I bought Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey as a lockdown project more than a year ago, yet to this day I still haven’t finished it. I can’t count how many times I’ve felt just exhausted sitting there staring at the inventory screen, trying to wrestle myself into closing it and continuing to play in the knowledge that I’m going to have to interrupt the good bits to do this all over again in about 15 minutes’ time. These extended and frequent pauses in the action often result in me performing that ultimate cursing ritual for any ‘immersive’ game: checking my phone. What is it about Odyssey specifically I find so tiring, even compared to other games in the longstanding open-world marker-fest genre?
Games like Odyssey tread a fine line. On the one hand, the looter-y gameplay is why we’re here, but if you overdo it, you end up spending a huge amount of game resources on maintaining a constant, droning churn of upgrades. When I get a Legendary item with a special effect, that’s usually interesting; I’ll equip it right away, and go ahead to continue playing to see what sort of effect it has during, you know, the actual game bit. They’re in harmony. When I get an item that is exactly the same as the one I have, but with an additional 0.5% Warrior damage and a higher armour score, I couldn’t care less. Maybe I should speak for myself, but people are not interested in just picking up new items and then equipping, selling or disassembling them. When it comes to a fairly rote activity like this, at the base level it does involve expectation of tangible reward – this is the reason that piddling statistical point increases are often criticised when compared to more meaningful, chunky improvements, even if they’re spread out over a longer time.
I’ve yet to meet a game where the sole interaction with the inventory is actually pleasant. The closest is the vague satisfaction from correctly completing a game of inventory Tetris in a game like Diablo, but eventually you get into the rhythm of selling your inventory to clear it and you lose this small piece of muddled joy and inconvenience. Even here in a totally menial task, which at best involved a little bit of inconvenience when my character complains of a full inventory and the juicy loot goes flipping back to the ground, you can extract a little enjoyment. There’s just something about the AC gear-crunching process, that constant requirement to go and re-equip minor upgrades and clear out old crap, that makes me want to close the game.
This either signifies or is a symptom of mental check-out – the game no longer has my attention. It will now require a conscious effort for me to re-engage, an addition to my decision-making load that gets progressively more stressful and irritating every time I have to do it. Each time I have to go and mess about in the inventory for the sole purpose of just maintaining parity with the level scaling by increasing my numbers, the game runs the risk of me simply deciding to stop playing.
In part, this is driven by decision fatigue – Odyssey, and games like it, simply demand you to make a lot of small decisions with little or no payoff, and over time this wears on your patience. Do I take 5% Warrior damage, or 6% Assassin? Is the Legendary effect on this item worth keeping it past the half-hour it kept pace with the scaling damage on ‘worse’ items? You need to make this sort of decision constantly. It’s not just the inventory management, either; Ubisoft’s now-infamous penchant for filling the map with side content results in a pretty enormous quantity of low-importance decisions being made by the player. Odyssey‘s map is quite good, but it’s not uncommon for the act of utilising a game’s map to become more of a hassle as the quantity of map objects increases. It’s also a pretty inorganic way to ‘deliver’ (or not) side content.
Many other games involve a constant push to grind the contents of your inventory into dust for bits and bobs, replacing them endlessly with marginally-shinier new trousers. However, Odyssey makes very little effort to make your life easier in this regard – you can’t mass-junk items, having to hover over them and individually salvage, and you need to enter the inventory screen manually to make any changes to your equipment. The console incarnations of Diablo 3, in contrast, strive to make your life easier in this regard, and minimise user interface-related agony. When combined with a plethora of other UI-related demands – check the map for this icon, search the Mercenaries menu for this guy, look at the Cult menu for that – you end up spending a lot of time on low-consequence decision-making. This eats up brain-power, and God knows that’s a limited resource for me.
I doubt everyone feels this way about these games, of course. The staggering popularity of games like Odyssey and the looty-shooty live service genre is evidence enough that the genre’s substantial pleasures often outweigh the low-level buzz of fatigue. Nevertheless, the overwhelming sensation that I could easily be doing something else with my time, mounting higher and higher with every forced interaction with the game’s interface, has still kept me from completing Odyssey to this day. With enough play, I’ll eventually manage to power through. I hope. Either that, or Kassandra and Greece will be stuck forever in limbo, all because I’m too lazy to operate a few menus.
If you read all of this and can still bear reading more of my crap, consider taking a look at my piece on fast travel, which also inspired an article on a similar subject on Later Levels. Also consider taking a look over at our impressions piece on Monster Hunter: Rise.