‘Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’ masters immersive, open-world game experience, breathes life into ancient Greece

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Perched at the very top of the statue of Athena, overlooking the city of Athens, it is difficult not to be amazed by the painstakingly reconstructed environment that the action-adventure, open-world role-playing game, or RPG, “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey” effortlessly showcases. The city below appears to breathe and move of its own volition as civilians and soldiers mull about, the dense forests and sandy shores along the Aegean Sea just visible in the distance behind them.

Following in the footsteps of last year’s wildly successful “Assassin’s Creed Origins,” Ubisoft’s highly anticipated latest addition to its beloved third-person historical fiction series takes place in ancient Greece in 431 B.C. The player enters the ancient Greek civilization at the height of the Peloponnesian War between the Athenian and Spartan powers.

Beginning their journey on the quiet island of Kephallonia, far from the cries of war, the player takes on the role of either a female protagonist named Kassandra or a male protagonist named Alexios. The player having the ability to choose the gender of the protagonist marks a first for the “Assassin’s Creed” franchise, whose protagonists have previously all been male.

A descendant of the esteemed Spartan King Leonidas I, the protagonist, known commonly as “the Misthios,” or mercenary, of Kephallonia, starts out as a warrior independent of the war altogether. Yet the Misthios is soon dragged onto volatile battlegrounds across ancient Greece after learning of old family secrets, leading them into a dark dance with the shadowy Cult of Kosmos amid the backdrop of the ongoing war.

As the Misthios makes their way across Athenian and Spartan territory, the game takes them on a whirlwind tour of historical locations and figures central to ancient Greek history. The protagonist is soon introduced to the likes of the esteemed historian Herodotus, the beloved philosopher Sokrates and the celebrated leader of the democratic nation of Athens, Perikles.

Styled more like a traditional RPG experience than previous “Assassin’s Creed” games, “Odyssey” builds off of the redesigned gameplay mechanics and storytelling elements that were introduced to players in “Origins” last year. This modification delivers a redefining shift in the identity of the series itself.

“Odyssey” gives players the ability to impact events in the game as well as the game’s overall ending through various dialogue and story branches that are influenced by the player’s choices; the player is given the freedom to decide exactly how the Misthios interacts with the world around them, making decisions as to who they romance, engage in conflict with or align with.

Additionally, the game introduces the largest map yet in the “Assassin’s Creed” series, giving the player the ability to influence relative Athenian and Spartan control over the landscape through battles and quests throughout the game. Further improving upon the upgraded combat system introduced in “Origins,” “Odyssey” allows players to invest in warrior, hunter or assassin abilities as the Misthios levels up, giving the character additional combat skills to confront enemies.

Despite its clear focus on melee combat overall, “Odyssey” skillfully allows players to construct a Misthios whose abilities match their own preferred play style, a gameplay element that is further complemented by the impressive range of weapons and gear available throughout the game. Yet “Odyssey” as a whole remains true to its “Assassin’s Creed” roots by requiring immense strategy and patience to complete. Stealth remains a key component of the game’s various quests in the face of high-level enemies and challenges.

Complete with an engaging story that is relevant and immersive throughout the hours of gameplay and a witty protagonist with a uniquely moldable personality, “Odyssey” manages to shine beyond other comparable single-player RPG experiences as a truly memorable game. The game is admirable in its exploration elements, improved combat system and incredible storytelling ability. In fact, the additional element of player choice in “Odyssey” introduces a sense of variability that adds significantly to the game’s replay value.

The game marks an addition to the “Assassin’s Creed” franchise that not only breathes a new sense of life into the series but also redefines what exactly makes up an “Assassin’s Creed” game. “Odyssey” hints that the future of the series will lean toward a traditional role-playing experience with a focus on character development and storytelling dependent on player choice.

Whether the player is leading the Misthios in wrestling a bear with their bare hands or silently lodging Leonidas’s trusty blade into the jugular of an unsuspecting cult member, “Odyssey” never ceases to be a source of immense excitement and anticipation. Combining old and new elements of the “Assassin’s Creed” series, “Odyssey” constructs an unparalleled gameplay experience that truly redefines the modern RPG from the ground up. The game leads players to explore the secrets of ancient Greece for hours on end, well beyond the dramatic end of the game’s main quest.

Manisha Ummadi covers video games. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @mrummadi.

Correction(s):
The photo accompanying a previous version of this article incorrectly depicted a scene from “Assassin’s Creed Origins.” In fact, the photo should have depicted a scene from “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.”