Why Assassins Creed Odyssey is a great game
Forget the Youtuber Cult of Kosmos. It’s epic stuff.
For a while I stopped playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I was at about level 30 and deep into the grind of exploring the map and levelling up. I was still often wowed with the epic map of Ancient Greece that was unfolding before me, but I was getting bored. I didn’t want to explore another dingy cave network or dive another shipwreck or get into another naval battle or take down another fort. Everything seemed… tedious.
But this made no sense. The critic’s reviews were universally positive. What was going on? And that’s when the Reddit commenters and Youtube video essayists stepped in. This is when I learned a new orthodoxy.
The problem is, they explained, that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was a terrible, terrible game. It was a soulless, corporate sell out. It was charmless and repetitive and a stain on the franchise. It wasn’t even an Assassin’s Creed game.
And, for a little while, I bought it. They sounded convincing. I listened to the Youtubers explain how early Assassin’s Creed games had been superb games and story-telling masterpieces. And how the franchise had lost its way.
Long ago, I had played Assassin’s Creed 2 and I had loved scaling the buildings of Renaissance Italy, ambushing guards and playing the lone assassin. And what they said about the game having been recreated as some arcade beat em up travesty started to make sense. I put on their rose-tinted headsets. I drank their Youtube Kool Aid.
And I wasn’t the only one. Whenever Odyssey was mentioned on Reddit or Twitter, it was an absolute guarantee that someone would weigh in and say what a horrible game Odyssey was. What a betrayal.
And so I thought about trying out some of the older titles that were true to the spirit of the game. I didn’t want to go back to AC2. I wanted to try something newer, with better graphics, which retained the old charm.
So, I watched a video explaining how the much-maligned Assassin’s Creed Unity was actually the last true Assassin’s Creed game. I took my £10 to a second-hand games shop and I bought it. I slipped the disc in and excitedly waited for all the crimes of Odyssey to be made plain in Unity. Sure, it was buggy. Sure, the character wasn’t the greatest. But the parkour, the assassinations, the passion. Truly, I was about to be baptised as a true Assassin’s Creed fan and then err…
It didn’t happen.
I played Assassin’s Creed Unity. A lot of it. And it was…. well… fine. Sort of. Paris was cool. It was fun to jump around the roof tops and climb stuff. The stealth side of the game does make you feel like an assassin — which the purists love. But let’s not get carried away.
The much-loved parkour? Isn’t it a bit… janky? Isn’t it a bit annoying when you can’t climb what’s in front of you? And the same old five enemies? And the complex assassinations with sooo many choices that really don’t amount to anything? And the plot which is… and let’s be fair… bullshit? And the HUD is…well…a mess. Try one of the very poorly executed detective style missions where they put up a load of clues at once. It’s a giant headache. I would pay money not to experience that again. I suddenly realised I was sat at a Scientology seminar. I had been played.
My point is — and this may be sacrilege to the Assassin’s Creed purists — but I don’t think that Assassin’s Creed was ever as good as “real fan” Youtubers pretend. It’s always been a bit clunky and a bit hollow. I think that most of them are in their 20s and so it was one of the first game they played as teenagers and so they have fond memories of it.
Because when you’re young, your critical faculties don’t exist. Go and watch that beloved children’s TV show and find out how bad it is. And I don’t mean because you’re an adult now and it’s made for kids. I mean how bad the scripting, acting and production values are. That’s the point of being a kid. You can ignore what’s self-evidently bad about a TV show or game. As long as you buy into the idea, your imagination and enthusiasm will paper over the cracks.
And that’s the problem with Youtubers insisting that the early Assassin’s Creed game were masterpieces. They weren’t. Their plots were just as shallow as the later games. Ezio isn’t a classic character. He’s just another soap opera quality avatar that people grew up with.
So, I took a break from Assassin’s Creed. I dabbled in some Hitman 2 and then played X-Com 2. I was reminded what is actually good. Not what I just really want to be good.
And then I decided to go back to Odyssey. I was highly skeptical but I thought I might as well see it out. But I didn’t go wandering aimlessly around the map. I didn’t play endless fort conquests or pitched battles or side missions. I just played through the plot. And when I had to kill someone in a fort as part of a mission, I just snuck in…and killed them. And then left. And guess what?
It’s a great game!
Is it perfect? My lord no. It is too repetitive, it is too big, there are too many missions. But you can ignore most of it. You only have to do a small amount of what’s on offer. And I never even thought about paying to progress in the game. That’s a criticism that people copy and paste into their critiques. But it’s not something you ever have to do.
I’ve now completed it. I wasn’t delighted with the ending. Why, for example, isn’t killing the leader of the Cult of Kosmos integral to wrapping up the game? What’s the point of the Socratic dialogues that go nowhere? Why is there so much filler?
But that isn’t Assassin Creed Odyssey’s crime. That’s a problem shared by the entire sandbox genre. We all want the illusion of choice, but actually we’d rather have something satisfyingly linear.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the greatest sandbox games of all time. Unquestionably. It’s a masterpiece. But I’ve completed about 70% of it. Will I ever go back and finish it? No. Arthur Morgan is dying of some disease, the plot is dragging out too long, I’ve heard too many of Dutch’s speeches. And this is before the famous finale where you become a farm hand. There’s just too much stuff in it. RDR2 is undoubtedly better than Odyssey, but I have no intention of going back and completing it. And I probably never will.
Ignore the backlash. Before long there will be a backlash to the backlash. In ten years, kids who grew up with Odyssey will be doing Youtube essays about what a classic it is. That’s just the way the wind blows.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a great game and a terrific Assassin’s Creed game. Seeing this rendition of Ancient Greece in its heyday is incredible. If you don’t get chills when you explore the reconstructed Acropolis, maybe history isn’t for you.
And the complaints that Odyssey isn’t an Assassin’s Creed game? Rubbish. While there is slightly less of a stealth element, you can still be stealthy if you want. And yes, you don’t get the one-hit kill assassination. But so what?
And no Templars vs Assassins? It’s not 2006 anymore. No one cares about the Da Vinci code now. All that stuff is incredibly dated. And we get the idea. The Cult of Kosmos are the Templars. You’re the assassin. Don’t pretend that they’ve betrayed some impeccable canon. Play any Assassin’s Creed game and then play Odyssey. It’s unmistakably Assassin’s Creed.
You’re no better or worse off than you’ve ever been before. Alexios is down there with the worst of the Assassin’s Creed heroes. And Cassandra is up there with the best. That’s what a great performance can do for a character. The traditional Assassin’s Creed swordplay is novel to start with, but is basically bizarre ballet. Once you get into Odyssey’s combat and start swinging round a giant hammer or slicing and dicing with knives, you won’t want to go back. And those power ups that turn you into a Greek god? Yes. That’s entirely the point. It’s heroic Ancient Greece.
And obviously there’s so much you can do but, for the most part, you really don’t have to. I’ve completed the game only having killed a couple of mythical beasts. I have no intention of unlocking Atlantis. I killed who I needed to kill and spared who I needed to spare. And now I’m going to sit down to dinner with my mother and my insane brother. Like all family reunions, it never quite lives up to what you hope it’s going to be. But just try to relax and enjoy it.
Now I’m bored of talking about Assassin’s Creed. I’ll wait a few years and play Valhalla once everybody decides it’s terrible.