Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a perfectly fine game. The combat is ok. Running and jumping and climbing and assassinating is all pretty fun. The bird is kinda cool. It’s all pretty, it’s all fine. It’s the sort of thing I’d enjoy for a few hours and forget about, except for one glorious detail: playing as Kassandra the badass mercenary, has me feeling like I’m playing through an entire season of Xena: Warrior Princess.
For those of you not familiar with the warrior princess, first, I’m sorry for you, because it was amazing. It was a supremely campy (and super queer) 90s TV show starring Lucy Lawless as a very hot, butch badass warrior princess (I forget what she was the princess of, and of COURSE she had some divine blood), who traveled mythical ancient Greece with her bard/totally her girlfriend Gabrielle, fighting bad guys, solving people’s problems, and generally having a great time.
A great view of combat in Xena:
The show started out a little bit more straight 90s action-adventure, but as it progressed, it was campy as all get-out, and almost, kind of, sort of acknowledged the queerness of its heroines. Xena slept with plenty of dudes throughout the show (which, it needs to be said, wouldn’t make her not-queer), but as the 90s turned into the very-early aughts, there were more and more episodes that spilled from queer subtext. Some episodes, like Here She Comes… Miss Amphipolis explicitly dealt with queer themes. (That link goes to an episode of Xena: Warrior Podcast, a modern show that dives deep into the series.)
Odyssey, benefitting from one of the only good things of our era, lets you play Kassandra as queer as you like, if you prefer a lady (or dude, she can be straight, pan, bi, or queer!) in every port. As far as I can tell, there’s no Gabrielle stand-in, which is kind of sad, but so many other elements of Kassandra’s character and the tone of the world positively scream Xena.
The world is really pretty, a very Hollywood depiction of sun-drenched ancient Greece. I’m still in the wee hours of the game, on the first island, but it so strongly evokes the mountainous terrain and sun-kissed shores and rough-hewn towns of the show, the statues of the gods and goddesses and the call to mythical adventure, and I keep humming the theme song while playing.
Of course, it’s not the setting that has me humming, it’s Kassandra through and through. Tall, muscled, clad in a battle skirt, with an easy grin and a smirking world-weariness that Lawless portrayed pretty much perfectly back in the 90s, Kassandra is fantastic. She’s maybe my favorite big-budget protagonist in a game this year, in any game in the series, in any open-world game this side of Lincoln Clay in Mafia 3.
She’s likable, funny, and to the extent that the greatest athlete/warrior/mercenary in this particular universe can be, relatable. Kassandra just wants to chill and enjoy her life, her weird little “family” unit including a sort of daughter figure in Phoibe, her weird uncle/dad figure in Markos, the island’s resident shady used car salesman. I was happy to go about usual open-world game chores just to see how Kassandra would deal with the various characters of the towns. The bow-maker needs wood. Sure! It was worth it to see Kassandra get a little moody with her. The priestess wants a mythical spear? Ok, I’ll go to the diet version of a Tomb Raider cave and find it, so I could have Kassandra be a cool local hero.
As I'm running around the island, I keep thinking that someone on the design team that worked on the character had the player experience goal of "feel like Xena!" in mind.
Will this continue across 80 hours of gameplay? We’ll see. But for now, just playing as Kassandra is enough to keep me hooked. Even if she is (currently, anyway) lacking Xena’s signature Chakram.