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Assassin's Creed Odyssey review: the most ambitious Assassin's Creed yet

Update: Assassin's Creed Odyssey appears on our best PS4 games and best Xbox One games lists!

They don’t call it an odyssey for nothing.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is easily the biggest Assassin’s Creed there’s ever been. There's well over 100 hours of pure gameplay time on offer here (cutscenes and menus don't count towards your playtime), and despite a few grindy gripes Ancient Greece is a joy to explore.

While no less dense with map markers than pre-year off Assassin’s Creeds, everything in Odyssey actually matters - with a clear end goal and immediate reward.

So from when you make your first choice of whether to journey with Alexios or Kassandra, it doesn’t feel like you’re just ticking off virtual boxes, but having a proper romp through a beautifully realised vision of antiquity.

From Peloponnese to Athens

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s representation of the Classical Greek world is huge - spanning the whole Peloponnese peninsula, Attica, and surrounding islands. With more than 30 states and islands to explore, setting off on your voyage can be daunting at first, but you quickly get the lay of the land.

Continuing the good work started in AC: Origins, everyone in Odyssey has a level that determines their power in a fight, and each area on the vast map shows the level range of enemies that appear there. A disparity of a couple of levels makes a massive difference in a tussle, so rather than turfing you rudderless out into a fully open world, the level gating means that this new Assassin’s Creed is much more guided than it first appears.

There’s not a whole lot to differentiate lesser-known cities like Megara and Chalkis visually, but they’re kept from melding into a hodge-podge by the density of story-focused quests and the driving force of Odyssey’s loot system.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey replaces a lot of the filler from older games in the series with bite-sized side quests that obviously take heavy inspiration from The Witcher 3. So while the main story will take you to most places, diversions are rewarded with quirky stories featuring fun and memorable characters. So when you’re asking yourself “what makes this agora different to the next”, it’s not necessarily because of the architecture or design, but because you can say “oh, this is where I helped the horny old woman, or helped the witch finish her love potion, or fought the cave full of lions”.

You’re not just completing side quests for the fun of them though. Each one gives you a big chunk of XP, so they’re an important part of levelling up, and offer much of the game’s best loot.

Quest start and end points are well placed too. On your travels from a, to b, to c, you’re likely to run across something new, so when you’re done with one quest it’s not often you’re left wondering what’s next.

Again like Assassin’s Creed Origins, rather than have chests and collectibles scattered all over the map, Odyssey keeps the majority of its points-of-interest grouped into central locations that are marked on the map. So for example, instead of having two caches of booty hidden willy-nilly in the undergrowth - each with their own map marker - you’ll discover a temple, or a bandit camp, or a cave, where a little pop-up will tell you there are two chests to be found in the immediate area. You can then switch views to your trusty eagle friend Ikaros to survey the area and pinpoint what you need.

This does a lot to help reduce the open world fatigue from setting in across such a huge game, since it means you can focus on moving from point-to-point rather than stopping or taking a detour to grab something shiny every 50 meters.

Fight like a Spartan

Just like Ptolemaic Egypt, Classical Greece is conveniently full of of waist high patches of tall grass and shrubbery, making Assassin’s Creed’s signature stealth a viable and strong playstyle. But even more so than in Origins, Alexios and Kassandra can take on big groups of enemies with ease thanks to their varied set of powerful skills and abilities.

Bayek’s fighting style focused largely around a sword and shield, so you could methodically circle enemies and look for an opening behind the relative safety of a big hunk of metal. The shield is gone this time around though, so there’s a much bigger emphasis on front-foot aggression and pulling off dodges, which when timed correctly give you a burst of bullet-time and brief invulnerability to land a few free hits.

The dual-heroes’ suite of supernatural combat abilities are more over-the-top and are more suited to crowd-control than the one-on-one focused Origins too. Alexios and Kassandra can launch themselves across the battlefield dealing tons of damage with the Bull Rush skill, or send enemies flying with the Spartan Kick - a cheeky nod to Gerard Butler’s legendary scene in 300.

A lot of the upgrades that you can pick from the skill tree are very, very powerful, not only dishing out punishment, but regenerating your health after each use. With your head in the game on normal difficulty, enemies your own level should never give you too much trouble, which might have the potential to become a bit tedious as the quest wears on. When a game’s this long though, it probably wouldn’t have been wise to make every encounter a tooth and nail scrap - but if you’re into a challenge, this is definitely one to crank up the difficulty on, at least in the early stages.

Gear that you collect is split into different slots and comes in different rarities: common, rare, epic, and legendary. You have a primary weapon, a ranged bow, and head, torso, waist, arm and leg armour that’s equipped independently of each other - mix and match style. You’re constantly finding new and better gear, so you don’t stay attached to much for very long. And you’re often changing between different types of weaponry as you find new toys too, and they feel distinct enough that you definitely notice when you switch one out for another. That variety is another thing that keeps combat feeling fresh - even when you’re leaning on the same skills repeatedly - since the slow wind-up of a heavy blunt weapon requires a more considered approach than a quick dagger, or longer-ranged spear.

Raise the sails

When there’s so much distance to cover, getting around was always going to be an issue. Alexios and Kassandra are pretty much Spider-Man - able to climb up just about anything, whether there’s a handhold or not - which speeds things up a bit, but otherwise there’s a lot of running, horse riding, and sailing to get to where you need to be.

You have to climb the tallest building in an area to synchronise its viewpoint and unlock the ability to fast travel there, but since you’re breaking new ground and striding out to new places most of the time, fast-travel is rarely an option.

On the back of your trusty equine companion Phobos, you can set a custom marker on your map and gallop over there automatically. That does mean you can go and make a cup of tea and have arrived at your destination by the time you’re back, but since it’s not all that interactive, it’s still the closest thing to dead time in the game.

It’s similar when you’re at the helm of your ship, the Adestria, just with larger distances. If you’re just trying to make a beeline to your next quest objective, there’s not a whole lot to hold your interest on the high seas. But thankfully when you do engage with it more, the reintroduction of sailing is a great addition to Odyssey.

During naval combat you trade volleys of arrows and javelins while jostling for the best angle to ram an enemy or launch your next assault. Because of your ship’s wide turning circle, you have to be a lot more tactical with your positioning than on land - especially when engaging multiple craft at the same time.

There’s a full menu for upgrading the Adestria, as well as cosmetic items that you can equip to change the figurehead and outfits for your crew and sails. You also have to recruit Lieutenants from the world by knocking them out and paying them - a little like how you recruit new soldiers for Mother Base in Metal Gear Solid 5. Lieutenants have different abilities that give you bonuses in battle, so it pays to keep a watch for skilled crew. They retain their unique looks in-game, so it’s fun it to see them join your boarding party in the midst of a heated battle.

The richest vein of talent to mine for your ship Lieutenants is the new Mercenaries system. If you wind up enough people by committing crimes or causing trouble, someone will take out a bounty on your head. The more severe your transgressions, more frequent and stronger mercenaries will hunt you down looking to collect. Defeating these powerful enemies gets you tons of great gear though, so - unless they’re way out of your league - it’s always worth throwing down.

Tall tales

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s main quest embraces the mythical and mystical elements of Ancient Greece perfectly without taking too much poetic licence with its historical big-hitters. People like King Leonidas, Socrates, and Pericles play roles in the story, but there’s a much stronger focus on original characters within the Classical setting, rather than the Ancient World being bent to fit around the narrative.

The modern day frame is meaningfully advanced as well. It’s kept brief and only appears every few chapters or so, but after years of lip service, long-time series fans are sure to devour every morsel.

The main story is strong, and split into a few different parts: Alexios or Kassandra's quest to find out what happened to their family, dealing with a secretive underground organisation, and the more mythical side of Assassin's Creed.

Each one is satisfyingly concluded, and the choices that you're presented with throughout the game feel like they have a real impact on how things pan out (although I did guess the end of one of the storylines long before it had finished).

In the beginning it doesn’t feel very assassin-y - nary a hidden blade in sight - but at around the third chapter takes a big left turn that opens up around 30 assassination targets for you to hunt down and snuff out. This is not only a good side-plot, but a great source of loot and a worthy addition.

As you reach the latter stages of the game however, the level gating of story quests starts to become an issue. Without grinding through a decent chunk of stuff you might not want to, you're not going to be able to complete the story.

This is particularly frustrating in such a long game. You've been working towards the climax for so long, but instead of enjoying the pay-off uninterrupted you're having to slog through side quests like filler episodes in anime - which can be deflating.

Double-down helix

The Helix Store from Origins makes a return, and offers cosmetic items for your ship and horse as well as powerful weapons and armour for purchase with Helix Credits which you buy for real money.

The little amount that you get as a taste is only really enough to get you an absolute unit of an owl (pictured below) as a masthead for your ship, and you can’t earn any more in-game. You can get the weapons and armour sets as loot box drops from an in-game vendor using the rare Orichalcum Ore currency found in-game, but there's a lot of junk in the pool too.

Also offered are “time-savers” which give your amounts of crafting resources and the in-game money, Drachmae. The ability to buy a map filter that shows where all the rare materials are returns from Odyssey - but this time it’s more than double the price.

There’s one quest in particular that requires a massive amount of Drachmae to complete, which feels a little naughty when you know it’s on sale for real cash, and the Orichalcum ore - which you can swap for legendary items at a special shop in Phokis - is conspicuously hard to keep track of without a map marker. But other than that you can quite easily get by without even opening it up.

On the horizon

Without doubt, Odyssey is one of the biggest and best Assassin’s Creed games there’s ever been.

The improved combat and compelling loot system have made its huge world a joy to explore. The frustrating late-game grind tries its best to derail your adventure, but this iteration competently expands on the new course charted for the series in Assassin's Creed Origins.

If you're just starting out on your Assassin's Creed Odyssey journey, check out our ultimate guide here.

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