Just a year on from the major action RPG overhaul of Assassin’s Creed Origins, you’d be forgiven for expecting Assassin’s Creed Odyssey to simply retread the same ground. It’s building on those ideas, certainly, but with the introduction of dialogue choices and a branching story, a choice between protagonists Alexios and Kassandra to play as, and some neat large scale battles, Odyssey tries to keep things fresh.
Actually set before Origins, Odyssey takes us to Ancient Greece in the midst of a war between Athenians and Spartans. Your chosen sibling is a mercenary helping their friend Markos when they find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy involving a cult, figures from their past, and the usual trademark Assassin’s Creed weirdness. While I won’t go into much detail to avoid spoilers, choices seem to make enough of a difference to feel meaningful, with one early example being whether or not to reveal your personal relationship to a target to try and gain an audience with them, or keep it to yourself and infiltrate without drawing attention.
Inevitably, you will draw attention to yourself, which is where the new combat system comes into play. Origins’ combat returns but with some significant refurbishments. You no longer have a shield to block with, so if you don’t dodge or parry you will take damage. This makes combat feel faster and riskier, but thankfully that missing shield has been replaced by the Spear of Leonidas. This is, funnily enough, the spear of the Spartan General Leonidas and turns out to be a powerful artefact that allows you to use your unlocked special attacks.
Chief among those is the infamous Spartan Kick, from that scene in 300, which can be used to kick people off roofs or mountains. It quickly turned into my favourite past time and my most effective tactic in battle. Your bow has special attacks to use too, making up for the fact that you now only carry one into battle. It’s up to your special abilities to let you shoot multiple arrows at once or a predator arrow.
All these skills are activated using adrenaline, which is earned by dodging, fighting, killing, and just going about your typically stabby day. Your adrenaline builds up very quickly, which is handy because it’s practically essential to use abilities to overcome enemies that possess similar attacks. Despite all these changes elsewhere, the stealth of Odyssey is the same as it was in Origins. There are stealthy abilities to use, but they are far less useful than classic assassin bush-hiding and ultimately seem to be more trouble than they’re worth.
The loot system has had a bit of an overhaul too, with there being more variety to equipment and more choice when it comes to the buffs on that equipment. You can still upgrade your favourite sword to keep up with your level, but you can now engrave items with upgrades to add an extra property to your items. You will need to keep a handle on your equipment, as simply being a similar level is not enough for tougher enemies and you will find yourself slowly chipping away at their health if your equipment is sub-par. I often found myself overwhelmed by lesser enemies because I’d spent so long fighting a captain that they had more than long enough to wander over.
The bounty system makes those situations even more perilous. You gain bounty for each illegal act you commit in view of an NPC, whether it’s stealing or murder. This means that whilst you are slaughtering your way through a fort, your bounty is slowly creeping up and, eventually, a bounty hunter will turn up to try and take your head. These are tough mercenaries who are announced with the Phylakes’ horn sound from the previous game, and if it sounds whilst you’re fighting fifteen enemies, it’s wise to leave. Quickly. Stick around and defeat them, though, and they’ll drop some fancy loot and some hints towards the identities of other bounty hunters. Head down this rabbit hole and there’s eight tiers of five and a leader to slaughter your way through.
Similarly, the cult at the heart of the conspiracy has an awful lot of members scattered about the map. These cult members can be found anywhere, from in forts to just at stalls in markets, and you’ll find yourself trekking all over the map to find them all. Interestingly, they seem to be in the game world whether you’re actively hunting them or not, as I managed to accidentally kill one on aboard a boat whilst exploring. More typically you’ll find them by completing missions in areas to gets hints at who they are, then hunt them down to earn some loot and a hint towards the identities of the inner circle of the cult.
Greece is typically huge, though this time much of it is ocean as naval warfare makes a return. Expanding on Origins’ arrows-based system, you can also launch spears and ram other ships, again earning adrenaline which is used here to unleash fire attacks and deal extra damage. If you don’t fancy setting them alight or splitting them in half for crafting resources, you can board ships to battle and gain some equipment. On top of all this, your ship is fully upgradable and can be manned with kidnapped lieutenants who will provide some stat bonuses. It’s a welcome return and provides some much needed relief from the time on land.
That’s not to say the time on land is bad. In fact, it’s very good, with plenty to do, side missions are fleshed out enough to mean something, and there’s detail and backstory leaking out of the games pores. There is such a staggering amount of locations, side missions, and islands that it is almost exhausting. Thankfully, it is visually stunning and a delight to explore. Everything from temples to the open ocean just looks gorgeous, with the series’ superb ocean tech providing stormy, chaotic storms and idyllic sunrises in equal measure.
Unfortunately, the game also has some technical issues. Playing on base PlayStation 4, the game stops far too often to load, particularly before every conversation with a quest giver. This and a short pause when opening the menus starts to feel obnoxious quite quickly, especially when using the option to play without some map markers and you’re having to accessing your map to “find” places using hints. This system works well enough, but is not too exciting when your eagle can spot targets from 300 feet away.
On one occasion, a particularly busy battle with lots of spreading fire cratered the frame rate to under one frame per second for nearly half a minute, and another time, returning from a visit to the pause menu left my horse and surroundings were low detailed as if they were in the distance. Then my character model glitched and I found myself in the ocean 1000 feet from my starting position. These were thankfully solitary, isolated issues and easily solved when loading a save game. I also noticed one or two minor side quest givers whose voices changed mid conversation, going immediately from hostile to friendly as though they were NPCs in Oblivion.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey throws so much stuff at you, it’s difficult to sift through it all. It’s a beautiful game to look at and the story is intriguing, but it feels like a game that could have been a little more ambitious if given more time to develop. There’s good ideas, from the branching story and character choice to the return of ship-based combat, but its ambitions also fray around the edges in a way that Origins didn’t.
Version tested: Original PS4