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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (388)

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Bloodstained: Ritual of... 3/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4/5
Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow W... 1/5
Super Mario Land 2.5/5

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Assassin's Creed Odyssey   PC (Steam) 

Sing, O Muse, of the Wrath of Kassandra    4.5/5 stars

Ubisoft, that French hive of scum and “AAA” villainy, has been on something of a roll in recent years. Not only did they impress me with their faux-Indie effort in “Child of Light,” but they doubly impressed me with the slick platforming and fantastic music and visuals in “Rayman Origins” and “Rayman Legends.” Even in their long-running “mature” franchises, the Ubis have recently plucked at chords that I find both relevant and interesting, as they did in “Far Cry 5.” Most recently, however, Ubisoft has taken great interest in transforming everything they can into a big sprawling Sandbox, such as the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ series of Stealth games, angering series fans by shifting gears on both the gameplay and the setting. Instead of focusing obsessively on Renaissance Italy, Ubisoft has begun to explore other gulfs of time in the history of Western Civilization, setting 2017’s “Assassin’s Creed: Origins” not in Renaissance Europe at all, but in Roman Egypt. Hot on the heels of that endeavor, Ubisoft produced “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey” (“Odyssey”), set in Classical Greece. Two years hence, we are on the cusp of the release of another one of these semi-historical ‘Assassin’s Creed’ games, with “Valhalla” set in Norse Scandinavia.

Personally, I never had even a glimmer of interest in the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ series as it was. The first title was released far after my rebellious teenage phase (which wasn’t really all that rebellious), so I never found the Edgelord idea of being a super-secret assassin-for-hire to be all that interesting, nor have I ever held any particular love for the Stealth genre in general. However, Ubisoft’s shift from fixating on assassinations, Stealth, and a ginned-up “Da Vinci Code” caliber story worthy of a hack like Dan Brown to semi-historical open world Sandbox games set in some of my absolute favorite eras of Western history really grabbed my attention. Unfortunately, due to poor marketing, I didn’t realize “Assassin’s Creed: Origins” was such a game until just recently.

“Odyssey,” however, grabbed my attention from its first announcement. After seeing miserable adaptations of Classical Greek history and mythology in games like the ‘God of War’ series, I was eager to see a more faithful homage to that period of history, even though I was dubious of Ubisoft’s ability to provide it. My worries were in vain, though, as Ubisoft exceeded my wildest expectations, creating a truly epic homage to Classical Greece worthy of The Bard himself (Homer, not that other plagiarist with the unsteady polearm).

Presentation
“Odyssey” is a shockingly good-looking game. Crafted in Ubisoft’s proprietary AnvilNext Engine, the game world’s environments and people are some of the best-looking ‘realistic’ style game assets to date. Small, up-close details like leaves on trees and blades of grass look strikingly real, while the magnitude of scale in the game world is difficult to take in at first glance. The game map is absolutely enormous, stretching from the real-world island of Cephallonia in the West to the real-world island of Lesbos in the East, the real-world triple-peninsula of Thessalonika in the North and the real-world island of Crete in the South. In short, it’s an absolutely enormous Sandbox for players to romp through, and it looks absolutely glorious. The AnvilNext Engine’s Level of Detail capabilities are phenomenal, allowing the player to take-in breathtaking vistas from up high, then literally walk/ride/sail to anywhere they can see.

Treatment of the Classical Greek world is thoroughly authentic and beautiful as well. While most plebians today think of the Classical world as one of stark white marble and gray granite, the truth is that nearly every piece of colossal architecture and statuary in the Hellenic world was painted, a detail which Ubisoft’s art team absolutely nailed. Beyond the incredible eye for detail and historical accuracy in the environments, the AnvilNext Engine features some of the best cloth physics I’ve ever seen (though some clipping still exists, which can be jarring considering how good everything else looks and animates).

The most common gripe I’ve heard about “Odyssey’s” design is that there’s too much copy/paste when it comes to the layouts of bandit camps and military outposts. While this is noticeable to some small degree, it’s not nearly as prevalent as I expected from the audience’s level of grumpiness. The game world is absolutely enormous, dotted with 80%+ accurate representations of ancient architecture in its heyday, and people are upset that a few bandits and soldiers took some anachronistic inspiration from the Romans and made their camps look alike? Big deal!

Audiowise, “Odyssey” is also gloriously authentic. While the soundtrack isn’t quite as prevalent as I would have hoped (I even set the game options to play background music as much as possible), the music there is fits the period. There are even some fantastic Greek sea chanties that the crew sings during ocean travel, with two different performances depending on whether the present crew is male or female. Voiceacting is likewise excellent, with accurate ancient accents and pronunciations for names that Western scholarship has Latinized to death over the millennia. I particularly enjoyed the vocal performance of honest-to-goodness Greek actress, Melissanthi Mahut in the lead role of Kassandra.

Technically, though, “Odyssey” shows all of its ugly Ubi underbelly. While nearly all of the glitches in “Odyssey” are of the ‘cosmetic’ and ‘humorous’ variety, the game has a tendency to crash (and, on my system, cause Blue Screens of Death). Fortunately, it auto-saves often enough that these issues never lead to tragedy. However, overall performance in the PC version is just not good. The game flashes a big AMD/Radeon logo up front, unlike most “AAA” games which focus on Nvidia, so perhaps that’s part of the problem, but in general, it’s very difficult to get a good framerate out of the game, and it always seems to max-out CPU usage, when it really shouldn’t as a 2018 release. Yes, my system isn’t exactly cutting edge, with my 2011 CPU and 2014 GPU, but countless other players with newer and beefier hardware also find it difficult to get the performance they’re used to out of this particular game. I settled on playing it at 45 frames per second by turning down a few non-essential visual effects, and still experienced occasional massive frame dips. Then there’s the omnipresent fact that “Odyssey” is exclusively tied to the Uplay client as DRM, and the fact that Ubisoft has tried to monetize the game with microtransactions, which is truly egregious when the game already comes in a plethora of different versions, each with a different loadout of extra content, requiring a spreadsheet to keep them all straight. Fortunately, the microtransactions in “Odyssey” are almost entirely useless, possibly triggering OCD people, but largely affecting nothing regarding gameplay (it’s even possible to buy microtransaction-exclusive items in a rotating shop for a rare in-game currency). Ultimately, though, the lack of technical polish and Uplay shenanigans do a LOT to drag down the presentation of an otherwise breathtaking game.

Story
”Sing, O Muse, of the wrath of Achilles Peleusson, which dreadfully brought great pains to countless Achaeans, and send the souls of many heroes before the face of Hades. Because Zeus willed it from the time when Atreusson – lord of men – and godlike Achilles first clashed.”
–Homer, “Iliad”

One of Western Civilization’s foundational texts is a story about a war – specifically, a war started and dragged on for an insanely long time by the squabbling of the nobility. This same basic narrative has played out repeatedly across the eons and across the world, making it a perpetually relevant framework for a tale to be told.

The tale told in “Odyssey” takes place centuries after the war Homer first sang about, during the Peloponnesian War, which divided the entirety of the Hellenistic world of the time in a conflict between Athens – the cradle of democracy and philosophy – and Sparta – an austere militant monarchy – between the years 431 and 404 B.C.E.

Our hero is one Kassandra (or, Alexios, her brother, if the player so chooses, but according to interviews with the Ubisoft staff who worked on “Odyssey,” Kassandra is the ‘intended’ main character), the exiled granddaughter of the late Spartan King Leonidas. As a child, Kassandra witnessed one of the Ephor’s of Sparta throw her baby brother off the top of Mount Taygetos because a prophecy handed down by the Pythia of Delphi declared it must be done. Kassandra reacted by pushing the Ephor over the precipice too, which resulted in the remaining members of the clergy forcing her own father to toss her over as well. Decades later, an adult Kassandra is eking out an existence as a mercenary (or misthios) on the poor island of Kephallonia.

When a wealthy newcomer from the mainland shows up on the island, he offers Kassandra a job: Kill a Spartan general known as The Wolf. Needing money and anxious to get off the miserable rock she has made her home, Kassandra accepts, only to discover that The Wolf is actually her estranged father. Upon tracking down the shady character who hired her, Kassandra finds a metaphorical loose thread and tugs on it, soon discovering that she has just been wrapped up in a massive covert endeavor being manipulated by an Illuminati-like group known as the Cult of Kosmos. Not only does she learn that her brother is still alive as well, but that he’s one of the focal points in the cult’s worship, taking on the title ‘Deimos’ and being groomed as some sort of demigod.

As Kassandra digs deeper into the Cult of Kosmos, she learns that they have their fingers in everything that happens in the Greek world, and are even behind both sides in the Peloponnesian War. Not only that, but something about the bloodline of King Leonidas is special to the cult, which ties in external story threads about ancient aliens and the possibility that reality is a simulation which have been framing elements for the entire ‘Assassin’s Creed’ series (and which get much more elaboration in the game’s two DLC packs). Because the Cult of Kosmos messed up her life and scattered her family, Kassandra vows vengeance against them and sets out to dismantle their conspiracy, one death at a time.

In general, the plotting in “Odyssey” is quite well done. In a huge, open world Sandbox game, it often feels like plot threads get lost in all of the wandering and superfluous side content. However, because “Odyssey” is largely about tracking down and eliminating cultists who have insinuated themselves into every facet of Hellenistic society, all of the wandering around and snooping players will find themselves doing makes perfect sense and propels the story along at just the right pace. There are always new clues to uncover about cult activity by investigating everything, everywhere. Sidequesting and ignoring the ‘main’ questline is a fantastic way to roust-out the cult’s many roots and branches, all while keeping the momentum going. At no point did I ever feel like I was “taking a break” from hunting the cult to do other, unrelated things, and at no point did I ever feel that the narrative lost any of its urgency to poor pacing, as I have in nearly every other Sandbox game.

Furthermore, I feel that a cult – that is, essentially, a mystery religion – with its eye on world domination is a perfect antagonist for the game’s chronological setting. Philosophy and politics were exploding with new, crazy, often conflicting ideas at the time. Mystery religions where members were forced to hide their identities – even from each other – and provide secret signs or phrases to gain access to increasingly cryptic levels of membership were an epidemic. In order for historical fiction to work, it needs to be plausible, and the Cult of Kosmos is quite plausible. After all, a similar cult actually did take over the Western world ~500 years later, and we still haven’t shaken all of its influence.

Unfortunately, the overall setting of “Odyssey” suffers a bit from modern Bowdlerization. But then, the Ubisoft of today is a corporation that placed a placard before the game’s title screen stating that it was made by a “multi-cultural team with various beliefs, sexual orientations, and gender identities,” so some Social Justice meddling is to be expected. This meddling comes primarily in the form of an incredible overrepresentation of women in important leadership roles and positions of power. Other than that, the SJWs at Ubisoft managed, somehow, to reign themselves in. The tiny number of Negro (that is, sub-Saharan African) characters in the game doesn’t feel overly padded for the time period (though the butt-ugly Negro pirate queen the player can romance is cringe-inducing), nor are there overly-many whiny condemnations of slavery (though there are a few), which was an ethnically-agnostic fact of life in the ancient world. On the other hand, I was shocked, and somewhat annoyed that, playing as Kassandra, so very few people remarked on her gender as a mercenary, and even fewer tried to bend her over for some forced sexytimes. Indeed, the over-prevalence of Liberated Women in Ubi-Greece normalizes the extraordinary character of Kassandra the Female Spartan Mercenary to the degree that she loses part of what makes her interesting in a world that should be dominated by men.

Of course, while SJWs hate ethnic homogeneity, slavery, and patriarchy, the one thing they just love about ancient Greece is the society’s casual approach to homosexuality. There are lots of gay characters in “Odyssey,” and nearly every potential sexual partner for the player swings both ways, allowing Kassandra or Alexios to go down with them, no questions asked. However, this misrepresentation of homosexuality in the Hellenic world is just as bad as filling it with Liberated Women, because it completely fails to grasp the nature of ancient Greek homosexuality, the reasons for it, and the consequences of it.

See, the reason Liberated Women in ancient Greece is offensively anachronistic is because the Hellenic world was the most sexually segregated culture in the history of Western Civilization. Greek men didn’t fall in love with other Greek men, nor did Greek women fall in love with other Greek women: They were forced into same-sex relationships simply because those were the only relationships available to them. SJWs don’t like to admit that men have sexual needs, but we do, and to an ancient Greek man who never got to see any women besides his mother (when she came out of the Women’s Section of their household to serve meals), a hole was a hole was a hole. Thus, the lion’s share of homosexuality in ancient Greece was between men (though the erotic poetry of Sappho the Lesbian indicates that the ladies were pleasuring each other too, it’s just that most of the writers recording for posterity were men, and thus never saw it happen) out of sexual desperation. Not only did these homosexual experiences occur between straight men who would have otherwise loved to tag some pussy, it was between straight men of wildly disparate ages, since pre-pubescent boys could feel like girls, if you closed your eyes and ignored the penis.

In Sparta, particularly, older men were paired with pre-teen boys to ‘teach’ them the ways of adulthood, which included anal sex (this facet of Spartan upbringing is explicitly ignored and glossed over in-game). These same boys were expected to grow up, kidnap themselves a female bride, and continue to produce strong warrior sons to populate the Spartan army. However, because of what most modern people would term ‘childhood sexual abuse,’ many Spartans continued to ‘love’ their homosexual partners well into adulthood, creating truly unique battlefield bonds. Moreover, comedians, like the playwright Aristophanes, openly mocked grown men who still played the role of ‘receiver’ in homosexual couplings after becoming old enough to grow facial hair. So, no, the ancient Greek world was not some sort of LGBTQ SJW paradise, it was a highly sexually repressed world of hidden women, desperation-driven pedophilia, and long-term psychological damage resulting from those.

Still, while “Odyssey” does contain some glossing over of the rougher and less socially-acceptable aspects of ancient Greek society, and some anachronistic promotion of modern ideals that are completely at odds with said society, it’s not nearly as pushy as it could have been, and ultimately isn’t so obtrusive as to destroy the setting or the narrative. Not only does the game’s historical fiction fit neatly within the true history of the Peloponnesian War, it contains appearances by many contemporary historical figures, like Herodotus, Socrates, Alcibiades, Brasidas, and Kleon of Athens. These characters are true-to-form, with spot-on characterizations (though the direct comparison of Kleon to Trump was a bit unnecessary… it’s an insult to Kleon).

Because of its massive scope and scale, “Odyssey” is, unsurprisingly, an incredibly long game. My completionist run of the Ultimate Edition with all the DLC clocked in at around 180 hours. In spite of the epic runtime, I never found myself getting bored.

Gameplay
“Odyssey” doesn’t really do anything revolutionary or new with regards to gameplay. However, almost everything it does meshes together extremely well into a highly-polished final product.

Combat is, at its core, a fairly standard affair, consisting of a light attack, a heavy attack, a dodge, and a parry. However, due to the game’s roots in the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ IP, the player is free to switch seamlessly between stealth-based assassination-style combat, bog-standard melee, and ranged combat, all without having to stop and fiddle with Kassandra’s gear loadout. Most combat encounters start out as stealthy affairs, but when Kassandra gets spotted by enemies, where most Stealth games would point and laugh at the player for screwing up and force a reload of a previous save, “Odyssey” switches gears to a melee system that would be highly reminiscent of “The Witcher 3,” if that game’s combat wasn’t infamously bland. Sneaking around and losing enemies can bring the player back into Stealth mode, while sniping foes with a bow is available at any time.

The main thing that differentiates “Odyssey’s” combat from other, similar games, is the fact that Kassandra has access to a large number of skills and perks. Early on, it’s possible to map four of these combat skills to the Xbox face buttons, so that holding the left bumper and hitting one of said buttons activates the attached skill, which then goes on a short cooldown. Using these skills in combat livens things up greatly, and even in the late game when Kassandra has access to a total of 8 skill slots simultaneously, there are significantly more skills than available slots, allowing players to customize Kassandra’s loadout for their particular playstyle (or just min/max, as usual).

“Odyssey” is in the club with so many other Action/Sandbox games that try to adopt RPG elements, but fail to really understand why. Unfortunately, this results is an ever-rotating treadmill of BIGGAR NUMBARS on everything, and while various portions of the map are clearly marked out as higher-level areas for later on, lower-level areas all scale-up to near Kassandra’s current level as she grows in power. Still, “Odyssey” isn’t quite as oafish in its pseudo-RPG aspirations as other Sandbox game, as it does, in fact, reveal all of Kassandra’s numerical stats, allowing the player to watch as they grow stupidly large and out of control. In spite of these ballooning numbers, difficulty feels largely flat from beginning to end, since everything low-level scales up, including the experience and money rewards from incomplete quests.

Indeed, the only thing tied to “Odyssey’s” leveling system that works correctly and sanely is the Perk system. At each level, Kassandra gains a Perk point which can be spend on a large variety of things, including both her large stable of combat skills as well as a robust set of passive skills. Each skill can be leveled up to Rank 3, gaining more and more impressive percentage-based modifiers at each Rank. The DLC in the Ultimate Edition adds even more options for spending Perk points for passive boosts, while also raising the level cap from a relatively sane 50 to an outrageous 99. While many Ubi-haters have complained that the leveling is too slow in the game, and that Ubisoft intentionally did that in order to sell XP-booster microtransactions, I found that the original scaling for the vanilla game was just right, all the way up to level 70. The huge XP rewards in the DLCs largely make up for the fact that leveling is slower post 70, but I didn’t quite make it all the way to 99.

Perhaps the biggest foible in “Odyssey’s” gameplay is also, unsurprisingly, a result of the misbegotten attempt to turn an Action game into an RPG (which is literally impossible, the closest you’ll get is the Hack ‘n Slash). Specifically, the equipment system. As the player drags her around the entirety of ancient Greece, Kassandra will accumulate a huge amount of weapons and armor from slain enemies, loot boxes (with fixed locations that never refill) and weapon racks (that do refill), with rarities following the traditional Hack ‘n Slash color scheme of White Commons, Blue Rares, Purple Epics, and Gold Legendaries. Each piece of gear also features a random Perk or three (Legendary gear excluded, as all of them have fixed perks as well as a Set Perk for wearing all 5 pieces of a Legendary Set), with Common items featuring one Perk, Rares featuring two, and Epics featuring three. In addition to their random Perks, each item (including Legendaries) features a blank Perk slot that can be engraved at a blacksmith shop with a perk of the player’s choice… provided the player has found said perk. It’s even possible to engrave lower-tier items with Legendary Perks in this way, which makes for some truly excellent customization choices. Unfortunately, that’s where the fun ends, as equipment is also susceptible to the curse of leveling and level scaling, which often leads to situations where Kassandra gains a level, all of the enemies around her instantly scale to her new level… but her equipment doesn’t, making her actually weaker for gaining a level. Ubisoft’s fix for this unintuitive faux pas is to give the player the ability to upgrade any and all equipment to Kassandra’s current level by spending in-game resources at a blacksmith. This would be great, except that the amount of resources required is fairly significant, which made me wait and only upgrade my favorite items every 10 levels or so (once enemies started feeling too powerful). But, hey! At least weapons never degrade or break from overuse!

Still, in spite of its slightly-wonky leveling system, “Odyssey” has a ton of gameplay on offer. The player is free to travel to and explore an immense number of locations across Greece, ranging from towns to forts to tombs to Mycenaean ruins so ancient they were already ruins in the Classical era. Every location has a number of things to take care of that appear on a convenient HUD checklist, while Kassandra is free to scout them out and mark the positions of enemies and points of interest using her eagle companion, Ikaros, whose eyesight improves gradually over time by visiting and unlocking the game’s menagerie of fast-travel locations. While most locations feature gameplay that revolves around stealing things and killing people, the tombs in particular are an interesting change of pace, offering some light-weight ‘Zelda’-style puzzling, with sliding block puzzles where the ‘blocks’ are actually racks of grave goods.

The final facet of gameplay that really blew me away was the fact that, after the tutorial on Kephallonia, Kassandra and the player gain access to a ship. I have not seen any other modern game with the sheer audacity to allow the player to sail a vast ocean and land where they wish. This kind of oceanic freedom seemed to me to be a relic of a bygone era, a time when Japanese games gave players boats and airships to travel across smallish Mode-7 worlds. But then “Odyssey” showed me that it’s not only possible in a massive modern polygonal game, but it works really well! Not only is sailing a useful way to get around and hunt for interesting things to do, but “Odyssey” features some genuine ancient Greek nautomachia: Ship Battles! The player’s ship is crewed by totally-not-slaves who row the massive trireme, and it also has a sail, primarily for long-distance travel. Other totally-not-slave crewmen fight alongside Kassandra when boarding disabled enemy ships, and it is possible to subdue and recruit ANYONE IN THE WORLD to become one of the ship’s four Lieutenant, who both fight during boarding operations and provide buffs and bonuses to the ship overall. In true Greek style, nautomachia typically involves ramming the opponent, then peppering them with javelins and arrows until the ship can no longer move, then either boarding the enemy ship and killing the crew, or just ramming it again in order to split the whole thing in half and send it down to Poseidon. I was disappointed that there was no Greek Fire available to the ship, but was pleased to see it added in one of the late-game DLC missions. Throughout the game, it’s possible to upgrade the ship’s capabilities in nearly every category by spending the same in-game resources used to upgrade gear at blacksmith shops.

Overall
“Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey” is better than “The Witcher 3,” better than “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” and better than “Skyrim.” If you only have room in your life for one 100+ hour Sandbox game, make it this one!

Presentation: 3/5
Story: 4.5/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5

 

 


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