I’m behind the entire gaming world on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I was lucky enough to play around 6 hours of it in the Google Stream beta, and that netted me a free PC/Uplay copy…which I didn’t install, knowing that my 2017 desktop would struggle a bit against its demanding engine.
No, it wasn’t until a recent $20 sale on retail Xbox copies that I decided to finally give it a chance. And by give it a chance, I mean I bought a copy then let it sit on my shelf for three days before opening it.
At first blush, Odyssey feels a whole lot like 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origins. The menu system, the controls, and the overall visual fidelity level feel a little bit too similar, in fact. That’s not that surprising for a release coming just a year after its predecessor…but this surface level similarity thankfully hides a lot of special things.
If you peel it like the metaphorical onion, Odyssey starts to reveal its true magic. It’s brimming with interconnected systems that are introduced one-by-one. This slow drip feed is gutsy for a 2018 release. When more and more games are rushing through their opening moments in a desperate quest to entertain you, Odyssey takes its time.
For one simple example, Origins gives you your first mount immediately after the opening tutorial moments, but Odyssey holds off until partway into its first main quest line. You might not get a horse for yourself until you’ve explored the opening island for a significant amount of time, depending on your personal play style and how determined you are to sprint through the main storyline.
This laid back introduction of mechanics continues over the course of many hours, and allows the game to surprise you every time you think it might start to get stale.
As the one guy that loved Dynasty Warriors 9, warts and all, Odyssey managed to totally blow my mind around 7 hours in.
I knew that the game had a territory control system from reading some reviews last year, but I didn’t realize how much it would owe to Dynasty Warriors. With a pinch of Skyrim for good measure. Just like in Bethesda and Koei’s games, a large war is waging across the entire game map during the course of the storyline.
Unlike in those games, you as the player have a large number of gameplay options for actually engaging in that war, helpfully represented by concrete systems, icons, meters, and easy-to-read objectives. Fulfilling different “war objectives” in a region lowers the current controlling faction’s hold on that area, and eventually, you can trigger a Big Battle(tm).
The game doesn’t call them Big Battles, but I can think of no better moniker.
At this point, the game morphs into an incredible Dynasty Warriors-inspired thing, with tons of soldiers running around on a chaotic battlefield. Using all of the same combat mechanics from the main game, and the dynamic crowd technology Ubisoft’s been perfecting since 2006, you’ve got to fight your way through standard random soldiers and named tougher-to-fight captains, just like in Koei’s venerable franchise.
Only here, Ubisoft had millions more dollars and thousands of developers at their disposal. The result is one of the most incredible “large combat” scenarios I’ve ever played in a video game, and I was instantly even more hooked on Odyssey than I had been in the preceding hours. I already enjoyed its expanded loot system, its faster movement mechanics, and its dynamic crime/mercenary system, all dramatic improvements over the basic systems in Origins.
But throw in a big-budget, spectacular take on the concepts in Dynasty Warriors, and instantly Odyssey became one of my favorite video games.
The game teases the Big Battle system in its opening moments, but that sequence feels like a special scenario created just for the story, and doesn’t truly hint at how complex the war mechanics will become. Objectives leading up to the battles have you destroying supplies, taking over outposts, and fighting key characters. It’s all stuff that you’d normally do in one of these games anyway, but instead of being separate icons on the map, it’s now all tied together in a fun system that leads to Big Battles.
It’s a great evolution of Ubisoft’s open world design.
I’m ten hours in to Odyssey’s sprawling adventure now, and I’ve already decided to engage with every war objective I can find, even though many of them are optional to the main quest line. The Assassin’s Creed combat system meshes so well with the Dynasty Warriors design concepts that I don’t know if I’ll be able to go back to Koei’s flawed game.