Welcome to TechRadar’s ongoing review of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: an open world RPG and the eleventh major instalment in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, focusing on the fictional history of the Peloponnesian War.
Given the sheer scale of the open-world title – potentially upwards of 100 hours of gameplay – we thought it would be best to break our review into several parts, with TechRadar’s Vic Hood spending one week with the game, and logging her experience to give you a taste of what to expect and whether it’s worth your hard-earned drachmae.
Full disclosure: the most Assassin’s Creed I’ve ever experienced was the three hours I spent playing the first game, before rendering it over-hyped and repetitive. But in the decade that has passed since the original game’s release, various additions to the franchise have piqued my interest and tempted me to give it another chance – navigating the pirate-controlled waters of Black Flag or riding a camel through the dunes of Egypt in Origins – but it never happened, until now.
What I’m trying to say is, I have entered Assassin’s Creed Odyssey as someone with little knowledge of the franchise and merely as someone who has a passion for open world RPGs and history. If you’re looking for someone to take the game at face value, then look no further than this review here.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey opens with the Battle of Thermopylae (more commonly known as the Battle of 300) in which a small battalion of vastly outnumbered Greeks held off the invading Persian army. I’m thrown head first into the epic battle as Spartan King Leonidas, struggling to fend off the Persians with my remaining men and without a single Gerald Butler in sight.
At this point, you are already at a high level, with plenty of abilities unlocked – such as the infamous Sparta kick. These special abilities are unlocked through ability trees, you gain one point each time you level up or complete a tomb. You then assign these abilities to your loadout, allowing you to use them quickly by (in the case of Xbox One) pressing LB and either A, X, Y or B. You can re-spec these abilities at any point for a sum of drachmae.
Each ability tree corresponds to a specific gameplay preference: either hunter, warrior or assassin. Meanwhile, from the get-go you have baseline abilities such as assassination, whistle and Eye of Ikaros (which I’ll come back to later). However, these abilities also use one adrenaline segment, so you can’t be going around Spartan kicking everyone all the time – as much fun as it is.
It’s better to unlock and upgrade passive abilities as early as possible to help boost your base gameplay – regardless of whether you wish to specialise in warrior, hunter or assassin.
I navigate through the devastated battlegrounds, slashing and hacking my way through the foot soldiers in pursuit of the general. After a showdown and some fighting-talk about what he plans to do with Sparta’s children (it’s not pleasant), I drive my spear through him and Sparta kick his ass off a cliff face.
As the battle draws to a close, Spartan soldiers drag infamous traitor Ephialtes to their king – he has betrayed Greece and revealed a secret path behind the Greek forces which will leave them outflanked. Leonidas takes it well, shoving a spear straight through Ephialtes head and preparing his men to march on. As any keen historians will know (or anyone who has watched Zack Snyder’s 300), Leonidas then decides to send away the majority of his army – leaving just 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians to take on the Persians. But we don’t see that bit.
Instead, we transport to modern day, where a discovery has been made by an archaeology team (don’t worry, no spoilers). The item discovered has two strands of DNA on it, and you must decide which strand you wish to synchronise with: male Alexios or female Kassandra. Being the first mainline entry where you can choose to play as a woman for the full game, I choose Kassandra.
You then have the choice between exploration or guided mode. Ubisoft recommend exploration mode, which doesn’t provide you with a clear marker for the next quest objective – instead you’re given a series of clues such as ‘south of Mount Ainos’. However, guided mode will tell you where to go. I chose ‘exploration mode’, but you can change during the game if you get too frustrated.
After all the preferences have been set, I synchronise as mercenary Kassandra into 431 BCE Kephalonnia ( Kefalonia as we know it) – the start of the Peloponnesian War. Immediately, while I’m merely polishing my sword, a group of ruffians begin shouting at me about a big bad called Cyclops that I owe money to – a punch to the face and it’s on.
Armorless and only a minute in, I’m duelling with the two bandits. I knock both down and am presented with my first choice: kill them or let them go. Being the kind-hearted ruthless killer that I am, I spare the thugs and send them back to Cyclops as a warning not to mess with me. I later regret this when the same thugs ambush me on the road: don’t be kind to strangers.
Realizing I should probably settle my debt, I make my way to the man to owes me drachmae: Markos. According to my stray child-friend Phoebe, Markos has recently purchased a vineyard. This is my first experience of exploration mode – Markos is south of Mount Ainos so I head in that direction, after getting my armor on of course. I run through the dirt-roads and twisted pines towards Markos’ vineyard.
As I near my target, I get my first taste of the power of Ikaros: an eagle friend which the locals believe has been sent by the Gods. Using the Eye of Ikaros ability, you see through Ikaros’ eyes, spotting enemies, markers and treasure from above. I spot Markos from above and make my way to confront him.
[In tomorrow’s update, we’ll talk more about performance and combat.]