Assassin's Creed Odyssey continues down the exciting new path forged by its predecessor Origins, refining the reworked combat introduced in the ancient Egyptian epic and bolstering the RPG elements which saw that title heralded as something of a grand rebirth for the franchise. This is a huge adventure set in a stunning recreation of a vast swathe of Ancient Greece that tells a refreshingly personal story which takes place amidst the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War whilst throwing its players into huge battles, countless side quests, exciting naval combat and everything in-between. It's the best Assassin's Creed has ever been and, even though it wobbles under its own weight from time to time, easily earns its place at the table alongside some of the very best RPGs of this generation.
To call this one an odyssey is almost perhaps underselling things; this is an absolutely enormous game with hundreds of hours of content for those who wish to dig deep. There are systems stacked on top of systems here. Endless weapon and armour upgrades, exhaustive skill trees branching out through ranged, melee and stealth combat, naval warfare with upgradeable ships and expandable crews, conquest battles, Bounty Hunters and dialogue options which allow you to act like a tyrant or a hero. There are multiple endings to this epic drama, characters will live or die based on your actions, missions funnel out in different directions and resolve in myriad ways dependant on how you behave and, whether you wander this world as Kassandra or Alexios - the choice of protagonists a first for the series - Assassin's Creed Odyssey offers you a level of freedom in how you go about your adventure that's above and beyond anything yet seen in the twenty games that preceded it.
All of this is then set in a frankly breath-taking recreation of ancient Greece. This is by far the biggest game world we've ventured through, it may not match the depth of The Witcher 3 or Red Dead Redemption 2 but in terms of sheer scale, it's unrivalled. Ubisoft has created an astonishingly beautiful expanse of sun-bleached deserts, volcanic islands, incredibly detailed cities, lush forests, enormous military fortifications and an entire subterranean world filled with sunken shipwrecks and caves hidden just below the surface. There's an overwhelming number of distractions here, so many it's sometimes hard to keep focused on the epic story that's unfolding before you. This is not a game for those who stress at the sight of a game map that's been buried in icons and objectives, or one that will calm the nerves of those who like to keep their inventory neat and tidy. You're constantly adding to your pile here; unlocking new abilities, upgrading gear, rustling through tons of new loot and adding to an endlessly scrolling laundry list of side missions and errands that you need to run as you struggle to keep moving that central narrative forward.
In fact, if Assassin's Creed Odyssey does fall down anywhere - beyond the odd graphical glitch, framerate stumble, overlong loading time or bugged-out loot chest (all pretty forgivable in a game of this magnitude) -it's in how the overwhelming amount of activities and distractions it throws your way negatively impacts upon the flow of its surprisingly engaging central storyline. Even if it's your intention to try to stick to the main narrative you'll still find yourself swamped with all of this excess, and it's a situation that's not helped by the fact you'll need to level up as you move through your adventure in order to ensure victory in the countless conquest battles and face-offs against mercenaries that threaten to impede your progress. Indeed we hit upon a few occasions during our time with the game that saw us needing to leave the main campaign to one side for hours at a time because the next part required us to move through several more XP levels in order to succeed.
It's not an ideal situation, at times we really wished the game wasn't quite so manically busy manufacturing distractions and allowed us to just get on and enjoy the thrust of its central tale as quickly or as slowly as we wanted. These frustrations are, thankfully, negated somewhat by the overall quality of the side quests you'll be forced to indulge in. It's almost impossible to tell the difference between a story or a side mission for the most part here, such is the consistently high quality of the writing and NPCs you encounter as you make your way from town to town, city to city and island to island. This is a world packed full of well-realised characters - plenty of whom you'll recognise if you're in any way au fait with ancient Greek writing, myths or legends and the dialogue is generally very entertaining stuff that's bolstered by fine voice-acting, particularly in the case of Kassandra, who is easily our favourite of the two central protagonists portrayed here.
Combat also helps to keep things entertaining no matter how bogged down you may feel from time to time. Building on the entirely refreshed system introduced in Assassin's Creed Origins, it's a fairly simple set-up built around a choice of light attack, heavy attack, dodge and parry. It can still occasionally break down into a frantic farce when too many enemies enter the fray but is kept fresh and compelling by the constant unlocking of some excellent skills - we absolutely love using our Spartan Kick to boot baddies off cliff edges - and brutal takedown animations that see you finishing off foes in some surprisingly gory ways. Mixing and matching your ability unlocks from the three disciplines on offer - hunter (ranged), Warrior (melee) and Assassin (stealth) throws up an impressively wide variety of ways in which you can approach your enemies and ensures that you'll still be choosing to pick a fight some eighty hours into your time with this one.
On top of your unlockable skills, there's also an absolute wealth of very cool weapons and awesome armour to find as you journey around ancient Greece and - building on the idea of personalising your role within this odyssey - you can choose to upgrade and rework any item you feel particularly attached to and imbue it with a host of bespoke perks so you can carry it throughout your entire journey. You can also choose to change the visual appearance of any piece of equipped armour or weaponry in order to dress your hero up as you see fit - it's just another little detail that adds to the feeling of freedom in how you choose to engage with the world here and you can also completely respec your character at any time in order to try out different variations and builds to keep things interesting.
Alongside all of this on-foot combat, there's also the game's naval battles, an entirely separate beast that sees you taking on enemy fleets and destroying blockades whilst upgrading your ship's offensive and defensive capabilities, adding specialised crew members - by taking them hostage from inland forts - and personalising everything from your sails to your crew's outfits. It's certainly a streamlined version of what was first introduced in Assassin's Creed 3 and then perfected in Black Flag, but one that makes venturing between islands a blast as you tear through enemy craft and generally make a complete nuisance of yourself.
In the almost two years since Assassin's Creed Odyssey launched there's been an impressively steady stream of bug fixes, updates and additions to this huge world and with the season pass - and indeed the base game - now regularly available at a hugely reduced price, you can also choose to jump into two huge expansions, Legacy of the First Blade and The Fate of Atlantis, which add a solid forty to fifty hours worth of new content to your adventure. The Fate of Atlantis in particular merits a mention as its three excellent episodes see you make an enthralling journey through Elysium, Hades and a fantastically original vision of Atlantis itself. It's an add-on that fleshes out and builds on the mythological aspects and missions you'll encounter in the main game and it takes place in entirely new areas completely separate from the base world map. Alongside a photo mode and educational tour which allows you to leisurely explore this incredible and exhaustive recreation of ancient Greece - complete with questions and quizzes to test your new knowledge - this is one monstrously big package that sees the Assassin's Creed series in the best shape it's ever been.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey is an outstanding addition to the franchise that further builds on the fresh new foundations laid down by its predecessor Origins. With deep RPG elements, tons of loot, unlockable skills and an overwhelming array of side quests and activities surrounding an epic main campaign that's set in one of the most impressive game worlds we've ever seen, this one is an essential purchase for AC fans and anyone who loves an epic RPG adventure. It may threaten to buckle under its own weight from time to time but, overall, we reckon this is the best Assassin's Creed has ever been.