Was it only last year when I said Assassin’s Creed (AC) Origins was a huge game with so much to do that it will take forever for me to finish?
Well, the newly released AC Odyssey is way bigger than Origins, and even though I don’t think I can finish exploring all of it, the stunning Greek landscapes and legendary historic sites like the Hot Gates of Thermopylae and Athens keeps me wanting to see more.
It’s all Greek to me
Like its predecessor, Odyssey is an ambitious open world game that weaves in elements of role-playing, stealth, action, puzzles, naval warfare and combat.
Set in ancient Greece, Odyssey serves up an epic adventure driven by an intense and suspenseful plot, with an opportunity for immersive virtual tourism in the exotic Greek islands.
The events in Odyssey take place in 431 BCE at the start of the Peloponnesian War, almost 400 years before the events of Origins.
Outside of the Animus and in the present time, Layla Hassan, the ex-Abstergo employee who used the Animus to access Bayek’s memories in Origins, is now using the Book of Herodotos and the Spear of Leonidas to go even further back to ancient Greece in search of Isu artifacts that will help the Assassins.
Confused? Never mind, just know that the game is set in Greece and the protagonist that you play is a mercenary and not an assassin, and you can pick to play either as a man, Alexios, or a woman, Kassandra. They are a pair of siblings of whose DNA strands are found on the Spear of Leonidas.
Of course, I cannot wait to play the game as Kassandra, the first female protagonist in an actual Assassin’s Creed game, but for comparison, I dabbled a little with Alexios.
Perhaps I am biased, but I found him stiffer and more gruff and aggressive, while Kassandra is more engaging and likeable with a subtle sense of humour.
As the story progresses, more is revealed about the siblings’ past, as well as the clandestine cult that is secretly controlling Greece and the forces that are shaping Greece and ultimately, the history of mankind.
While Kassandra and Alexios are Spartan by birth, being a mercenary means that you are free to perform missions for both the Athenians and the Spartans.
Unlike Origins where I felt like I was always being attacked, in Odyssey, you can walk freely and help either side unless you intrude on a protected area.
What I like about Odyssey is that the decisions you make may change the quests and missions that are open to you, depending on which side you aid or fight against.
Occasionally, the missions you choose to do will cause conflicts – when you help the Athenians, the power of Spartans will depreciate and vice versa, and you have the power to change who occupies which territory.
So, it does require some thought on what missions you want to complete rather than just taking all of them on mindlessly.
The game gets even more complex with pivotal decisions that affect events later on, such as killing someone or sparing their lives.
And since the repercussions are only revealed much later, saving the game just before making the decision doesn’t really help unless one is willing to abandon all the progress that has been made up to that point.
Feta lot to do
If you thought Origins’ map featuring vast deserts was huge, Odyssey’s map of the Greek islands with the Thracian and Aegean seas to traverse is even bigger.
Often times, the places you have to get to look dreadfully far, but having a horse, a ship and the fast travel function to locations that you have previously synchronised with really help in cutting down the travel time. If you dock someplace and wandered deep inland, you can also fast travel back to your ship.
Odyssey offers plenty to do – apart from the main story missions, there are also plenty of side quests showing up on the map. These are quite well developed and some even have interesting stories so you don’t feel like you are doing something menial, even though you are.
For instance, there is a feisty old lady who requests animal parts to create an aphrodisiac, which translates to hunting and killing animals. You may also be asked to gather herbs to cure someone.
There are also investigative quests, in which you need to examine an area to look for clues, or talk to people to get information. And if you are feeling amorous, you can even romance certain characters of either gender by choosing the appropriate dialogue options. Yes, this makes for quite a bit of entertainment.
Towns and cities also have message boards posting jobs for mercenaries, which Kassandra or Alexios can take up. However, many such jobs are menial “fetch” or “slay” quests involving delivering messages, slaughtering animals and bandits, or retrieving items. Although boring, these help you earn drachmae and resources for upgrading your gear.
Tired of playing an errand girl or boy? You can satisfy your blood lust by taking part in epic, large scale and all out melee battles on the battlefields where you can fight either the Athenians or Spartans.
No sneaking here – just ensure you have the best melee weapon, armour and warrior abilities. That’s because you will be knocking back hordes of enemies, some whom are Elite enemies who can take a lot of hits and dole out plenty of damage.
Or, if you are sick of running around on land, you can break the monotony by jumping on your ship for a swashbuckling adventure. Odyssey’s well developed, full fledged naval warfare lets you engage in skirmishes with Spartan and Athenian forces, merchants as well as pirates where you can score some loot.
You can also upgrade your ship’s defensive and offensive abilities, hire lieutenants to boost your ship’s stats, and even customise the look of your ship and your crew.
Odyssey offers a whole lot of gear, including weapons, armour and enhancements. You can improve your gear through a blacksmith by purchasing upgrades or engraving enhancements.
Engravings add additional stats to your gear that give you an edge over your enemies, and can be unlocked by completing missions, attaining certain accomplishments, solving riddles or simply progressing in the game.
If you can solve collectible riddles in the form of Ainigmata Ostraka, these will lead you to additional engravings. One piece of equipment that’s missing in Odyssey that was in Origins is the shield, but since you can parry and counterattack, you won’t miss it at all.
To pay for upgrades for your gear and your ship, you will need plenty of resources and drachmae which can be looted from fallen enemies or scattered loot boxes. You may also find some lying around in the wild.
Another good way to get resources is to dismantle weapons that you have picked up and will not equip. For the desperate, doing menial and repetitive mercenary tasks will reward you with resources as well.
Apart from fighting Spartan and Athenian militants, wild animals and bandits, you will also need to tangle with mercenaries who are collecting the bounty for your head, as well as assassinate shadowy cultists all over Greece. Keep those weapons and armour upgraded – some enemies cannot be killed purely by stealth!
Homage to Erebus and Athena
Longtime AC fans will be happy to see that stealth-focused missions and naval combat have made a comeback in Odyssey, something which was overshadowed in Origins by the melee heavy gameplay.
In Odyssey, you can sneak around, climb up vantage points and stealthily pick off enemies in heavily guarded forts or camps – an important tactic as enemies can easily overpower you. Serving as your eye in the sky is Ikaros the eagle, who can help to spot and tag enemies, find potential targets as well as loot.
Just like Singaporeans, people in Odyssey are fond of complaining to a higher authority. If you are seen by any civilian bystanders killing someone, destroying property, stealing something, or generally misbehaving, they will lodge a complaint, causing your Bounty meter to fill up. Eventually, a mercenary will hunt you down.
A word of caution about attacking livestock, even if it is an accident: Not only will your Bounty meter go up but they will retaliate and can actually hurt you. I made the newbie mistake of fighting a mercenary on a farm and was instead ferociously attacked by the chickens. It was an unglamourous and embarrassing death.
To hone your offensive and defensive abilities, Odyssey offers three branches where you can upgrade your skills as a Warrior, Hunter and Assassin by using Ability points which can be earned by progressing in the game and by completing missions.
In addition, there are tombs where you are rewarded with Ability points when you solve puzzles and locate hidden steles.
Despite having so many abilities to choose from, you can only assign four skills from the melee and the ranged skill sets for quick access at any one time. This forces you to prioritise the skills and reset the quick keys before entering into different types of battles.
Face that launched a thousand ships
The graphics for AC games has always been highly acclaimed, and Odyssey is no exception. The magnificent Greek landscape looks stunning in both day and night, on fair days and in the rain.
Some outstanding sites are truly spectacular and memorable, including dilapidated temples, scenic waterfalls covered by flowering trees and eerie tombs on the hillside.
Each region also has a distinctive feel, whether it is the colour accents on the buildings or the style of architecture, which makes you want to keep exploring.
Apart from just beautiful scenery, the game is full of intricate details and activity all around – herds of deer grazing in the countryside, leaves rustling in the breeze, and non-player characters (NPCs) going about their lives, whether they are weaving baskets, worshipping the gods or haggling at the marketplace.
But what really impresses are the beautifully rendered and realistic sea and water effects. Notice the way the ships bob on the surface of the sea, the sprays during furious ship battles and dolphins swimming alongside your bow.
Even the underwater world is beautiful. While diving for hidden treasures in the depths of oceans or lakes, you can see schools of distinct and colourful fishes swimming around, forlorn sunken statues as well as desolate shipwrecks.
Another highlight of Odyssey is its soaring, epic soundtrack as well as suitably tense music during stealth missions and an immediate change in tempo once you are spotted.
When you are at sea, your ship’s crew will entertain you with their songs while sailing – with an option to turn off if you need some peace.
Unfortunately, the beautiful soundscape is marred by an audio bug after the game was patched, where the dialogue has too much echo and sounds muffled. Fortunately, I was able to resolve it by updating the sound card drivers and tweaking the audio settings.
Odyssey is better suited for a mature audience thanks to its colourful language and liberal use of expletives – not just in Greek but in English as well.
In addition, the protagonist’s potentially flirtatious overtures towards NPCs and the sexual innuendos might be unsuitable for younger gamers. That’s not to mention the violence and gore as well, but that is a given since this is an AC game.
Bugs in the ointment
An ambitious game of such scale and complexity is not without its problems, of course.
One that stands out is the highly repetitive nature of mercenary jobs that you feel you have already completed dozens of times. At one point, I had three tasks that required me to kill goats, boars and wolves. Boring.
Plus, after talking to hundreds of NPCs in the form of quest givers, they all start to look the same and spout the same lines, ad nauseam.
Am I getting Assassin’s fatigue? I had always wished for a huge open world game to explore but sadly, things get repetitive and you will feel that there is a limit to how big an open world can be.
Through limited time quests and special events that are available for a few days, as well as daily quests, the developers have tried to keep the game feeling fresh, but these continue to add to the long list of things that you feel obliged to attend to and detract you from the main story.
Another problem with Odyssey are some bugs that impact gameplay, such as the stealth mode not working even when hidden, and the buggy enemy AI which causes them not to investigate even though they are suspicious.
But most annoyingly, quest givers sometimes run away from you after you have rescued them from attackers. You can’t complete the quest if it’s not given to you.
Odyssey is a bold open-world game set in beautiful ancient Greece with a choice of playing a female protagonist, a first in the AC franchise. Despite playing a mercenary and not an assassin, Odyssey’s gameplay with more emphasis on stealth than Origins will make a longtime AC fan happy.
If you must compare, I would say I prefer Odyssey over Origins in terms of character, story and gameplay. Being able to play Kassandra is a big plus. However, the game is marred by repetitive mercenary jobs, cookie-cutter NPCs and some annoying bugs.
Odyssey is available on Windows, Xbox One and PlayStation platforms at S$70 for the regular version and S$134 for the Ultimate Edition, which includes the Season Pass with two DLCs, exclusive gear packs and quests.