I should preface this by admitting that I have not played a game in this franchise since Assassin’s Creed 3. When I was first introduced to the series way back in 2007, there were a few things that hooked me. First, the free running and stealth aspects from AC1 were a breath of fresh air for my teenage mind. I always wanted to climb across walls and rooftops, stalking the enemy like a predator in the wild. Second, I loved the mystery of the story. The idea of the Animus was fascinating; returning to the real world of Desmond Miles brought about many intriguing questions about who his kidnappers were, and why they needed his ancestor’s memories. Third, the historical open world was visually striking (for the time) and fun to explore. Having visited Jerusalem this year, I was reminded of playing as Altair sneaking across those old stone walls. Really, just the idea of remaking cities of antiquity in a game engine should’ve been enough for me to continue following the series until now. However, Assassin’s Creed, in my opinion, lost its way with the third installment (not counting Brotherhood and Revelations). The Desmond storyline turned into a convoluted mess, filled with stupid contrivances and vague dialogue. The American Revolution setting wasn’t nearly as compelling as the Italian Renaissance. And those gameplay and graphical bugs took me out of the game frequently. It was at that point that I stopped playing. I read that Black Flag was much better, but it was too late for me. “Pirates?”, I thought to myself. “So there’s no point in calling this Assassin’s Creed anymore.” Many years went by, and guess what my Christmas gift was this year? Yep, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. After playing on the first two islands of Kephallonia and Ithaka, here are my first impressions of a lost love.
The first bit of gameplay in Odyssey involves taking the role of Leonidas in the Battle of Thermopylae. I was simultaneously excited and disappointed when I saw this. This was where the series is going? Recreating 300? However, a minute into the fighting mechanics and I was actually enjoying myself. There are many RPG elements included in the series now: skill trees, dialogue options, and other familiar elements found in games like Dragon Age. While different from the originals, I liked kicking a thug off a mountain like all Ancient Greek heroes probably do. Eventually the game switches to Leo’s descendant, either Alexios or Kassandra. This was a bad choice from a story perspective, but I’ll get to that later. The missions seem to consist of a few tropes: find an important thing for an NPC, infiltrate a base of bandits, save a village from being slaughtered. They were quite repetitive, which is a criticism that has stretched back to the first game. However, I had too much fun smacking bad guys around with swords, hammers, staffs, daggers and axes that I can forgive this problem. There is a bounty system as well, which added a welcome challenge. If Kassandra commits too many crimes, a mercenary is hired to take you out. Mercenaries are tougher than the run-of-the-mill enemies, and completely ruined a mission I was on at the Abandoned House. It was the first time I felt the game was actually testing my abilities. After dying three or four times I decided to grind up a level and kill the mercenary first. In classic AC fashion, I stalked him on a rooftop in the Sami marketplace and settled my bounty personally.
There is honestly not much to say at this point. First, let’s address the minotaur in the room: choosing a male or female avatar hurts the canon of the story. The Animus is designed to relive memories of your ancestor. In Odyssey, the modern gameplay element of Your Choices Matter was prioritized over fixing the mess of its overarching story. It would’ve been better off to scrap the modern time subplot and focus on Kassandra almost entirely. Focusing on the main story, the player controls an outsider with a mysterious backstory that has to work their way up to become the big hero, stop the nationwide conflict, and probably something else I’ve seen a hundred times before. It is a cookie cutter Hero’s Journey that can be found in almost every popular Western Action RPG (Mass Effect, Dragon Age, KOTOR, Elder Scrolls, Fallout, etc.). It is serviceable enough, but I truly hope it gets better once I leave Kephallonia. That being said, my favorite story moment is when my character shoves an obsidian eye up a goat’s butt, much to the ire (pun intended) of a C Tier villain (pun also intended) named Cyclops of Kephallonia.
Absolutely beautiful! Ancient Greece is one of my favorite periods in history to read about. Their mythology, a brilliant collection of gods and monsters, can be felt walking throughout Odyssey. It’s obvious that these first two islands want to remind you that this is where Odysseus comes from and that your odyssey is about to begin. I have no idea whether or not the art design is accurate to the historical time, but I give the Ubisoft team tremendous credit for making this game so colorful and striking. However, as with all Assassin’s Creed games I’ve played, there are glitches and bugs present. I’ve seen the floating peasants. I’ve seen the hilariously wonky fights between drunk NPCs. Unlike AC3, it never distracted me for too long. I don’t know if this is because I simply expected bugs and remained unsurprised, or if these technical malfunctions weren’t as bad this time around.
I understand that the first couple hours of gameplay may not be what the majority of the game will be like. But if I were to give a first impressions score, I would give Assassin’s Creed Odyssey a 7/10. It is not my favorite of the franchise (AC2), but I have to admit that I had fun. The visuals are amazing, and the gameplay is decent, but if the story continues to be mediocre I may not continue playing.
At least it was better than the movie.