Greece, 431 BCE. For those of you keeping count at home, that’s about four hundred years ahead of the events of Assassin’s Creed Origins, which is almost six hundred years preceding the original Assassin’s Creed, or one thousand-something years ahead of Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and over two thousand years before Abstergo Industries decided to start messing with antiquity for reasons that, as each game has concluded, have become increasingly ambiguous, mostly incomprehensible, and kind of irrelevant, anyway. Why Ubisoft hasn’t dropped those meta corporate conspiracy conceits and focused instead on mytho-historical fiction for its own sake is a discussion for some other time, perhaps, but for now, it doesn’t even matter because I got eaten by sharks in the Aegean Sea and I swear, Odysseus himself never suffered such tribulation and maybe I’ve should’ve drowned in childhood as the gods intended and saved myself this ignominy.
In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, for the first time in the series, you can choose to play as either Alexios, a man, or Kassandra, a woman. They’re actually siblings, but their relationship is… complicated, and I can’t tell you much more than that because it’s part of the story. I went with Kassandra, because GURL POWER!!1, but also somewhat expecting a high school cheerleader dressed up in lip gloss, booby armour, and a latex miniskirt because I play a lot of games and I know to properly manage my expectations. Except I was wrong. Kassandra is the exact opposite of every lady protagonist stereotype – she swears, she stabs people without so much as an “I’m sorry, it’s not you, it’s me”, and this one time, she did this one thing with this one goat that probably made even Zeus blush. Kassandra fucking rules, and if you don’t play as her, you’re totally missing out.
Also for the first time in the series, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey introduces dialogue options, sometimes with consequences later in the game, and – taking its cue from Assassin’s Creed Origins – swaps much of its action-adventure legacy with a more RPG-type structure. The game features three separate, idiosyncratic skill trees – Hunter, Warrior, and Assassin – each catering to a distinctive style of play. You can mix abilities from one or the other, but limited button assignments make for more thoughtful, strategic builds. You can also re-spec (at a cost) if you want to change things up and try something different, providing unprecedented diversity over previous games.
Whatever your expertise, you’re a misthios, a mercenary from Sparta now resident on Athenian Kephallonia – an awkward genealogy as the embers of disobedience smoulder into the flames of rebellion between the two states, prompting the start of the Peloponnesian War. In the meantime, though, you’re available for hire to solve family inheritance disputes, herd stray cows, and commit the occasional discreet murder for cash, until some other stuff happens and you’re entangled in destiny. Which, because it’s an Assassin’s Creed game, also involves lots of mundane chores like solving family inheritance disputes, herding stray cows, and committing the occasional discreet murder for cash, because even heroes have to buy toilet paper and souvlaki – and besides, it keeps things in perspective. Prophecies and divine purpose can wait until you’re levelled up enough for that malakas.
And there’s so much to keep you busy from what you’re supposed to do in Assasssin’s Creed Odyssey. The campaign missions – consistently compelling, with a number of very unpredictable turns – clock over 30 hours, and I’d estimate that the extra this, that, and the other thing takes it over 60, even 80 or 100. And most of it is a lot of fun.
Some of it, however, not so much. This includes tediously traversing the Aegean Sea from one plot point to the next, and remember how I was eaten by sharks? It wasn’t entirely by accident. Checking off items on its OMG DISRUPTIVE FEATURES marketing list, Ubisoft has re-introduced ships in this game, with some questionable results. I mean, some people might love navigating clumsy circles around pirates until somebody sinks and then – oh, it’s another one, but for everybody else, it’s an onerous burden to be endured between establishing new fast travel points. But the sunsets over the water are nice.
In fact, this game is visually astounding at every moment. Its theatre spans rustic farmlands and verdant pastoral splendour, the grandiose architecture and sophisticated opulence of of urban metropoles, and the crumbling elegance of the pre-Hellenic age, realised with vivid colour and extraordinary attention to detail. In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the extravagant legends of a world under the auspices of Olympian caprice are real. And that’s something special.