You don't play an assassin in Assassin's Creed Odyssey.
Instead, you assume the role of Kassandra or her sibling Alexios, both mercenaries born long before the Brotherhood sharpened its first wrist-blade. Not too worry though, as you'll still spend most of your time slitting throats and spilling innards with cinematic style to spare. Some things never change.
In fact, Odyssey offers more options than ever to open baddies from cranium to crotch from behind a varied arsenal of sharp blades and pointy projectiles. While your chosen merc is mostly in it for the money, they easily shed more blood than any previous entry's creed-following cloaked killers.
Making a Merc
Thankfully, dealing death in pursuit of the almighty drachma is endlessly satisfying in Odyssey, primarily due to the game's highly rewarding progression system. Few things feel as satisfying as leveling-up in this latest Assassin's Creed, as the simple act of notching that next number showers you in character-progressing potential.
Topping off that experience bar and reaching a new tier not only makes you more powerful, but also brings weapons and gear, ability points, and enchantments. Combined, these items fuel the game's dangerously addictive levelling loop, allowing you to shape and mold your mercenary however you like. Fresh loot comes fast and furious, encouraging you to continually outfit your character with armor – which includes categories for head, chest, waist, arms, and legs – and every imaginable weapon, from delicate blades to skull-splitting blunts.
Each of these items can be further personalised with enchantments, perk-granting items that might, for example, increase your weapon's ability to deliver poison damage, or maybe infuse your armour with extra defenses against a specific enemy type. Swapping these in and out to support a specific character build adds some welcome, RPG-flavored depth without the tedium that often comes with poring over stats.
The highlight, however, is Odyssey's skill trees, featuring a trio of beefy progression paths. Assigning those aforementioned, coveted ability points, players can focus on Hunter, Warrior, or Assassin skills, or mix and match them however they like. While any role-playing game worth its weight in shiny gold coins will feature a similar system, Odyssey's stands out for not forcing you to invest in filler before unlocking the good stuff. Right off the bat, players have access to table-turning skills, like the empowering Spartan Kick, and a constant stream of similarly cool abilities soon follow.
This is Sparta!
As satisfying as it is to customise your character through Odyssey's various, flexible systems, its even more fun to unleash your mercenary on the battlefield. Deep, yet accessible, responsive and fluid, the combat relies on the expected light and heavy attacks, as well as dodges and parries, but complements these standard moves with cool-down abilities.
By mapping up to eight melee – and four ranged – abilities from the skill trees, players are able to tailor their fighting style with an incredible amount of freedom and visual flair. Whether you want to pepper distant targets with poison-laced arrows before finishing them off with a powerful Bull Rush attack, or distract them with a tamed beast while setting them ablaze with fiery projectiles, there's a seemingly bottomless slate of strategies to pick from.
Whether you like to kill silently or violently, you'll never tire of testing out these new abilities and combining them in ways that suit your specific play-style. One of our favorite strategies involved stealthily climbing aboard enemy ships and triggering a devastating area-of-affect attack; with most of the crew stunned, struggling to get back on their feet, we'd then systematically boot them overboard from behind the rib-shattering Spartan Kick.
Sailing and slaying
Speaking of high seas shenanigans, Odyssey's addictive levelling loop and engaging combat carry over nicely to its excellent naval elements. The game's sprawling ancient Greece setting is darted with dozens of islands, ensuring you'll spend plenty of time barking orders at your archers and rowers from behind the helm.
Navigating your ship is incredibly simple and satisfying...as is crashing it into enemy crafts and watching them unceremoniously sink. Of course, if you want to play pirate, you can also choose to board and loot your targets before compromising their ship's hull. Or, you can avoid enemy contact entirely, simply take in the stunning sights surrounding you, and occasionally breach the surface to score some sunken treasure and maybe gut a shark.
Regardless of how you spend your time at sea, you'll be continuously tweaking your ship with upgrades, from stronger defenses to spears that inflict more fire damage. You can even recruit crew members – typically foes you've allowed to live in return for their sea-faring services – that add additional perks to your craft.
A world of (similar) opportunities
Odyssey's combat – on land or sea – and its rewarding progression systems are so good, they generally allowed us to overlook its repetitive mission structure and familiar-feeling objectives. Make no mistake, the game's massive map is crammed with activities, constantly pulling you in potentially interesting directions, both figuratively and narratively.
But while you can follow multiple main story paths, indulge in countless side quests, turn the tides of the Peloponnesian War in large-scale Conquest battles, and even eliminate other mercenaries to climb their ranks, most activities boil down to doing the same few things repeatedly. Fetch quests are not only rampant, but are often extended to the point you'll find yourself performing multiple arbitrary favors within the same mission.
When not chasing down items, freeing prisoners, or eliminating specific targets, you'll be infiltrating enemy encampments of various sizes, sometimes using stealth, but mostly with blade and bow drawn. There are exceptions, such as some mythical monster encounters that good give God of War a run for its money. And the new choice-and-consequence dialog system does its part to spice up the pacing. Still, at the end of 80-plus hours with Odyssey, you'll find the majority of your time was ultimately spent spilling blood and scouring the land in the service of others' requests.
Thankfully, that land is absolutely stunning and the combat thumb-blistering. And while the story – and its multiple branches – could have benefited from a few more twists and set pieces, it's generally an involving yarn. Much of this can be credited to Kassandra, who's a badass in all the best ways, but also extremely empathetic and likable. We only spent a short time with Alexios though, so your mileage may vary if you play as Kassandra's male counterpart.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey Verdict
Odyssey can feel a bit grind-y at times, especially when you hit a string of missions that feel too similar and do little to progress the story. But again, the excellent combat and constant lure of upgrading your character generally kept us engaged throughout.
If you enjoyed last year's Origins, you'll appreciate Odyssey's ability to retain what its predecessor did right, while also enriching the experience with a deeper focus on RPG systems. If you haven't played an Assassin's Creed game since the days when hooded killers sprung from the shadows to introduce a shiv into their targets' jugulars, well, you're in for a few surprises.
Mostly though, you can expect to dive into one of the series' biggest, best, and most ambitious entries yet, even if it has shelved its signature cloak and wrist-mounted dagger.