In every Assassin’s Creed game, there is a moment where the assassin clambers up to some high-reaching vista — a tower, a balcony, maybe even a ship’s mast — and briefly focuses their eagle eye on the land below them before bounding forward into a leap of faith.
The thrill is usually in the leap, a reflection of the quick, fluid, sneaky gameplay that was once the foundation of the series. With Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the thrill is now in the climb, and the expansive beauty that waits at the top as a reward.
I’m a longtime fan of Ubisoft’s history-hopping stealth series, even with its various tweaks and mechanical changes through the years. Some entries took bold, broader strokes like Black Flag or last year’s Origins, but Odyssey tosses red paint all over the canvas to create something familiar but lusciously fresh. The world of Ancient Greece is a sight to behold, and it’s gleaming with new opportunity at every corner.
Rather than simply chasing vengeance or upholding tradition, Odyssey is a journey of action and choice. There’s not yet a brotherhood or creed to follow. Instead, you are bound to your own ambitions, whatever that may mean. You’re a mercenary with big dreams, exiled from Sparta with a whole world ahead of you waiting to be explored. For me that meant playing as a witty and empathetic Kassandra, fighting against man or myth to reunite her family. For others that could mean taking a more bloodthirsty approach, seeking revenge and nothing more. Others might fight for brutish glory on the field of battle and arena. Even still, others might ignore the clash of armies and instead head out on the open sea as a pirate. Each quest is a choice, and those choices reflect throughout the entire game and open doors unlike ever before. The series has always allowed for exploration aside from the story, but in Odyssey even the main quest branches out in ways had me giddily criss-crossing my way across the map, discovering new adventures and secrets.
The series similarly reinvents itself by ditching what was once thought of as the essence of being an Assassin: the Hidden Blade. I’ll admit even I was a bit wary of this change heading into Odyssey… until I kicked my first enemy off a hill with a Spartan Kick. The shift to special moves weaved alongside the history of your new main weapon, the Spear of Leonidas, is a natural one for the series, and it gave me a shot of adrenaline with each enemy encounter. Combat becomes a flurry of flexibility and stealth is absolutely still a mainstay, but the broader skill set makes for more engaging and strategic combat, from the smallest animal encounter to full scale conquest battles.
What makes Odyssey such a standout is its rich and captivatingly human characters. Kassandra is genuinely funny, and a total delight to play as no matter what tone you choose to pursue. I’ve sailed right past objectives and docks on my sea galley The Adrestia just to listen to my naval captain Barnabas and the ancient historian Herodotus squabble about fact or fiction. I romanced a randy old woman who originally had me fetching aphrodisiacs for her poor, exhausted husband (who similarly begged me to, uh… give his wife a hand). Even when the main quest branches off into smaller tasks, they lead to characters each on a bewitching journey of their own. In a world with so much to do, it’s these moments that keep me coming back for hours with no end in sight.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey elevates the entire series to new heights, making it a joy for loyal fans and a brilliant entry point for folks that just didn’t even know where to begin with previous entries. It’s easily one of the best games this year, and a knockout in the decade-long franchise.
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