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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s best feature costs an extra 10 bucks

Permanent XP Boost makes Assassin’s Creed Odyssey a better game

Kassandra of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey stands in front of a temple Ubisoft Quebec/Ubisoft via Polygon
Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 and is now editor-in-chief. He co-hosts The Besties, is a board member of the Frida Cinema, and created NYU’s first games journalism course.

An optional mode in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey makes the daunting journey of Ubisoft’s latest open-world adventure markedly more accessible for folks like me who can’t sink 15 hours into a game before it really gets good. It allows the player to quickly experience the game’s novel and inventive upgrades, while doing away with the grind that even the most enthusiastic critics have cited as an irritating blight.

Unfortunately, Odyssey’s creators have burdened the mode with a price tag — and the stigma that comes with it.

Named “Permanent XP Boost,” the option is purchasable through Odyssey’s in-game digital storefront. It’s found under the Time Savers tab — a winking label that, read cynically, all but concedes that the vanilla game doesn’t value your time as best it could.

For 1,000 Helix Credits ($9.99), the Permanent XP Boost gives the player 50 percent extra experience points for the remainder of the campaign. Accumulated XP raises the hero’s level and, with each level, they receive ability points that can be spent to unlock not just the best combat moves that Odyssey has to offer, but a number of quality-of-life settings that make for a more enjoyable experience.

The in-game shop in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Ubisoft sells more than a few “Time Savers” in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
Ubisoft Quebec/Ubisoft via Polygon

For example, the series is known for stealthy assassinations (it’s called Assassin’s Creed!). But in Odyssey, you can’t insta-assassinate a character if they’re too far above your level. Say your character is level 8 and the enemy is level 11. You can barely scratch them; your dagger lands with the impact of a soggy toothpick.

Permanent XP Boost changes that. Not only does your level rise faster, you also unlock dramatically more powerful assassination moves earlier in the campaign. Which is to say, using the $10 option makes Alexios or Kassandra more likely to be the same level as their target, and gives your character stronger moves to deal a lethal blow rather than a torpid poke. You’re paying for Ubisoft to make you feel like the hero you should be in this sort of game.

This gets at a frustrating point: Odyssey feels more like an Assassin’s Creed game with this option purchased than it does without. The mode doesn’t just make Odyssey more accessible; it makes it altogether more enjoyable.

A panoramic view of a city center in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Ubisoft Quebec/Ubisoft via Polygon

Permanent XP Boost also gets players to Odyssey’s new features in a jiffy. I appreciate that, within the prologue, the boost introduces me to the game’s elaborate combat system. I rapidly transitioned from spamming the same attack button to unleashing a series of godly superpowers. Once I’ve learned one move, it’s time to unlock the next. The progression strikes the Goldilocks zone. Not too slow, nor too fast, it feels just right.

Around the time Odyssey’s introduction wraps — about four hours in — my hero can teleport across long distances to assassinate lookouts atop guard towers. She can aim her bow to the sky and unleash a torrent of arrows like a volley of mortars. She can cover her arrows in poison and light her sword on fire.

At first, I wondered if I was spoiling things for myself, that I’d artificially become too powerful too quickly. But the deeper I get into the game, the less I believe that’s the case, thanks in no small part to the numerous creative decisions by the developers that suggest they optimized Odyssey both for those of us who buy the XP boost and those who don’t.

Many enemies and animals in the world scale with my character, their levels increasing alongside mine. I reach level 9, and I begin seeing level 9 wolves stalking the forest and level 9 foot soldiers patrolling the streets. Many upgrades can’t be unlocked until a certain point in Odyssey’s story or its leveling setup is met, limiting progression.

This gating system has forced me to master the low-level abilities and has prevented me from transforming into the Goddess of Death before the end of the game’s first act. And the structure of Odyssey’s gargantuan world — a collection of islands and peninsulas separated by violent waves and heavily weaponized enemy ships — prevents me from rushing to where I don’t belong narratively. Permanent XP Boost never feels like a cheat code. It merely feels like I get to the fun stuff sooner, and spend less time repeating the boring bits for no greater reason than increasing my stats.

Kassandra attacks an enemy with a sword in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Ubisoft Quebec/Ubisoft via Polygon

The benefits of the mode continue to reveal themselves throughout the adventure. An ability point can turn off falling damage completely at level 20, allowing me to leap up and down the mountainous islands of ancient Greece without fear. Like the improved assassinations, this is an ability that makes the game more enjoyable. That the feature is locked until level 20 is irritating, but less so now that I can meet that threshold earlier in my journey.

Permanent XP Boost isn’t only meant for busy teenagers and overworked adults; it’s the right option for anybody who wants to avoid Odyssey’s nastiest flaw: the need to grind through repetitive fights in order to accumulate XP that unlocks the best stuff the game has to offer, or even just to see the ending. I wish every oversized video game had a similar option.

But charging players more to enjoy the game at their own pace is shameful and backward. As games strive to retain players for hundreds of hours in order to increase in-app purchases and decrease trade-ins, it’s disappointing that those of us who want to experience a game at a reasonable pace have to foot the bill. It’s not that paying the $10 fee makes Odyssey a bit quicker; it’s that the game’s pace suddenly feels respectful, exhilarating and right once you do. The choice isn’t between standard and faster — it’s between worse and better.

Ubisoft could make the mode free with a patch, or tweak the base game to be more generous with its XP and upgrades, but it has a financial incentive not to do so. Until the publisher makes a change, the best way to play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey costs extra. And paying the toll only encourages the publisher to continue hawking Time Savers rather than respect every player’s time.