The sheer existence of Assassin's Creed Odyssey's exploration mode feels like acceptance from French publisher Ubisoft. After a generation of games plagued by the "Ubisoft formula" of climbing towers to unlock new missions and locations, side activities that flood the map with icons, and sprawling skill trees, this year's iteration builds upon the foundations laid by 2017's Assassin's Creed Origins to construct an open world that doesn't go through the usual motions. Adopting an approach similar to that of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Ubisoft has ditched its conventional roots in order to manufacture a representation of Greece that feels alive and worthy of exploring.
Pitched as the way Assassin's Creed Odyssey is meant to be played, exploration mode ditches objective markers, at least initially, for the idea that you yourself need to work out where to head to next. You can switch back to the more traditional guided mode at any time, but with the stabilisers off, you're given a couple of pointers that hint at the location of the next quest step and it's up to you find it on the map. You'll generally be given a physical location to start with and then a direction in which to work from, while a visual representation allows you to hone in your marker, but if that's not enough to locate the objective, you'll simply need to explore the region in order to progress.
It's a big departure from the more guided experience of previous Assassin's Creed games, and for the most part, it works a charm. Rather than selecting my next objective and heading there via a fast travel point, I'm finding myself actually analysing the map in order to work out where my next goal is, using the hints on offer to pin point locations of interest that could lead to progression. It allows me to build a deeper connection with the experience, learning of the map's intricacies, visualising the way the ocean manifests around smaller islands, and memorising where to dock for on land adventures. Even in the early game I'm loving every second of it, but unfortunately it has one big detriment: it doesn't go far enough.
The game does indeed allow you to work things out on your own, but that's only to a point. Once you're confident that you've found the right place, you'll receive confirmation of that because a popup will appear telling you that Ikaros, your eagle that allows you to highlight objects and locations in the environment, can now be used to find the exact location of your objective. After all the work you've done to just find the general area of your goal, it feels like this mechanic works in complete contrast to what exploration mode is going for. It's not like this option becomes available once you're right on top of the target either, because the popup appears once you're within range of about 200 metres. It feels like cheating in a mode that promotes the idea of going it alone. Sure, you could just ignore this option and continue to search on your own, but the fact that it even exists breaks the immersion almost completely.
Much like Assassin's Creed Origins was a great basis for Odyssey to build off of, the groundwork put in place here feels like an excellent spring board for the next title in the franchise. Of course we won't get that entry in 2019, but when the series comes back around, exploration mode could be one of its defining features. What's on offer here is great: it gives me a chance to forge my own path through the world of Greece as I plot my own points of interest, but the stumble on the finishing straight leaves more than enough room for improvement.
Make me work out the location of my next objective via longitude and latitude coordinates, or by talking to people in the town square to get even the foggiest idea of a location, or even give me nothing to work with at all. Make the more obscure side quests a real challenge to complete. Assassin's Creed Odyssey's exploration mode breathes fresh air into the series and the developer as a whole, but there's so much more that could be done with it.
Are you playing Assassin's Creed Odyssey in exploration mode? How are you finding it when compared to the more guided experience of previous games? Plot your steps in the comments below.