This is Sparta! - Assassin's Creed Odyssey
written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Back on the yearly grind! After Assassin's Creed Origins straight up reinvented the series, we go even further back with Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Here, you take control of one of two characters; Alexios or Kassandra. Like Homer did in the Iliad, you embark on your own odyssey as you explore ancient Greece during key points of the Peloponnesian War.
Unlike Assassin's Creed Syndicate that featured two protagonists that were both part of the narrative, your choice is locked in when you decide whether to control Kassandra or Alexios; regardless of the gender the story plays out exactly the same, missions both main and side react to you in exactly the same manner regardless of gender. Much in the same vein of previous Assassin's Creed protagonists, Kassandra or Alexios are descended from the Isu, the people who came before believed to be the Gods.
Abandoned as a child, your only remnants of your youth is the broken Spear of Leonidas, your grandfather, and the lessons you learned that allow you to survive. Your spear acts as an off-hand weapon when wielding one-handed arms as well as your main assassination weapon, one could call this the not-so-hidden blade. While this game is part of the Assassin's Creed series, it is that in name only. Like how in Assassin's Creed Origins the creation of the Assassin's Order came about at the end of the main story, Kassandra or Alexios would be more like a proto-assassin, possessing the abilities of the assassins we know while not being part of an organized group or facing the same struggles. In the same vein as the Order of Ancients were in Orgins, your main antagonists are the mysterious Cult of Kosmos. With the Greek world plunged in the grips of war between Sparta and Athens, the Cult of Kosmos has infiltrated all levels across both sides. As your character travels across the Mediterranean, your odyssey has you unraveling the Cult from the inside out while you search for answers. Told very non linear, your main quest and many side quests end up flowing into each other quite wonderfully. I found myself engrossed in the search for answers and living my very own odyssey. I played through my first run as Kassandra and just recently started a new game as Alexios, I feel like while both characters are likable in their own way... Kassandra felt better fleshed out. I don't know if this is just because Melissanthi Mahut's (Kassandra's voice actress) delivery was better, but with both Kassandra and Alexios having more or less the same story from start to finish... honestly Kassandra felt like the better character overall. Goes to show how important voice acting is, eh?
Just like how the modern day elements returned to form in Origins, Layla Hassan is once again the modern day character you play as... now a full member of the Assassin Order after being recruited by William Miles at the end of the last game. As I said before, I love the modern day elements of the Assassin's Creed games and missed them using these after Desmond's death in Assassin's Creed III. The first-person “you-are-the-one” meta-narrative of the series up until Origins always felt cheap and never really expanded upon the story, I'm so glad they are continuing with Layla going forward.
Much of the what made Assassin's Creed Origins such a welcome refresh of the series comes back in Odyssey to a more fleshed out degree. The combat system stays more or less the same, you dodge and parry with the right shoulder buttons acting as light and heavy attacks, where Odyssey improves on Origins is in the ability wheel. As you level up, you can plug points into skills across three tiers; Hunter, Warrior, and Assassin, along with passives you can also unlock active abilities that can be used on the fly. Adding a whole new layer to the game's combat mechanics, you can pull off a Spartan Kick ripped right out of the film 300 or heal yourself mid battle. As a welcome addition, the different types of bows from Origins are now skills that can be unlocked in the Hunter category. Combat in Origins was a vast improvement over recent titles, even Syndicate which I personally loved... Odyssey took that and continued to improve upon it. Assassin's Creed Odyssey was a delight to play through and once I fully grasped it I found this to be my absolute favorite combat system among the entire franchise... yes, even over Syndicate.
For once in the series, you have choices. Very real choices for you character to follow while offering drastically different outcomes depending on how you want to role-play your odyssey. Kassandra or Alexios can be a beacon of justice, or a force of unbridled vengeance. These choices truly made this your story and despite playing as a set character, the concept of choice starts at which of the two you pick to play as and continue all the way to the end.
Set during the Peloponnesian War, various points on the map are controlled either by Sparta or Athens. At certain points of the story, you can choose to support Sparta or Athens to take control or defend parts of the map. Outside of story based missions, you have the option of destabilizing whatever the ruling body is, culminating in an Conquest Battles. These massive battles have you facing off against a slew of enemies, from standard grunts to captains and mercenaries. A winning side is decided when one side's number dwindle low enough to force a retreat. These never got old, and even after going through the whole campaign I found myself still participating in these Conquest Battle.
While previous titles toyed with introducing RPG like character progression, Assassin's Creed Odyssey is the first one to go all-in with the concept. This entry is a full-flegged RPG, rivaling even The Witcher 3 in its scope. A full armor system with individual pieces for chest, arms, waist, legs, and head give you full control over how you want to spec your character as well as how you want your character to look. Returning from Origins is the varying degrees of item rarity, from common all the way up to legendary, as well as the ability to upgrade existing weapons to a higher level. Upgrading weapons and armor not only require money, but also materials. Set in the Mediterranean, with the inclusion of a map that requires a boat, finally a full-flegged nautical combat system returns. This isn't the brief missions we had in Origins, these are woven into the main story with either Kassandra or Alexios leading. Sending enemy ships to the bottom of the sea or incapacitating and boarding enemy ships, as a fan of nautical combat from Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, this was one feature I was looking forward to the most. Snappy controls and challenging combat made sailing around the Greek World a pleasure, in lieu of canons and guns, your crew will shoot arrows and throw spears. Though primitive, these weapons do serious damage to a ship's hull... especially if lit on fire.
Much in the way that Origins was supported post launch, Odyssey is enjoying much of the same support with free missions added to the game along with a forthcoming DLC. Along with it are the items offered in store, bought with a special currency. These tactics never really sit well with me, but I honestly found myself not really needing them, I did purchase the ability to earn more XP and money but that's mostly because I wanted them. I found that playing without these bonuses was not hard, but with them the progression felt a bit fast. It's easy to demonize them for pulling shit like this, and rightly so when you pay for a $60 game that includes mobile-game like micro-transactions. But these micro-transactions never felt required and nor did it ever feel like I had to pay to win anything.
This game was Assassin's Creed in name but felt like so much more. Kassandra or Alexios aren't assassins... the Cult of Kosmos aren't Templars... but with how stale the series grew to become, this change was needed. It's still very much an Assassin's Creed game at its core... Assassin's Creed and so much more.
4.75 out of 5
a damn near perfect reinvention