Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series has been around since 2007, drawing in audiences with its finely tuned mix of stealth, parkour, and open-world adventure, and sending them on a murdery tour through history. Previous games in the series have explored time periods as diverse as the Italian Renaissance, Victorian London, and everyone’s favourite part of history: the bit with pirates.
Odyssey is the sequel to 2017’s Origins, and shifts the setting from ancient Egypt to ancient Greece. After a dramatic opening ripped straight from Zack Snyder’s 300, the bulk of the action follows the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, with you as a mercenary caught in the middle. Classics buffs will enjoy the historical references, but the story isn’t particularly engaging.
If you’ve played an Assassin’s Creed game before, you know what to expect. Ubisoft really isn’t one for messing with a formula. So certain is this new game that you’re already familiar with the series, it doesn’t even bother to tell you about big baddies Abstergo, the Animus, the millennia-long war between the Assassins and the Templars, or why a modern-day historian can travel through time using a tanning bed.
During the game’s prologue, you choose to play as Alexios or his sister Kassandra. It’s an entirely cosmetic choice – the story and gameplay are the same either way – but a welcome one. Another positive is that the graphics are gorgeous. Sailing around Greece is strikingly beautiful as the sun sets and dolphins leap from the water beside you. The central gameplay loop is satisfying too: explore, get missions, stab people, get rewards. Climbing up the giant statue of Zeus and hanging off his painstakingly recreated bum is also a delight.
But for those who’ve bounced off the series before, this meticulously designed vision of Greece feels immediately familiar, rather than like the unexplored playground of opportunities that was promised. Odyssey is a remix of the series’ best ideas, which is great… for a while. But those ideas are repeated again and again. And again. You see, it’s a very long game. It took me four hours just to finish the tutorial island, and there are dozens of hours to go after that. Sure, it keeps you busy as you conquer regions, hunt pirates and mercenaries, and explore caverns and ruins for treasure, but you’ll see most of what’s on offer in the first ten hours.
Other design choices are frustrating. Combat is a matter of spamming light and heavy attacks, timing parries and dodging, while managing the cooldowns on your special abilities. Stronger enemies demand a little more finesse, but for the most part it feels more like World of Warcraft than Assassin’s Creed.
The levelling system also leaves a bad taste. Abilities, missions and regions of the huge sandbox are effectively locked away until you reach a required level, which takes a whole lot of meandering around picking up side-quests and grinding.
There are plenty of bugs and glitches, and it often neglects to tell you crucial information when you need it. At one point, as I sailed towards the first tutorial mission about naval combat, I was attacked by two ships and had to flail with the controls in a vain attempt to avoid sinking to the bottom of the sea.
Odyssey is a colossus, an expansive and picturesque recreation of an ancient world and one of the best games in the series. But its vastness is also a weakness – it often feels bloated, stretched, and not quite able to live up to its beautiful setting.