Consider the feeling you get when you embark on an adventure in a game. You mount your horse and follow the waypoint, you pull your boat out of port, you step through a portal: whatever. It’s a key moment in any game, and it let you know about the experience you’re having. Do you have a checklist of things to do, and are you wondering in which order to do them? Are you thinking about how long it will take, and how much time you’ve allotted to play? Are you wishing that waypoint would approach a little faster? Or are you just sort of looking at the horizon, waiting to see what pops up? Is it a world of tasks out there, or is it a world of possibility? The latter will serve you well, and the latter will keep you hooked for dozens of hours. And when I pull my boat out of port and let my sails down in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, I can’t help but just wonder what I’m going to find.
I’m deep into Assassin’s Creed Odyssey at this point and continually impressed at how Ubisoft has managed to keep me feeling this way even as I’ve killed hundreds of Spartan and Athenian soldiers, traipsed across a couple dozen islands and made my way through a couple of eerily familiar forts and conquest battles. It’s the magic of a world that feels like it actually exists, in a genuine way. And when you’re in a world like that you just want to see more.
It’s hard not to play this game without thinking of The Witcher 3, CD Projekt Red’s epic yarn that remains an industry touchstone for open world RPGs. On a basic level, Odyssey borrows heavily from the fantasy game in the way it weaves together action and stat-oriented combat, its approach to world design, even the way that your character has only one faithful steed instead of a whole roster of them–though said steed is reskinnable. But while Odyssey is far from the first game to try to mimic some of those ideas, it’s one of my favorite.
We have all those same markers here, even if they’re not quite on the same level as The Witcher. We have a charming protagonist that the player can guide down a gruffer or kinder path, never straying too far from a charming core. We have those handcrafted sidequests that have clearly had as much attention paid to them as the main storyline, giving us a sense of a world much broader than our own adventure. We have gameplay that just feels satisfying, on a basic level, and that allows even repetetive moments to feel alive. Here Odyssey is more expansive than The Witcher, but it winds up in a similar place.
Assassin’s Creed OdysseyCREDIT: UBISOFT
Origins started us down this path. Origins introduced us to stat-based RPG systems and the current inventory system, to hitbox-based combat and a system of involved, handcrafted sidequests. Odyssey adds small things to this: the ability to choose your protagonist and dialogue choices, mostly. But it’s not so much about what Odyssey changes but what it refines: both the main quest and the sidequests feel more engaging this time around, the naval system feels more complete, the combat abilities more useful, the world more varied and less flat–that last one is mostly just a result of the topographical differences between Greece and Egypt, but still important.
And that’s the thing to remember about this game. It reinvents no wheels, either when you look at it from the perspective of its own franchise or from the perspective of games as a whole. From the Assassin’s Creed point of view, it’s an evolved version of Origins. From the industry point of view, it’s The Witcher 3 with climbing and historical figures.
This is sort of Ubisoft is good at. The developer does step outside of its box with titles like For Honor and Rainbow Six Siege, but prime franchises like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed are examples of craft, more than anything else. Far Cry 5 might not be winning any GOTY awards, but it’s a competent, fun sandbox shooter. They might not contain revolutionary ideas and they might not do many things you don’t expect them to, but they do them well, Unity and Syndicate notwithstanding. And they do them with a level of detail that could only be made possible by the shocking amounts of developer-power a company like this can throw at a game. You can wonder whether this style is necessary or good for the industry and those that work in it, and those are important concerns. But you can’t deny that it’s impressive.
We consider my other favorite game of the franchise, from which Odysseyborrows liberally. Black Flag was not nearly so revolutionary as it felt: it was Assassin’s Creed 3 with more boats and better pacing. And yet there was something magical about that adventure in scale, scope, and sheer joy. It’s one of the reasons later instalments stuck out like a sore thumb: we had seen what this game looked like when it went well. And that’s Odyssey. You won’t find anything much here that you didn’t see in Origins, and the whole format is an evolution of The Witcher 3. But man if it doesn’t just click.
A review code was provided for the purposes of this review.
– By Dave Thier