Assassin's Creed Odyssey full review

It seems like only last year that Ubisoft announced it was taking a break from its annual Assassin’s Creed release cycle to focus on quality control. That’s because it was, of course, which made the announcement of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey just months after last year’s Origins, a source of mild concern.

We’re pleased to report then that it looks like Ubisoft’s year out is having some lingering good effects, because Odyssey is not only a worthy follow-up to Origins but a committed progression, building on that game’s tweaks to the series formula while by pushing further and further away from its past. Find out more in our Assassin's Creed Odyssey vs Origins comparison.

If you want to play for yourself, you can get your hands on the game right now, following a 5 October 2018 launch. As you’d expect, it's available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, with support for both PS4 Pro and Xbox One X.

It shouldn’t really be any surprise that when you first start out, Odyssey plays very similarly to Origins. As you explore the new Greek setting - which sprawls across the mainland and myriad smaller islands - there’s a familiar mix of exploration, stealth, and combat.

Where there have been changes, they run pretty consistently in one direction: picking up the baton from Origins, Odyssey is leaning into its RPG elements, building up your character choices, dialogue options, and skill progression to make each playthrough a little bit more your own.

That starts with the character selection, where for the first time you can play as either a man (Alexios) or woman (Kassandra). Coming from a series that once opted not to offer playable female characters because they were too much extra work to animate, it’s a big step forward (if rather overdue) for a mainline Assassin’s Creed game to let you play as a woman.

That choice won’t affect what you get to do in the rest of the game though: not even the new romance options, which let you flirt with men or women, regardless of whether you’re playing as Kassandra or Alexios. Another win. Don't expect fully fledged relationships that develop across the course of the game though - this is nothing more than a few flirty dialogue options and a cut-away when you go in for a kiss, but it's a welcome move towards a world where you interact with people in more ways than just killing them.

If combat’s more your thing, you get a bit more choice there too. Skill progression has been tweaked to free up your options, and encourage you to play around with how much you commit to skills down three main branches: Hunter, Warrior, and Assassin, which revolve mostly around ranged attacks, melee, and stealth respectively.

You can spend ability points (which you in turn gain as you level up) to unlock new abilities, mapping them to combinations of the shoulder and face buttons, which gives you quick access to a range of interesting moves, keeping combat a bit more varied. A personal favourite was lighting our sword on fire for temporarily boosted damage, though fans of 300 will be happy to know that there is a Sparta kick, and you can use it to kick people off things, and that you will catch yourself muttering “This. Is. Sparta!” as you do it.

The three skill trees encourage you to focus in on your playstyle, as any attempt to be a jack-of-all-trades will likely leave your damage trailing your enemies' hit points as you level. You can unlock both active abilities and passive buffs, and in addition to using points to unlock new skills, you can also use them to enhance the skills you've already unlocked - another choice between doubling down on a narrow skillset or expanding your options.

Your gear is also fairly customisable. Not only can you equip different gear to the various armous and weapon slots, but individual items can be upgraded at blacksmiths, and separately engraved to give them specific bonus attributes - such as crit damage or a defensive boost - making it possible for the first time to fully develop your items around your preferred play style.

Naval travel and combat are both back, and play a major role - the game isn’t based on a collection of islands for nothing. You can attack enemy ships with arrows and javelins (which you can set on fire for good measure), ram into them to shatter their hulls, or just board them and do the dirty work yourself. Naturally your ship is also upgradable in yet another set of systems, with options to improve defences, ramming speed, weapon attacks, and cosmetics - and pick up extra buffs by collecting a crew of lieutenants across your odyssey.

If ship combat isn't on a big enough scale for you, there are fixed Conquest battles too, in which you lead one side in a skirmish with up to 300 NPCs after. It’s a big twist to combat strategy, forcing you to prioritise the heavy hitters to protect your allies while simultaneously dodging attacks from enemies all around you, resulting in a combat challenge that will seriously test your mastery of the dodge and parry.

These are part of the war between Athens and Sparta that serves as the backdrop to the story, with each region of the map controlled by one side or the other. You can choose to back either nation, or play them off against each other, and can weaken their hold in specific regions by defeating their troops, burning war supplies, or killing the local leader - all in the name of setting your preferred side up for victory in the Conquest battle.

Odyssey veers away from ever forcing you to pick a side - or ever really discussing the politics of the real Peloponnesian War - which rankles at first, but there's method to the madness. While the early story (it's telling that given this game's scale, that's 15-20 hours or so) sets up the Athenians as the goodies and the Spartans as the baddies, laters arcs bring that into question, and use your position as a mercenary to pit you against injustice on both sides of the conflict.

Normal missions are dense and branching, and the game certainly isn't light on content. The core story centres on Alexios/Kassandra's quest to uncover their heritage and pick apart the plot of a sinister cult (assassinating a few cultists along the way, natch), which will take you all the way across Greece, though Odyssey is also heaving with side quests, bounties, and contracts and an endgame that gives you the chance to tackle various mythical creatures including Medusa.

Side quests vary predictably - some are interesting mini-stories in their own right, some are throwaway excuses to encourage you to explore a particular area, and some are down-and-dirty 'kill 10 Spartan soldiers' sorts of affairs. It's the same problem that has plagued the series from the start (and most other open-world titles, to be fair): there's a lot to do, but as a player it's tricky to tell what's worth your time and what's just padding and busywork.

Along the way Odyssey leans into branching dialogue for the first time, with frequent chances to have your say - either to set the tone of a conversation or to make choices with major repercussions for the ongoing story. It's another welcome development of the RPG elements, but there's a surprising lack of polish here: all too often Kassandra would forget information she'd already been given - or even things she'd already done - in jarring moments that suggest the scale of the story got away from Ubisoft and its sprawling dialogue trees got a bit tangled up.

That sense of scale bogs the game down elsewhere. Odyssey is the biggest game in the series so far, and there's just no need for this much game. It'll probably take you five hours to finish the intro and hit the title card, and another ten or so before the main storyline kicks off and all of the game's systems unveil themselves. It's at that point that all of Odyssey's interlocking systems begin to click into place, and that the world feels truly yours to explore, but it takes an almost unacceptably long time to get there - it's just unreasonable to ask a player to sink 10-15 hours into the main quest line (not even counting side quests) before a game really delivers on its promise.

Still, there's an encouraging sense here that Ubisoft is learning from its rivals and trying to progress the genre at least a little. There's the new Exploration Mode for example, an (optional) setting that toggle's off some quest waypoints, instead overlaying the UI with a series of clues you've gleaned from NPCs about where your target might be.

Instead of a map marker, you might just have the clues that an enemy left this area and went towards a cave to the west - it's then up to you to explore the region and try and figure out where exactly that might be. This isn't quite transformative (there are still a lot of map markers in this game) but it's definitely a more immersive, natural way to play, and encourages you to think of the world as a place to explore rather than simply travel across.

That’s particularly welcome given just how much the Greek setting feels like a natural fit for the franchise. Whether it’s darting around sunlit islands, trading blows with Spartans, or getting quizzed on ethics by Socrates himself, Odyssey makes a pretty compelling case for packing it all in and moving to Santorini. The devs are clearly having fun with it too, as Kassandra casually throws around ‘malaka’ at people who’ve pissed her off - we’ll let you figure out the translation for yourself.

As with Origins and Egypt, Greece is really the star of the show here, and the world is packed with colourful details and historical trivia, including a cast of renowned Greek sculptors, politicians, and philosophers. This is a world to get lost in, which has always really been the heart of this series. I could go on all day about combat tweaks and progression mechanics, but here's what matters: you'll want to spend hours, days, weeks sailing the Aegean Sea, roaming islands and climbing towering statues just to dive off from the top.

Verdict

Once again Ubisoft has crafted a living, breathing world in Assassin's Creed Odyssey, and it's hard to resist the charms of exploring Greece and its myriad sunlit islands, whether that's trekking up mountains or crashing your ship across the waves.

The game's expanded RPG elements help back up the story and provide more depth to the progression system than ever before. The core loop of exploration, stealth, and combat remains largely unchanged from Origins, but you now have more freedom to approach it in your own way, and develop your character, ship, and equipment to suit the playstyle you find most fun.

As with any Assassin's Creed game you'll have to fight through some filler and put up with the occasional janky cut scene or minor glitch. Frustratingly, this feels more noticeable than more because of the quality elsewhere: the core story is interesting enough that the painfully slow build-up and occasional forced side quests bother us more than ever, while the lack of polish in tying the open world to the narrative feels especially glaring in the wake of the super-slick Spider-Man.

Despite those flaws, Odyssey remains inherently compelling. If you're a series sceptic, it likely won't win you over - at least not unless you can force your way through the first ten hours - but fans looking for a Greek epic to invest a couple hundred hours in will find a rich world, a frankly ludicrous amount of content, and a welcome step forward for Assassin's Creed.