Or should I say, endings.
Assassin’s Creed tried something unique this year with its story, splitting its best moments across a main campaign, some substantial smaller ones and a bunch of hidden sidequests. Which is a fun and different way of different way of doing things, but it also completely robbed the game’s ending of much of its potential punch.
If you haven’t played the game, Odyssey gives you a lot of stuff to do. There are main quests, but also a multitude of sidequests, some of which branch out into their own mini storylines. There’s a mercenary system that’s a little like Shadow of Mordor. There’s a huge assassination killboard made up of the game’s bad guys, the Cult of Kosmos, and there’s a whole other series of quests based on ancient Greece’s magic and mystical elements.
In splitting your attention across these various diversions Ubisoft has also scattered the game’s plot across them, some of it tucked away in sidequests, other parts sprinkled across the disparate storylines that develop over the course of your adventure.
For me, and the way I approach and play these games, this has been a disaster.
I wrapped up Odyssey’s main storyline first because that’s what I was playing the game for. I’m a longtime fan who is embarrassingly invested in this series, and I’m also a predominantly singleplayer-focused person, so resolving Kassandra’s quest was my primary motivation throughout most of my time with the game.
And I loved it all so much. Kassandra is a joy, and the game’s seamless open world — combined with its gorgeous water and lighting effects - made every session spent with Odyssey feel like a holiday.
As Odyssey towards its final few story missions, though, I noticed the pacing was off. Having spent dozens of hours spinning its wheels, everything seems to ramp up out of nowhere, then end abruptly with much of the story and its mysteries — especially the fate of the Cult—left unresolved. I was very disappointed.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is huge. Each new boundary is broken down the moment you reach it, the game world spilling out and expanding further and further than you can possibly imagine. It is big in the same way the Great Pyramids or Empire State Building are big, the result of untold amounts of labour and artistry distilled into something remarkable yet intimidating.
It isn’t a sandbox. It is a world, with all of the beauty, anxiety and inconsistency that entails.
Yet reminded of what Heather had said in her review, and the way so much of what I’d call the main storyline is actually found in the secondary quests, I jumped straight back in to clear the Cultist missions and see if I could plug the gaps in the story with the blood of some high level bad guys.
The Cultist targets had been my favourite diversion during the main storyline, but once they became the sole thing keeping me interested it became a terrible grind, and yet another example of how Assassin’s Creed’s new leveling system is a bit of a mess.
Introduced in last year’s Origins, Ubisoft has now given Assassin’s Creed an RPG-like level system where the more you play, the more you do and the more quests you complete, the higher your level. And as a consequence, certain items, quests and enemies are locked behind a level gate (each Cultist, for example, has a requisite level you need to be at or near to challenge).
This is bullshit! If I have to do mundane sidequests to pad my XP in order to level up and access a main quest, then they’re not really sidequests at all, they’re just sub-standard quests. Having to complete them isn’t making me a better player, or allowing me to have more fun, it’s just making me do more Assassin’s Creed, seemingly for the sake of it.
This is representative of one of Odyssey’s wider problems: it’s just too big. There’s a sprawl to the game that gets away from you only a few hours in, and while absolute obsessives will appreciate it while they rack up 500 hours sailing the Mediterranean, for everyone else it’s just too damn much.
When I say it’s too big, I’m not talking about the world itself. I’ve got no issue with the amount of stuff here to climb over or sail around. The problem is the scale of the various quest systems, and just how much of what I’d call the game’s primary storyline is scattered around them. It’s as though instead of just handing me a piece of paper that tells the story of Kassandra and her family (and leaving secondary tales for secondary quests), Ubisoft ripped it up, took it up in a helicopter and dropped the scraps all over Greece.
I eventually wound up the Cultist storyline, and it did indeed fill in some gaps that might have been better filled in the lead-up to the main quest’s conclusion. But still more stuff, hinted at in a cutscene playing after murdering the last Cultist, was now waiting for me in the Atlantis content.
By then I’d grown exhausted of the game, tired of its attempts to dress the same handful of mission types up with jokes and spirited dialogue. Done with the way I had to grind out repetitive little quests just to get enough XP to progress the story, as though this were Destiny or some MMO.
Despite my curiosity, I’ll never know what was waiting for Kassandra below the waves, because the game had now outstayed its welcome, and I’m officially done with it. And that really sucks, because it’s not like it’s an entirely separate and optional questline; it deals with the identity of Kassandra’s father and the fate of Kassandra herself, which are two of the pillars of the main storyline!
I don’t think I’m being some kind of crybaby here fretting over a few hours here or there. I spent 138 hours on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I’d guess at least 20-30 of those hours were towards the end as I ground my way through busywork to reach level gates, and I had to do that instead of finding out what happens to Kassandra?
Maybe there’s a FAQ out there with the perfect approach to the game, one where the missions you choose and the levels you gain (I wanted to complete the Cultist missions earlier but couldn’t, since the higher level ones were locked) all come together perfectly to present the game’s story in a single, coherent telling.
That certainly would have saved my experience. Instead, breaking the story up into pieces meant the order and speed at which I recovered and read them was important, and thanks to its level wall Odyssey gets that all wrong. So for the first time in the entire series, I’m walking away from an Assassin’s Creed game without having “finished” the story, and that’s really bummed me out.