Following on from its failed look at the French revolution in Assassin's Creed Unity, the Assassin's Creed franchise has been going through a revolution of its own. Assassin's Creed Syndicate made some slight tweaks to the formula and provided a more robust and impressive adventure, before 2017's Assassin's Creed Origins gave the series a much-needed overhaul. Built on the back of this work is Assassin's Creed Odyssey, which is perhaps the most enjoyable game in the franchise for some time.
Odyssey builds upon what worked so well in Origins with glee, without making major changes to this new Assassin's Creed formula but instead honing those core gameplay mechanics and making some worthwhile additions to the overall experience. It's a bolder game than the last iteration, expecting players to accept a new normal and provide a wealth of new distractions in its large, open world.
The world itself is a gorgeous one at that. Assassin's Creed Odyssey's world map is bigger than what Origins provided, but much more important than that is the level of variation that this one offers up. It's a game full of lush forests, clear Mediterranean waters, volcanic islands and salt plains, and Ubisoft has certainly managed to capture that essence of the adventure of the Greek myth.
There's a great deal of care that has been taken to provide players with a Classical Greece that they will recognize. Exploring areas like Athens is a joy, giving would-be Greek heroes the opportunity to go on a digital sightseeing tour that has become an expectation of the series as a whole. Along the way, they will meet a veritable army of historic figures, an Assassin's Creed gimmick that always breaks the immersion but is still fairly enjoyable with a nod and a wink.
It's not just geographical variety that's a treat for players, either, as Assassin's Creed Odyssey also provides plenty of room to take part in different quest-lines and side missions. It's a Greece in an era of turmoil, with the bitter Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta engulfing the region, bringing with it opportunities for unscrupulous sorts such as bandits and pirates - as well as other enemies.
Although there is a larger story to be told, it's here that the bulk of player engagement lies. Assassin's Creed Odyssey embraces an open world action RPG focus that suits it well, perhaps even feeling closer in feel to Horizon: Zero Dawn than early entries in the series. As a mercenary, the player can traverse Classical Greece solving problems for a price, a hired hand with a deft touch for stealth and assassination over brute force - although the option is always there whether a large Spartan fort or hidden cultist cavern, with a greater level of fluidity than has been seen in previous titles.
Under an older system in Assassin's Creed, this could have become stale quite quickly, jumping from map point to map point without giving much credence to the specifics of any job. However, Odyssey introduces a much-needed Exploration Mode, which puts the onus on the player to piece together information about a quest to find exactly where to look for the correct bandits to kill or mythic beast to slay. In short, this means asking questions and scouting out potential sites to complete missions, and this simple change really ups the feeling of engagement.
In a way, it makes Assassin's Creed Odyssey much more of a virtual playground than its predecessors, moving steadily away from the heaviness of previous games and instead straying into a mode of play reminiscent of the brilliant Breath of the Wild or even Skyrim. It might frustrate some long-term fans after something a little more traditional, but overall it's a very captivating way to play. It's not perfect by any means, but it's a big improvement on the box-ticking exercise that the series could sometimes become.
That's not the only similarity to Skyrim either, as there's also a larger faction war taking place across the map. With Athens and Sparta in a full-on conflict, players are given the option to undermine each region of the map to try and install a new leadership in place. This is done through killing off current leaders, destroying vital supplies or raiding forts, culminating in a large-scale battle and therefore a neat distraction from the main story at times.