Assassin’s Creed Odyssey – A Tale of Two Odysseys
PS4, Xbox One, PC
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is an enormous game that boasts about as much choice as it has content. As such, two of Player 2’s own, Dylan Burns and Paul James have opted to take a different approach to reviewing the game, instead discussing their different experiences and thoughts about the game in the form of this conversational piece.
Paul James: So Dylan, you and I have been on the Assassin’s Creed Odyssey hamster wheel for quite some time now, and from the preliminary conversations we’ve had, it’s quite clear that we’ve had vastly differing experiences. Before we begin to render a verdict, perhaps you could tell the readers a bit about how you approached the game?
Dylan Burns: Hamster wheel – I like that. I was going to start this by saying that I’m on the edge of finding the game exhausting, but not in a completely negative way. There is just SO MUCH game here. Yes, it’s vast in terms of real estate, but also in its slow-paced storytelling and the way that each new region slowly unfurls before you as a place containing history and political struggle, some of which you can influence directly.
I guess I approached the game as a bit of a straight arrow: I wanted to get through the story as quickly as possible before Red Dead 2. But as my gaming hours tick past 30, and with no glimpse of the end in sight, with my character currently several levels below the requirement for the next story mission, I’ve had to admit defeat. I’m not going to pass it before Red Dead 2, but I have played it a damn lot! And I’ve seen and experienced a lot of things, mostly very good.
For me, the most impressive thing about Odyssey is the landscape. Every region or island feels naturally formed, full of craggy rocks and hills and valleys. It never feels like a landscape that has been smoothed out for the player. It feels harsh and unwelcoming, comprised of hurdles you need to jump over in order to reach mission givers and locations. The landscape confronts you at every turn, forcing you to push into it, and I’ve loved every moment of it. My personal favourite moment was discovering some volcanic islands. The sense of desolation as I explored them, rain pattering into the dark, dead sand, was just incredible.
PJ: Me, I’ve flirted with the narrative but have kept Kassandra’s tale at an arm’s length in favour of exploring the game’s many side-quests, which have been fleshed out in Witcher III fashion. Everything feels meaningful, whether that’s because the quest ties into the main quest or it’s the simple product of intensive TLC that resonated throughout. Some quest-lines are genuinely funny, others have flushed out an approach to gameplay that I wouldn’t ordinarily enjoy. In the real world, I would like to think that if ever someone were in need that I would stop and help however I can, in most video games, I’ve got my mission and I pass those same people by because I know they’re not real, but there was a power and a resonance to their stories that engaged me and tugged at the strings in such a way that I felt compelled to see the story through.
Then there are the gameplay incentives, the promise of a new piece of legendary or epic loot is another temptation and the dolling out of these rewards is reasonably paced, such that the carrot always feels as though it’s at the end of a temptingly long stick. The consequence is that the core narrative, which had also taken my fancy has fallen by the wayside somewhat.
To your point, the world is astoundingly detailed. Now, for the most part, we can thank the Greek islands for their natural beauty but a secondary injection of life, colour, and personality that can only be achieved by the development teams extensive research makes every nook and cranny, every island or tiny village worth exploring
DB: Interestingly, quests in this game are difficult to pin down as “main” or “side”. I spent about three hours down one branch, thinking I was following the main storyline, only to realise that Ubisoft has instead fractured the story across several arcs, many of which do become necessary the more you play, but also optional in terms of when you choose to approach them. Side quests also rise in importance later on, because they are all linked via invisible strings to the larger plot, and pulling at a few brings out the spiders from beneath the rocks, while tugging at it causes stress across the entire narrative. It’s a testament to the depth of Odyssey’s overall story that it can contain an intimate yet far-reaching family drama while also throwing in legends, modern-day Abstergo stuff, a cunning cult and far, far more.
In fact, for the first time in a long time, I have grown to trust that whichever mission I choose, it’s going to be meaningful and not throw away. The fact that Odyssey contains 40-60 hours of such in-depth content is deeply impressive.
How did you find the combat, Paul? Because I really didn’t feel that Origins was at all effective against multiple foes, yet here it is again, slightly tweaked – but without shields!
PJ: Odyssey, like Origins, when compared the games prior is a massive step up, and whilst there were some clear refinements to what was presented in Origins, it’s still not quite there yet. There’s more depth to the systems in play here, and it shines in smaller encounters, but if you’ve managed to agitate a large crowd you can strafe and/or parry all you like but you’re not going to overcome the sheer number of threats to your wellbeing. I get that the expectation is that I run and return once the dust has settled, but I’m a proud assassin, and I want to finish the job I started – the game won’t allow that though. I’ve found that a major part of this issue is a byproduct of the shielded opponents and the very specific (and not especially easy) way that you need to knock them off balance, and there’s so many of them that it’s nearly impossible to get the necessary charged attack out there because you’re being struck from a number of other directions. My get out of jail card has often been by archery proficiency, I sprint back, zoom right in, time slows a touch and then I line up the headshot, but the cycle has begun increasingly repetitious. Where do you land on the matter?
DB: Yeah, I usually headshot those shielded guys a few times and then just use my sweep move on them, rinse and wait for my skills to refill to repeat. It’s not terribly exciting, so I do tend to try and take anyone with a shield out via stealth if possible. I know there’s a shield-bash skill, but I still don’t know how to remap my skill buttons, so I’m stuck with what I originally filled them with (a simple Google could probably help me, but to be honest I’m happy with the combination of skills that I’ve chosen anyway).
With regards to the skills themselves, they’re generally okay. I can’t say that there are many that I’m truly excited to unlock and/or use. The ghost arrows look interesting but due to the fact that enemies level as you do, I’ve found arrows particularly useless when compared to Origins – I was an arrow-shooting beast in that game, taking out entire fortresses with headshot after headshot. Here, you’re lucky to deal 20-30% damage with a normal headshot and you really need to rely on special arrows unlocked Hunter skills.
How have you found the seafaring? I’ve quite enjoyed the shanty-laden voyages to far-off waypoints, but I can’t say that I’ve sought out ship-to-ship combat very much. I’ve had a few pretty cool encounters, but once you work out a bit of a method, it becomes a bit dull and only really challenging if there are about three or four ships in a cluster and you have to take them all down. I don’t even bother to board broken ships anymore, I just ram them into oblivion (along with an automatic ship-heal and some sweet loot).
PJ: I get bothered when I’ve got my heading, am about to reach the destination only for a lightweight vessel sees me and decides it wants to engage, this prevents me from docking so I take it out, but that aggravates a nearby cluster and suddenly it’s on for young and old. I do find myself tempted by the occasional leader of a fleet for looting purposes but the naval aspect certainly doesn’t engage me as it did in Black Flag or Rogue.
So as we steer this ship to shore, do you have some closing thoughts about the game that you’d like to lift from your chest?
DB: AC Odyssey impresses in its depth and breadth. Although the game can feel at times like it’s never-ending, there’s very little fat to missions, they’re all meat. The focus on a family’s struggles makes the overall storyline intimate and tragic, with the impact on the world almost secondary. The shift to a full RPG is almost complete, though I’ll be interested to see how Ubisoft runs the franchise from here. Will we have one year of an action climb/quest-fest followed by the next year’s slow-burn RPG, or will they double down on this format? I guess that ultimate shaper of franchises – sales – will give us the answer, in time.
PJ: Early numbers seem positive but regardless, I’m happy with the current trajectory of the franchise and look forward to seeing what the next step forward is from here. I’ve continually found it hard to tear myself away from the game and fully expect to be playing Odyssey well into the months to come.