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Assassin's Creed Odyssey's Story is Surprisingly Underwhelming Over the First 20 Hours

So far, Assassin's Creed Odyssey is missing a key factor that made Origins great.

Analysis by Caty McCarthy, .

Spoiler Warning: Loads of spoilers for the first 20 hours of Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Also some light spoilers for Assassin's Creed Origins, though nothing major.

There is a suspension of disbelief you have to have when you play any video game, especially one where you can enter the mind and body of a great assassin in a particular era of human history by laying in a glorified suntan bed. That suspension, somehow, does not always extend to the story within it though. Especially in Assassin's Creed Odyssey, where throwing a baby off a cliff does not immediately result in, uh, death.

This is the baffling impetus for the entire plot in Assassin's Creed Odyssey. You, as Kassandra or Alexios, survive being thrown off a cliff while your brother or sister (again, Kassandra or Alexios, depending on who you choose to play as), unknowingly survives the same fate as a baby. In the context of the cutscenes, the protagonist is close to 10 years old, while their sibling is just a baby. When they meet again in the present day of Odyssey, they appear to only be a couple years apart, at most.

It is pretty funny how Assassin's Creed Odyssey doesn't really have its Bethesda-emerging-out-of-a-cave moment until you reach the vast city of Athens about 15 hours in.

I'm playing as Kassandra, who immediately appears older and more mature than Alexios, who throws a tantrum and beats a person to a bloody pulp the first time you meet him. She feels like the canon hero of Odyssey, even though according to Ubisoft representatives I've spoken to at past events, there is no canon protagonist. When I asked my co-worker Mike Williams who reviewed the game as Alexios, he noted that Kassandra felt "odd" as a villain.

And so, the two are somehow interchangeable. My Kassandra's basically on a journey to reunite her family. Where I'm at now in the story, she's currently on the hunt for her still-alive mother whose floating somewhere around Greece. She also hopes to get through to her brother, who's pretty evil or whatever. Oh yeah, and she wants to find her birth father too, because apparently Nikolaos of Sparta, who raised her during childhood, is just the step-dad with sad eyes who threw her off a cliff for pushing the man who threw her baby brother off a cliff. (You can murder him too in a pivotal choice early on; I didn't, and kinda regret it.)

Last year when I played Assassin's Creed Origins, the first Assassin's Creed game that really clicked with me, I found myself really attached to heroes Bayek and Aya, and their quest for revenge for the death of their son. The era it took place in, Egypt during the downward turn of the Ptolemaic Period, was endlessly interesting too. It was a smart decision on Ubisoft's part too, to not go for the expected Ancient Egypt, building of the pyramids time. In Origins, we instead explored an Egypt in turmoil as Romans began to colonize regions and rulers battled for who had the right to reign over who. The citizens—of course—were left to mostly suffer in this tug-and-pull, and the many side quests across Egypt reflected that, as Bayek did his best to pick up the pieces as the lone Medjay, a sometimes-murderous errand boy with a good heart.

Origins held a mirror to the central conflict behind its story; from Bayek's noble tunnel vision to Aya's political awakening. Everything in it fed into each other, from the side quests to the environments you ride camelback through. In Odyssey, I'm not feeling that same connectedness. Sure, sailing through Greece is pretty, and the side quests are doing a lot to enliven the world and its people; but with all the new additions—mercenaries and cultists to hunt, the Conquest system, a more in-depth loot system—it does end up feeling like a very long, very tiring checklist without the naturalism that made Origins stand out in the crowd of bloated open-world games.

This sad side quest on a random island led me to a young orphan, whose only friends were made out of clay.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey has no such thematic dilemma it's wrestling with, at least in the 20-something hours I've sailed across its version of Ancient Greece in the Peloponnesian War period so far. Even in a similar conflict of two sides—in this game, Sparta and Athens—it treats it as mere set-dressing, and not much more. Across the main quest line, you meet Spartan and Athenian leaders. In each region, you can complete Conquest battles by weakening the ruling nation, tipping it into the other's favor. Conquest battles don't result in different endings, from what I hear, making them really only useful for handy XP. It feels like a missed opportunity to explore the wishy-washy nature of this divide, and instead only funnels it into another game system, in a game stuffed with systems. It feels twisted too; this lone mercenary changing the tides of a war for their own selfish benefit (power, through experience points), with no other narrative or moral consequence.

That's not to say that Origins didn't have its own share of stupidity too though, from stumbling across "glitches" in the Animus and fighting giant Gods to some of the late game proto Assassin-Templar nonsense, which made me fall off the game entirely. In Odyssey, that foolery is present from the jump. If the world wasn't so lively and the side quests so engaging, I don't imagine I'd stick with Odyssey whatsoever. Considering its 100-plus hour completion point, I imagine I'll burn out on it sooner than I see the story reach its probably ridiculous conclusion.

So far Odyssey hasn't hit the absurd either in a way that feels like it's reaching its full potential, in terms of sometimes-ludicrous Greek mythology. All the glee I've experienced has been peppered elsewhere, like hooking up with an old feisty woman after her husband was too tired to please her; or facing a big ol' boar that's kicked my ass every time I try to face it. (I've given up at this point, though I'm not alone in this plight.)

Why every game should have a photo mode, part 352597529.

That's my biggest disappointment with Odyssey so far. While Origins hooked me until it derailed, I'm only really playing Odyssey to get more glimpses at its gigantic world, whether my time is spent facing nasty boars or banging my way across Greece. I wish I cared about Kassandra, the annoying Alexios, and the quest to reunite her family, but I only find myself rolling my eyes with each mission where I move the main plot forward. There's a lot to do in Odyssey—arguably too much, with more exposition than I'd like sprinkled between the choices I make—so I imagine I'll just keep sailing the seas, happening upon islands and running away when I realize I'm underleveled for it. I'm just bummed that with such a beautiful world that I'm having a great time exploring, that the main story is falling spectacularly flat.

And I keep going back to that opening revelation—the namedrop of Alexios as the baby in a cutscene before he's chucked off a cliff—and then the first time he waltzes onto the screen as a leader of a cult with some serious daddy-mommy-sissy issues. How did he survive? Did Zeus intervene, or some other Greek God? It still, even now, fails to make sense to me. And I think that's the core problem with Odyssey: there's nothing to really ground it, like Origins had. Maybe by its end, I'll finally have an answer as to how baby Alexios survived being tossed off a cliff. I'm betting not though, as this is still a series where one time you fought the Pope.

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Comments 6

  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #1 donkeyintheforest 6 days ago
    I think more single player story games should be like Mario Odyssey in the way they let you blast through the main game and then open up everything relatively quickly, but have tons of content that you can still explore (However, I am not saying having stars hidden under every staircase makes for good Mario gameplay).

    I am also totally fine having more stories be like Breath of the Wild; you can discover them as you'd like and not have exploration be bound by story plot-points. I'm of the opinion that videogame stories are usually not very good though. There are exceptions, but for the most part they are at the level of Marvel movies or books like Ready Player One. The gameplay is what really matters and sets them apart from other mediums like film or books (each of which also have their own things that set them apart, even if their narratives aren't always great).
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  • Avatar for catymcc #2 catymcc 6 days ago
    @donkeyintheforest Honestly, super agree with this idea! Recently Tim Rogers of Kotaku was on my podcast, and he posed this idea of like, how games should be about 75% "optional" content that is still just as good/fleshed out as primary stuff, but the main campaign thing should be super short and solid, and to leave that optional jazz for the people that really want it. And like, dang I wish big budget games were designed that way lol.
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  • Avatar for moochan #3 moochan 6 days ago
    I'm normally fine with a game having a long slow first act (if 20 hours is what you call a first act). But only if I feel it's building to something grand. I'm about 15 hours in Dragon Quest 11 and just got Sylvando (I'm almost sure I could have been double where I am in the game but I always try to talk to every NPC I can which takes up most of my time) and been enjoying it. There's this buildup that I am seeing and excited to find out how things will play out. But I'm guessing when doing an open world game it's harder to have that focus story telling when 90% of your time is going to be running around and when you are on such a tight scheduling to make Assassin's Creed yearly again (seriously I feel they really should have had it at least every over year maybe less) it's harder to think of how to properly pace a story.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #4 MHWilliams 6 days ago
    @catymcc To be fair, Tim is also deeply in love with Dragon Quest 11.
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  • Avatar for Johnny-Law #5 Johnny-Law 6 days ago
    Waaa!? Bayek was so dour and lame! The story in Odeyssey is so much more fun. I actually care what happens this time!
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #6 donkeyintheforest 5 days ago
    @catymcc yeah, it would be especially nice for games like Yakuza (and AC:odyssey from what I gather) where the side missions often outshine the main story. It's kinda hard to work towards having the best Tamiya mini 4wd slot car when main story has some people about to be killed and need rescuing!

    ps didnt know you had a podcast. have to track it down and give it a listen! your opinions were pretty great on the main usg one while it lasted. would rather have 85% super agree and 15% super disagree than the ususal 50-50sih sure thats normal opinion hahaha
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