Monday, 17 December 2018

Greek mythology and spartan kicks

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Platform tested: Xbox One X
Released: 2018

Review: Last years Assassin's Creed Origins marked a sort of reboot for the series. Brand new engine, new gameplay and a distinctly different approach to the AC formula; while retaining the much loved style of the series. Although the story of Origins was a let down for me, I really appreciated the huge open world and fantastic gameplay overhaul, especially the combat and stealth mechanics felt like proper realtime combat and less scripted. Odyssey builds upon Origins fantastic fundamentals, but offers a far stronger story and narrative. In fact, it wanders off so far into RPG territory I'd wager to say it's a full fledged action RPG game.

So we move from Origins' ancient Egypt, to Odyssey's ancient Greece. From pharaohs, Cleopatra and deserts to Spartans, philosophers and lushly vegetated islands. Odyssey is a sequel that learns what needs to kept and what needs to be fixed for further enhancing a great series to an even greater form. Lets take a a closer look at what this Odyssey has to offer other than amazing Spartan kicks!

The story is about a pair of Spartan siblings, Alexios and Kassandra, growing up in Sparta their terrible fate is sealed when one of them is forced to be sacrificed at a worshipping ritual. Intervening the certain death of the other sibling, both are thrown off a cliff to seemingly death. The player chooses which one of the siblings you wish to play. It's a great way to let you finally play a full game as either a man or a woman. It also opens up for a different approach if you choose to replay the game.

This time around the storyline is much stronger focused on the sibling you choose and doesn't wander off into a huge mainline plot that puts your character on the sideline. It's all about either Alexios and Kassandra, and there are consequences and various ways key plotline scenes can be changed depending on your dialogue choices that are new to the game. Granted they aren't always that groundbreaking choices or mood changing, but it further grounds the impression that AC is becoming, and in much respect, has become a RPG game.

Although storyline starts fairly locally on a small  but manageable island, guess what your sibling of choice survived the fall in the intro, believe me; what your think is the main quest, really changes up and expands into something huge around 10-12 hours in. Your family storline is one thing, but there's a mercenary, a cultist and a artefact storyline of mythology to take care of too! We're talking a game that easily can reach 100 hours of gameplay time, and double that if you wish to complete absolutely everything.

The previous instalment introduced character leveling and enemies that are at numbered leves and can't be defeated unless yo are fairly equal, same went with weaponry. Odyssey retains all this adding further with weapon engraving abilities and an expanded ability tree for characters skills to tailor your character towards the playstyle you prefer. There are now three main branches; hunter aims towards using your bow, assassin for stealthy upgrades and warrior for the hands-on sword and axe fighting. There's a bunch of more specific action moves to use for each ability class too, which again you must choose to map to your action buttons. My favourite being a good old Spartan kick! In a recent patch the game even lets you transmog your outfit, making it possible to take the stats from one type of armour but retaining the visual look of another.

Odyssey also takes a new approach to it's map. Right at the beginning of the game you are offered to play the game in two ways; either the classic AC map where synchronise points will litter you map with anything nearby. Or with the new, and recommended way by the game itself, which makes you discover everything yourself by walking there. The latter helps keep the map at bay without overwhelming the player. Exploring is highly rewarding too; with secret caves, tombs and enemy camps to discover. Discovering places and completing them will in turn reward you with XP towards leveling. At times I felt like I was playing a free roaming Tomb Raider game with Kassandra taking the role of Lara, hair braided and all. I was exploring the incredibly detailed scenery, constantly looking for new places to discover, a fantastic feeling

Visually the game is just stunning, much like how beautiful Origins looked, Odyssey takes it a step further in variation. The lush and vegetated islands of Greece are painstakingly filled with detail. Daytime wonderfully shines sunrays down on coastal villages, dense forests, huge mountains and flower covered fields in stunning 4K detail on the Xbox One X. HDR lights up everything in great contrast, with the sun almost blinding you as you rotate your camera. Day and night cycle brings life to the world as well as tactics for being hidden in the dark and the draw distance is just draw dropping. It all runs so smoothly to thanks to the dynamic resolution that adapts to the amount of stuff going on.

The fact that the game takes place on islands further makes the sea battles and travelling by boat seem more naturally integrated and brings back memories of why it worked so well in Black Flag. Absolutely massive and stunning open world which is right up there with the very best of the genre.

In such a vast and packed game like Odyssey it's difficult to complain about too much content in a way that seems fair, but it's one of those games that perhaps puts a little overwhelming amount of things to complete. The main storyline, the mercenaries hunt and the an assassin's list of cultists that all need taken care of are interlinked, but coupled together with modern day flashbacks and a the mythology part of ancient artefact locations; well, it just becomes way too many paths of stories to get around to completing or caring about. Luckily each storyline can be completed separately and the one about the life of your character is really well made and the part you'll probably care the most about, Origins lacked this engagement, which is a key improvement and I appreciated a lot.

It boils down to simply killing people, obviously as you're making your character a famous hired mercenary, but being such a RPG inspired game the underlying details like resources being dumbed down and no personal black smith options other than engraving seems a bit primitive. Such an epic undertaking of a game, could need some more detail in some elements. Maybe a meter showing your loyalty between the Spartans and Athenians, making it easier or harder to enter your rivals camps? Doing missions for both of them, with no consequences, feels a little shallow and lacks purpose. These are not complaints that are major in any way, just elements I would have liked being done differently.

Summarising we are looking at a absolutely brilliant continuation of the gameplay elements Origins got right last year,while becoming even even bigger, better and focused on the life story of your character. You learn to care and makes choices for either Alexios or Kassandra, that affect them directly; you're not some sideline plot. Combined with established new combat system from the last game, Odyssey is a joy to play that never really tired me after tens and tens of hours of gameplay. The more I unlocked of abilities and new moves, the more fun it became to engage battles. A great focus made in varying locations and the island layout of land and sea travel helps keep things more diverse. Each island also helps keep the overwhelming game size manageable in small segments.

Odyssey is without doubt the best Assassin's Creed game I have ever played, it's an immensely strong return for the series, and even further more; it's the best game I've played this year. That's quite an achievement for such a long run of series with very frequent releases. Be in no doubt, the amount of lifespan value, fantastic story and hugely entertaining gameplay is top class in Odyssey. Oh and the visuals; man what a beautiful country Greece is!