When Ubisoft Entertainment released the long-anticipated Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey as its main title of 2018, nobody could have predicted the storm it caused.
Though it was praised by critics and nominated as ‘Game of the Year’, many AC fans felt betrayed by the series: from the disengaging, modern-day storyline, to the repetitive ‘fetch’-style quests, to the inclusion of mythological creatures, the entire thing felt ‘off’ for many avid followers of the series, as though the game had utterly forgotten its roots.
However, what many fans seem to dismiss is the understated brilliance of the game; no matter how much it has been criticised, satirised, and meme-ified, even the most outspoken critics could not stop playing it. While it is true that the game’s core mechanics and quest structure become too familiar after quite a short time, the gameplay itself is inherently addictive.
Set in the 430s BCE, at the time of the Peloponnesian War between democratic Athens and warmongering Sparta, the game tells the story of a mercenary, or ‘misthios’, on a quest to reunite their family and bring balance back to the Greek world. Along the way, they encounter famous historical figures, uncover shadowy organisations, defeat mythical beasts, fight in large-scale conquest battles, and carve a path through the fate of Ancient Greece.
And I’m barely scratching the surface.
Whether you’re sneaking through forts full of soldiers to rescue a prisoner, or hunting legendary creatures through the wildest corners of the world map, or even helping an old couple to keep some spice in their sex life (yeah, I know how it sounds), the game consistently throws just enough curve-balls your way to invigorate the whole experience, often with a tongue-in-cheek nod to the original Greek myths that inspired it.
It is true that some criticism has been levelled at the main characters themselves. This was, after all, the first game in the series to make player choice the cornerstone of its development, and the ability to choose a male or female protagonist is no exception to that.
But the lack of a ‘canon’ character until the official novelisation’s release was a sore point for many fans, especially when it was revealed that the female protagonist, Kassandra, was going to be the character used in future AC lore, while the majority of players had chosen her male counterpart, Alexios.
Yet, I would defend this decision from Ubisoft for no other reason than it allows further creative control of the game to be directly in the hands of the player. And, no matter which character you choose, their stories play out almost entirely the same – depending on choices made by the player in the course of the main campaign, of course.
Another big element to player choice in this game is the ability to create a ‘build’ for your character; Assassin, Hunter, or Warrior – the items you equip, the abilities you use, the weapons you collect, and the decisions you make throughout the game help to define what sort of character you will be. This is the kind of complexity that only a studio as large as Ubisoft could afford to implement into their gameplay, and the gaming experience is all the better for it.
Scarcely touched upon is perhaps the greatest reason that Odyssey deserves more appreciation than it gets – its world. From the wide expanse of the Aegean Sea to barren deserts, from lush green valleys to volcanic islands, from swampy marshland to enormous forests; the entire world of Ancient Greece is diverse, vibrant and truly alive. The use of gentle pastel colouration with a focus on organic textures is what makes this open-world stand out, not just from previous games in the AC series, but I would argue from any game from the past decade.
Ubisoft Quebec are a studio that know how to create an exquisite aesthetic, and Odyssey is their greatest proof of that to date. Quests that involve travelling great distances across the map – usually a source for exasperation in most games – is actually a privilege. The addition of being able to put your horse on auto-run allows you to just sit back and take in the mesmerising scenery as you travel to the next part of your adventure.
Hopefully, this article will have interested you enough to fire up your copy of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and give it another go, or even make a first-time purchase. It may not be a classical AC game, but it’s a damn good RPG and seems to give a decent idea of where the series is heading creatively. If the games that follow are anywhere near to Odyssey, I think it’s fair to say that they will be a hugely-successful step for the series.
Until then, your odyssey awaits…