Dipped back into AC Odyssey after recent half price sale. I found myself craving an RPG where you see the sights and find the loot and talk to the people etc.
As I said a month back or so when sampling it, there’s a lot of extraneous AC nonsense in there which quickly piles on calories of listlessness, but playing in hourly chunks here and there, just doing a few things and calling it a day, it’s never less than pleasant.
In particular this time round I resolved to just roam If I want to, roam around the (Greek) world. There is an almost casual magnificence of epic imagery, and the generosity of what is essentially set dressing is astonishing. Since Unity that’s been a common theme in the series, the sheer almost hobbyist devotion to creating actual physical places which are bar none the most plausible populous space in all of videogaming, by quite some distance, but also basically mechanically irrelevant. A sort of Ambient splendour that you often won’t even register while playing unless you choose to.
Just yesterday I was poking around and completely apropos of nothing I encountered a 100 feet tall statue complex that covered about a square mile on the ground, a series of rocks carved into the form of Prometheus having his liver devoured by Eagles the size of Skycrapers. The construct is so vast that, as in reality, it’s design is illegible other than from above it or far away enough to see it in relief, otherwise you would simply mistake it for series of enormous rocks. The sort of terrain that Dark Souls excels at basing set pieces or lore reveals around and bringing into gradual revelation.
And here it serves no purpose. It’s just…there. It’s not a boss encounter, it’s not a moment of narrative denouement, it’s simply placed there as casually as you’d find a Gas Station in Fallout 4. If you aren’t curious enough to pore over it’s initial shape and work out the contours, you never see it. You get n more XP for finding it than you do a Shepard’s hut. The game is stuffed with these sorts of details. Even in respect to it’s forts, which are basic grind opportunities, their scale is gargantuan by pretty much any other game’s standards, and there are hundreds of them. Dozens of Poleis which even in most contemporary games would exist as a major hub, here they’re just there because, well, they should be. Ancient Greece was comprised of them. Here they are. It is a world that is as much built for it’s inhabitants as it is for the player.
It’s an interesting contrast to the Outer Worlds in which the written narrative was wonderfully immersive, but the visual clues and storytelling was barely punching above barren. Absent of the text you could have been anywhere, and if bouts between the conversations and lore dumps that kept you immersed were more than 20 minutes or so, it started to fall apart and you ended up questioning the whole thing because there’s very little to give you a sense of place. In light of that, it’s impressive to see just how much narrative heavy lifting is done through the visual verisimilitude of Odyssey. if you reverse the usual RPG process of listening and then looking and immerse yourself in the story of your exploration, and let the fighting and talking augment that, it gives it a far richer aspect. Traversing and merely being in such a ludicrously realised Romantic space really is what sets the tone, after which a suitably Greek transition between violence, comedy and tragedy can occur on a dime. In most any other setting that sort of arbitrary dramatic tension would equate to confusion and sloppiness, and it isn’t to say that more original writing around the peripheries wouldn’t go amiss to making it’s story more immediately compelling, or that the whole thing doesn’t shake violently when it departs its historical and mythic moorings for Abstergo alien technology bullshit. But the grandeur of where you go and what you see lifts the overall narrative from Pantomime to Homeric Saga effortlessly.
It’s also the first RPG I’ve played in a while where being sardonic or violent in temper doesn’t simply equate to the conversation ending as well, which is fun from a role playing perspective. You get the chance to explore Kassandra’s short temper in many scenarios rather than it simply being a shortcut to violence. Even just situations when a “No I won’t be your errand girl” option is chosen they are often represented in the form of a far more fiery “Fuck you I don’t have time for that shit”. It may seem like a small thing but the investment in personality in those moments is grounding. It’s refreshing to know that you don’t have to accept every quest in order to experience a glimpse of character and flavour. I’m so used to clicking everything text wise in RPG’s because it’s usually a binary choice between “I want the talking/drama” and “I want the fighting/you to go away”. I can stop and chat in Odyssey and the while the quality of each interaction is usually pretty standard, and the quests aren’t nearly as involved and detailed or rewarding as they tend to be in most RPG’s due to the absence of gameplay interactions on offer (steal this, kill these guys/animals), they still add a sense of place and momentum to the wider core of the game, which is in simply moving through the world until an adventure or experience arrests you. Like, I guess, a sort of…odyssey.
TLDR: Fundamentally, for a game which is mechanically staid, and when played in short enough bursts to prevent that aspect becoming tiring or a loop, it gives way to a tremendous emotional and artistic core which is the most invigorating videogame experience in relation to getting me excited about History that I’ve had in a long time.