“Assassin’s Creed Odyssey,” Ubisoft’s most recent entry in the “Assassin’s Creed” franchise, features a dramatic departure from the series’ established gameplay formula. With a large open world filled with an abundance of side missions and secrets to discover and a greater focus on combat, this version of “Assassin’s Creed” has more in common with modern action-RPGs like “Far Cry 5” and “Horizon: Zero Dawn” than it does with any of its predecessors.
Maybe that’s why it has cemented itself as my favorite “Assassin’s Creed” game of all-time.
Set during the time of ancient Greece, “Odyssey” also includes another new feature for the series — the ability to choose between two playable characters, siblings Alexios and Kassandra. Regardless of which one you select, their stories are essentially identical, though you are able so shape their personalities so that the characters quickly become your own. I tried hard to maintain the heroic virtue of my Alexios, but considering that he is a mercenary, I couldn’t help but accept the occasional shady job to earn some easy drachma.
Staying on the right side of the law generally helped me avoid being hunted by mercenaries — yet another new feature. In “Odyssey,” the more crimes you commit the more likely you are to have a bounty placed on your head. At lower levels, you can simply choose to pay off the bounty and continue on your journey. But stray too far toward the dark side and you’ll find yourself relentlessly pursued by some of the toughest enemies the game has to offer.
While there is a ton of content to keep you busy outside of the main storyline, I found the twists and turns of the family drama at the heart of the narrative simply riveting. As with most open-world games, it was hard to keep pushing the story forward without getting sidetracked by a particularly interesting side mission, but I always found myself drawn back to the main story and the collection of exceptional characters that are both well-written and well-acted.
The story unfolds against a backdrop of war between Sparta and Athens, and as a mercenary you’re free to aid either side in the war effort. Each area of the map is controlled by one of the warring factions; weaken one side enough by eliminating soldiers, pillaging war chests and destroying supplies and you’ll trigger a conquest battle. These large-scale encounters were hands-down my least-favorite part of “Odyssey” as I was forced to stray from my stealth approach to combat in order to succeed. Eventually I was able to upgrade Alexios into a more balanced killing machine, but early on these battles presented a challenge that bordered on frustration.
Conquest battles notwithstanding, I found the combat in “Odyssey” to be thoroughly entertaining, whether I was using my bow and attacking from distance or charging headlong into battle with a powerful kick that sent enemies flying through the air (or off a cliff). As you level up your character, you’re able to unlock new abilities and skills that can change how you approach combat. There is also a wide range of weapons at your disposal, from daggers and swords to spears and battle axes. You’re also inundated with a steady stream of loot, meaning better weapons and armor are always right around the corner.
Combat isn’t exclusive to land. Indeed, the naval battles that have become a staple of the “Assassin’s Creed” franchise return and are actually quite fun this time around. On the high seas, naval combat revolves around firing off volleys of arrows to weaken an opposing vessel before delivering the final blow by ramming the ship or getting close enough to board it and battle it out hand-to-hand. Your ship and crew can be upgraded alongside your character, and practically any enemy you encounter during the game can be recruited to join your crew, bringing with them their own specific bonuses to combat. While I always considered sailing to be an afterthought in previous “Assassin’s Creed” games, it’s an integral part of “Odyssey” and I can’t imagine the game without it.
With a beautiful world to explore, an engaging story and exceptional gameplay, “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey” doesn’t just set the bar for the series, it establishes itself as one of the finest open-world RPGs of this generation.
“Assassin’s Creed Odyssey”
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec City
Available for: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC ($59.99)
Rating: M for mature