Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is going to be many things, to many people. For me, it’s the first time in the series that the hardest difficulty setting -- Nightmare in this case -- has truly taken me to my limits in both execution of skill, patience and in managing frustration. The reasons for this are many, but largely it comes down to what I think is Odyssey’s biggest flaw (big because there aren’t too many more), and that’s in the game-world level-scaling.
You start the game on the island of Kephallonia as either Kassandra or Alexios -- direct descendents of the great Spartan King Leonidas who famously lead an army of 300 against the Persian war machine -- and you’ll get a taste of this historic moment early on in the game, too. But when you take control of your chosen Assassin you’re a relatively low-level character with some pretty ordinary gear. And so as you’d expect with any great RPG or open-world adventure game, this starting area is designed to help you get your bearings on the game’s myriad upon myriad systems, how they all work together and then after some dabbling across the board, be on your merry way.
Misthios beware: because of the game-world scaling, Level 4 wolves match your level. So if you stay on Kephallonia -- the usually low-level ‘tutorial’ playspace and level to, say, 8, the wolves are all now magically 8. Even the damn goats are now level 8 -- they were previously level 1. This proves even more problematic when playing on Nightmare because beast and enemy attacks continue to deal more damage to you, while your armour, health and adrenaline remain what appears to be deliberately hamstrung to make the mode all the more challenging. Some could argue this causes the player to truly master the RPG-heavy weapon and armour management system, while choosing the right skills across the Hunter, Warrior and Assassin ability trees to then combine in the ‘input-perfect’ combat this studio has tried hard to nail.
"More often than not because of all of this (and a bit more), in Nightmare you’re less a scary, ever-levelling Spartan warrior and more the sort of person who lives by the creed “she who runs away lives to hide in tall grass another day”...
But I have to argue back that the inputs aren’t registered perfectly. Often after an evade roll I’ll tee up an LB Warrior Melee action and press only for it not to register, and I need to quickly try and reactivate it, but if an enemy in that very tiny moment of frame loss closes in and even gets in one major hit, because of their more superior attacks, I could be screwed. I’ve also been in situations where I’m locked onto a target with the targeting system, where I might be about to Sparta kick the shit out of him off a high ledge, wall or mountain peak, but because in this instance using the right analogue -- also importantly used for camera controls -- allows you to change target, I’ve actually switched to a guy not even close enough to land the kick because I’ve also been trying to manage the camera in conjunction. Then the two of them have the drop on me, and I’m screwed if my adrenaline is completely drained.
More often than not because
of all of this (and a bit more), in Nightmare you’re less a scary, ever-levelling Spartan warrior and more the sort of person who lives by the creed
“she who runs away lives to hide in tall grass another day”. And it’s in stealth I managed to grit my teeth and push through, but not without losing out a bit on being a badass at full-on confrontation. It’s not entirely broken, but does need some fixing.
The obvious solution to all of this is: don’t play on Nightmare. But that is
how I’ve always played these games, and it’s frustrating that it feels like an overencumbered mess of inputs and complications for the sake of complications. But
, drop the game a level and it becomes immediately manageable allowing you to get on with all the things the studio has gotten right with Odyssey, and there is a lot right here.
"They’re uncouth and rough. They demand a certain type of respect, even while you’re managing their incredible lines of dialogue and shaping them into the characters you want them to be..."
We lauded the Montreal team for reimagining the series and giving unto us the righteous and emotionally-driven Bayek of Siwa. The switch to full-blown open-world action-RPG was super-fresh (hyphen alert) and delivered on a visual platter as one of the poster-childs for Xbox One X native 4K gaming in HDR. It had a somewhat regimented sense to itself though, often with checklist area completion tasks that at times pulled away from the setting and discovery portion of the game. But on the whole, it was brilliant.
With Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, we get no such high and mightiness with our characters. They’re uncouth and rough. They demand a certain type of respect, even while you’re managing their incredible lines of dialogue and shaping them into the characters you
want them to be. Team Quebec has lifted the narrative game tenfold here, which is no mean feat in the wake of Origins, and I’m leaning towards Kassandra as now my favourite character in the series. The choices you make in dialogue options feel like they have weight in much the same way those of The Witcher 3 did, only here you’re building out more of a personal reputation within the game-world, as opposed to playing through an already-established one.
"Take out camps in classic Ubisoft design style, or stealthily go through the camp and destroy all of their weapons racks and try to lure beasts to the camp. You can hit them economically as well, or even sabotage their supplies for the war..."
It’s massive, too. Origins was big, but Odyssey is larger in both scale and
content as well as in its visual mastery (it looks incredible on my Samsung 65” Curved QLED Q8C
). The Mercenaries metagame alone can have you leaving the story path for ages, chasing a different type of glory. And it’s the little things that surround expansive concepts like this -- paying off regular mercenaries instead of fighting them, maybe because you can’t be bothered running into their alarming horn, or maybe because you want to spend time in the world uninterrupted, is a stroke of genius. Not every province or island is immediately hostile to you either, which is a fantastic way to open the game up almost immediately. As a mercenary you kind of ‘pick your battles’, but in doing so you can often play both sides against each other. Quebec has gone above and beyond to remove as much binary design from their game as possible, and it’s utterly brilliant.
You’ll find yourself as you progress the game’s story working to weaken Spartan or Athenian Leadership in various areas where one rules over the other. But again, how you do this isn’t binary, and you don’t need to check off a list of ‘must dos’ -- it’s up to you: thin out their armies and leaders by recruiting them to your personal ship crew. Take out camps in classic Ubisoft design style, or stealthily go through the camp and destroy all of their weapons racks and try to lure beasts to the camp. You can hit them economically as well, or even sabotage their supplies for the war. And all of this leads to a “Final Push”, which is effectively where you and the army you’ve sided with, at that time, have a massive brawl. The weaker you’ve made a Leadership, the more likely you are to taste a less hard-fought victory.
"Ubisoft Quebec has made you a cog in the Peloponnesian war, but they’ve also allowed you to dress up that cog however you see fit, and this transcends the cosmetic, right through to being able to romance other characters..."
And it’s an incredibly baller system. It’s not hit and run-type stuff. Some of this takes planning. The camps and strongholds are designed in more asymmetrical ways, and even with your pet Eagle Ikaros, you might not find everyone, or everything, you can fight and exploit, respectively. And then there’s also your ship and the other metagame in conquering the seas. You can pimp your ship out, you can recruit new members to your crew with each bringing something new to the game. In some ways this and the Mercenaries system is a bit like Middle-earth: Shadow of’s Nemesis systems, but isn’t anywhere near like-for-like, it just adds personality, planning and flair to a more robust
You’ll happen upon quests, as opposed to finding them from a marker making the game more emergent. This is coupled with an even more aggressive and diverse ecosystem both on land and in the water. Your weapons and armour aren’t “wow found a new better one, better drop old faithful” now because you can upgrade them and then add Engravings, which are interchangeable buffs. And you once again have a trusty horse, only this time you get to choose from three but then you can also change their skin and customise as you see fit.
"And with the post-release roadmap Quebec has already laid out, and hopefully a few balance and bug fixes in patches to come, there’s no reason Assassin’s Creed Odyssey will leave your side for the next 18 months or so..."
Ubisoft Quebec has made you a cog in the Peloponnesian war, but they’ve also allowed you to dress up that cog however you see fit, and this transcends the cosmetic, right through to being able to romance other characters in the game-world. A game-world that is truly alive.
I’ve avoided spoilers here, because the story gets both hot and heavy, in varying meanings of those words based on context. And can get as complicated as that sentence I just wrote, but it is densely layered in a brilliant way and will keep you pushing through, without pulling you away from the large amount of activities this playspace offers. And with the post-release roadmap Quebec has already laid out, and hopefully a few balance and bug fixes in patches to come, there’s no reason Assassin’s Creed Odyssey will leave your side for the next 18 months or so. You will etch your legacy in history, Spartan. But how you do so will be entirely
up to you.