Ubisoft’s biggest franchise gets its best entry yet. Here’s our review of the epic-as-it-sounds Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
It’s not often a series has its best entry eleven years and almost a dozen games in, and it’s even less likely when it’s the direct successor to an already great game. Franchise fatigue, fixing things that aren’t broken, and creative leads leaving almost always get the better of a series before it reaches double digits.
And yet, here we are with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. It isn’t only the high point of Ubisoft’s flagship series, it’s also – without a hint of hyperbole – an easy competitor for the greatest open-world game ever made. Sorry, The Witcher 3.
Odyssey ditches Origins’ Ptolemaic Egypt and rolls the clock back about 400 years earlier to the birthplace of Western civilisation: Ancient Greece. Putting you in the sandals of one of two siblings, Kassandra or Alexios, the story follows your Spartan as they explore the Greek world, meet famous historical faces, and investigate the mysterious Cult of Kosmos that is hunting you down.
This being an Assassin’s Creed game, there’s also a modern storyline: a continuation of Templar-turned-Assassin Layla Hassan’s story from Origins. If you’ve been away from the series for a while, the modern segments have become much less prevalent since Desmond Miles’s exploits, giving a few hints into the ongoings of today’s Assassins and throwing some nice nods to previous games, but otherwise acting as bookends for the meat of the story set millennia ago.
At the centre of Odyssey is the sprawling world of Ancient Greece itself – chock-full of beautiful vistas, glistening seas, bustling cities, deadly forests, and perilous cliffs, all teeming with interwoven history and mythology. The Greek world is mind-bogglingly massive, and even dozens of hours in you’re not likely to have seen much more than a fifth of the map, and even that fifth probably hasn’t been fully explored yet.
Getting around the islands can be tricky, but finally making its full return after a handful of missions in Origins are the ships of Black Flag and Rogue. While it was a popular feature, ships always felt sluggish in previous titles, which is something Odyssey manages to improve on effectively. Ships are faster but less sturdy than Rogue’s icebreakers or Black Flag’s galleys, resulting in fights feeling more frantic and deadly. Building your crew is crucial, too, as lieutenants can be hired from just about anywhere to give the ship bonuses in combat whilst bolstering your boarding party when the time comes to get up close and personal. While Black Flag gave the perfect pirate fantasy, Odyssey is by far the most refined and fun iteration of Creed’s ship gameplay to date.
Continuing the series’ shift to full-blown RPG status, Odyssey takes Origins’ multitude of side quests, loot, and skill trees, and adds to it a whole branching dialogue system that can change the course of the whole game. Your Spartan can talk with the great and the good of Greece, and many missions can be influenced by the way you communicate, threaten, question, and flirt. For example, intimidating a character might get the job done quicker, but it could have an impact on your reward.
Another great change is the introduction of Exploration Mode. Your eagle, Ikaros, works as your eye in the sky, scoping out enemies, objectives, and loot for you, much like Origins’ Senu. However, Odyssey tweaks how missions play out to better balance the sheer amount of information Ikaros can give you. Gone are direct waypoints to objectives, and instead map-reading and exploration are required to hunt down your next goal. It gives the environment a bigger role than just being a stage for the action, especially when you run out of leads chasing down a single target.
Working in tandem with the Exploration System is a whole investigative mode dedicated to wiping out the Cult of Kosmos. Each member has clues – such as a letter or the dying word of a subordinate – that help uncover who and where they’re to be picked off. For a game that technically predates the Assassin Order by several centuries, it’s worth noting that no other entry has gone to these lengths to let you feel like a true Assassin.
The game feels a lot more stealthy than its Egyptian older brother, thanks to the combination of the much denser foliage to hide in and a few fancy abilities. It turns Assassin’s Creed into something more akin to Middle-earth: Shadow of War: staying unseen until the last, brutal moment, with a few supernatural tricks such as bending arrows and teleporting to enemies killed at range. It works to give Odyssey a much more solid stealth foundation than the series has seen for a while, which is greatly appreciated.
Ultimately, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is still an Assassin’s Creed game. It’s about climbing tall things, jumping from them, stabbing people, and then meeting a few famous faces from history. What makes Odyssey special, though, is how it follows Origins’ already stellar example in how to make a dizzyingly huge world, and then refines everything else to within an inch of its life. Stealth is better, combat is better, ships are better, dialogue is better; the list of improvements Odyssey makes to the series is as vast as its world.
Whether it’s looking out over a city, or watching the dolphins bound through the waves alongside your ship, this game constantly provides beautiful and surprising things to take in. It’s a nice treat at the end of a hard day ramming a spear through someone’s pancreas.
Quite simply, this is the best Assassin’s Creed has ever been.
Genre: Action, Stealth, RPG, Open-world
Format: PS4 (reviewed) /PC/XBO
Release: Out now