I’ve never been an Assassin’s Creed fan. From the start, the series has always felt too bloated and full of busywork, and the premise of reliving past lives through DNA reconstruction (because DNA records every minute of action and every word of every ancestor’s life, I guess?) never gelled for me.

Fast-forward a few years, several sequels, and COVID-19.

Being stuck at home for essentially an entire year put me in a different mindset when thinking about what kinds of games I wanted to play.  I wanted something huge — something that I could lose myself in, something filled with a thousand people to meet and a land that was wide open and ready to be explored. I don’t often come to games for pure escapism, but that was definitely what I was craving this time.

Based on my past history of bouncing off of Assassin’s Creed I wasn’t sure that Odyssey was even in the running, but I heard so many people talk positively about the main character, Kassandra, that it was impossible to ignore. On top of that, as a kid who grew up with a pile of mythology books and Clash of the Titans as one of his favorite films, I’m already heavily predisposed to liking anything with a Greek theme.

I grabbed the deluxe package for a song when it was on sale, and as soon as I started, it clicked almost immediately. However, I’m not sure that would have been the case if I had played it at any other point — quite frankly, it was definitely the exact right game at the exact right time.

I was happy to see that one of my cravings was fulfilled almost immediately — the world of Odyssey is absolutely huge, ranging from large land masses with mountains and forests to sprawling cities, sunny island colonies, crumbling temples, snake-filled dungeons and of course the nearly boundless ocean — even after finishing the game I still hadn’t seen it all. The first time I took a good look at the full map I assumed that most of the acreage must be empty, but Ubisoft did a ridiculous job of filling the majority of it with something or another.

Of course, none of this would have mattered if what was in the world didn’t catch me, and everyone singing Kassandra’s praises was absolutely correct.

Putting every other part of Odyssey askide for a moment, Kassandra is a wonderful character that I enjoyed every minute with. Voice actress Melissanthi Mahut absolutely nails the character and brings her no-nonsense, strong woman energy to life. This misthios gets things done and she takes no shit, but she still has a heart and manages to be laugh-out-loud funny on more than one occasion. Her character design is also strong, showing her as capable and battle-scarred, and almost none of the armor or gear that she wears is of the ‘metal bikini’ variety. No, she’s generally covered from head to toe in pieces that seems as functional as anything that might be worn by a man, and it’s great. It might be cliche to say so, but she is fierce.

As for her adventure, it’s surprisingly appropriate that this game is called Odyssey, because that term is probably the only one that could even start to convey the Homeric scope of her journey.

The player starts with Kassandra’s humble beginnings as a mercenary working for pennies on a small island tucked away in a corner of the map, but from there they’ll go on to war with both Sparta and Athens, sail from one end of the sea to the other, meet the greatest historical figures of the age, witness Kassandra’s childhood (and her death!) and even go beyond reality into mythical realms to rub elbows with the likes of Hades and Poseidon. Such an adventure is the definition of ‘epic’ and comparable to anything written by the ancient Greeks.

Of course such an incredible span of events requires an incredible span of time, and when all was said and done, I had logged close to 120 hours. While such a huge investment would be out of the question for most titles, I was glad to sink it in here, not only because of Kassandra and her world, but because of the cast. Her close friend Phoebe has an arc that made me shed a tear, and meeting some of the Greek world’s sages like Sokrates or Herodotus was incredibly entertaining.

However, I will say that character development is one area where Ubisoft could have been stronger. It seems as though the developers were constantly afraid to let players go more than a few minutes without killing something, so the times when Kassandra can deeply immerse herself in a discussion or engage in some peaceful team-building are few and far between. Further, while there are some great dialogue scenes scattered throughout the adventure, there weren’t enough opportunities to simply chat with these characters and establish relationships after their quests have been fulfilled.

Over the course of many hours Kassandra will collect an array of faces on the ship she uses to crisscross the Mediterranean sea, but once someone joins her crew there’s almost no further interaction that can happen. It’s a huge missed opportunity since there could have been many loyalty quests to enhance these relationships, or just instances of world-building, camaraderie and endearing dialogue. There are bits here and there, but not nearly as much as I would have wanted, and in general, the lifelessness of Kassandra’s ship was a constant disappointment since Odyssey leans so heavily on combat and stealth for most of the campaign — having a floating home base full of friends and teammates to come back to would have been marvelous. Her ship, the Adrestia, isn’t the Normandy from Mass Effect, but it easily could have been.

I’ll also say that while I loved the Torment of Hades DLC because it was a great depiction of the underworld and a wonderful way to revisit characters who died hours and hours beforehand, the other DLCs were terrible. Legacy of the First Blade forces an unwanted relationship that did not match how I had been roleplaying Kassandra for the previous 60 hours, and the other two DLCs were miserable because they seemed determined to deliver a certain number of playtime hours regardless of whether those hours were entertaining or not. Each one would have been improved by being half as long, and the Fields of Elysium section was in dire need of a top-to-bottom rewrite. The plot (as it stands) is so scatterbrained and nonsensically haphazard that I couldn’t wait to be done with it.

While the DLC except for Hades was a waste of time, the core experience in the base game was more than enough to turn me into a lifelong Kassandra stan and to fall in love with the Greek world that Ubisoft delivered — there were so many interesting stories, so many funny moments, and so many absolutely gorgeous vistas to see that it did end up being the escape from COVID-ridden reality that I needed — so much so, in fact, that I was motivated to check out the other entries in this new trilogy.

I didn’t know it when I started Odyssey, but Ubisoft has given the Assassin’s Creed IP a soft reboot and jettisoned a lot of the baggage from the original games, which is just fine with me. It was nice to see how they had reworked some of the older elements, and not feeling the need to bone up on the narrative tangles of earlier AC games was a great weight off of my shoulders.

Of course, there were things about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey that I would have changed — many of the lightweight sidequests acting as padding could have been removed, the overall length of the game could have been dialed back, and I would have loved more time to chill with the supporting cast — but overall, I am extremely glad that I played Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and my days of adventuring with Kassandra were well-spent.

Brad Gallaway
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