There's a moment in the first few hours of Assassin's Creed Odyssey where our brand new heroine, Kassandra (or Alexios if you're going down the hero route), says she's not an assassin. And technically, at this point in actual time, she isn't. If you've played last year's Assassin's Creed Origins, you'll know that its Aya and Bayek that establish the Order to become, officially, the first assassins. But yet, here we are, in 431 BCE running about doing all the things assassins do some 400 years earlier as exiled Spartans. But in many, many ways - and even after eight hours - it's clear that this is the pinnacle of what an Assassin's Creed game can be.
It's so closely connected to all the new elements Origins introduced - from the RPG systems to the combat - you could almost look at it as a Destiny 2: Forsaken style expansion. But, that would be doing Assassin's Creed Odyssey a disservice. A huge, huge disservice. Almost as huge as Odyssey's world itself. According to the game's Senior Producer, Marc-Alexis Côté, "square metre by square meter it is the biggest map that we’ve ever built", Although he couldn't go into specifics about comparable sizes between this and Origins, the Assassin's Creed Odyssey map feels vast, and not just because the world is 50% water. That only serves to highlight just how big a part the naval combat plays in Odyssey's gameplay too.
But I'll pause a moment to highlight just how stunning the world is in Odyssey. I've never seen water in a game look this good, or just this blue. It's that kind of azure that you see on the covers of holiday brochures and the websites of five-star getaways, where the rocky outcrops that lie just below the surfaces are still visible, and yet you'll still run your little boat ashore on them. And, unlike games like Sea of Thieves, which also boasts some pretty great aqua, these are big blues that are not only beautiful, but totally alive. Beneath the peaks lie shipwrecks filled with treasure to loot, dolphins that frolic alongside your ship, and you'll even spot shark fins carving through the blue, just lying in wait for you to Spartan kick an Athenian into their jaws.
And you'll be doing so from the decks of your very own ship, the Adrestia, which you'll captain along with your new best pal Barnabas and a hard-working crew of singing Grecians. It acts as your roving base - a bit like the train in Assassin's Creed Syndicate - but it also plays into the enhanced RPG elements of Odyssey. You'll be able to recruit your own Lieutenants for your ship from the various soldiers, bandits and other miscreants you find, boosting its various abilities, from weapons to endurance. Plus, these fighters can then be summoned to help you in battle. It's a little bit Middle-earth: Shadow of War, a little bit old school Assassin's, and although I haven't tried the Call to Arms ability yet, being able to tweak your ship's stats is a nice touch beyond what you had in Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag.
Of course, you won't be relying on your minions for every little battle, because Kassandra/Alexios are more than kitted out for a bit of the ol' fisticuffs. Regardless of the character you choose to begin with, you'll be gifted with a huge amount of abilities to unlock. Like in Origins, you're going to get new ones every time you level up. And although the skill tree might look smaller than the Origins version, it's actually got multiple layers for various skills. Take Bull Rush for example, which is one of the first Warrior abilities you can unlock. The first level lets you quickly rush through enemies, knock them down and deal 250% Warrior damage. The second level raises that to 300% Warrior damage, which is unlocked at a later point in the story. As you might have guessed, your abilities are scattered across three main subclasses like they were in Origins - Hunter, Assassin and Warrior - and you can map four of them to quick access menus for ranged and melee attacks respectively. Plus, your stats are tied to the armour and weapons you equip, letting you boost and tweak your characters figures across health, armour, and the damage you can deal across those three subclasses. The ability customisation is much, much more in depth than in Origins, and I feel like I've only tickled the surface in the first eight hours of the game. This is going to be a glorious time sink, folks.
But honestly, although that's all wondrous gameplay stuff, it's the story, and the characters within it that are the selling point of Assassin's Creed Odyssey, even more so than what we were treated to in Origins. Regardless of whether you're diving into a main story mission, or a side quest, every single cutscene is treated with the same gravitas. Side quests and story missions all get a first person camera, where you get to know every single character, and decide what you say to them and how you interact with them. It's insane just how immersive Odyssey is in comparison to anything we've had before in the entire Assassin's Creed series. In the first hour or so, I feel like I've gotten to know Kassandra and moulded her personality in a way that's never been possible in the series.
It's all about choice. You might start with choosing what difficulty you want to play through the game, and then whether you want to be Kassandra or Alexios, but those choices are prevalent in every dialogue exchange, every piece of gear you equip, even when you choose to play through a side mission. Don't do them at a certain point and you might lose them forever, such is the passage of time in Odyssey. But it's always up to you. You may curse yourself later on for missing a side quest, but it will have been your choice to press on with the story at that point - and trust me, it's hard to ignore for too long, such are the twists and turns of this particular Greek tragedy.
This is a game that's called Odyssey for a reason. It's the biggest journey we've ever been on, both in terms of story and RPG systems, and if these first eight hours are anything to go by, it's time to strap on your Grecian sandals.