as though you’ll end up in combat no matter what which stops it being as much as a game about being an Assassin and starts being more like For Honour as you just fight your way through most situations.
Visually the game is pretty stunning with some breathtaking vistas and other than the occasional glitch with NPCs where they run on the spot or get stuck in places, it’s wonderful to look at. The photo mode returns and for those talented folks who are amazing at getting the impressive images that you may have seen circulating Twitter, you could spend hours capturing these photos and sharing them with others. The characters, the scenery and the Greek history could see your game hours creep up as you try to get that perfect moment. Luckily the buttons are in easy enough places so that if you are mid combat and want to capture it, you can do without worrying too much about things going wrong when you return to the action. It is a beautiful game which makes it a pleasure to play. The motion capture and character design is really good, other than a couple of times when the voice doesn’t quite match up with the emotion shown on the characters face, Kassandra and Alexios are beautiful to look at and their performances are great. With the change to RPG style and the addition of the dialogue trees, there are different directions you can take with how you approach conversations. I for example love trying to seduce as many people as possible mainly out of curiosity to see how far it will go… and it goes all the way… possibly too far at times. These may have dire consequences or affect how the story plays out later, but it does add a little bit more character building as you play and choose your path for your playthrough. Sound still plays a big part in adding to the feel of the game. My favourite aspect is Ikaros alerting you to nearby enemies as your beautiful Eagle cries out above you to give you a heads up. It took me a little while to guage that it was a warning but now I rely on it to make sure I’m not getting myself into a sticky spot by running into more danger or it lets me know to maybe let Ikaros show me what’s around me before going any further. It’s little touches like this that really show the care and thought that go into these games.
As previously mentioned, I have barely scratched the surface with this game and while there are a few little niggles here and there, I am enjoying Odyssey even though I have not had the time to dedicate to it of late. In some ways, I’m a little sad that some aspects have changed with there being more of a focus on engaging in combat rather than the satifying sneak attacks of yesteryear, but that won’t stop me playing the game and investing in the new appraoch. Now the winter nights are upon us, I’m hoping to carry on with the story and try out some of the skills and weapons that I haven’t given a chance yet to see how that changes my experience. At this stage, I think it is a good instalment in the franchise and the move to RPG style over previous incarnations of the series works following the soft launch of some aspects through Origins. In a way, I’m glad that Ubisoft are not planning to release a new Assassin’s Creed title next year as I want to spend more time with Odyssey and not feel as though I have to rush to finish but when I do, I will look back on the game as a whole and see if I feel as I do now, which I’m hoping I will. For fans of Assassin’s Creed from the start, I do hope you’ll enjoy Odyssey and embrace the changes Ubisoft have offered us in this game and for those of you who have considered giving Assassin’s Creed another go after giving up, you may want to give Odyssey a try and see if the newer way is better for you.