After the deserved success of Assassin's Creed Origins, someone at Ubisoft must have decided to replay The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Bayek's Egyptian adventure had already borrowed heavily from CD Projekt Red's masterpiece, but Assassin's Creed Odyssey doubles down on every role-playing mechanic that it can. The result is an open world game with layers upon layers of depth -- a truly engrossing experience if you have the stomach for it.
Odyssey's recreation of ancient Greece is, in a word, stunning. Ubisoft didn't get enough credit for how incredible Egypt was in Origins and it's probably not going to get the praise it deserves for this sun-soaked virtual paradise. The level of detail is often absurd, and although you do see the odd glitch or bug that snaps you back into reality, it's ultimately very difficult to resist the allure of such a beautifully crafted world.
Where Odyssey steps it up over Origins is in its reliance on dynamic life. Outside of bustling towns and cities, there's a lot more going on. Just travel from one location to the next and you're bound to see some little event occur, whether it's a farmer and his goat being attacked by a wolf or a skirmish between Athenians and Spartans. It's a cliche, but Greece feels alive -- like it would continue to exist even if you weren't playing.
It's important to highlight this stuff because for the most part, Odyssey feels a lot like Origins. The controls, the menus, the user interface -- it's very much built on the foundations laid by last year's release. However, as mentioned, Odyssey branches much further into RPG territory, to the point where it's more comparable to The Witcher 3 than it is an older Assassin's Creed title. Has Odyssey lost its identity as an Assassin's Creed game? There's definitely an argument for that, although there's no doubt that this new direction has breathed some much needed life into the series.
Simply put, Odyssey is the most involved Assassin's Creed has ever been. The hero of this tale is yours to define, from their sex to their outlook on life. Through newly implemented dialogue choices, you alter the course of the story. You decide who to fight with and who to fight against, who to romance and who to give the cold shoulder. While the role-playing isn't as in-depth as it is in, again, something like The Witcher 3, it's more than enough to make it feel like this is your own unique adventure.
Meanwhile, the main story is enjoyable, if a little predictable. We won't go into too much detail, but you know the drill by now. Bad guys lead to more bad guys, and the bad guys are actually pretty darn bad. They're so bad, in fact, that they need a good old stabbing, and that's obviously your job.
Fortunately, each scenario is given some weight thanks to the characters. In previous Assassin's Creed games, the supporting cast would chop and change before they got a chance to really establish themselves, but with Odyssey's dialogue choices and extended interactions, main characters have a lot more time to get their personality across. In short, some of the series' best characters now reside in ancient Greece, and your hero is one of them.
But where Odyssey really shines is in the gameplay department, where its many, many systems tie together to create one cohesive, dense whole. As a mercenary, your hero is conveniently given license to do just about anything they like. There's a battle raging across Greece and you can take sides. You can even switch sides whenever you want, if that suits you. Or you can just sow the seeds of chaos wherever you go. Whatever you fancy, the unending war between Athena and Sparta is at the core of Odyssey's gameplay loop.
Greece is cut up in regions, and each region is controlled by either Athena or Sparta. However, you can overthrow the current masters whenever you feel like it by killing their leaders, triggering what the game calls conquest battles. These battles are huge in scale, and see you take to the front lines. Imagine Dynasty Warriors with a lot more one-on-one encounters and you're on the right track. These decisive clashes are fantastic fun, and they're a great way to mark the end of each campaign.
So why should you take part? Well, as a mercenary, you're rewarded for your services. You're given powerful loot whenever you help an army to victory, and you're fed lucrative missions and contracts. Naturally, the rewards you're given contribute to your character's progression. You'll level up, earn the right to equip better gear, and eventually get your hands on legendary weapons. Once you're strong enough, you can take on deadlier quests in more dangerous areas of the gigantic map -- you know how it goes.
Like Origins, it is perhaps a bit of a shame that each region is gated off by how high level its inhabitants are -- unless you have a death wish, you can't just sail to the other side of Greece in search of adventure. That said, watching your hero grow stronger and stronger wouldn't be anywhere near as rewarding if you didn't have something to work towards. Getting bodied by a seemingly invincible bounty hunter early on in the game is a catalyst for improving your character, and once you're powerful enough to stand your ground, killing them makes you feel like a god.
Speaking of bounty hunters, Odyssey is the first ever Assassin's Creed title to have a proper law and order system. You're no longer booted from the game when you kill too many civilians -- but get spotted murdering some poor bugger and you're going to have a bounty put on your head. The same applies to stealing, or trespassing on military grounds. Build up enough of a bounty and other mercenaries will be deployed to hunt you down -- and this is where things get interesting.
Mercenaries are some of the most dangerous opponents in the game, not unlike the roaming phylakes in Origins, but the twist here is that there's a Middle-earth: Shadow of War-style system in place. Mercenaries are generated from a seemingly wide pool of characters, and they're then plopped into the open world. They each have strengths, weaknesses, and their own little backstories, and killing them before they kill you nets you some potentially super rare equipment.
And once again, all of this feeds into character progression and the current state of the game world. Everything in Odyssey interlocks, and when you add stuff like the return of naval battles to the mix, there's an unprecedented sense of scale here.
Just about everything in Odyssey is an improvement over Origins, but it does feel a bit jankier to play. Character animations are slightly off at times, and interestingly, the combat lacks the same impact. Thankfully, the ability to use special moves in battle elevates the action. Thanks to an expanded skill tree, you can customise your hero even further, investing in Hunter, Warrior, and Assassin skills. Each category defines a certain style of play, and each has its own set of abilities that you can unleash on your enemies. The best part is that you can mix and match however you like, and as a result, there's potential for some interesting character builds, and a lot of room for experimentation.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey is a superb open world RPG. It can be a little rough around the edges, but there's a gameplay freedom to this particular adventure that's really a cut above what the series has attempted previously. With a gameplay loop that simply never stops giving, Ubisoft's recreation of ancient Greece is an amazing achievement, and in some ways, a genuine step forward for open world game design.