Odyssey takes place in 341 BCE during the Peloponnesian War, and in a break with predecessor titles, the game allows the option of selecting which character to play as: Kassandra or Alexios. The plot is exactly the same regardless of choice, but having the option to select a female protagonist is a milestone leap for the genre. Not since Xena of the '90s has a female heroine of pepla been so fleshed out and commanded center stage in a narrative. Odyssey sees Kassandra (or Alexios), a descendant of Leonidas (of 300 fame), trek across the various lands and islands of the Aegean Sea, searching for her parents and trying to outwit and overthrow the Cult of Kosmos, a shadowy cabal that controls the Greek world from behind the scenes. During her quest, Kassandra crosses paths with many important characters of antiquity (Pythagoras, Pericles, and even Socrates to name a few), competes in the Olympics, and even fights a few mythical creatures such as the minotaur and Medusa.
As with previous titles, stealth is the focus of Odyssey, with emphasis on Kassandra sneaking into fortifications/caves/ruins, hiding in bushes, or danging from the edge of walls, and leaping out to stab the oblivious Spartan/Athenian/bandit. If spotted, the gameplay shifts to a standard combat mode, where the player can chain attacks together, parry, or even execute special moves (provided Kassandra has enough adrenaline available). As Kassandra fights, she’ll gain experience and level up which will unlock points she can use to purchase new abilities in her skill trees (hunting, warrior, assassin). These includes abilities such as lighting your weapon on fire or turning invisible.
The game sees the return of a nautical element by having Kassandra command a ship, the Adrestia, early in the story. In the beginning, she uses the ship to combat pirates and other enemies by ramming them, firing arrows, or even boarding them, as well as traversing between the different islands and ports in the Aegean. It’s quite exhilarating as she commands the ship to speed up, looking right down the deck, as the waves whip past; however, much later in the game, as the player opens up more and more synchronization points to fast travel to, the need to take to the seas is greatly diminished. Despite this, the Adrestia’s captain, Barnabas, is easily the greatest character in the game. He is hilarious, and the voice actor nails his enthusiasm.
Odyssey sees the addition of a new gameplay element: conquest battles. As Kassandra journeys across the Grecian lands, she can engage in activities to weaken an occupying faction (Sparta or Athens) by assassinating high-ranking officials, looting a treasury, or burning supplies. When a nation is weakened by these actions, the option to do a conquest battle becomes available, and Kassandra can either pick to fight for Sparta or for Athens in a giant land skirmish comprised of dozens and dozens of soldiers. The outcome of the battles can flip which force occupies the land while rewarding Kassandra with loot.
There’s a plethora of side quests, as well. There are tombs to be raided, sunken ships to be explored, bounties to collect, animals to hunt, and so on. There is a romantic component to the game, as well; however, it's fairly superficial when compared to other games, such as the Mass Effect series. Kassandra can romance a variety of NPCs (male and female), but most of these encounters are either one-night stands for side quests with only a few instances of a wooed person joining her crew on the Adrestia. There’s no real emotional connection or investment for those recruited this way; once they join your crew, they become silent characters either standing on the deck or on reserve.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a standout game, not just in the Assassin’s Creed series, but in present-day gaming, as well as the peplum genre. What Gladiator did to rejuvenate the sword and sandal genre for cinema Odyssey does for video games. The ability to play as Kassandra is also a tremendous step for both the peplum genre and the video game medium, creating a new female protagonist that ranks up there with other icons such as Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, Bayonetta, and Metroid’s Samus. Odyssey is both a transgressive game in this regard, as well as a finely executed one. The gameplay is fun and varied; at any time, the player can stray from the main story to engage in what the world has to offer (which is a lot), and Ubisoft is currently providing continuous updates to the title by way of new quests. After Origins and Odyssey, it will be exciting to see if the series will continue to explore stories set in antiquity.
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
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