It is widely suggested by many that Assassin’s Creed Origins saved Ubisoft’s struggling flag ship series, bringing back the huge open world, engaging characters and gripping storyline that we have become accustomed to when playing any entry in the Creed series. Ubisoft also introduced a brand new combat system and skill tree that made the game more accessible and easier to play, giving the franchise a much needed facelift. The series once again returns this year, this time placing us in ancient Greece in the year 431BCE during the period of the Peloponnesian War when Sparta and Athens were at war over the control of Greece and its islands.
We are thrust into the shoes of a Misthios or mercenary and for the first time in the series we are able to choose between a male or female playable character, however, this has no real outcome on both how the game plays or the storyline that will follow. As well as including a choice of playable characters, Ubisoft have also added an increased focus on RPG elements, such as dialogue choices and decision making that will eventually affect the game world and the storyline. While I enjoyed this aspect, I found that my choices had no real effect except for on one occasion, making it seem a slightly pointless inclusion. Due to this brand new feature, players are now able to chat up the locals or barter with certain NPC characters to gain a better deal, allowing you to choose to become a kind and sympathetic mercenary or someone who really doesn’t give a damn, but again, this does not seem to have any effect on the main plotline and, if I’m being honest, the main characters’ chat up lines are painful and often awkward.
The main storyline of the game felt weaker than other entries in the series and I often found myself wondering what the hell was happening. In essence, you are a mercenary thrust into the middle of a war between Athens and Sparta while you try and uncover your shrouded past. It takes a good ten hours of gameplay to really find its feet and when it does, it seems to climax far too quickly. As with any Assassin’s Creed game, historical faces are included many notable characters from Greek history are prevalent through the story, such as the Oracle of Delphi and Sophocles, but I found myself undertaking repetitive quests such as ‘take this thing to this person’ or ‘go and kill this bandit’ before I was introduced to them. It is here that Odyssey can feel like a grind and although there are a myriad of side quests to undertake if you ever feel like you needed a break from the main quest line, it does not keep you as invested as other entries in the series.
One of the main areas that Odyssey does struggle is character development. During the prologue, we become familiar with an NPC called Markos who will guide our hero through a number of quests that really act like a five hour tutorial, explaining how the game works and the new features that Ubisoft have incorporated into the game. When I was interacting with him, his facial expression seemed to remain the same, not reacting to certain dialogue choices and his whiney voice really grated on me. The same can be said for all the characters in Odyssey, including the main character. The first real enemy that you come across is a bandit called The Cyclops that is built up to be unstoppable, however the final confrontation between him and the main character was disappointingly short. One of my biggest problems with Odyssey was I just wasn’t invested enough in Alexios, the male main character, to see it through, unlike Bayek in Assassin’s Creed Origins.
Assassin’s Creed’s updated combat system has once again returned, providing the same fluid combat system that was introduced in Origins, as well as a brand new skill tree that allows you to choose different paths such as Warrior or Hunter. Each has its own merits and special abilities and in the end, I was a hybrid of all three which perfectly suited my style of play. It is here that Odyssey really shines, allowing me to run headlong into a fight without having to worry about sneaking around and although I was killed numerous times, I never really found myself becoming frustrated with it. The combat system has also been tweaked slightly, making parrying, dodging and chaining combos together a lot easier that in Origins, something that adds to the fluidity of the combat as a whole. Ubisoft have also brought back the loot system that was first featured in Origins, with certain enemies dropping gear when they have been defeated that is around the same level as yours but more often than not, I found the gear was at a significantly lower level than what I already had equipped. Even though you can upgrade your gear at any blacksmith, the amount of resources that are needed is often ludicrously high, forcing you to choose between upgrading your gear or your ship.
It is here you will find that Odyssey is a frustrating grind. Gear that is dropped is either a lower level than your current character or one level higher, which means you are unable to equip it untill you reach that level. Many would argue that it would give you an incentive to complete side quests and gain the required EXP to level up, which would be fine in most cases, but because it takes so long for you to level up during the game, it often feels unrewarding and a lot of work.
Fully-fledged naval combat also makes a return after its long absence and I was pleased to find that Ubisoft have not changed or tampered with this in anyway. Instead of cannons and mortars, your crew are armed with arrows and javelins and there is nothing more satisfying than building up a head of speed and ramming into your opponent, cleaving the enemy ship in two and reaping the rewards. Sometimes, you gain different and more desirable loot from destroying ships rather than boarding them, something which keeps the naval battles fresh.
You are also able to upgrade your ship to include additional archers, more crew and enhanced armour, and for the first time, you are able to recruit lieutenants that will also offer additional bonuses to your crew by using a feature that feels very much like the one used in Middle-earth: Shadow of War. The only thing that lets the naval combat down is the difficulty in distinguishing between enemy ships. I had accepted a contract to hunt pirate ships across the whole of Greece and often struggled to tell them apart, often finding myself taking on an armada of Spartan or Athenian ships. I can assure you this did not go well.
Odyssey also includes numerous new side missions for you to undertake such as domination which requires you to weaken a certain province by burning their supplies and killing the province leader before taking part in a pitched battle and beating the snot out of the home team. At first, I struggled with this aspect, but as soon as I figured it out, I found them immensely fun and found myself spending more and more time on this than the main quest. Odyssey also incorporates a bounty system where if you kill innocents or are caught stealing, other mercenaries will come and chase you down to claim the price on your head. The higher the bounty, the more aggressive the mercenary, but if you manage to kill them, then you climb the ranks of the mercenary power rankings which in turn grants you additional resources or drachma.
Graphically, the islands of ancient Greece have never looked more spectacular and Odyssey shows off the incredible eye for detail that its developers possess. The huge open world, although daunting sometimes, is incredibly immersive with each island either featuring lush green forests or a maze of burnt out villages and valleys filled with barren rocks. As always, Ubisoft have done a fantastic job in creating a huge open world that is filled with plenty of things to see and do. One of my favourite features was hunting down and slaying the mythical beasts, which reminded me of the trials of Hercules.
Unfortunately, it is not all sunshine and roses for Ubisoft’s newest Assassin’s Creed game. As mentioned before, Odyssey possesses a grind that was not quite as pronounced in any of the other games in the franchise, often making it feel unrewarding and frustrating. For example, in Black Flag, it could take hours for the player to collect all the required Mayan stones to unlock the final armour set which grants the most bonuses, but when you did, it felt like the reward was more than worthwhile. In Odyssey, I never once felt like this was something I wanted to do. The effort that was put into collecting something just did not justify the reward that was given. Even though I did not encounter as many bugs or glitches as the other games, I feel that I would rather endure those than the awful grind that has been included this year. It is also let down badly by the lack of engaging plot that the main quest line takes you on, which can often be confusing and repetitive.
In the typical fashion of the AAA games industry, the sheer amount of microtransactions in Odyssey is utterly appalling. When I first loaded the game up, one of the first ‘tips’ I was faced with was Ubisoft plugging their Helix credits, which is the in-game currency you need to buy to unlock unique items and gear for your character. They also offer boosters for EXP and to earn more drachma when you are playing the game as well as the ability to unlock where all the hidden collectibles are on the map itself. Although many will say that it is down to player choice and that all of this is completely optional, taking them up on their offer makes the experience far smoother.
I was told that when you buy the EXP booster from the store, the game is automatically a better game, allowing you to level up faster and reveal more side quests and gear options. Because Odyssey relies on your current level to unlock new quests and things to do, completing side quests in order to level up faster is often the best way to progress through the game. EXP boosters are nothing new, but if you choose not to buy one, then the game is usually still balanced and does not feel like hard work (Wildlands is the perfect example of this). Intrigued, I decided to invest real money into Odyssey to see if this theory was correct and as soon as I purchased the EXP booster, Odyssey felt like less of a grind and I suddenly found myself levelling up at an instantly quicker rate. Because Odyssey is utterly dependant on your player level and the huge grind that is a constant present throughout this game, those players that are struggling may be tempted to buy into this. Put it this way: as soon as I bought the EXP booster, I found the game to be a lot more enjoyable. The other extras that are on offer are unique weapons or gear, ship decoration and additional skins for your horse, including one to turn him into a unicorn. Unless you are willing to put the time into upgrading the gear once you have purchased it, then I really don’t see the point.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is one of the weaker entries in the series and is seriously hampered by microtransactions, but if you don’t mind the grind and are willing to put the hours into it then it can be very rewarding. But even with updated RPG elements and the return of naval combat, Odyssey still pales in comparison to Origins.
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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey maintains the fluid and much loved gameplay providing us with the biggest open world yet, glorious graphics and the return of naval combat. However, the shameless use of microtransactions, frustrating grind and uninteresting characters make Odyssey more of a chore to play than others in the series. Microtransactions: Yes. Players can use real money to purchase Helix credits which can be put towards boosters among other things. Prices start from £4.29/$4.99.
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