For the second year in a row, Ubisoft is launching a new Assassin’s Creed game. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is the latest entry in the series. It follows the adventures of Greek mercenaries Alexios or Kassandra depending on who you choose. And it takes place during the Peloponnesian Wars that pitted Athens and Sparta against one another.
But within that new setup, you’ll recognize a lot of Assassin’s Creed formula. The biggest difference this time around is that you will get more Assassin’s Creed than ever before. You will also get more variety and role-playing elements.
Is all of that enough to justify another trip into history with Ubisoft? Along with some overall refinements and some entertaining writing and direction, yes.
This is my favorite Assassin’s Creed since Brotherhood.
Review-in-progress: I have not finished Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, and I have not played enough to feel comfortable assigning a final score. The text of this review may change as I complete more of the game and finalize my thoughts.
What you’ll like (so far)
Good pacing in a huge open world
Odyssey is a mammoth game. That’s true both in terms of square mileage and the amount stuff that fills that world. And while it has more of those things than most other games, that’s not too impressive on its own anymore. What’s more important is that Ubisoft has built in a sense of momentum that will drive you through the Odyssey in a way that makes you actually want to go out and explore all of that content.
That comes down to a refined sense of pacing, and that’s super difficult to pull off in an open-world game. In Odyssey, Ubisoft accomplishes this in a number of ways.
Dense, but not busy
The Greek world in Odyssey seems to have more missions, quests, characters, and side diversions than any Assassin’s Creed ever. At the same time, the world has enough space to let each of those activities breathe.
Some past open-world Ubisoft games seem like Yves Guillemot threw mission icons onto every possible square inch. Odyssey is the opposite of that. All of its map icons exist as distinct little islands. As a result, the entire adventure is much more manageable. Your brain actually has a chance to meaningfully process the information. It’s as if Ubisoft is treating you like a human and not some kind of box-checking automaton.
Mission-type and design variety
And then each of those icons often have enough variance that they feel like fleshed out, unique experiences. Odyssey has built a pyramid of design buckets in order to create that variety.
Each mission either fits into a land or naval setting. Then that filters down into story missions, cultist assassinations, the mercenary system, contracts, or character missions. And then those can either focus on killing someone specific, taking out an enemy outpost, destroying war-supply crates, decimating Athens’ or Sparta’s forces in a region, or a million other specific design elements.
The point here is that each mission isn’t just the same thing over and over. On one quest, you may have to take out a specific mercenary that is wandering the map taking on contracts of their own. In the next, you may have to carry an imprisoned ship captain out of his cell.
I don’t know a lot about the inner workings at Ubisoft, but people seem to like working at the publisher — at least as far as I can tell. And I hope that’s because it is taking care of the people who have made so many entertaining and bespoke missions. Before Odyssey, I would’ve considered this kind of consistent variety across such a massive world impossible or unsustainable. Maybe it still is the latter, but that doesn’t change the fact that Odyssey is an incredible achievement.
Variety in execution
And then when you actually play through a mission, it feels like you have enough options to keep things feeling fresh. Now, this isn’t The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You won’t have some flash of insight about how to exploit the physics system over and over. But you can lead a lion into an enemy encampment.
Odyssey at least nails the transitions really well. You can start off in stealth mode and move into head-on-combat in a way that feels good.
Slow introduction of major mechanics
The final point that contributes to the great pacing is that Ubisoft holds back a lot of its biggest features. When you start, your menu only has a handful of tabs. That grows consistently for the first 20 hours or so.
Like with the icons and the map and the use of space, withholding mechanics makes the game much easier to manage. You’re an expert at the basics by the time you get the new menu to start upgrading your ship, for example.
This design decision fits into an overall attention-to-detail that I think defines Odyssey. And all of that feeds into this dedication to variety and creativity that will have you jumping from one quest to another for hours at a time
Stealth that obeys some kind of logic
Speaking of stealth, Odyssey feels a bit like miracle coming off of Ubisoft’s Far Cry 5. In that shooter from earlier this year, enemies had some sort of hive-mind connection. No matter where they were, they could sense that you just silently and instantly murdered one of their comrades.
I hate that, and thankfully, Odyssey doesn’t share that problem. You can kill a guard without alerting everyone else. But this game goes way beyond that when it comes to improving stealth.
As an assassin, you don’t have any shortage of silent ways to kill someone. But if you fail to take out an enemy with one quick dagger to the ribs, you’re not suddenly going to have to fight off 15 people. You can get into a full head-to-head fight with someone inside of a base and go right back into stealth afterward. The key is that you’ll only draw more soldiers if they witness or hear it directly.
Fun characters, world, and story
I don’t care about Assassin’s Creed lore. Or I didn’t. I can’t explain what is happening to me, but Odyssey has me thinking about its stupid precursor race and Abstergo in a way that is not totally dismissive.
What I think is happening is that I’m having so much fun with the characters and setting, that I’m assuming I’ll get a similar reaction from diving into the overall meta story. I doubt that’s the case, but at least Odyssey is a good time.
Kassandra the great
I’m primarily playing as Kassandra, and she’s just so damn cool. She’s not over-the-top, but I love the way her Greek accent chews through some of the “Proper Nouns” like Cult of Kosmos (“Coat of Cuhzmos”). I also adore her design.
Ubisoft built Kassandra like Doug Flutie. She looks like she could play quarterback for a Canadian Football team or like she could easily kill you in combat. She has shoulders and biceps that look mean and lean. I don’t want to get hung up on her body, but I appreciate that she looks like a warrior and not a model. Although, that’s not to say a model couldn’t easily kill me in a sword fight.
Kassandra, as a mercenary, is a blast to pilot as well. She’s not Bayek. She’s not an officer of the law. People pay her to fix (read: kill) their problems, and so I don’t feel like I have to turn away payment. That’s her job. So I feel free to play her as cocky, impatient, and only interested in money.
A character like Kassandra is especially fun during the “romances.” Although it’s a stretch to call them that. The game has no qualms about letting you have sex with one character after another, and I don’t think it has any real long-term relationships. And Kassandra is just as likely to “neg” her potential mates as she is to woo them.
During the dialogue scenes, where you can choose a response, I had Kassandra tell a woman she is pretty when she’s angry. In response, the woman said something to the effect of “you don’t really mean that.” And it was great to get an option where Kassandra was like, “OK. Fine. You’re ugly then.”
Kassandra wants to bang, but she doesn’t have time for your games.
But the highlight for me is the gerontophilia scene, which plays out as a cutscene where Kassandra pleases an elder Greek woman all night while her husband sits on the curb outside playing the lute.
Skyrim-like environment and Roman-like Markos
The world of Odyssey is great to explore because it adapts the design of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to the Assassin’s Creed model. You will find caves to explore and bandit enclaves to fight all across the land. If you take one of those on and then get a mission to clear out the camp, you will get the credit for doing so immediately. That’s just like Skyrim.
Odyssey even has environmental storytelling skeletons and bodies.
The rest of the world and characters are also great. I think I still prefer Florence from Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. But I think that’s just more about the density of that city and its recognizable architecture. Greece still has plenty of monuments to explore, and Ubisoft populates them with memorable characters. I’m especially fond of Markos from the starting area, who is very reminiscent of cousin Roman from Grand Theft Auto IV. I half expected him to call me to go bowling.
What you won’t like (so far)
Combat is vague and frustrating
You’ll spend a lot of time in combat in Odyssey, and that created the biggest impediment for my enjoyment. The fighting system is fine, but it has some glaring issues.
Eating inputs and lack of feedback
First, the game has input lag that can cause you to miss dodges and blocks. It feels like maybe the game is still processing previous inputs before it lets you do anything else, but you don’t get any feedback to tell you that’s what is happening. If my character has a cooldown, I need that information. Put it on the screen somehow so I can understand what is happening. Because without that feedback, it just feels like the character isn’t responding to my inputs during critical moments.
Even when you can get your inputs in on time, however, that lack of feedback rears its head in other areas. Most notably, it was impossible for me to tell what I was supposed to do during an enemies unblockable attack. Every opponent has a glowing-red move that you can’t stop by holding up your weapon. Instead, you need to dodge, but if you dodge in the wrong direction or wrong time, you’ll take damage.
I still don’t know if I was messing up the timing or something else because, again, Odyssey has no way of providing that data.
Odyssey has a lock-on mechanic, but I hate it. It’s hard to tell when you’re locked on for one thing. That’s because the indicator is small and white, and it blends in with the action to the point that you can’t see it.
And when you are locked on, the camera isn’t effective at following the action. OK. Most of the time, it is serviceable, but I try to adjust the perspective myself with the right stick quite a lot. But that just changes focus from one enemy to another, and that makes the camera swing around wildly.
It’s a disorienting system that took me a long time to get accustomed to.
You spend a lot of time in slow menus
I typically don’t like games where you spend forever making decisions in menus. So I was surprised to find that I really like doing that in Odyssey. It’s great to have the map and quest log or a list of potential targets and make decisions about where to next.
But that fun evaporates quickly when you’re waiting for the menus to load or when you have to deal with the slow Destiny 2-style cursor to perform actions on a controller. I get why the cursor pointer is so popular with designers all of the sudden. The pointer is easier for most people who haven’t used a D-pad to navigate menus for the last 30 years … but here’s an idea: why not both? Why can’t I use the analog to move the cursor around and the D-pad to jump from one option to another instantly?
That input method and the loading gives the whole process this sluggishness. And you start to feel the pain of that when you’re juggling multiple things at once and are diving into the menu over and over.
Leveling progression is unrewarding
Odyssey has a lot of role-playing elements. You get color-coded gear, and your character has a level that you improve with experience points. But this has two flaws that drag down the game a bit for me.
First, the game scales enemy levels too closely to your own. If your character goes from level 6 to 7, all of the animals and most of the nearby enemies will also jump from 6 to 7. This eliminates that moment where you instantly feel more capable and competent for a while after leveling up. Instead, the grind is this constant mountain climb with zero plateaus to rest and feel powerful.
Second, you’ll hit some brick walls when it comes to progression. I was making good progress with my character up until level 15. At that point, I had a story mission that required me to take on a level 17 assassin. That was so challenging that I decided to get to 17 myself first. That seemed like a good plan because I had leveled up at a decent rate up until that point. But it took me six hours to go from 15 to 17.
Conclusion (so far)
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is dense, detailed, and varied. It is more dense, detailed, and varied than I considered possible for a video game before playing this. It is a stunning accomplishment, and the 500-to-1,000+ people who worked on it should feel proud.
It has its problems. Combat is clunky, the menus are a slog, and leveling feels off. But those issues never made me want to stop playing. I want to keep playing right now.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is out October 5. Ubisoft provided a code for the purpose of this review.