Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is clearly a very good game. Or at least, a very big game with an awful lot to do. The line is getting increasingly blurred in AAA’s current obsession with impossibly large open worlds, that took everything we learned about compulsive playing from last decade’s MMOsplosion and put them into single-player icon-tickers. It’s a game I don’t want to stop playing, certainly. Although the more I do, the more I experience this existential fog of wondering if I’m really having a good time at all. So whether it’s a very good game or not is obviously not “clear” at all, and whoever started this paragraph is an idiot.
This is precisely how I felt about last year’s AssCreed Oranges, too. I played it so much! I jumped and killed and chatted and explored, and for an ill-determined length of time, had a decent enough time doing so. Until the day came when it didn’t occur to me to load it again, and I never once gave another second’s thought to it until today. I certainly got the hours from it you’d hope for from any super-expensive purchase (albeit getting a review copy for free), but they weren’t hours that went anywhere, resolved anything, led to any sense of meaning or accomplishment. Good hours! Hours entertainingly spent! Yet weirdly hollow hours.
I find myself slipping into exactly the same pattern with Super Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, sneaking in playing in times I’d usually be popping out for coffee, playing when I should be getting on with reviewing something else, ploughing through side missions and caves and tombs, clearing out enemy bases, occasionally remembering to plug away at the main story, and yet as I sit to write about it, really struggling to say what I’m enjoying.
I find the same is true of so many of these Square/Ubisoft icon-em-ups, finding them compelling yet never really understanding exactly what it is I’m enjoying. Because when I look at any single aspect of AssCreed Abe’s Odyssey, I struggle to identify anything as especially great, beyond its extraordinary graphics and world. The combat? It’s OK. The quests? They’re functional. The dialogue? It’s not terrible. The movement? It could be a lot better. And yet still I play.
So for cathartic reasons, I’ve decided to write about why this game I seem to like sucks so much. That’s what a balanced, reasoned adult does. Let’s start with the wobbling tower of bullshit that is it’s entire premise.
The Animus Instinct
At this point in the series, even Ubisoft can’t bring themselves to care about the Animus system, and for whatever reason it is that you’re charging about in the Olden Days.
I never played the early AssCreeds. No real reason, just there are too many games on planet Earth for one person. So while I dabbled a bit with one of them, my only real memory is being incessantly frustrated by some absolute balderdash about people in the present day complaining near machines about DNA and time travel. Abstergo, which I bet you forgot the name of, is some evil corporation that wants to… do something? They’re the Knights Templar, apparently, although that is long since buried in the game’s own mudslide of lore, and they explore the past by… I really can’t. I can’t bring myself to try to even explain a narrative so idiotic that it’s about being able to travel back into one’s own DNA. Just no.
What’s most peculiar about this is how entirely unexplained it is now! Someone who hasn’t played the previous AssCreed games, and you’ve got to expect Ubi are hoping that’s a lot of people, isn’t going to have the faintest idea what Animus is, who those people are, and what it has to do with the game set in Ancient Greece that they saw advertised and like the look of. They’re so utterly uninterested in their own premise that they can’t even be bothered to precis it for new players!
Last year’s Origins sort of had a half-hearted prod at the notion, with one Layla Hassan and another Deanna Geary (as if you even noticed their names) larking about in a cave, trying to relive some Egyptian days in order to secure a position on the Animus project. I bet you didn’t even know that’s what they were doing! I had to look it up. Because no one, from the developers down, could care less. Everyone just wanted to be getting on with their murderous holiday in Ancient Egypt. Because that was the good bit!
A game series burdened with having to include the not good bits is quite the situation. And Odyssey makes the most dismissive and derisive allusions to its millstone yet. Layla is back, in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cutscene near the start, and then for the many hours I’ve poured in since, isn’t mentioned again. I’m sure if I were to persist far beyond my patience, I’d eventually be subjected to some more utter drivel about Animus assassin boss dude William Miles and their nefarious plans to never get anywhere or do anything that might impinge on the future of the franchise. But I certainly won’t care any more than anyone else involved.
Squaring The Circle
Nrrggghh this annoys me so much. The stupid circle just seems to be getting worse. With your eagle chum Ikaros providing eyes and ears in the sky, you freeze him in place and scan the land using the most inaccurate reticule in all of gaming history. Gosh it was bad in Origins, but Odyssey really takes that crappiness and runs with it. The idea is the circle contracts and becomes more solid the closer you are to items of interest, but then goes loopy-cuckoo-bonkers in every instance because everywhere is covered in thirteen such items. As it madly spasms about, I end up dragging it about like a bored man with a metal detector, until eventually it stops beeping. But most maddening of all is finding that last item, scanning about all over, only for it to ping my success somewhere absolutely nowhere near where I was looking! WHAT IS THAT?!
Finally! I thought. Finally a game has had the good sense to copy Shadow Of Mordor’s “Nemesis” system! I’ve lamented since 2014 that no game has had the nous to recognise this was one of the best innovations in open-world gaming, to implement something similar, where random encounters can become meaningful, where a nameless enemy can gain rank, climb the echelons, and become your future boss fight. When Odyssey declared its Mercenaries system, and used a similar visual layout of hunky bads standing in gloomy spotlights, I got all of a flutter!
Hurrah! It’s going to… oh no it’s nothing whatsoever. If you get a bad rep, one of these pre-determined nothings will come after you. If you kill them, then, er, they’re dead. You climb some rank, apparently, that so far has had no bearing whatsoever on anything. What a deflating experience.
It’s as if they got a good way into sorting a proper Nemesis system, realised that Mordor’s is predicated on the central character’s narrative ability to die and come back to life, and then panicked and gave up. Which is incredibly daft since the whole “desyncronisation” thing would have at least gotten them halfway there to justifying it! (I can see issues with characters’ remembering that they killed you and seeing you again, but come on, I’m not the one who half-implemented this and then left it in the game anyway.)
Multiple No Choice
Yes, the game absolutely does let you randomly side with the Spartans or the Athenians, although with no rationale for why. In fact, the choice is far more likely to be made in the battle segments based on which side will be offering the bigger prizes, than any political allegiance based on the story told. (Although this is so farcically implemented that I entertained myself by killing the entire waiting Spartan army one by one before a battle, and then went into it on their side where they were mysteriously present, and no one seemed fussed.)
Oh for goodness sakes, this nonsense about branching dialogue! At one point I encountered a man who knew far too much about me for a stranger, was acting suspiciously, and had reappeared after my private meeting with the Oracle with our mutual friend unnervingly absent. He asked about what had happened, and I was given the choice (ha) of telling him the specific details of a named cult, or fobbing him off and saying it was nothing. I obviously plumped for the latter, because I’m not about to start dropping such politically charged names like that around a dodgy stranger! So instead of telling him the name of the cult Kassandra instead, um, told him the name of the cult anyway. “Oh you can trust me,” he replied to her dismissal, so apparently she did. Good branching dialogue!
And let’s not even when it comes to the flirting. Because Alice B already did it so much better.
Other Stupid Stuff
Before you initiate combat, enemies can see you even when you’re hidden, and will chat to you. “Keep your distance, Misthios!” they cry, as I subtly sneak toward them entirely concealed. And yet the moment I fire an arrow at one of them, they’re all mystified as to where it came from, and can’t find me anywhere.
There are those “mystery locations”. The game doesn’t tell you where a quest takes place, but instead gives you three clues, encouraging you to explore. Except the map tells you the bloody answer by putting “?”s on the precise place! The three clues “South of X, west of Y, near Z” just tell you which “?” on the map to click on and go there – it’s completely pointless, and may as well just be another icon.
There’s no buy-back option, or even a cancel sale/purchase, for an accidental sale.
There’s a boss fight against… a giant pig. But not just any elephant-sized pig, no no. This is one that when various stages of injured can call upon waves of increasingly strong regular-sized pigs to come defend himself.
Too Much Of An OK Thing
There’s just too much game here. I know, I know, what an awful thing to complain about. But good grief, the first time I zoomed all the way out on that map, and realised I’d been playing for hours in just one tiny blip, I felt overwhelmed to the point of not knowing if I wanted to carry on. Then there was the time when I realised that you can’t zoom all the way out on the map, and it in fact carries on scrolling downward, and I’d only been looking at the top half, and… who on EARTH is going to be able to play all this?!
I envy the spare time and dedication to make use of such a game. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, either! £50 on a game is obnoxiously expensive for a digitally distributed game, disgustingly so – for many that’s savings being used up. For that much, I’d hope it’d offer week after week of stuff to do. But at the same time, I don’t have that time! And I’ve got the idiotic luxury of being able to play games during my work hours! Even then, I couldn’t justify carrying on playing Odyssey to get even a third of the way through it, let alone trying to scrape together spare time when I’m not with my family or friends.
So yes, really good news for the small proportion of people with time to play it. But a bummer for the majority who’ll never see the end of it, joining the pile of other open-world action games they’ll never see the end of either. Perhaps when my kid has moved out, and I’m retired, and my wife is out paragliding with friends or something, I’ll have time to see how 90% of these games ended. If I can rig up something retro enough to be able to even play such ancient games for which I never had a hard copy. Or I guess I could just watch the closing cutscenes on YouTube and move on? Eurgh, what an icky thought these games are driving me toward.
Sorry, I have to stop writing this now because I need to carry on playing the game I can only complain about. Bye.