Ubisoft really wasn't joking around when it called the latest Assassin's Creed game an Odyssey. It's not just in the Greek tragedy-inspired story, the vast, vast map or the sheer number of hours you're going to sink into it. It's the journey. The journey from one Greek island to another, with dolphins and whales cresting the waves alongside your boat. It's about the journey across the stunning Grecian landscape, ranging from forests bearing autumnal hues, to the majestic white marble buildings nestled comfortably in the cities, and absolutely everything in between. Including an active volcano that you can swan dive into. But more importantly, it's also about the journey to discover who exactly you are in Assassin's Creed Odyssey.
And I say you because this is the first time an Assassin's Creed game has given you a choice of characters to play as - Alexios or Kassandra. Deciding which of these two assassins to play as is basically your first choice in the game beyond tweaking difficulty and whether to use the guided or brand new exploration mode that strips out your waypoints in favor of a more organic discovery trail. But it's the first choice you'll make of many. Whether you're diving into main story content or working your way through one of what feels like thousands of side quests and events, you'll constantly be deciding how your assassin will react, behave and even fall in lust.
Because of that, it's easy to fall in love with this pair of assassins. I've been playing as Kassandra, but as a GamesRadar team we've seen how the same scenes play out as Alexios or Kassandra. It seems like the dialogue doesn't vary regardless of who you pick, because the weight is all on the dialogue options you choose. Although I wouldn't dare spoil any of the game's major story points - and trust me, this game has more twists and turns than a Disney World roller coaster - every choice you make can have a consequence, which may reach further than you think in that moment.
The choice is yours
In the moment to moment there's a richness and a warmth in the dialogue that I've never seen before in a Assassin's Creed game. Although I adore Assassin's Creed Origins and its protagonists, Bayek and Aya, the side quests could feel a little cookie cutter at times - go here, do this, fight that thing. They were certainly a huge step up from Assassin's Creed games of yore, but Odyssey is a giant leap from anything to date. I've never seen a game blur the line between side quest and story mission so much as Odyssey does, because all its many (many, many) quest types are delivered with the same gravitas and polish. It's sometimes actually difficult to figure out whether you've stumbled upon a particularly lengthy sidequest or following a main story arc.
But that's the beauty of Odyssey's world. It's so easy to get distracted by every little marker that you'll come across as you make your way through Greece, because every mission that you'll pick up has a depth that's never been offer before in the series. Every character has a personality, subtle quirks and ticks that make each one of them utterly memorable. They're the kind of characters and little stories that you discover and want to talk to your friends about. And it's possible due to the sheer amount of content on offer in Odyssey that they may not have met that quest yet, or found that area Odyssey really is so large (seriously, your quest screen can be insane sometimes, and the fact it can get so cluttered and disorganised is possibly the only awkward design choice the development team has made with Odyssey).
The way you craft your Odyssey and your assassin also plays into that too. Although Assassin's Creed Odyssey is an entirely single-player experience, the fact that the choices are so plentiful, the consequences can be fairly drastic and the world so vast, that playing it makes you feel like part of a community, all experiencing the game together. Discussions about the various story moments have been going on all week in the GamesRadar office, with each of us playing deciding to take a slightly different tack - good, bad, and somewhere in the grey. It's amazing just how different things can turn out when you decide to kill or not to kill.
To kill or not to kill
And, speaking of killing, we need to talk about the combat. Origins marked a huge step towards a more RPG way of doing things, levelling up your character, swapping out weapons to add nuance to the combat, and a load of other new features, but Odyssey takes that and dials it all the way up to 11. It's ironed out some of the quirks of Origins' systems - like having different types of bow for example - and streamlined it, instead letting you spec out your combat arsenal via the abilities. Love the predator shot from Origins? That's there. But so are a plethora of other new abilities that can be levelled and powered up. And what's even better is that you can reset your abilities at any point for a couple hundred drachmae, the Greek in-game currency, meaning if things aren't working for you, you can just try again.
It's this kind of polish and refinement that's present throughout all of Odyssey, but is particularly obvious in the combat. Speaking to the development team at a preview event, it came out that Origins and Odyssey has marked the first time that two Assassin's Creed games have been made in parallel, with the Odyssey team learning from everything that the Origins team created and then improving upon it. It meant getting Odyssey out the door just a year after the release of Origins, but also meant that the teams weren't just chucking combat system in the bin and starting again. Odyssey feels like an evolution in every way over Origins, but it uses it as a core base for becoming a true RPG. Heck, you've even got a weapon and armour levelling system that could give Destiny 2: Forsaken a run for its money.
It's all about depth. I've spent longer than I'd like to admit switching out abilities, tweaking my armour and loadout (and not always just for fashion purposes), to boost and change stats across the three categories - Hunter, Warrior and Assassin (ranged, combat and stealth respectively). This is the RPG that Assassin's Creed didn't even know it wanted to be, but here we are and it's an absolute work of art and gameplay.
The world that keeps on giving - and testing
You will need to keep tweaking and switching in and out your items though, because the combat will keep constantly testing you. Not only do you have warring Spartans and Athenians to contend with, you also have mercenary bounty hunters coming after you if you start stealing, looting or, you know, assassinating. There's a mini-game in itself trying to work your way through the mercenary ranks to become top dog, but sometimes you'll curse them when they arrive mid-way through completing a Fort or a particularly tricky fight and one-hit kill you. The save system doesn't help either, as I've regularly lost a good chunk of progress for an autosave failing to trigger within a combat zone. And when the loading times can be lengthy enough for you to make a cup of tea in, you will curse that autosave trickery.
But thankfully, the fact that these are my only gripes really sings Assassin's Creed Odyssey's praises. And I haven't even touched on some of the other new additions too, like the conquest battles that play out 300-style with Athenians against Spartans, forcing you to work your way through soldier after soldier, captain after captain until you eventually win. They can feel a little formulaic at times, but for the most part they're optional and do imbue you with a sense of event and ceremony - and get you some rather good loot.
In the end this journey is all about choice. The people you decide to let live, the romances you have, the sexuality lines you blur, the questlines you follow, the people you help and hinder and the RPG picks you make. It's an utterly beautifully crafted world and story, with cutscenes for literally days. After 70 hours I've only just finished the main storyline and I still have plenty to see in Odyssey's Greece, and it's a joy to keep on exploring. No-one's made an open-world RPG with this much depth and brilliance since The Witcher 3. This really is the ultimate Creed.