Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Is The Franchise Dying?
The release of a new Assassin’s Creed installment is always a fairly big deal on the gaming calendar. Because the series once represented something near the pinnacle of console gaming quality and innovation, and because it tends to grab interest with appealing settings and story-lines, it has a dedicated following and an ability to generate attention with ease. With the latest release in the series, however – Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey – it’s time to ask if the franchise has lost its vigor, or if it still has legs.
Have We Asked This Question Before?
In a few words, of course, we have. The video game industry is nothing if not full of commentary, judgment, and takes, and ultimately this is part of what keeps it so great. Developers are constantly held accountable, and the road to progress and prestige often passes by disappointment. At any rate, this question last came up specifically with the last major release in the franchise: last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Origins. Heading into that release, Ishmael Romero, a critic writing at Twinfinite, specifically noted that for all the elements it introduced to gaming, Assassin’s Creed had begun to grow stale. He noted that after the series was annualized it became something of a coin flip and that aside from new settings, the games began to feel repetitive. And frankly, it’s very difficult to argue with this take on things.
What we can’t say with any certainty is how much of the perception that Assassin’s Creed could be on its last legs is ordinary gaming fatigue and how much is in line with the latter sentiment, that this particular franchise has become somewhat monotonous. But suffice it to say the idea that Odyssey had to be good to save the series was out there, just as it was with Origins.
Why Ancient Greece?
There probably isn’t a definitive answer to this question beyond the simple fact that ancient Greece tends to draw a crowd. Looking at the last 15 or 16 years of popular entertainment though, it is interesting to note that this particular chapter of history can’t stay out of the headlines for too long. In 2002, we had the film Troy starring Brad Pitt as the legendary hero Achilles in the semi-mythical Trojan War. In 2006 we revisited the ancients in 300, a sensationalized account of the Greek and Persian wars that many credits with setting in stone the cultural and political divide between East and West that persists to this day. In 2011, it was Immortals, which looked into the struggles between an ancient Greek king and the gods and titans themselves. And more recently, ancient Greek culture has come up in video games. One of the most popular online casino franchises of late has been “Age Of The Gods,” which uses a mythological theme based on the gods of ancient Greece. And in mobile stores, a popular fighting game with these same gods and other heroic figures has been making the rounds for nearly two years.
There is, therefore, a reading of the question “why ancient Greece?” that fairly suggests it was always destined to happen. Ancient Greece never fades away from popular entertainment, and it was time for a new example to make its mark. It actually does seem likely that this was at least vaguely on the minds of the creative teams behind this game. Though again, we can’t definitively answer the question. More vaguely, Greece was probably on a shortlist and wound up as a natural follow-up to Origins from ancient Egypt (which is also relevant in that Assassin’s Creed III hinted at a future lineup of Egypt, Greece, and Japan). For his part, game director Scott Phillips simplified it: “we picked ancient Greece because it’s beautiful.” That, at least, holds up and then some.
What About This Game In A Vacuum?
So here’s the real question: aside from being beautiful, new, and important for the future of the franchise, is Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey actually any good? As you might expect, that depends in part upon whom you ask. By the numbers alone, the game appears to have been a success, which I suppose might answer the question in a way. No, the franchise is not dying, because the game had the best launch week performance for an Assassin’s Creed title in the current console generation. And, this proves that both the previous editions – even if repetitive – hadn’t driven people away just yet. It also proves that even if its gameplay has gotten somewhat stale, Ubisoft still knows how to present and market something new. By many accounts, people were excited to venture into what is inarguably the most beautiful Assassin’s Creed game.
At the same time, however, reviews have been far from universally positive. Said Steven Petite of Digital Trends, this game suffers from repetition, devolves into tiresome level grinding, and is a monotonous slog that ultimately overstays its welcome. That’s one critic’s take, and it’s clearly designed to make an impression with surprising harshness. But it does speak the heart of how some dedicated fans have been feeling with recent installments: once you’re past the core beauty of them, these games leave a lot to be desired.
It would still be too much to say that the franchise is dying. But it’s perfectly fair to suggest that it’s evolving. Until Ubisoft proves otherwise, it might be wise to start thinking of this as a single game that occasionally comes out with a brand new, $60 shell. That shell – for those who want a few new weapons and a gorgeous world to explore – can be worth it. However, it can also feel somewhat shallow.