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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey really picks up after the first 15 hours

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You gotta invest a bit before the journey really begins

Kassandra admiring a knife in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Ubisoft Quebec/Polygon

I had been playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey for three hours or so when I realized I was lost.

I felt uncomfortably constrained by how little of the world I could safely visit. I still had no sense of the game’s pacing. None of the pieces were coming together. It’s not that the individual slivers of the game weren’t working; it’s more that none of it was cohering in a way that felt satisfying.

I was leveling up my character, shaking down people who owed my adopted father money and warging with my pet hawk. Plenty of things were happening, but the game wasn’t making much of a case for why I should care about them. Instead, it just bombarded me with more and more to do.

When he game’s logo came up on the screen a short time after I had this revelation, my jaw dropped. Wait a minute, that was the introduction? I had been spending that much time on what amounted to the tutorial?

The game begins at some point, right?

I came to realize that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is the video game version of the Everlasting Gobstopper. I kept revealing new layers as I played without feeling like I was getting any closer to the center. It’s not a long game so much as it’s an epic one.

There are several false starts and odd surprises. I was beginning to feel comfortable with the game around 10 hours in — when an entirely new system and narrative branch was dumped into my lap, giving me another huge quest to both think about and plan for. And then yet another ongoing, sprawling aspect of the game was added a few hours after that.

But I’m not angry at Odyssey for throwing in wrench after wrench after wrench; I’m impressed. It’s rare that a AAA game that isn’t a Japanese-style RPG takes this long to really get going, and I’m finding it worth the journey.

Because last night, I hit the 15-hour mark, and finally, finally, everything makes sense. The systems are all meshing together, I’ve leveled up to the point that combat feels badass, and I have enough creative options to fight my way out of my level-specific situations. I can comfortably explore large swaths of the world to finish side-quests and tackle the game at a pace that feels good. Heck, at this point, I’ve made a lot of decisions in the course of the game’s story, and have only just now begun to see them pay off in any real way.

It makes sense that the game takes its time to find its narrative momentum, because it’s not like the Assassins even existed at this point. You begin Odyssey as a character — and the narrative justification for choosing whether to play as a man or a woman is pretty clever — who is just pretty good at kicking butt. It’s not that these sections of the game are unenjoyable, it’s more about trying to figure out why you’re there at all. Why did Ubisoft decide to tell this story? There is no clear answer to that question for an uncomfortable amount of time.

So if the game confuses you at first: You’re not alone. It can feel slow during that first long push in which all the pieces move into position. If you’re not sure you’re doing things correctly, try to take a deep breath. You won’t get a solid grasp of what you should be doing until you’ve invested a good chunk of time into Odyssey.

Odyssey often seems to tell you to slow down and enjoy playing the game in the manner in which it was designed. The downside to that approach is that you might feel like you’re in the dark for much longer than you’re used to, but the feeling passes. Odyssey offers a world worth exploring, but be aware that the first 15 hours feel like a down payment on future joys.