“Tell your boss he can stick it!” — Alexios, main character of Odyssey, 431 BCE
Before I unleash my ungodly firestorm upon the misguided heads of Ubisoft for their current and previous transgressions with the Assassin’s Creed franchise, let me preface my scorn by admitting my excitement for Odyssey when it was first announced. Ancient Greece? Spartans? Persian War? Hell yes. That would have been exciting. Given the date above, however, next to that cute attempt at recreating ancient Greek dialect, it seems we’re to be bereft of Leonidas and Xerxes. But that’s only a morsel of my problem with what I’ve seen in Odyssey’s gameplay and the path that Ubisoft has decided to go down. Besides Odyssey looking like glorified Origins DLC, it’s their dismissal of fundamental mechanics that compel me to be an angry keyboard warrior speaking his mind. I believe the series desperately needs a reboot, one that washes the franchise of its repetitive nature and offers something we recognize, but is dressed in a way that is wholly unique to what we’ve seen before. As the great Homer once said, “Why cover the same ground again? …it goes against my grain to repeat a tale told once, and anybody that does can stick it.”
Let me refer to the game’s name one more time: Assassin’s Creed. I’m not an expert on the profession, but I’m almost certain that being an assassin involves a degree of stealth, something Odyssey and Origins seem to have dismissed entirely. I don’t consider whistling somebody over to bushes or a haystack before sticking them in the neck to be a fun stealth mechanic. Where are the decoys? Where’s the very basic cover system to which most successful games adhere to? Where’s the sense of danger accompanied with reactive environmental sound? Where’s the camouflage, the disguises, using the environment to debilitate and disorient enemies? Unity and Syndicate had stealth mechanics that were certainly veering towards the right direction, but have since been scrapped in favor of bush and hay-hopping. It’s a little embarrassing when Tenchu, a game made twenty years ago, respects the word assassin more than a game whose entire identity is supposedly based off the term.
Lack of mechanics aside, there’s nothing more insulting than sneaking up on a scantily clothed guard deep in sleep to drive a hidden blade in their throat, only to find out their jugular is impervious to steel because they’re a higher level than you. That’s not how blades and jugulars work. Stealth should never be dependent on level. “Yeah, sorry pal, I know you did a really good job navigating the hell out of those smaller enemies, but the big baddy is too high a level for you to kill in one go.” What? Are you high, video game? This is not what Assassin’s Creed used to be. We need something that respects the art of stealth, something that gives weight and meaning to lurking through the shadows, even lurking through areas when the sun is out. Agent 47 has no problem with sunshine. That guy definitely has sunscreen tucked away in his loadout, somewhere. But alas, one can only hope that Ubisoft decides to venture back into the realm of sufficient stealth mechanics, harkening back to the days of Splinter Cell, where sweaty palms were an all too frequent occurrence while trying to navigate Sam Fisher’s world of espionage.
Remember when you failed at being stealthy, sometimes, and as a result had to engage in fluid combat that pitted you against a gang of enemies, and it was a lot of fun and inspired combat in Rocksteady’s Arkham games, as well as WB Game’s Mordor games? Ubisoft doesn’t. Instead of building on what was already an impressive fighting system, they opted to focus on more of a 1v1 approach that is literally no different than any quick-time event. There’s block/parry, attack, and dodge, with no variations in implementation through different enemy types. And with that lack of variation comes a very stale experience that makes what could arguably be the most exciting part of the game feel like a chore.
It confuses me, because Odyssey heavily emphasizes participation in war, but how can that feel genuine when the game’s mechanic forces you to focus on one enemy? War is not so organized. Combat in a game like Assassin’s Creed should be focused on speed and efficiency, with mechanics that play more on an enemy’s ability to pursue you, rather than bashing them with a high-stat weapon until they ragdoll in epileptic fits. “Just shoot ‘em in the head with an arrow or some other thrown weapon,” you say? That doesn’t work anymore, either. Ubisoft really wants to emphasize their game’s presence as an RPG so much that they’ve turned the concept of lethal precision into a game of numbers. I don’t want to see enemies running at me with arrows poking from their heads after I shoot them.
I don’t want to be misunderstood, here. I don’t think stats and enemy-levels are poison in video games, I just think they have other places to be than Assassin’s Creed. The same can be said for their new skill trees. In Origins we had the hunter, warrior, and seer skill-trees. In Odyssey, we have hunter, warrior, and assassin, the assassin skill-tree again being completely reliant on numbers and percentages for efficiency. The game is not called Warrior’s Creed. Hunter’s Creed could get a pass, but that sounds too much like Gus and Skeeter taking their hunting days along the bayou too seriously. Skill trees in a game involving assassins should be relevant to committing assassinations. I thought that would be a no-brainer. Dishonored does this almost perfectly, each new skill granting an ability that allowed access to an otherwise inaccessible part of the map, or a combat maneuver that let you take out enemies in wholly creative ways. I’m not saying Assassin’s Creed should be Dishonored, either. I’m just saying that, if there needs to be a set of skill-trees, they should be relevant to the game’s core principles.
I might forgive every issue I’ve stated thus far if past titles in recent years followed a story worth my time. This is where the heart of the issue lies, festering in a bog of cheap one-liners and unashamed clichés, each uninspired line used as the foundation for a story that fails to respect a player’s time and intelligence. Please don’t try to tell me it does, because the inclusion of historic figures for cameos’ sake a good story does not make, but I’ll get to that in a moment. I believe that, no matter what medium you’re telling a story through, when you’re finished, there needs to be a definitive ending that provides closure. Doing so does not hinder the possibility of sequels. Yet Odyssey is the eleventh game in the series, and they’re still trying to make you care about Abstergo and the Precursors, that alien race that keeps being used as explanations for religion and mythologies throughout mankind’s past. It’s insulting to think anyone would actually still care about a game’s mysteries after jerking them around for so many years.
With great story comes great immersion. It’s the drive of intriguing plot that makes you care about what you’re doing in the first place, but Ubisoft would rather focus on disguising their collectible-heavy game design with a meager semblance of story, banking on ill-paced cinematics presented by superfluous voice actors that are clearly not from the region being depicted. Locations also seem to be a highlight for discussions regarding sequels. “Oh! It’d be cool if it took place in [insert geographic region and important timeline].” Sure, I get excited thinking about where the concept of an ancient order of assassins could take us, too. But why is nobody asking what the game will be about? Location and shoe-horned cameos from historical figures are not enough to make me buy a game on day one. They can be fun, and if it’s your thing it’s your thing, but I know there’s a game waiting to be made that could incorporate the two with a narrative that makes a player empathize with the protagonist to such a degree they’ll wind up playing as though it was them. God of War did this. Spider-Man did this. Even Wolfenstein decided it was time to plug some emotional investment into the game’s narrative, and you can be sure that it paid off. Let these reboots serve as proof that it’s okay to take risks with a franchise.
Ubisoft can try to convince you that having dialogue options and “choices” in Odyssey will emulate a story worth caring about, but I’ve seen the trophy list. Those awarded for finishing chapters in the story seem to suggest linearity, as well as the illusion of choice. I guarantee that, no matter what action a player takes in their decision-making, the game will end just the same for all, or they’ll be given a last-second choice that eliminates a character they never really cared about in the first place. Either way, you can be sure that Odyssey’s endgame will not have any consequential bearing on the player. It’ll be no different than when you started the game, only this time you’ll be super powerful when you’re running around grabbing those collectibles.
I have ideas of my own on where the series could take itself, and they would be a far cry from anything else the series has done, but that’s an entirely new article. The only thing I can say now, that I believe carries worth, is explaining why this series desperately needs to go somewhere else. I do not hate the series. If that were the case, I wouldn’t have bothered writing an article trying to convince people that it can be better. We don’t need to go back to our roots, either, because even the older games had their mechanical issues. We need a fresh start from ground zero, starting with the name and working our way from there. Having said that, an installment set during the second World War wouldn’t go amiss, Ubisoft. There are plenty of compelling stories to be told there, if done right, and no assassination would ever be as important as going after Hitler.
Either way, I don’t disregard the efforts put in by the creative teams, or the hours they bled into making something they feel passionate about. It’s a difficult profession. I just wish that that passion wasn’t seemingly bogged down by mediocre gameplay that feels “safe” for shareholders. But I could also be totally wrong, and Odyssey might actually live up to the hype it’s generating for both veterans and newcomers to the series. If you’re feeling hopeful about the game’s outcome, regardless of my ravings, Cian Maher has got some words of encouragement for you.
I, however, don’t think people should be spending money on this. People will of course do what they want, but I think it’s silly to hand over hard-earned money for such a blatant rehash of lame mechanics, especially when it veers so heavily away from the franchise’s core principles. It shouldn’t even be called Assassin’s Creed at this stage.