Since last week I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and while I’ve been enjoying my time in Ancient Greece—which is not difficult considering how much I love the ancient Greek world and Greek myth—with my new buddy Alexios, the experience has felt off, as if there were things missing.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is an open world RPG, much like origins but going all in on the genre tropes, up to and including resource and level grinding and conversation options. But along the way, Ubisoft left out those iconic elements of the Assassin’s Creed series in favour of going all in on the RPG.
It’s all about the numbers
In Assassin’s Creed, assassinations have historically been the only sure-fire way to get rid of opponents without having to engage in what could potentially be a messy encounter, especially as you’re swarmed by the would-be victims’ buddies.
Even in Assassin’s Creed Origins, where the blade’s level and your own are factors that determine whether a strike is lethal, it was only in situations where your enemy out-levelled you by a considerable margin that the assassination attempt failed.
That’s lost now in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, where everything is about the numbers on the weapons and the bonuses you get from equipment. But even with current level equipment, skills that increase assassination damage and the new “Assassin damage” bonuses—because ranged, combat and assassinations each have their individual damage types now for some ridiculous reason—it’s still quite possible to fail assassinations against enemies of your own level, particularly against the half-a-dozen varieties of “elite” enemies, from captains, lieutenants, hoplites and so on.
Worse still is that in too many occasions I’ve attempted an assassination, failed and managed to get away from the enemy, hidden myself so thoroughly that they can’t see me looking down on them from the nearby building’s roof and yet the option to assassinate doesn’t show. Despite being once again away from combat, Odyssey grants a form of permanent awareness to enemies, meaning your assassinations are a once per enemy thing.
Talk to me, baddie!
Assassination targets have always been important in the Assassin’s Creed series. Each target is a fully-fledged character with a complete story/quest-line where you get to meet them and like or hate them before you deliver that killing blow, which often is a nicely constructed mission where you must find a way inside their stronghold and assassinate them, either directly or creatively.
One of the key elements of this spotlight on the assassination targets is the villain monologue they all have. From the very first Assassin’s Creed, at the moment of killing each target the world dissolves and you have a wonderful one-on-one sequence where the villains explain what their goal were, their intent, often trying to make it seem as though the protagonist is the real villain for ending their life prematurely, though just as many times it’s more of a last chance to gloat.
But in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, none of the targets have this. You have an entire cult’s worth of enemies across the Greek world. You have to uncover their identities before you can hunt them, but when you do…they’re just another enemy, simply dying and giving you a bit of loot. They aren’t special anymore, they’re just bodies to kill and that’s just tragic for the series.
Most of them don’t even get the quest-line, they’re just random idiots in caves or walking around town. The Cult that you hunt in this Assassin’s Creed is merely a checklist, about as deep a quest as any other RPG’s “kill X of this.”
Storytelling vs Grinding
Even up to Assasssin’s Creed Origins, where character levels could lock you out of content, you would never be locked out of the main story. I never had to stop and grind in Assassin’s Creed Origins to keep going for that main plot. It was always there and it was the side activities that I had to return for when I had the required strength.
The focus was on telling you a story, on taking you through a journey through antiquity and exploring ancient landscapes while telling you a story that blurred the line between the historical and the fantastic.
But with Ubisoft’s clear intent and focus on having players go to the store and spend extra money on experience and resource packs, everything in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, from levelling to crafting, is so incredibly bloated that the natural flow of the game is completely disrupted if you don’t spend buy and spend those Helix Points.
In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, I’ve cleared entire quest lines across two regions without levelling once and even major quest lines fail to push my experience bar to the next level, which is not what happened in the previous game, where levelling and acquiring new skills was a constant thing.
Imagine if in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag you had to improve your ship to a certain level to continue the main story but the requirements to do so were so insanely overblown—with the intent of having you purchase packs of resources or money—that you couldn’t do so for hours or days until you raised the required amount.
The end result is invariably that the story becomes fractured and where once you would have a clear thread to guide you across the different sections of the plot, you now reach an impasse, a roadblock you can only surmount by going out of your way and grinding across the Greek world, not because you want to but because you must, to reach the required level to continue with the main plot. That is, if like me you’re not willing to dump extra money into a game you’ve already paid enough for in advance in a situation where the developers create a problem only to offer you the solution for an additional fee.
I knew things were grim when the first thing my game told me was that I had XP and money boosters enabled for a few hours on beginning, a gift for my purchase, and the first loading screen had Helix advertising.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey tells you your choices will come back to haunt you but while a minuscule of quests and conversations have branching paths and consequences, the vast majority of the world remains unchanged in the face of your actions.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey takes place during a time of war, but it’s a game where you can flip entire regions, from ruled by Athenians to governed by Spartans, without any change whatsoever to the landscape. It’s merely a minigame on a national scale.
Where in previous iterations the removal of key figures was central to the plot and there were narrative consequences to their assassinations, such as earning the favour of the Medici and getting the cape that lowers your notoriety within their territory, or how changing territory allegiances had lasting consequences, such as the Borgia Towers in Rome, in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey there are no lasting effects to even choosing sides and you can flip from supporting the Spartans to following the Athenians without anyone ever making a comment about it.
The problem is that there’s a greater focus on keeping the big open world sandbox viable for replays rather than a cohesive world narrative and this just makes it so nothing you do in the game feels worthwhile or important and the only visible consequence of one side winning a region is a palette swap on the guards, from the often shirtless and in red colours Spartans to the blue of the Athenians. Oh and if someone sees you while you complete tasks for the opposing faction, you may get bounty hunters, which are the Odyssey version of the cop stars from Grand Theft Auto.
It doesn’t help that the large-scale faction battles are downright boring.
I’m having fun playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey but the more I do, the less it feels like an Assassin’s Creed game and more like a generic open world RPG set in the same universe. Of all the above, the lacklustre assassinations are my greatest gripe, as those are the things I’m really looking forward to with new entries in the series.