I’m a philhellene. That’s the Greek word for love and the Greek word for Greece. I love the history, the aesthetic, and the explosion of scientific discovery. But most of all, I love the stories. Those grand, frank tales that illuminate the best and, most often, worst aspects of the human condition. The news of the Assassin’s Creed franchise finally getting round to covering the cradle of Western civilisation brought with it mixed emotions: the franchise has fouled up the French and American revolutions, and Victorian London, could they do the same here?
That’s not always been the case, mind. The first two ACII games were decent, but they left me thinking “the next one’s gonna be amazing!”. It wasn’t. Assassin’s Creed III ranks among my most hated games. I won’t go into it here, but for more, listen to our Assassin’s Creed III podcast. By Syndicate (the London one), it was clear the series was as consumptive as a penniless street urchin. They rebooted and, y’know what, Origins wasn’t so bad. It looked the business, and if it wasn’t for the series’s signature endless grind of a third act, I’d have recommended it.
So, the reboot was called Origins and details the start of the Creed, the next one is… 300 years previous. Sorry, what? Why did you call the one before “origins” then? No, they called this one Odyssey. A name it shares with a wonderful Mario game on the Switch and the cornerstone of western literature. For a video game series characterised by disappointment, it was an… interesting move.
How to describe the game. Its like they took the best bits of Origins and made them better, whilst ignoring everything that made Origins annoying. For instance, it’s a full blown RPG now, and it was those elements that, for me, made Origins worth while. You choose between a man and woman (slow down, you’re spoiling us with choice!). Those who listen to the show know that, when it comes to my RPG characters, I like my X chromosomes to come in pairs, so I picked Kassandra. She’s… fine. I suppose. Bayek from Origins is my favourite of the series. He had a back story defined by tragedy, but was three dimensional enough to interact with some NPCs with humour, or sarcasm, or lust. Like humans do. Kassandra (and by extension Alexios, the difference is purely cosmetic) is fine, I suppose. I’m about half way through and there just doesn’t seem to be anything that noteworthy about her personality, but nothing to really make me dislike her.
For the first time, we have dialogue trees, sometimes with a timer attached for even more raw excitement. These make the interminable dialogue scenes a little more interesting, but not by much. The voice acting is ridiculously scenery-chewing which should be appropriate for the melodrama of Greek history, but really jarred with me. I didn’t experience Alexios’ voice actor, but Kassandra’s trophy shelf shouldn’t be getting any heavier this year.
The jewel in the Assassin’s Creed franchise’s crown has always been the visuals. With this iteration, however, it didn’t impress quite as much as before. The water effects when swimming in the Nile were incredible. The same effects for the more lively waters of the Aegean, not so much. Still great, but they didn’t wow me. Notice though, the compliments for the graphics seem to all refer to the scenery. For me, Assassin’s Creed has always fallen short when it comes to character models. There’s something off about the lip movements and texture mapping of our heroes that make me feel like being beneath a landslide in the uncanny valley. They’d look good on the PS3 is what I’m saying.
The combat has been noticeably tweaked. I got a kick from the Spartan kick lifted straight from 300, the archery is as satisfying as its forebear, and the parries have been given some much needed heft. The stealth, however, feels flimsy enough to blow away in the wind. They really should drop the first word from the title after these reboots. The tagging system is that same system as every other Ubisoft game since Far Cry 3. You know, the one they love more than Pygmalion did his statue. They use the pet eagle system from Origins again which is as underwhelming as it was the first time round, creating a literal disconnect between the character and me that I don’t think the Assassin’s Creed series has the writing chops to risk.
The buttons are better mapped than Origins and the upgrades work in a more intuitive and rewarding way. However, whereas Origins’ world at times felt alive, Odyssey’s Greece is as cold and lifeless as the Venus de Milo.
Sisyphus was a scheming king who was punished for his shenanigans by having to push a giant boulder up a hill every day only for it to roll to the bottom of the hill once he’s done so. For eternity. Try to imagine how gruelling that would be. Are you thinking? Yeah, you just experienced the eye-bleeding grind that is Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. It’s all fetch quests and revenge missions and sorting out other people’s problems. This is all made so much worse by the interminable, sophomoric writing. Many was the time I caught myself screaming “just get on with it!” at my television.
It’s the numbered levelling system of the enemies that I found the most depressing. They level up with you and, if you encounter an enemy of a higher rank than you, run. You’ll never beat them. Although, mercifully, they do seem to have solved the ridiculous issues with alerted enemies being able to see you through walls that almost ruined Origins. They have the wanted system from GTA blended with the nemesis system from Shadow of War. Or rather, they chased two rabbits and lost them both. I never understood how they really worked, instead it felt like Ubisoft thought “these are fleshed, working mechanics that everybody loved. How can we steal them without any implementation?”
The history is as dedicated and meticulous as ever (excepting those absolutely correct changes for the benefit of modern audiences like women not being second class citizens), and really, what brings me back time and grindy time again to the series is the opportunity to just look around. Unity and Sundicate were not good games, but I enjoyed strolling around their Paris and London. Maybe I should read more history books.
To be brutally honest, this game is just Origins, but a slightly less interesting Origins. It looks like Origins, it feels like Origins, even the main enemies have nicknames relating to local animals like in Origins. Except native Greek animals are nowhere near as fabulous as African ones. Origins had its share of problems, but it seems Odyssey has only solved the least pressing ones.
There are entire swaths lifted from Origins, but there’s also a lot taken from Shadow of Mordor, and Metal Gear Solid V, and Breath of the Wild, and Mass Effect. Yeah, it’s like them all, but it’s not better than any of them. This score may seem a touch cruel, but the endless grind my £50 afforded is a Greek tragedy.