I've played about 20 hours of "Assassin's Creed Odyssey." And it's a good game. At times, it's great. But it's the worst kind of game to review.
That's because "Assassin's Creed Odyssey" is massive. Its map spans just about the entirety of ancient Greece, dwarfing even last year's "Assassin's Creed Origins." And the list of boxes to check and icons to erase — main quests and side quests, gear and resources, mercenaries and masked cultists, etc. — is just as enormous. It'd take 100 hours just to scratch its Homeric surface.
I received my code to download the game from developer Ubisoft on Monday, a few days ahead of the game's worldwide release. So I'm obviously past the point of reviewing the game in time for its Monday morning embargo. And reviewing it in time for its release would have required a less than reasonable turnaround time of four days. (Note: Reviewing games isn't my full-time job.)
Still, I'd like to review "Assassin's Creed Odyssey" promptly. If nothing else, I'd like to do so before me and every other player on Earth moves on to "Red Dead Redemption 2," which releases Oct. 26.
So, in the interest of time, I've been trying to stick to its main quest. But developer Ubisoft doesn't let you.
As either Alexios or Kassandra, a pair of Spartan siblings, the game throws you into the middle of the Peloponnesian War in 431 B.C. The main quest is the usual "Assassin's Creed" mixture of ancestral drama, secret societies and gratuitous historical cameos, all framed by a modern-day metanarrative in which technology allows people to relive the memories of their ancestors.
That metanarrative is boring as ever in "Assassin's Creed Odyssey," but I've still enjoyed Kassandra's story. Seeing it play out isn't just a means to my journalistic end, it's genuinely interesting.
But seeing it play out means many more ancient Greek adventures than Kassandra's story, which is itself reportedly 40 to 50 hours long. That's because the main quests alone don't give you enough XP to keep pace with their difficulty. Without a steady diet of side missions and other optional content to help her level up, Kassandra will soon be overmatched by the ships and soldiers standing in her way.
I've found that being one or two levels below the opposition is a nice sweet spot, one that coaxes some mastery of the game's well-rounded combat system or, when the numbers are too great, stealth. But being any more levels below the opposition is a one-way trip to Hades. So my 40 or 50 hours with "Assassin's Creed Odyssey" are turning into even more than that.
For most players, that isn't a problem. To them, more hours mean more value. I've argued against that mindset before, but that's not the problem here.
The problem is that I'm trying to review this game promptly. So, to me, more hours mean more headaches.
And that's a problem with game reviews altogether. Our haste to meet deadlines colors our experiences with games, however consciously. We're inclined to see length and challenge — things that make it harder to meet those deadlines — as drawbacks. We'd rule out those side quests if "Assassin's Creed Odyssey" didn't force us to. We'd press on, blinkered, playing only what we have to.
So we reviewers simply don't experience games like most of the people who play them. We don't just play when it's fun. We play whenever we have a free moment, and to the point of fatigue.
And those conditions manifest themselves in our reviews as criticisms. Go ahead: Google "Assassin's Creed Odyssey" and "length." Some of the criticisms have more merit than others, pointing out the padded sections of the game's story. Others make a convincing moral argument that so much development crunch carries a human cost. But others just gripe about the game's length ipso facto.
I don't know how we could fix this problem with game reviews, though. Doing so would inevitably require us to forgo the fundamental journalistic imperative to be first. (Which is why embargoes are Actually Good.) And, unfortunately, I don't really have the time to further consider how we could fix it. Because I have a lot of "Assassin's Creed Odyssey" to play.