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.
Read on below for the start of our epic journey, or click on the box above to jump to Part II...
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.
Once you've unlocked a synchronization location you can either fast travel there through the world map or by aiming at it with Ikaros.
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.
Turns out Markos can't pay Kassandra because he just bought the vineyard so you need to go debt collect your own drachmae from a merchant in Sami. Standard. In return for all this running around, I request a horse from Markos (more like demand). Has has three beauties lined up for me to choose from, each specializing in specific skills: racing, battle and navigating mountainous terrain. I pick the one most accustomed to mountainous terrain; her name is Phobos.
It's at this point I decide a little bit more exploration is in order, once I reach Sami a bunch of side quests start popping up. They follow the typical open world formula - quests like investigate a crime scene, kill bandits, skin some wolves, find an artefact. Luckily, nothing too time consuming - this game cannot afford to be more time consuming - and fairly straightforward, at least for now.
In addition, it turns out some bandits kidnapped little Phoebe, so it's a perfect time to practice my stealthy assassin skills. After reaching the bandit camp, I sneak through the tall grass and pick them off one by one - whistling to attract the attention of those out of range and swiftly plunging my blade into their spines. It's actually quite therapeutic. What's even better is that the enemies are both male and female - equal opportunity assassination.
After a sufficient amount of exploration and bandit slaying, I head back to the town of Sami to collect Markos (my) debt off a weasley merchant called Druis. After he feeds me a sob story about how Markos put up the interest on his loan and how he has a family, I soften quicker than butter in the sun and obviously tell him to keep the money - like a mug. Fortunately, my act of kindness did not come back to haunt me - like it did with the ruffians at the start - instead Druis gives me a lovely old sword as thanks and tells me Markos borrowed money from the Cyclops to buy his vineyard. I potter off in pursuit of Markos, ready to shove my new sword where the sun doesn't shine.