While ROW and Nathan Drowl wait for Red Dead Redemption 2 to download, they decide to discuss their progress and thoughts on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which Nathan has been playing for the past weeks. After 56 hours, he only completed 54% of the “main progression” but feels he has put in enough hours to offer a final verdict on the game. *Warning!* Some of the videos show quest names and characters, thus minor spoilers from early and mid game!!
- ROW: 56 HOURS? 54% COMPLETION?! This game is super long…
- ND: It really is! Granted, I played the first 30 like any other open-world RPG, which I realized would mean that I would have to spend over 100 hours to see credits and I just don’t have the time or the motivation for that commitment.
- ROW: Wait, back up; give me the elevator pitch for the game first and we’ll take it from there.
- ND: As the title suggests, this AC game is set in Ancient Greece during the Peloponnesian Wars—around 431 BCE—and allows the player to choose between a male and a female protagonist (called Alexios and Kassandra respectively). This is a continuation of the new blueprint AC Origins started last year (full disclosure I have not played Origins), where emphasis is placed on combat—driven by animations, placement, and added layers of tactics and strategy—and a loot system for weapons and armor. Odyssey though, adds several new features and throws the franchise into the RPG genre with dialogue options, multiple endings and choice consequences, romance options, a new Mercenary system, as well as returning Ship Combat mechanics from Black Flag.
- ROW: And what’s the premise this time round?
- ND: The player character is the descendant of King Leonidas of Sparta, and after some tragic events finds themselves working as a mercenary in a small island; after a few events, the player character’s quest begins to find out what happened during those events, navigating through Greece and working for Athens and/or Sparta in order to make ends meet and continue their Odyssey.
As the descendant of King Leonidas, I like kicking people of ledges.
- ROW: And, does that premise pay off thus far? Is it explored and advanced meaningfully—or at least, is it fun enough to follow?
- ND: I think so; this isn’t a game where huge twists will shatter your perception of events and re-contextualize them in an exciting new way (so far). However, given that this is Ancient Greece the birth of the ancient tragedy, the story actually feels melodramatic and tragic enough that, it could have been written—or at least told—in Ancient Greece at that time. It’s not the best narrative of the franchise (in my opinion that title belongs to the first AC) nor does it have the best characters—although Kassandra is pretty well written and acted—or the best writing, but it is pretty good overall; some particular main and side quests are excellent, while some are underwhelming and boring. The only consistently awful quests are the random message board quests (with only a few bright exceptions), which we will get into deeper later on.
- ROW: That sounds pretty good, but not “56 hours for half of the game” good; why did you spent so much time with it?
- ND: Primarily, it’s because the combat mechanics are excellent; it is clearly influenced by other RPGs, but the feeling of the weapons is really top-notch: Fast weapons feel like speedy death machines that chop the enemies into salads before they can react, while big heavy weapons are like tanks (slow, but leave holes everywhere when they hit); more balanced weapons like swords and spears feel unique and worthwhile, while the bow feels deadly for the right hands, yet fun for everyone. Furthermore, I found the stealth mechanics to be fun and more akin to my style and got hooked on tackling different situations with a “stealth-first” attitude.
Some of the combat and how it works, with a bonus visual glitch
- ROW: Really? I heard stealth was downgraded this time round, in terms of importance at least.
- ND: It definitely feels like a “starting” option for most encounters, rather than a full playstyle option, but I never felt limited in using stealth or like I was missing out on what the game was designed for; except boss battles and elite encounters because stealth there is only viable with only certain abilities.
- ROW: Okay; what about loot, then?
- ND: Dude, there’s so much of it!!
- ROW: That’s good right?
- ND: Well…on the one hand, it provides a lot of options and meaningful rewards to quests and various activities…
- ROW: But?
- ND: If it’s not Epic or Legendary quality, it is basically there to be dismantled! Those have extra perks that are very important, they have higher base stats, and a lot of them have unique designs that look awesome; so anything that’s not Epic or Legendary will probably not be worth your time and it’s only real use would be to sell it or dismantle it for resources!
What? I really like that kick ability!
- ROW: Shall we cover that right now, or do you want to say something else first?
- ND: I want to the technical bits before; visually the game looks great, with varied and beautiful locations, impressive vistas, a lot of great looking character models, buildings, and—yet again—a great sense of scale. However, it is buggy; some quest paths were bugged out and could not be followed, some quests could not be completed because necessary characters would not spawn, frequent frame drops and pauses, one hard crash, frequent sound and visual issues, just to name a few.
- ROW: Are we talking some of that “good” open-world jankyness or the frustrating kind?
- ND: Mostly the frustrating kind, unfortunately. However, it must be said that I’m on an Xbox One S, so maybe the problems are less prevalent on other consoles.
- ROW: Now that you mentioned the visuals, how’s the setting of Ancient Greece? Do they do it justice, especially since this is your most requested setting for an AC game, I would love to know what you think.
- ND: No, they don’t; it is very superficial, and—with the exceptions of Origin, Unity and Rogue, which I have not played—the most disappointed I’ve been from an AC setting. Historical characters do show up once again, but they feel like glorified quest givers rather than playful adaptations of real people in a game setting; citizens speak Greek, but named characters only use Chaire and Malakas, often in the wrong context or with basic grammar errors; the music is bad: They use Greek instruments, but sound nothing like Greek music (with a few notable exceptions like the title menu music and some combat music); it is very clearly inspired by The Witcher, rather than actual Greek music.
This is a nightmare
- ROW: That’s a bummer…
- ND: Well, it is for me, but for people who didn’t really care about the setting beforehand, I don’t think it will matter as much.
- ROW: Shall we move into balancing/progression/microtransaction territory?
- ND: Before we do, there’s another thing I want to mention; obviously, Origins started the transition of AC becoming an Action/RPG, and Odyssey steers the franchise into that direction harder. Sometimes, they get things right; as I’ve said, many quests are excellent with consequences that feel meaningful and poignant, while other quests serve as a delivery of some humorous moments—which actually work very well—give reason for the player to interact with specific elements of the game (like the big and enemy-filled forts, the mercenary system, or naval combat), or have sex with someone (romance options are pretty bad, but in a hilarious way at least); however, they still are some ways off from becoming good RPG quests: The dialogue options are often deceiving, the consequences are often uninteresting or not that meaningful, and the writing is inconsistent and not that great at reflecting the players actions when it matters (this is mostly for side quests, but also for some main quests). They are on the right path, but they should see the transition to an Action/RPG in terms of the narrative as well as the combat and game mechanics, if they want to create a truly exceptional game.
It’s his fault! He should know better than standing on the edge of a cliff!
- ROW: Good to know! Right, on to micro-transactions?
- ND: Yes, but I should preface this conversation with this admission: I’m not the target demographic for micro-transactions. I don’t want them in priced games, but I’m not manipulated in paying for them, so I don’t really see them as options or feel like I am nudged towards them in any game—Odyssey included. However, I understand their implications and how shitty they can be for games; unfortunately Odyssey is a prime example of that. The design and balance of the game is clearly messed up: Early game, I was getting enough resources, but not enough money or good enough loot; Mid-game, I have too much money and loot, but not enough resources to upgrade a single piece of equipment. Part of the problem is how un-curated the world of Odyssey is: There’s too much quests and locations to complete, too much random encounters, too many systems to progress! If I need resources then I have to complete some quests, which will lead me to leveling up and needing more resources than I needed before. But in order to complete those quests, I have to not deal with the mercenary system, my ship, or discover and complete locations, because that levels me up without giving me resources or money or loot. It’s a frustrating grind that—surprisingly—makes it easy to level up and hard to have level corresponding stuff!
I’ve not seen too many graves, but these might be the worst graves ever.
- ROW: So, balancing is way off, but why is progression way off?
- ND: Because, after a certain level, progression is not meaningful anymore; you get all the abilities you wanted to get, now you make the numbers bigger; new loot is now automatically dismantled unless it’s Epic or Legendary; the distractions (e.g. random quests and locations found while exploring) that define some open-world games have become repetitive, boring, and not rewarding enough to complete (in terms of resources, loot, and money, not narrative-wise). Early on, leveling meant a new exciting ability; where I am, it means I need more fucking leather to upgrade my dumb-looking helmet, which means more grinding!
I’m not addicted to kicking people off tall places, you are!
- ROW: But, you never felt like purchasing one of the booster packs or loot offerings for real-world money?
- ND: No, but they would make the game so much better (which is so wrong on every level) and also I’m not the type to buy micro-transactions after purchasing the game for the full price; if I had more money, then maybe my mind would go there, but it did not as of writing this.
- ROW: So, from what I gathered, AC Odyssey is an overtly long monstrosity of a game, that will offer potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay, but also has an excellent 60 hour game in there somewhere behind the random quests and the long grind…
- ND: More or less, yes; for me, AC Odyssey is an excellent product: It offers quality in all aspects most of the time, it can be played for many months to come and generate income consistently, and has a ton of new features to boast about. However, it is only a great experience: The balance and progression systems are off; the new features are haphazardly thrown in as a “back of the box” bullet-list addition, yet as an experience they don’t matter nor entertain that much; the setting feels half-baked and more like background rather than a AC setting; the RPG elements mostly work, but still needed a lot more time put into them. There is a 60 hour game in there that is excellent as an experience, but it would only be great as a product.
Okay, fine! I promise I won’t kick people off tall places as much as I have been.
- ROW: Didn’t they reference The Witcher 3, as a source of inspiration for AC Odyssey, an excellent 100+ hours long experience, where everything felt meaningful, poignant, and worthwhile regardless of how important it was to the story, yet it was only a great product because they had multiple free DLCs to lead up to 2 paid-expansion packs with no micro-transactions? Guess they need to look into The Witcher 3 a bit more for the next one!
- ND: It’s not a bad game though; it’s an excellent one that is frustratingly bumped down to a great one, because of a few wrong decisions. It’s still making my top 10 list, but the number will either be 9 or 10 for a game I’ve put in 56 hours and plan on adding at least a dozen more, that’s more frustrating rather than bad or disappointing.
- ROW: Well, I have good news; RDR 2 is now done downloading, so expect to put in dozens of more hours in another open-world game over the next few weeks!