There was a moment, around 17 hours into my adventure in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, where the game’s many systems seemed to joyously converge and strike a flow. Having just completed a quest for the fabulously flamboyant Alkibiades, in which I had to deliver a phallic package to an Athenian guard, a burst of gold signalled I had level up as I scaled a pantheon-esque temple to sync a viewpoint.
Bounding gracefully down from the rooftop, landing in a roll, I found myself face to face with a mercenary who was out to claim my bounty. As I perfectly timed a dodge, combat entered slow-motion for a few seconds, allowing me to unleash a slew of slashes. A few more well-timed repostes and a brutal overpower attack later, I finished my foe with one mighty spartan kick to the gut, hurling them off the clifftop into the sprawling, sun-soaked city below.
Odyssey is full of these dynamic moments in which its many systems work harmoniously. For all of its facets and complexity, the series’ latest entry manages to remain a balanced experience, rarely feeling bloated or repetitive. However, the vast expanse of ancient Greece and the staggering amount of content it plays host to is undoubtedly overwhelming.
The game’s spectacular opening at the Battle of Thermoplyae sets a high bar, giving you a taste of its large-scale conquests battles and the array of powerful new skills, whilst setting the foundation of its central narrative theme; family. Leaving the boots of the formidable Leonidas, the story returns to Layla, who, in possession of his spear, aims to track his Spartan lineage. Like Origins, the modern thread of the creed’s story is given very little attention in Odyssey, and while it is a shame the Abstergo storyline has been neglected, the adventures the animus holds are simply too compelling for this to ultimately matter.
In a series first, you are given a choice of protagonist between Alexios and Kassandra; brother and sister and grandchildren to Leonidas. Tired of always playing as some male beefcake I opted for the equally chiseled Kassandra. Kassandra’s muscular physique and unsexualised representation is a welcome and refreshing addition in a series and more broadly a form of entertainment often guilty of catering to the male gaze.
Starting off on the island of Kephallonia, you are soon introduced to your surrogate sister Phoibe and father-figure Markos. The newly added option of exploration mode, which does away with the traditional map markers and instead offers hints to the objective’s location, makes the quests feel more organic and enables a liberating sense of discovery as your traverse the open world. The chain of tasks that you become embroiled in at Marko’s behest provides a microcosm of the dynamic and open quest structures that the game as a whole champions.
Dialogue options further this sense of personalised experience and establishes Odyssey as a role-playing game. While ambient events and choice and consequence do not feel quite as complex or nuanced as a game like The Witcher 3, these additions do a great deal to flesh out and diversify the world, quests and storytelling, in turn affirming your effect on the world you inhabit. These choices let me craft the Kassandra I wanted to be; a strong, stoic warrior with a dry sense of humour who stuck to her morals and remained diplomatic. And much like my Geralt, she seduced every woman, man and goat she could bed, thanks to the newly added “romance” options.
Odyssey’s opening hours may feel gradual but they provide strong exposition and establish the relationships and stakes of your journey, whilst introducing characters, areas, and mechanics at a pace which both serves the narrative’s build and allows you to become accustomed with each new landscape and system. Rather than throwing you into Greece’s expanse of sea, the story does a good job of directing you inland and concentrating story beats in specific regions. Around the 15 hour mark, when several story tangents open up, the world seems to welcome you forth and at this stage I felt experienced and eager to explore it.
The level gaps between acts may be frustrating for those who wish to mainline the game’s core story thread, or reviewers under time constraints, but these respites encourage exploration. Coming off the back of act seven, for instance, the next main quest was six levels above, requiring me to meet that cap to progress. While initially this seemed like an irritating setback, I found it in fact facilitated my curiosity. In the pursuit of gaining a few levels to progress I encountered some of Odyssey’s most compelling, entertaining, and affecting storylines. This interspersal of side content makes the experience feel more varied, preventing repetition, fatigue or a backloading of content post game.
Minute-to-minute gameplay will feel familiar, with the same fluid traversal and hit box detection combat system from Origins, however Odyssey builds on these core mechanics in several ways. Shields are gone, making combat more focused on aggression, well-timed dodging and weapon parries. A perfectly timed dodge will trigger a Bayonetta-esque slowing of time, providing a brief window which allows you to unleash a flurry of attacks. A variety of weapon types and armour sets offer options to customise your fighting style, whether wielding dual daggers, a hard-hitting mace or your bow, combat is consistently balanced, responsive and satisfying.
A greatly improved skill tree categorises skills into three specialised branches; hunter, warrior and assassin, with both active and passive skills. Bows no longer come in classes but rather change function based on assigned skills, allowing for diverse and adaptable ranged combat centred on a single weapon. Warrior skills buff raw melee damage output, provide health bursts and arm you with devastating abilities like overpower attacks, flaming swords and the ever-gratifying Spartan kick. The Assassin branch allows you to efficiently take down enemies and chain together stealth kills while also giving you the option to cause distractions and re-enter stealth should you be detected.
This skill tree features some great quality of life improvements which dramatically change the gameplay experience. The ability to respec anytime allows for experimentation with different builds, whether trying out a purely assassin build to clear a fort stealthily, or dispersing your points across all three trees in various combinations. The flexibility of your skill tree lets you adapt your skill set to suit your preference or any given situation. I found myself respecing as new skills became available, seeing what suited my play style and configuring accordingly. The build I settled on in the late game allowed me to pick off foes from afar, rush in to chain together stealth kills then bob and weave through enemy attacks, countering with flaming swords, deadly “overpower” attacks and powerful spartan kicks.
Other systems make a return in revised and refined forms. Bounty hunting mercenaries takes the place of Phylakes, becoming more numerous and aggressive as you fill a GTA-esque wanted meter, either by killing enemies or stealing. A nemesis system style ranking menu shows your position as you take out fellow mercenaries, working your way to the top of the table by taking on high level, end-game enemies. The somewhat random appearance of these foes during combat encounters ups the challenge and reward, however on several occasions they proved an annoyance, swarming and overpowering me when I was simply trying get from A to B. Engravings, a new addition to the gear system, add stat boosts to your armour and weapons. Unfortunately this proved redundant, and while they do add another layer of customisation to your loadout, I found the effects too minimal to warrant any attention.
Naval navigation also makes a return. An extensive array of upgrades, along with refined controls, make for more responsive maneuvering and more thrilling naval combat. Setting sail on The Adrestia to explore the furthest reaches of the Greek isles is truly liberating and improves upon Black Flag’s already solid systems. Conquests missions; large-scale, cinematic battles which let you side with either the Athenians or Spartans for control of a given region, are initially made to seem like a pivotal gameplay, however apart from a few notable story beats, I never found myself willingly entering these battles. Criticism has been directed at the flexibility given to your allegiances with these battles, yet like any good roleplaying game, Odyssey gives you choice. If, like my Kassandra, you chose loyalty to your family and Spartan heritage then you side with your kinsmen in these battles, but for those who wish to play the role of a misthios; a hired blade who sides with the highest bidder, than you are free to play both sides.
Equally, some betrayals of realism could be brought up as criticisms, but these serve the variety and enjoyability of the gameplay experience. The ability to teleport between enemies, guide an arrow through the air or jump fifty foot off a cliff only to land unscathed makes no sense in a realism based game, however they make exploring this massive open world all the more convenient and enjoyable. Additionally, Odyssey does a great job of making its more fantastical elements feel cohesive. Building upon Origin’s mythology influenced expansions, one series of side quests has you hunting mythical creatures like Medusa and the Minotaur, making not only for exhilarating and demanding battles, but tangible and contemporary retellings of these classic fictions.
Despite its finely tuned gameplay and the vast, luscious open world it provides, Odyssey’s strongest features are its story and characters. From humble beginnings, Odyssey’s excellently paced plot builds and blossoms with the Peloponnesian war providing an epic backdrop for a deeply personal tale of family, identity and redemption. The Cult of Kosmos, a pre-Templar organisation of sinister oligarchs who wield influence over all facets of Greeks infrastructure, politics and conflicts, play the main antagonists, each member a fleshed out character in their own right. While some are power-hungry egotists who simply desire domination, others are pawns indoctrinated into a toxic system. Dismantling this nuanced group of adversaries is satisfying, and twists and turns in main story up the stakes and fuel your motivation to see them abolished.
Thanks to excellent writing, voice acting and implementation of choice mechanics, I felt an intense bond with my Kassandra, who, by the end of our 40 hour journey together, felt uniquely shaped by the choices I had made. Effective use of flashbacks further deepened my connection to Kassandra, her heritage and her existing family, adding both context and heft to the task at hand. Amidst the grand drama of war and politics, Odyssey always keep its story grounded in your personal plight. Reuniting my fractured family acted as my constant goal, and the ending I achieved, one of nine possible variations, felt immensely gratifying after the turmoil and hardship of the odyssey I had endured. A well-rounded cast of supporting characters bring the world to life, from your battle hardened brother-in-arms Brasidas to the effervescent hedonist Alkibiades, each character you meet along your way has a significant impacts on you and your journey.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey builds upon the ambitious vision laid out by Origins, whilst refining systems, expanding both the quantity and quality of content and setting a new standard for the series. Odyssey’s embracing of RPG sensibilities, structure and narrative complexity serve its gameplay and world building to great effect while enabling it to tell a deeply personal, choice-driven story which engrosses and invests you in every beat from beginning to end. Kassandra and Alexios’s tale feels only part of a greater struggle, with a great deal of life persisting in the post-game. With more of those cult member malakas to hunt down, high-level mythical beasts and mercs to face, and entire sections of map yet to uncover, my time with Odyssey feels far from over, and I cannot wait to see what other adventures it has in store.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey PS4 Review
Overall - Must Buy - 9.5/10
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is the best in the series yet. Its vast, richly detailed vision of ancient Greece plays host to a deeply engrossing and affecting personal tale of family, identity and redemption, set against the grand conflict of the Peloponnesian war. Despite a few superfluous additions, Odyssey improves upon and refines everything that made Origins such a successful reinvention of the series, whilst setting a new standard in both the quality and variety of content, storytelling and gameplay.
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Reviewed using base PS4.
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