Assassin's Creed Odyssey review: A familiar history

Our Assassin's Creed Odyssey review discusses how Ubisoft brings a lot of familiarity to the table with its latest open-world installment of the franchise.

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Often when I’m wandering around open-world Ancient Greece, I find myself pondering why I enjoy playing Assassin’s Creed games so much. There are quite a few features that I dislike in typical Ubisoft open-world entries, but there is an undeniable helping of entertainment as well. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is no different. There are moments of jaw-dropping beauty and loads of fun, but it never takes too long for something pop up and spoil the mood. 

A Brief History

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey takes place in 431 BCE and focuses on a fictional version of the Peloponnesian War. Players get to choose between a male (Alexios) or female (Kassandra) character and will spend the first few hours of their journey learning the ropes in what could be considered the game’s tutorial region. The ins and outs of bounty hunters, weapon and armor management, the skill tree, naval, melee, ranged, and stealth combat are all introduced. Still, it took me about 10 hours until I felt I had the hang of things, long after I’d left the game’s period of coaching.

The most prominent decision that players are faced with before they begin, however, is whether they’d like to play in guided mode where waypoints and map icons pollute the heads-up display (HUD), or exploration mode where assistance is minimal, and players must figure things out for themselves. The game recommends exploration and I initially took its advice, but toggled back and forth between both and even went so far as to customize invidvidual pieces of the HUD. Having that option is great, as it gives players ample choices for what populates their HUD, and what is left off. Playing in exploration mode solved one of my primary gripes about previous entries; gameplay feeling like one big to-do list. 

The first few hours of gameplay also set the stage for the story, introducing Kassandra’s or Alexios’ life and giving a glimpse into their past. It was nice to know what my motivation was as I traveled about, but rarely was my primary goal uncovering the plot. I was more drawn to just being in the world and exploring the unknown, which is the point of open-world games as far as I’m concerned. That's not to say that there isn't value in the narrative. There were plenty of times I found myself caught up in the storytelling and felt the urge to push it forward to find out what would happen next. The stakes are raised even more when players are given journey-altering choices during gameplay and conversations. Telling an NPC to bugger off might not have much of an impact at all, or it could turn things on their head. I even managed to find a bit of romance while on my journey, but the encounters were more about getting a laugh than anything.  .

Choose Your Assassin

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey breaks combat into three categories, with a skill tree to spend points purchasing and upgrading abilities for the Hunter (ranged) tree, Warrior (melee) tree, and Assassin (stealth) tree. While I had dreams of combining the skills of Hunter and Assassin to keep things low profile and quiet, that is a long road with dozens more hours tacked onto the play time. Going strictly Warrior, however, is also a bad idea, and eventually I found success by being open to changing my approach based on the situation at hand and the gear I had at my disposal.

My main complaint about the combat is that the melee approach is by far the quickest, but I also found that it was more about timing than landing precision blows. After a couple hours I began to master what I call the parry-strike method. I would parry my opponent’s attack, then counter with my own. Nearly all my fights became this repetitive dance. Even powerful enemies were easy targets if I could isolate them and had the patience to whittle down their health bar. As the game progressed and I unlocked better gear, abilities, and bonuses the melee combat became more interesting, but it still felt a bit repetitive overall.

Before beginning combat, though, players will want to deploy their eagle Ikaros to scout the land from above. I dig the concept, but the fact that it can spot things through objects broke immersion. After a quick 30 seconds of Ikaros flying above there were no secrets left to discover. Not only were all the enemies marked, but so were chests and objectives. Clearing an area became about checking all the boxes instead of organic exploration. While I really enjoyed exploring a tomb and appreciated the ability point I got for doing so, it was a bit of a bummer to have my eagle point it out when my intent was to scout a fort I needed to clear.

Of course, combat on land is one thing, but naval combat is an entirely different beast. It’s just too bad that the appeal fades so quickly. As I sailed away from the tutorial region and headed to my next objective, I put on my captain’s hat and engaged a few enemy ships. This is 90 percent sailing in circles and firing projectiles to weaken the enemy, and 10 percent boarding for more of the game’s melee combat. I was hoping to be drawn to naval combat, but it gradually became something that, while enjoyable, never pulled me in the way exploring on land did.

Ships and naval combat do have some interesting options, though. Players can upgrade their vessel by gathering resources, and the game implements a recruitment system where you can spare the lives of foes and bring them into your crew. Each recruited enemy offers a different bonus, and this made me carefully consider my intentions with every powerful foe I fought. Instead of finishing off that high-level bounty hunter, perhaps they would be of use in my crew. My ship also served as a fantastic fast-travel location, allowing me to approach coastal areas from a rather unique perspective.

Secrets of Greece

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is at its best when exploration and discovery are the goal. Every region has secrets to discover, and my favorite times were exploring new areas, having no clue what was waiting. I played Odyssey on both PS4 and PC, and while PS4 looks good by console standards, the PC version is gorgeous. I would head into parts unknown because of how pretty everything was, only to find adventure as a bonus. The background music complements almost every moment of the journey and, unlike most games, I never grew tired of it and felt the need to turn it off.

Odyssey also does a good job of providing smooth movement during exploration, whether it’s running, on horseback, by ship, or engaging in parkour. There were times I climbed something I didn’t intend, or couldn’t climb what I wanted, but considering the scope of the world and the fact almost everything is in play, there are very few moments of frustration in the mechanics of the movement. Smooth movements and beautiful environments were enough to sell me on the exploration, but something else drove me to addiction; loot.

I tend to become obsessed with the quest for gear to make my character unique and powerful, and this is handled well in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Taking down a regular foe might net an at-level weapon to use. However, defeat someone important and maybe snag a legendary piece of gear. This made me seek out the most challenging foes to improve my appearance and combat effectiveness, but obtaining the gear was only half the battle.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey uses an upgrade and engraving system that allows for low-level gear to be improved. Engraving offers bonuses and provides depth to character customization, and I look forward to reading about the different builds that I’ll undoubtedly chase in my quest for the perfect stealth character. While I've had to settle on a hybrid approach to combat, I'm ready and willing to put in the time to build a character who can actually use stealth to defeat enemies.

My only gripe about the loot in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is that the store is filled with ways for players to take shortcuts if they're willing to fork over real cash. Want all the maps for resources and loot? Pay about $10 and you can have them. Want a legendary weapon without having to explore? You can buy that, too. Thankfully, I didn’t feel my progression was slowed to get me to buy, and if ever there were a place for pay-to-win, it’s a single-player game where the only person who stands to lose out is the buyer.

The Tired Warrior

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey pulls from other open-world Ubisoft games in several ways. One is the idea of destabilizing a region by killing enemies, clearing forts, and sabotaging supplies, all for an opportunity to kill the region’s leader. This system is back and killing the leader is often followed by a large-scale battle. While I realize the goal here was epic fights with dozens of friends and foes, it turns into the parry-strike dance, where I found myself waiting for an opponent to attack so I could counter. This is only fun for a few moments, and soon becomes repetitive. The one upside to these battles is that I was generally able to choose the side I wanted to fight for, defending or attacking as desired.

Bounty hunters are back, which I was a fan of in theory but grew to dislike. The first encounter was a tough fight, but this single foe didn’t hinder my travel for the most part. As the game progressed, though, I drew the attention of more bounty hunters. Eventually I couldn’t move without fighting one, and when one died I would have another on me immediately. Sometimes I would have two or three after me. Once, I was attacked while standing next to allies and preparing to launch a mission. They did nothing but watch until I accidently struck one of them, then I was in a fight against a bounty hunter and a bunch of soldiers who seconds ago were allies. As funny as that one situation was, having a bounty hunter or three after me as often as I did was like having unwanted guests in my home. I couldn't get comfortable and more than anything wanted to get back into my routine.

One More Chapter in the Books

There are a few open-world games that sit above the rest, but Assassin’s Creed Odyssey falls just short of them. Its use of systems that appear in other open-world Ubisoft titles make this a bit like a yearly installment of a sports franchise looking to build on last year than a genre-defining experience. Ubisoft knows how to build big beautiful worlds that players can have fun in, and Odyssey is definitely that. The steps forward in loot and RPG elements are great, but too many design decisions remind me of games I’ve already played. Fans of the series are going to like it, while those that don’t like open-world games won’t. Gamers on the fence about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey will find dozens of hours of exploration and fun in a highly customizable experience that is great despite a few annoying missteps.


This review is based on PS4 and PC download codes provided by Ubisoft. Assassin's Creed Odyssey will be available in retail and digital stores on October 5, 2018.

Managing Editor

Bill, who is also known as Rumpo, is a lifelong gamer and Toronto Maple Leafs fan. He is known for his guide writing and, unsettlingly enough, enjoys grinding out in-depth collectible articles. Tweet him @RumpoPlays if you have a question or comment about one of his guides.

Pros

  • Beautiful environments to explore
  • Loot and gear done right
  • Great HUD Customization
  • World worth exploring
  • Movement is mostly smooth

Cons

  • Bounty hunter system misses
  • Some familiar and tired mechanics
  • Combat can get repetitive

From The Chatty

  • reply
    October 1, 2018 11:00 AM

    Bill Lavoy posted a new article, Assassin's Creed Odyssey review: A familiar history

    • reply
      October 1, 2018 11:03 AM

      Yup, just seems like another chunk of Ubisoft open world content.

    • reply
      October 1, 2018 11:13 AM

      So its Origins but in Greece. I loved Origins, but I don't think I want the same game just a different setting. At least not at full price.

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        October 1, 2018 11:27 AM

        I think Origins, again, is probably worth the money. I mean, Origins had a shitton of content. My biggest problem with Origins was that it was just too big, with too much to do, so I got tired of the gameplay long before I actually finished the main quest line.

        I did finally go back and wrap it up over the last week, and I'll probably pick up Odyssey eventually, but for now I need a palette cleanser.

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          October 1, 2018 11:57 AM

          Ditto. I beat every assassins game up to origins but around hour 50 and with probably another 20 to go I was just done. It was just too much

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            October 1, 2018 12:13 PM

            1/3rd less of basically everything that wasn't the main quest probably would have been about right.

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          October 1, 2018 1:35 PM

          I believe the map in Odyssey is twice as big as Origins, and I can confirm it is freaking huge. I can't recall and open-world game with a map this big, although I'm sure they exist and I'm just drawing a blank. Maybe...

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            October 1, 2018 2:27 PM

            Honestly, the size of the map was less of a problem than the sheer amount of stuff to do. The main quest, side quests, military and bandit camps, tombs, animal lairs, stone circles, random treasure locations. There was constantly stuff to get distracted by, yet it was never quite engaging enough to maintain nigh-perpetual interest the way the Bethesda RPGs do. A big part of that is probably because they're mostly structured as tasks to complete, rather than things to investigate.

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          October 1, 2018 2:00 PM

          Last night i 100% origins.

          It was NOT easy killing those fucking elephants on nightmare difficulty. I had to grind out a lot of shit for an extra 12% damage on melee and bow attacks. It helped a bit. It just took a lot of time to whittle down the health. The two elephants at the same time wasnt as hard since they only attack one at a time.

          Then i finished off every location go get the 100% even got that badass armor from under the sphinx (not needed for 100%, but the treasures were).

          I dont have the dlc. But for all the extra shit i did my character should have been level 65 or so lol.

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            October 1, 2018 2:41 PM

            I feel like there is at least 50% of Origins I haven’t even played yet. I beat the game already and did all of the star gazing stuff and found all of the viewpoints, but I only recall doing 1 of the war elephants.

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              October 1, 2018 2:54 PM

              Theres 4 elephant rings. Easiest one is in the very top right corner. He throws smoke bombs at you but it's real easy. Keep distance and keep near the edge. When the elephant charges dodge and it stuns itself on the wall. Shoot anus with arrows.

              Another just south west of the roman aquaduct. Also in this ring is a papyrus solution. This fucker shoots arrows. So make sure when youre at range you have a shield out blocking.

              The real pain in the ass one is in the desert. Fucker throws poison bombs at you. If you beat this one you get a legendary outfit. Location is not too far away from the lookout point that branches over a small lake. Take your shots when the elephant raises his head up exposing his neck.

              The 2 elephants are in the very south. Marked by a gold ?. Far south of krocodilopois.

              Now these fucks kinda throw everything at you. But one stays back and the other attacks.
              It's important that you whittle BOTH down. If you kill one. The other goes crazy constantly charging and it makes it very difficult to fight. Fucker never stops. So get both down to near death and then finish them off.


              As for weapons. Smoke and Mirrors predator bow. You can get it from a papyrus clue. Or kill a certain phalkitye. I forget which one. Light bow with health on hit. Best one is the one you get for finishing all the papyrus scrolls.

              For melee. A high damage spear with good crit damage. Build up your adrenaline meter with the bows and go in with a super attack with the spear. I was doing roughly 2k damage with crit.



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                October 1, 2018 3:49 PM

                I think I found all of the papyrus scrolls as well but it's been a while since I last played.

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          October 2, 2018 9:03 AM

          agreed. I *really* liked origins. very very fluid, great chatter, great quests. odyssey... not exactly frantic to jump back in. D2 and Blackout are upon me for MP. I still have God of War and SPiderman for pure SP content.

          lots of great games available, so if odyssey doesn't bring back the "posse" from brotherhood, something I really liked, I will wait on it. I don't know why I want that one feature back, but I really enjoyed that. recruit some folks and send 'em on missions or use 'em along the way. I want that back.

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        October 1, 2018 12:04 PM

        Maybe. Some reviews are saying it's more RPG, more Witcher, than Origins was.

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      October 1, 2018 11:25 AM

      https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2018/10/01/assassins-creed-odyssey-impressions-kick-backwards-into-hell/

      Writer suggests the sparta kick is the definitive move of the game and must be acquired first thing.

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      October 1, 2018 11:52 AM

      Oddly specific question: Does armor selection matter again in Odyssey, or is it still purely cosmetic?
      Slightly less specific, but related question: Do weapons have more sophisticated stats closer to the older games, or are they like Origins with just combinations of speed and reach plus random "magic" effects?

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        October 1, 2018 1:34 PM

        1) It matters. Armor can come with various bonuses (+4% Hunter damage, etc), so you can use armor to create a specific kind of assassin that excels at one thing over another. You could also ignore these bonuses and still get by just choosing armor for cosmetic reasons (as long as it was leveled for the enemies you are facing).

        2) Weapons are rated by damage, then they have the bonuses that I discussed in the first question. So your spear might do 200 damage, +4% Warrior, +8% Poison, etc. Each weapon type have different move animations but the same buttons are used for all weapons. So your heavy attack is the same button input no matter what, but the animation will vary depending on weapon type.

        Hope that helps.

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          October 1, 2018 2:17 PM

          Interesting, thanks. Nice to have armor actually matter again. I was thinking of the older games where, for instance, knives would have crappy blocking, but pretty consistently be faster and better at countering.

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      October 1, 2018 3:08 PM

      Haven't played an AC game since 2. Maybe this is the one? Undecided. Depends on how they handle the "map full of thousands of icons" problem, which tends to turn games into misery for me as I set about on a quest to clean up my precious map...

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        October 2, 2018 10:27 AM

        You can toggle everything off and on, and the new exploration mode alone does a lot to remove icons from the map. You should be able to tweak this into the icon-less game you want.