Assassin's Creed Odyssey's 'Optional' Quests Are Just As Important As The Main One

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey packs a lot of activities into its massive world, letting players wander to their heart’s content hunting down cultists or doing side-quests.

As a result, the game’s main story is split into multiple branches. Frustratingly, this structure makes some of the game’s best quests and most important story beats optional.

Odyssey approaches its narrative through three major branches. There is the Odyssey, nominally the game’s main story, which follows the protagonist’s search for answers about their family lineage. There is the hunt for the Cult of Kosmos, a massive side system that ties the game’s early political conspiracies into the the series’ larger conflicts. And there is the story of Layla Hassan and the First Civilisation, a meta-story that connects the events in ancient Greece to the modern world.

This last plot is particularly essential to rounding out the game’s narrative, and it hides some of the strangest and most daring experiences in the entire series. If you want, you can completely ignore it. That might be fine for fans who never liked the series’ framing—modern day characters use a science fiction device called the Animus to relive the memories of ancestors and other historical persons - but it’s a decision that risks leaving the game oddly incomplete for players who mistakenly believe their stories have ended after completing the Odyssey quests.

In my review, I said that Odyssey often seems embarrassed to be an Assassin’s Creed game. Even with though the game’s opening features Layla and the Animus, you could play 15 to 20 hours without ever encountering the real world plot again or stumbling into the game’s larger meta-story.

It’s only around two-thirds through the main plot that the player is given the option to learn the identity of Kassandra and Alexios’ father. It’s a plot point that is essential to the main character’s motivations—much of the main plot is about reuniting your family - but this revelation isn’t integrated into the story; it’s tucked on a small island that you don’t have to explore if you don’t want to.

Whereas earlier games weave more fantastical elements into their stories, Odyssey leaves a crucial plot point completely optional.

It’s to the game’s detriment, as pursuing this lead ultimately kicks off the game’s most interesting and experimental activities. The protagonist descends into an underwater chamber to find a doorway to the lost city of Atlantis, as well as their father: the famed mathematician Pythagoras. He has been kept alive thanks to a powerful staff created by the Isu, the mostly dead precursor civilisation that once ruled over humanity.

Their artifacts are major MacGuffins for the series. Assassin’s Creed 2’s Templars used the “Apple of Eden” to further their schemes. Most of Assassin’s Creed 3 focused on an effort to use Isu technology to prevent a major world-wide apocalypse. Black Flag’s plot revolved around the Observatory, an Isu facility that would allow the Templars to spy on anyone in the world.

These semi-mystical artifacts have been de-emphasised as the series has progressed, but sneaking them back into Odyssey’s plot helps ground the game within a larger series context. It gives Kassandra another task—locate artifacts to seal Atlantis away from the Cult of Kosmos—and brings Layla back into the story as she explores the ruins in the modern day.

Odyssey’s main plot draws Kassandra into a larger world of intrigue, but it never quite manages to tell a cohesive or complete story. This additional plot branch helps round out her character and provides a proper conclusion to her story.

There are four artifacts needed to seal Atlantis, and Kassandra’s journey to find them all solidifies her status as worthy explorer while bringing players into contact with some of the game’s most stunning set pieces. Each artifact is protected by a different mythological beast, with an associated side-quest dedicated to locating the Isu ruins where they lurk.

These creatures range from the riddle-spewing Sphinx to the mighty Minotaur, and each encounter has a mythical weight.

Trading riddles with the Sphinx or wandering into a field of Medusa-petrified corpses evokes the classic epics that give Odyssey its namesake. From Sisyphus shackling Thanatos to Odysseus’ meeting with the witch Circe, Greek storytelling is rife with the clashes of the human and the divine. Assassin’s Creed offers a science fiction explanation for these myths while still drawing on their ancient storytelling context.

Conversely, Odyssey’s systems, such as the battle-packed conquests and dangerous mercenary rankings, place the game’s story into a historical context. Players who miss Odyssey’s mythic elements in favour of its more historical ones will lose out on the game’s scope and sense of wonder.

These mythic sections also provide some of the game’s strongest mechanical challenges. Most of these encounters are fights that make the player reassess the tactics that have allowed them to succeed against mortal opponents. What do you do when faced with a giant cyclops or rampaging bull-man? Certainly not the same thing that you do when facing a mere Spartan soldier.

While a stubborn player might brute force their way through these encounters, canny players might change tactics and skill points. I didn’t often take advantage of Odyssey’s ability to reallocate skills, but I absolutely changed my build to focus on arrow damage once faced with the tower cyclops and its extremely shootable eyeball.

It’s not the most in-depth problem solving, but it helps to mechanically simulate the cunning we associate with Greek heroes.

Pursuing this questline is also absolutely essential for getting closure on Kassandra’s story. Collecting all of the artifacts allows Layla to unlock Atlantis in the modern day, revealing the city’s long-lived protector: the player character. Much as Pythagoras lived beyond his age thanks to the magical staff he owned, so does Kassandra or Alexios. They entrust the staff to Layla and seemingly die.

It’s a moment that completes both of the game’s two main stories and provides a strong connection from one timeline to another. It’s also one of the few times where the modern day and ancient Greece stories mingle, an allusion to the game’s overarching themes of legacy and lineage. Games like Assassin’s Creed 3 also had their two stories run in parallel to express questions of fatherhood and generational violence. Odyssey reclaims that storytelling legacy at the conclusion of this questline, setting the stage for larger adventures.

If you ignore these activities, you miss out on all of this, including the literal conclusion to the protagonist’s story and life.

In theory, the branching nature of Odyssey’s main story pillars allows players to engage with the content that they find most compelling. In practice, this dedication to player choice jumbles the game’s narrative. Not only does it affect the game’s pace—fracturing essential scenes from each other, with potentially dozen of filler hours in between - but it also risks leaving the story narratively and thematically incomplete for any player who decides they’ve had their fill of adventuring.

In a game full of intelligent systems and compelling character writing, it’s a decision that undermines an otherwise fantastic experience.


Comments

    I really liked Kassandra. It's a shame her character has come to an end.

    This was spoiled for me from a thumbnail on YouTube

    Man, the pacing is so weird in Odyssey. I'd gone a pretty decent chunk of the way through the main story, and when I unlocked the cultists I diverted all my attention to demolishing that activity.

    So, after annihilating a good five trees of the cultists, I'd explored so many lands, so many islands, done so many side-quests (necessary to unlock some cultists), that I was long since level-capped when I landed on the Silver Islands, at which point the game appeared to suddenly regain an interest in storytelling and tutorializing.

    It became pretty clear, after a while, that I was probably meant to have strayed into this territory long, long, long ago. It was absurdly refreshing. My crew was actually talking to me, introducing the area, the key players in the area were introduced, established, expanded upon, and resolutions available, and when it was all done, there was a wrap-up with denouement.

    Left my head spinning, just this really well-told, self-contained piece of storytelling, isolated from the rest of the game. What the fuck happened there? Why weren't all the other islands and countries like that one?

      Silver Islands was oddly self-contained, it's the only one I can recall with an epilogue of sorts. Felt very episodic (in a good way). I suspect different island pairings were given to different narrative teams to work with along with some key arching narrative points, and went from there.

        Also, Barnabus got a girlfriend, how could I not invite her onto the ship. Great little side bit at the end (if you do an earlier bit the right way).

        After I finished it, I went into the store to check and see if the Silver Islands were a DLC episode I'd got included with my collector's edition. (They were not.)

        It is noticeably, jarringly distinct from the rest of the game. I guess that narrative team put more work in? Got to it earlier, had more time? It's like Odyssey's version of The Bloody Baron (Lite).

          yeah there are a couple of islands that fully self contained and have no effect on the 3 main story banches

      The SkillUp review mentioned that the beginning and end were both phenomenal, but the huge middle chunk of the game was an.. aquired taste.

      Seems very oddfor a game to start out so strong, transition to almost mmo grind territory, then finish with a bang.

      It's strangely well suited to my tastes (I love a grind), but I can see why a lot of people might feel Ubisoft is pressuring then to buy XP boosters.

        I mentioned in another article recently, but it's only really a grind if you choose for it to be a grind. If you do all gold quests and clear locations that you're sent to (eg. if you're sent to a fort for a quest, clear the fort for all objectives) then the XP rate is right about on par with what you need to keep up with the main story.

        There are two reasons I think people find it grindy. One is they didn't clear anything, just did the main quests, and then hit a wall and had to go do non-story-related stuff to make up for it. The other is if they're the completionist type and approach the game from the 'I have to do all the things/clear all the markers' mindset. That was me in Origins, and it definitely is grindy if you come at it that way because the game is designed more from a 'here's a bunch of stuff you can do if you want' approach than a 'you should do all the things because it's all content' one.

          I think it's telling that they don't show all the markers by default, don't let the sync points show you all the markers, you have to either be next them or use Ikaros to even discover sync points, and there's no lists or completion progress percentages or anything else like that to let you know how much of the content you've consumed, how many shipwrecks or bandit camps you have left to clear, because it's meant to be discovered in the course of exploration, rather than crossed off a list.

          It's not MEANT to be all completed. There's very few easy ways for you to even tell if you have.

          One thing I discovered is that these mad bastards have actually created mini-quests that don't have markers or log entries.

          For example: I found some soldiers next to the road, beating up a civilian. I killed the soldiers and spoke to the civilian... but there was no marker over his head, no highlight to indicate I COULD speak to him. I just wondered if it was possible and didn't know it was until I was standing next to him. At that point, I got a fully-voiced quest. It was only an extra couple steps - go here, kill that, denouement discussion, but it was all scripted and voiced. Just no actual quest log, no markers.

          How many of those fucking events have I just galloped past, assuming that anything noteworthy would be flagged? How many mini-quests have I kicked off by looting some unmarked container in a mini-camp that didn't have any map marker on it? There's so much content everywhere that the fact that they haven't put a big glowing sign over it means that it's 'hidden'!

          Just... bloody hell.

        It's not even that exp boosters are even needed. I've explored maybe a third of the game, possibly even only a quarter, and I'm level capped with nothing to do with that additional exp. I'm actually kind of sad that they didn't do the Origins thing where additional exp goes into ability points that you can just sink into straight stat buffs past level cap. I could probably be level 100 by now, at the rate I've been earning exp past level cap. Such a waste.

        Complainers about game mechanics being tuned towards pushing players toward the exp booster clearly only wanted to race through to the end of the main quest and play nothing in between. One assumes this is a problem unique to reviewers who wanted to punch out their work before deadline.

    I grew pretty disappointed when I got to the more fantastical parts. The parts I liked were the political stories with Alkibiades and Aspasia - not Atlantis and the Minotaur. I would have preferred to chill with Thucydides and help Alkibiades rise to prominence than do annoying myth-based puzzle platforming.

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