With the way things have been going in my life for the past few months, video games had to take a back seat until I had settled in Australia. Naturally, when I was able to afford a PlayStation 4, I had a back log as big as the library down the road. And we’re just talking about triple-A titles, nothing minor. So far I’ve had the chance to play Detroit Become Human, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, God Of War and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. All great titles and we’ve also got Red Dead Redemption 2 coming out in a few days.
But if I had to choose one out of all these titles to crown it as “the best”, it would be Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (ACO). Ubisoft pleasantly surprised me with the way it encapsulated every single element into this game, without trying too hard on one or leaving another unpolished. ACO is without a doubt complete, it demands great effort from the player to get through, yet offers so much in return.
The initial choice between Alexios or Kassandra might seem insignificant, however without going into too many spoilers, it is very heavy. And I personally believe that Kassandra was the correct choice in what she is meant to be for “Deimos”, rather than the other way around. It is difficult to speak about this without getting into spoiler territory, however those that have *that* in their lives would completely understand and near the end of the story, even though I was playing as Kassandra, I found myself becoming a lot more invested and attached to Alexios.
Speaking of choices, the game offers so many of them. There’s never any hand-holding apart from the initial stages at Kephallonia. After that, you’re pretty much free as a bird and anything you do is up to you. However, dialogue choices are where this game truly shows its diversity, giving players a whole series of different decisions that are in complete harmony with how things used to happen in that day and age, but also let the user’s own character shine through, rather than just being an observer of cut scenes as is most time the case. There are even times when ACO shows you that no matter how different the age, some dilemmas will always remain just as troubling. For example, I remember an argument Kassandra was having with Hippokrates (yes, the Hipokkrates) about a sick patient who wasn’t going to get better and just asked for a quick death. The doctor wanted to keep him alive in order to learn from his illness, yet I (as Kassandra) chose to set him free and gave him a mercy killing, leading to a heated debate with Hippokrates. I could’ve chosen to keep him alive. And there are hundreds of different dialogue choices that shape the story, making each playthrough truly unique.
Speaking of unique, having lived in Greece myself for over 20 years and traveled around many parts of it, I can honestly say that Ubisoft have given a very faithful representation of what it feels like to travel around the country either by land or by sea and why it is that people flock there every year for their vacations. I was shocked to see the salt pans that I remember from my holiday island of Kimolos (right across from Milos, in the game I found them at Lokris) and riding on Phovos I got to reminiscing about how we used to get in the car and go out into the country with the family. I also remembered how much I hated being on the boat, going out to the islands (more of a city person here). All of those emotions and memories came rushing back just by playing a game.
However, the harshness of the time is portrayed through the story perfectly as well. People taking the law into their own hands all too often, way too bloody battles, carnage, but also the first form of politics, of medicine, of theater, everything is shown off here. It really paints a clear image of why many people died young in those days. I wasn’t a fan of the portrayal of Aristophanes and his “happy” attitude, but that’s something that I’ll touch upon later.
The game progresses via quests and even though they’re usually your typical “go there-kill him” or “get that” kinda quests, the story that’s behind them or what you have to go on afterwards makes them intriguing enough to maintain interest. Plus there’s some variety in the form of forts, conquest battles and naval battles. Forts require a player to literally take down a fort of a meager 6–7 to an entire platoon of 30+ soldiers and demand a bit of strategy (this is where the “assassination” part really comes in handy), lest they summon reinforcements and you’re left to deal with an uncontrollable situation. Conquest battles on the other hand are just a battlefield of carnage where you need to stay alive. The first time players are put on there will seem like an unbelievable challenge, yet it gets easier the more abilities they rank up. Finally, there’s naval battles. The “Adrestia”, as is the name of your ship, goes up against others of the Spartan, Athenian or pirate fleet. The thing to keep in mind with these battles is that most of the time you’ll only need to target one, but there’s be three or more ganging up on you when you do. Just strike once, leave, heal, rinse, repeat.
Then there’s the annoying (yet interesting as an idea) mercenaries. If you don’t keep in line or if you commit something that is against the law (murder, theft, break into a nation leader’s house), then someone puts a bounty on your head and some strong soldiers called “mercenaries” come after you. They offer good rewards for beating them but they’re extremely difficult to take down, even if they’re on the same or even lower level, so having one of these coming for you while you’re trying to invade a fort is a bad combination. The more crimes you commit, the more the bounty goes up and even more and stronger mercenaries come after you. If you hit level five, you have all of Greece looking for you. Getting rid of them is fairly easy though. You either kill the one who put the bounty on you, pay the bounty itself or just hide somewhere until they stop looking for you.
Battle mechanics are solid as well. While the idea of a second wheel is useless when you’re in battle (when I have four people coming at me, I can’t as well press L1+down and then again L1+O just to use a single technique, I need to have them all handy), the four you can use are enough on their own and once you level them up, they become pretty beastly. I never used any arrow or assassination techniques, but maybe that’s just my play style. I focused on the warrior skills. The weapons and armor system is ingenious and greatly rewarding for hoarders like myself. While you may not use your old equipment, you never get rid of it or just sell it off cause you can dismantle it into material that you find other uses for. For example, I used the material from my old armor to upgrade my ship or when I was up against a real *ahem* bull of an opponent and I had no way out, so I desperately needed to craft more arrows.
ACO doesn’t tell players much. In fact, it tells them barely what they need to know. Because of that, I missed out on the fact that you needed to synchronize almost every location (see that eagle icon on your map? don’t miss it!) which meant I couldn’t go back to key areas such as the house of the Olympians unless I was willing to spend the time riding there on horseback. Also, there were a few glitches here and there (the game bugged out on me twice in over 50 hours of playing), however considering all they had put in it, I’m not surprised. Greece’s depiction was faithful regarding some things, yet almost comedic when it comes to others. I understand that this is a work of fiction, but to have Sokratis the great philosopher goofing around like a jester is a bit insulting and sends the wrong message. Or Periklis who had a whole century named after him (the 5th century BC is known as “the golden age of Periklis), to show him as depressed and ready to commit suicide. Just no.
Anyway, considering all it does right, these things feel like picking needles in a hay stack. And literally, ACO is so huge, players need close to 50 hours just to get through the main story, although the way this game is made, it’s hard to tell where the main story and the side quests lie. At its core, ACO is entirely player driven and whether it turns out as yet another Greek tragedy or a great story of family in a war torn world, that’s up to the choices made by the users. It reminds us what separates video games from other forms of entertainment and is truly a shining achievement. Kudos, Ubisoft!
Originally published at sopeoplewhatsup.blogspot.com on October 20, 2018.