Assassin's Creed: Odyssey

I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey since just before Father’s Day. I’m level 30 or 31 now, well into the game but still quite a bit left to go.

I’m not very good at ship combat. I’ve basically been save-scrubbing my way through fort missions and such. I’m not being exhaustive yet, though I’ve gone back to some regions to tidy up and I do tend to complete most of the quests I come across. I’m playing on hard. At hard? For level of difficulty, I chose hard.

I like the level scaling for the most part. Regions have a level range, and npcs start at the low level but once the player’s level exceeds npc levels, they level up in sync. It makes for a longer lasting game I think, but there’s definitely something lost when when I can’t go back to a lower level area and be absurdly overpowered. I don’t think there’s a best choice in this regard, and given how full of content the game is not scaling levels would result in so much of that lower level content that the joy of being epic would fade quickly.

I tend to skip most of the renewable timed missions. Contracts, I guess, using the game’s parlance. Kill x bandits, sink y ships, if there’s a time limit I’m not interested. I take the ones that are about completing a number of objectives without a time limit, complete this many caves and such. Those just get wrapped as time goes on.

There’s a mechanic in this one that is large scale battles to change the leadership of territory. The game is set in Greece in and around 430 BCE and the start of the Peloponnesian War, which I don’t really know anything about. As the player’s activities degrade the dominant faction in a territory, these large battles can be triggered.

Gameplay during them is effectively an endurance test, a small number of enemies fight against the player while npcs battle each other nearby, never interfering with the player’s combat. And this kind of sucks from an experience point of view. The battle set pieces are not terribly interesting, it’s just a flat space with a lot of NPCs around.

The game splits character development into three branches, hunting skills improve ranged combat abilities, warrior skills improve melee abilities and assassin skills improve stealth abilities.

The player is immediately placed into hand-to-hand combat in these battles, so respecing - which is very cheap - into Warrior skills before triggering the fights is the best course of action and in my case the only way to get through them.

The game features npc combat in other contexts as well, and it’s so much better in those contexts. You can train wild animals into camps and they will attack each other and during one pretty significant group combat not in a set piece I had one of the better gaming experiences ever, where I Sparta Kicked a higher-tier opponent, causing them to fly back a bit and fall prone, then an NPC attacked them with a different special attack and finally another NPC finished the opponent off with a fire arrow headshot. It was a fantastic team up that caused both Jen and I some excitement.

I tend to hyperfocus when playing games. I mean, I tend to hyperfocus anyway, but when I’m playing a game I tend to only play that one until I complete it. I don’t think that’s the best style for Assassin’s Creed games though.

I enjoy the series, but they aren’t games I love. I’ve played all of the mainline titles and finished all of them except Syndicate which just did not grab me. I think I jumped into it almost immediately after finishing Unity which is something I know better than doing. It’s inevitable that I will have received almost all the enjoyment I can get from a game the scale of an Assassin’s Creed before I actually complete the game itself. This is true for most open world sorts of games, including Skyrim, all the Fallouts after 2 and before 76 (which are the ones I’ve played) and others of that ilk.

I recently played through most of The Outer Worlds again, so that I could go through the DLC. That’s a game that deserves it own post but to summarize I think it’s a wonderful universe and an extremely well-implemented game with something that I haven’t been able to articulate missing.

While doing so, I did a good job of taking breaks from it. I wouldn’t play every day, it wouldn’t be my focus and I played other games - mostly Spelunky 2 which I’ve been steadily improving at but haven’t gotten to any of the endings - and worked a bit on personal projects, stuff like that.

I’ve been waking up before most of the other folks in the house for a few months now (Wellbutrin!) and this morning I played Spelunky 2 instead of Odyssey. It’s a small thing to consider a success, but it is. Even just the fact that I would have to wait for the game to load instead of just resuming from the sleep state was a barrier to not playing Odyssey.

When I got into Athens in the game, I came across the Agora. This was one of the sights we visited while in Greece in 2019 (2018? Probably 2018) and I was able to stand in the spot where the bench the boys sat on while we took pictures would one day be set. It was another great game experience for me and I’m sure there are many examples of how well made the environments constructed for these games are but it was wonderful to compare what the experience of climbing up to the Acropolis of Athens was in real life as compared to the in game representation of what it was like when it was newly built.

The long-term value in these environments that Ubisoft and others like them are creating is deeply interesting to me. There are obvious compromises being made in the geography of the game. I’m sure the scale is publised but comparing the in-game map to that of modern-day Greece shows that much of the east coast of that penninsula is removed, for example.

I am far from the first to speculate on using virtual environments to experience history so I don’t need to go into it but I’m learning just a lot of stuff about Classical Greece and the relationships between the city states during that time. The Assassin’s Creeds games have long done a good job of exposing real history but this one is registering much more. Maybe because I know more about Classical Greece than any of the other locations because of its importance in Western Civilization just in general. I’ve been to New York City but wasn’t entirely able to make the same connections, so perhaps it’s because so much from this era is still present whereas NYC at the time represented in Assassin’s Creed III is almost entirely paved over.

The crafting system is very lightweight, resources can be used to upgrade or improve weapons and armour and mostly for upgrades to the ship. It’s a good level of detail for this sort of game I think. This game is not a simulation in the way many RPGs have tried to be, it’s much more on the arcadey side of that spectrum and casually grabbing sticks and rocks while running between set pieces is easy and acquiring lots of rocks inside caves is pretty fun.

There’s not as much emphasis on environment in this one, and there’s a lot less navigation by rooftop than many others. There’s still very interesting environments but not a bit set piece cathedral that you need to scale and modify and explore to reach the treasure in. Thus far at least.

And that’s okay. I like that this series of games is starting to amass a set of mechanics that the designers can pick and choose to emphasize. Some games are heavier on water combat and others on environmental puzzles. Some games emphasize rpg-style experience and point allocation and some games emphasize acquisition of different types of collectibles. I’m sure that other long-lived series can do much the same thing but I’m only just now starting to consider how mixing and matching over a series helps mechanics be more enjoyable to me.