Assassin's Creed: Odyssey Review - Bigger Isn't Always Better

The video game industry has had its fair share of franchises. From Prince of Persia featuring the eponymous prince to the late Medal of Honor featuring the blood soaked beaches of Omaha Beach. Many franchises like these usually ended from horrible reviews and installments, to a dearth of innovation made in the genre. Where some franchises made headlines with their innovative new features, some games simply couldn't keep up and simply withered away.

Time hasn't been nice to many franchises that were prominent a mere couple of years ago. Franchises like Call of Duty have succumbed to their inferiority in the innovative part in the industry and its publishers have solely resorted to milking every ounce of their once beloved cash cow.

Assassin's Creed used to be a leading series in this industry, pioneering many features that proved to be successful and popular concomitantly. Like it or not, the Hidden Blade and parkour first became prominent in games from Assassin's Creed. But instead of succumbing to its inevitable death after many failing entries, it decided to change its personality forever.

After the so-called "experiment'' called Assassin's Creed: Origins was released, with its shallow RPG mechanics and a new type of story mostly straying away from the conventional Templar vs Assassin conflict, the path to the franchise was clear. Assassin's Creed was trying to kill itself to survive.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey is, by all means, a good game. It doesn't quite achieve the spectacular innovative feats the series is known for, but it did innovate on its new formula set in Origins. Odyssey set the bar high for Assassin's Creed, but it isn't quite infallible, as all good games ultimately will have flaws, some more overt than others.

This time around, we travel to 431 BCE, where the Peloponnesian War has changed Grecian society forever. Odyssey captures almost everything about this horrible event in Ancient Greek history. The besieged citizens of Athens desperately trying to keep their pride and hope intact as the Spartans are knocking at their doorstep, the seas filled with Athenian triremes ravaging the weak Spartan fleet, and the innumerable battlefields littered with the corpses of brave Greek warriors.

Ubisoft haven't lost their touch as they continually churn out one huge world after the other. Odyssey features the brightest and the most detailed world they have ever created. From the rocky, mountainous terrain of Greece to the beaming, azure Aegean sea that throws its mighty waves on the many beaches of the famed isles of Greece.

Every time the Adrestia, your mighty ship, docks on an island, this sense of exploration engenders you to run and explore every nook and cranny as every island has its own secrets, stories, agriculture, architecture, locations, and societies. Not one location is similar to another as it was crafted with a love and passion of old Grecian life and myth.

Ancient Greece was created to spark curiosity in the player. I was constantly googling Ancient Greek philosophers, politicians and artists that I had met in the game. I was surprised at how historically accurate the game is as every location, every statue and every agora had existed in real life.

Unfortunately, this sense of exploration is diminished by dotting the map with the infamous question mark from its predecessor. This causes the player to only travel to marked locations knowing that there isn't anything in other unmarked areas. These locations also got weary as many were taken from Origins, from enemy camps, bandit hideouts, animal dens, and underwater treasures.

But the biggest fail was the exploration mode. It could've been the next best thing for the franchise, and it was executed perfectly with characters spitting out locations, and giving minor clues to quest locations. These clues ultimately become redundant as most of the time quests take place in these famous marked locations. So you just open your map and mark the question mark in the yellow area.

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey's major selling point is its story, where you embark on a literal Odyssey across this enormous Greek world to reunite your family. The story effectively balloons into a story of redemption where you fight a national conspiracy that has caused your family's demise and the war itself. In order to do so, you infiltrate every facet of old Greek life and politics. There's also a whole new endgame story featuring an extensive amount of Isu lore and the city of Atlantis itself.

The story is effectively divided into 3 sections, with 3 different endings to be acquired. The family story is the longest and the main story of the game, the Isu and the Cult story lines are optional but if pursued, one of the main themes of the game will be explored, that of the constant imbalance between order and chaos.

Odyssey's main family story, to put it simply, is mediocre. It had its moments, but those moments were few and far in between. The main issue with Odyssey is that it tries to tell this story that takes around 10 hours to complete. But they have successfully skyrocketed the game's playtime by adding padding between major story points. It became common sense at the end that every character I meet will demand me to complete some chores before I advance.

This superfluous content killed my own inquisitive nature as I was bored tracking down one jaded support quest after another just so the plot could advance a bit. It got to the point where after 45 hours of constant playing, there was still no ending in sight, and the game was simply giving me useless quests just to elongate itself. I literally felt the ending of the game was being kept captive from me unless I killed someone with no importance to the overall story for the dozenth time.

The main characters, though, were far more memorable than those of Origins. Barnabas, your trusty quartermaster, never ceased to entertain you. Socrates always showed up out of nowhere to ask a question to ponder over. Alcibiades, with his endless lust for sexual intercourse, and many others. Having them on screen was always a pleasure, and even though they weren't really fleshed out, they didn't cease to entertain me.

Odyssey's leading innovative feat is its branching story line. It begins as soon as you enter the Animus by giving you the choice to play as either Kassandra or Alexios. Even though the female protagonist is considered the canon character, it doesn't matter anyway as the story pretty much plays out the same based on your decisions.

Every story is reliant on your decisions. From huge, story driven main quests to small side quests, the power of choice is always present. A lot of your choices will have detrimental effects as they can completely alter your Odyssey, for better or worse. At first I didn't think my choices would matter, but later on I was punished and rewarded for the decisions I had made almost 20 hours prior. Odyssey successfully integrated this branching story line, a feat that should not go on unnoticed.

It does have its flaws, though. Odyssey creates this illusion of choice, making the player think that they are being given the choice. Some decisions are completely superfluous as they lead to the same conclusion. The majority of those are accept or deny the given quest. The most important decisions to be made that completely alters the story are few and, again, far in between.

But this illusion is mostly created because of a lack of a moral compass. It doesn't necessarily matter what you do since as soon as any quest is completed, your decisions go to waste. The decisions made by me would've had a bigger impact if they changed society's view on me, if it changed some of the main characters'
opinions of me. No matter how immoral my decisions were, everyone kept smiling at the Eagle Bearer, claiming I was sent by the Gods.

The voice acting and facial animations were a letdown. While some character had well defined faces, like I couldn't believe how Elpenor's face looked so real, the main characters' voice acting was mediocre. Alexios, on the other hand, had an egregious voice actor that I skipped playing as him altogether. Kassandra isn't that good either, however, she does do a better job. But if some side characters sound better than her, than that is a major issue.

Odyssey doesn't change much from the new gameplay foundation set in Origins, but it does add in new, and interesting new twists. The biggest change, however, is the combat system. It's the same formula from Origins, but glorified. This time around, the combat is mainly ability based. Hack and slash to fill up an adrenaline bar and use an ability on one or many of your foes. Fundamentally, the core gameplay is fun and addicting. And once you realize you can be attacked by vicious chickens, you'll be introduced to the true definition of fun.

The freedom of choice is even evident in your playstyle. You are given a choice to either strengthen your warrior, hunter, or assassin damage through the myriad of gear and weaponry you choose to equip. And by choosing a playstyle, you can invest your ability points in the desired ability tree to strengthen that style even more. This new, interesting system was well received as I never bored myself by the same combat system. I switched around many times and each playstyle had its pros and cons.

The sense of progression constantly reminds you that you are playing an RPG. The constant bombardment of new armor and weaponry led me to believe I was going somewhere with my character. The continual unlocking of new perks and engravings made me run to a blacksmith every half an hour to engrave or dismantle my gear into resources. It was astonishing as I found all these systems mashed together work so well and are all neatly organized.

Ancient Greece is filled with content. As soon as the world map is opened and expanded upon, it is immediately understood that that is a lot of game. Maybe too much. The issue is quality over quantity. There are a whole host of activities to do, but they don't reach the caliber of similar games. Once you realize you need to complete 20+ forts, 10+ leader houses, 42 underwater locations and a smorgasbord of dull, same old contracts and bounties, you would start feeling overwhelmed and bored.

The worst problem is that the player is forced to partake in these activities because of the level gap in between some missions. The grind reaches to horrendous levels as you reach level 30, as you are required to grind around a quarter million XP just to obtain a single level. Once you do the same thing over and over again, this sense of boredom irks in you as you want to proceed but you're stuck killing a farmer or a philosopher instead.

The only fun way to get experience were through side quests. I was surprised at the quality of these missions. They were capricious to say the least. Forget all the stereotypical, husband-finding quests, since there were truly remarkable ones found in there. One minute you're playing Assassin's Creed: Battle Royale, another you try to satisfy an old woman's lust, and another you fulfil an adopted person's prophecy. A staggering majority always cracked me up, and even though it did stray away from the overall tone, it was a welcome addition as all quests are unique in their own way.

The gameplay successfully merges with the world as every outpost you clear or general you assassinate will lower the nation's power that you are in. This gave a reason to clear camps and kill guards as your ultimate goal is to lower the nation's power. But it didn't matter at the end, as you can literally side with whoever you want, Sparta or Athens, and your gameplay choices or how the world interacts with you doesn't change.

The conquest battles were a superb addition to the game as it showcases the truly marvelous combat system. It isn't this must-buy feature, but it is a fun addition that you do in between missions. But as everything in this game, it became a grind as the objective is the same: kill the enemy captain or polemarch. It is entirely optional minus a few main missions. The quirky lock-on system didn't help as well.

One of the best things I was looking towards was the nemesis system. But what we got in Odyssey was disappointing. It wasn't fun like in Shadow of Mordor or Origins, it was outright irritating. Was it just with me or everytime I infiltrated a fort, a mercenary a couple levels above me showed up? I didn't enjoy it as it broke my immersion as everytime I saw one of these assholes running at me, I just rolled my eyes. Testiklos the Nut wasn't even challenging, Ubisoft.

Greece is a country with a myriad of islands. You surely can't reach these isles with a horse, so adding a ship to your arsenal was a necessary decision. While it wasn't as grandiose as Black Flag or Rogue, it did ultimately get its cardinal job done: to transport you in between isles. Naval battles weren't bad, but they weren't good either as I found myself stirring away from pirate triremes time and time again. Arrows and javelin throws just don't give the effect of bits of wood flying around and pirates swinging on ropes.

It just doesn't.

The naval feature felt like a last minute decision, or a move to sell more microtransaction bullshit, as usually I would forget about the Adrestia while I only fast traveled to locations I had already visited. It didn't act like a viable option to use while traveling and didn't act as a hub as the ship is barren of everything. Such a waste to a feature that had so much potential.

Considering the technical side, other than slight frame rate drops here and there, the game was working impeccably. There weren't any glitches encountered as well, as my experience was smooth except for a game breaking crash that happened a couple of times, once in a cutscene. But often times, restarting usually did the trick.

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey should be considered a notable entry in the franchise. It is a game that will surely place itself high on every fan's list. Odyssey is the culmination of all Assassin's Creed games mashed together and it pulls off this trick really well. So well, in fact, that many of us would've laughed imagining an Assassin's Creed game of this grandeur. Sure, it does suffer from some problems, explicitly the horrendous execution of the story and lack of content variety, but it is still a great game that succeeds in luring people into its  enjoyable gameplay.

The truism of bigger isn't always better rings here, since the big and enormous map, while beautiful and detailed, worked against it as so much useless content could've been cut just by having a smaller map. This game taught us that anything can be possible. A dead franchise could revive itself, albeit through some sacrifices. It also taught us that a bigger map isn't always better, making the map into a world that is a living, breathing one, filled with content that actually entertains, should be the indispensable goal for any developing team.

Have you played Assassin's Creed: Odyssey? What did you think of it? Was it fun and enjoyable killing belligerent chickens? Or you thought otherwise? Post your opinion down in the comments section and let's start a discussion.


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