The Odyssey is one of the western world’s first classics. The trials of Odysseus —outwitting a Cyclops, navigating a ship through the harrowing straits of Scylla and Charybdis, getting trapped on an island with a powerful witch-goddess who wants to keep him as her lover — have informed Western storytelling for as long as Western storytelling has been a thing. To call something an odyssey is to attach to it a 3,000-year-old literary tradition that promises storytelling on a scale few projects can reach.
Basically, calling your game Odyssey is ballsy as hell. In order for Ubisoft to pull this off, it had to not only deliver a huge installment in its already stacked franchise, but drape the game in the kind of story and gameplay worthy of Homer himself.
Anyway, Ubisoft nailed it.
A story of Olympic proportions
Like Homer’s Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed is a twist-filled, seafaring adventure that feels truly mythic. The sheer size of the map and the hundreds of quests add to making the world of the game feel big, but what truly blows up the experience of playing is the story itself.
The saga of Alexios/Kassandra (I picked Alexios for my first playthrough and will refer to him as my player character for the rest of this review) is every bit as grand, sweeping, funny, and occasionally sexy as a blockbuster adventure trilogy.
The setup itself is epic — a small-town mercenary with a tragic past is thrust into a warring world alive with mysterious forces to realize his legendary destiny — and the way that story plays out is exactly as exciting as the premise would suggest.
What adds to the scale of Odyssey is the series’ decision to eschew the idea of having a single main quest and instead treating the character’s journey as a true odyssey, with several main objectives to complete in separate, but dovetailing plotlines.
Focusing on one quest might help you finish it faster, but it’s more rewarding to wander in and out of each plot, since they each reveal hidden motivations that inform each other’s storylines.
To say much more would be to spoil some of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s biggest twists and surprises, but simply moving Alexios through the Greek world guarantees a long, exciting journey.
A matter of choice
As we’ve all heard before, the first choice made in Odyssey is whether to play as Alexios or Kassandra. It is by far the least consequential choice in the game. From the moment you pick your misthios (“mercenary” in Greek, you hear it a lot in the game), Odyssey doesn’t stop throwing choices at you — choices that might affect the course of a quest, or the course of the Greek world.
Making decisions like these adds a layer of character-building that Assassin’s Creed has been missing in previous games. Simply having choices makes the gameplay more interesting, as the point of playing becomes less “what did this assassin do” and more “what would my assassin do,” allowing the player’s own values and morals to dictate the fate of Alexios and the characters around him.
For the record, my Alexios hated children, loved taking money from rich people, was half-bonkers with revenge, and had a thing for men and women who could kick his ass. The possibilities are many.
Fight like a god(dess)
Since the player character of Odyssey is a mercenary and not an Assassin, the combat is suitably updated to accommodate a much wider and sometimes more brutal set of skills. Just as Alexios’ actions were dictated by my choices, so were the moves he used in battle.
Instead of simply having a set of combat moves that get stronger and more interesting as one accumulates skill points, Odyssey introduces new moves like the Spartan Kick, Shield Breaker, Rush Assassination, and many more.
Players can acquire and upgrade these skills and individually map them to buttons, creating an extra d-pad chock full of special attacks that rain Hades on enemies.
The moves are fully interchangeable, so swapping one in for a battle and another in for an assassination sequence is perfectly plausible, and everyone playing will likely have a different custom setup.
When the moves are deployed they look dope as hell, with animation that ranges from a super speed rush that knocks enemies out to a full, pre-animated combo of ducks, swipes, and jabs that look like they really deliver the pain. It’s easy to see why characters comment that Alexios “fights like a god.”
I’d rather be shiny
Of course, no one can fight without a decent set of gear, and Odyssey ups the combat experience by allowing several slots for breastplates, bracers, boots, belts (in true Greek fashion, all of Alexios’ bottom armor pieces are flirty little murder skirts), and helms. As for weapons, there’s an array of types like swords, spears, blunts, axes, and bows.
A weapon or armor piece can be Common, Rare, Epic, or Legendary, and can be upgraded at a blacksmith with discoverable engravings that add extra damage, poison, fire, and a number of other bonus goodies. Rare engravings are unlocked via quests, but some show up just as a result of leveling up and exploring.
All of these weapons can be swapped out except for one — the Spear of Leonidas. This spear, a family heirloom for Alexios and Kassandra, functions like the iconic Assassin’s Creed hidden blade but also does much, much more. Alexios whips that sucker out for combos, yeets it directly into the skulls of unsuspecting bandits, and spends one of the game’s longest and more interesting quests trying to unlock its mysteries.
All in all, combat in Odyssey is more customizable than ever before, with dazzling animation and fully viewable cosmetic changes for every tweak in Alexios’s armory. Assassins haven’t looked this fresh since… ever, really.
Bring me that horizon
Assassin’s Creed has taken to the high seas in past games like Black Flag, Rogue, and cursorily in Origins, but Odyssey brings naval combat and exploration back to the front and center of the gaming experience.
Early in the game Alexios takes command of the Adrestia, a trireme outfitted with a crew of arrow-slinging, javelin-throwing badasses who love sinking ships and looting treasure.
Being a misthios, the choice to behave or misbehave is largely left up to the player. I tried to play it straight to avoid racking up a bad reputation (more on reputation, which is thankfully back in the franchise) later, but naval battles are an important part of many questlines and the sea is rife with pirates that don’t care if you’re not up for a fight.
The Adrestia is fully upgradable, with many different aspects of the ship up for customization. In addition to changing cosmetic elements like the color of the sail or what your crew looks like, you can strengthen the hull, train the archers, up the firepower and — in a new mechanic — meet and recruit lieutenants out in the world who add attack and speed bonuses to the Adrestia when equipped.
These lieutenants range from defeated former enemies to quest characters that are looking for a little extra adventure. You can also recruit regular enemies by knocking them out, which seems a little kidnap-y but I haven’t heard any of them complain yet. A lieutenant’s contribution to the ship is determined by their level, which like weapons comes in Common, Rare, Epic, and Legendary.
Aside from being another form of combat, the Adrestia is a requirement for navigating the large, island-heavy Greek world of Odyssey. It’s significantly faster (and safer) to take the ship from Athens to Sparta, and many of the game’s most exciting regions (looking at you, Delos Islands) are only accessible by sea. Embrace the journey! There’s often a lot to see on the way to the next objective.
The New New
There are a number of newer elements in Odyssey that add welcome complications to the narrative and gameplay. First of these are the mercenaries, who like Alexios are in the murder game to make a buck. When Alexios misbehaves in the game world — be that by murdering in public, stealing in plain sight, or even talking to the wrong people, these powered-up NPCs put you on their fight-on-sight list.
Laying low for a while removes the bounty on Alexios’s head, but you can also pay off the mercenaries or just kill whoever set the bounty in the first place. Each mercenary has their own backstory and particular bag of tricks. Taking them down is one of the game’s more fun challenges.
There’s also collectible crafting resources scattered around the world of Odyssey. Cutting down olive trees and grabbing chunks of iron ore are essential for engraving weapons and upgrading the Adrestia.
As in Origins, Odyssey also has arena combat, where Alexios can face off against waves of challengers for great rewards and a chance to step up against even bigger enemies.
Another element borrowed from Origins is Alexios’s drone-like eagle companion Ikaros. Alexios uses Ikaros to scout areas, and he gets more perceptive with every synchronization (thankfully, the synchronization points no longer un-fog the game map). Ikaros can tag enemies, treasure, and other points of interest from above, making it easier to plan Alexios’ movements when infiltrating a camp or fortress.
Ikaros can also be used as a fast travel shortcut, as the player can fast travel to any unlocked synchronization point as well as the Adrestia as long as it’s in his sky-high view.
I f*cked my way into this mess and I’ll f*ck my way out
Assassin’s Creed has always been about living out the historical fantasy of being a secret, righteous killer in the world’s most turbulent times. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey adds something new to that fantasy — being a walking glob of sexual napalm, gender be damned.
It seems like everyone in classical Greece wants a piece of misthios pie, and it’s a genuinely fun addition to the game deciding who gets dessert. Every romance in Odyssey is optional, with the romantic choices clearly marked with cute little hearts that let players know when they can get their flirt on.
Some of the romances are played for humor — giving a horny old lady the night of her life, or a lonely blacksmith some sugar to get ahead in a quest made sense with the character I was playing, but what surprised me most were some of the lasting romances with characters both historical and fictional.
The writing in some of the longer romances feels genuine and tender in a way I didn’t expect, with beautiful characters seeming to genuinely fall for Alexios’s mercenary swagger. Some of the stories were lusty odysseys unto themselves, like with the insatiable Athenian politician Alcibiades who regularly appears for a bang sesh whenever it suits him.
Others, one in particular, might have been true love. It’s a testament to Odyssey’s storytelling that such a range of romantic possibility is present in the game and a step forward for the franchise that assassin love, queer and straight, is finally an important part of the story.
The Odyssey has only begun
Every Assassin’s Creed game has brought something different to the franchise. Altaïr walked so Ezio could run. Edward ran so Evie could sprint, and so on.
Odyssey of course owes a lot of its larger changes (mercenaries, loot system, pre-Assassin setting) to the great work of Origins, but many of the mechanics have been tweaked and improved to pave a new and exciting future for the franchise.
There will be more Odyssey in the near future — a season pass will bestow at least two full questlines to continue the story of Alexios and Kassandra (and hopefully Alcibiades), but just holding this as the standard upon which further Assassin’s Creed games should keep any gamer hype for what’s to come.
I laughed my ass off playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I gasped. I yelled at the screen. I marked specific NPCs as my personal nemeses and made it my business to make sure they paid in blood for what they’ve done. I fucked around. I fell in love. I sailed the Aegean Sea and got emotional about dolphins.
Odyssey is a masterwork of storytelling and emotion where nothing is true and everything is permitted. I can’t wait to see where Assassin’s Creed goes next, but until then…I’ve got some ships to sink, people to seduce, and marks to murder. Chiare.