Freelancer: How to Avoid Scams and Find Solid Work!

So if you’ve read any of my posts before, you’ll be fully aware that I tend to rant about stuff (hence the hugely unimaginative name for my blog) and perhaps you’ve even read my previous Freelancer post which details by almost entirely negative experience when taking the initial steps towards becoming a freelance writer. Today, I’m going to try and summarise some of the main points that can help you to not only find solid work but avoid all the dipshits who will try and take your time, money or both. I’ll throw in a few personal experiences here and there but ultimately I’m going to try and keep this as concise as possible…something I inevitably failed to do!

What is Freelancer?

Freelancer

image via CareerLancer

So Freelancer is a hub, of sorts, whereby freelance workers can find employment (and vice versa). I hate many, many, MANY aspects of it because the site, it’s rules and it’s charges are absolutely criminal…but once you start finding work, you can’t help but look beyond these downsides. It should be noted that if you can find work ANYWHERE else, I’d recommend doing so. I tried UpWork but even once my profile was approved I couldn’t find a single job. So this post will focus solely on Freelancer but I’m sure much of what I’m going to say here can be applied to other similar sites.

Main Freelancer Scams

Freelancer

image via Get the Gloss

Again, if you want to see the negative side of Freelancer (which is the side that greets you upon joining) then you only have to head over to my previous post on the topic. I’m sure you’ll be able to feel my rage through the screen. Freelancer is not a friendly place! Not only are many, many people looking to rip you off (one way or the other) but the staff and their “rules” are not going to help you out in the slightest. Sure, if you report someone then they will deal with it…but if you lose money or don’t get paid then they pretty much just leave you to struggle with it on your own. As such, I’m going to take you through some of the common problems you will likely encounter, how you can avoid them and some of the tell-tale signs of a scammer.

Stealing your Time

One problem you are almost guaranteed to encounter is people who don’t pay you. I know, I know, you’re wondering why I’ve titled this section “stealing your time” rather than “stealing your money”…trust me, all will be explained! So when you accept work from anybody, you essentially enter into a contract with them: in exchange for you completing the tasked job, they will pay you the agreed upon amount of money. In an ideal world, that is exactly how it would work. Freelancer is far from ideal.

Any time you start off with a new employer, you run the risk that you’ll work your ass off and then they’ll simply take the work and vanish. When I first started out this happened to me a lot! There are of course some simple steps to take in order to avoid this from happening. We’ll take a look at these in a moment.

Stealing your Money

Of course Freelancer is in many ways an investment…an investment that will not pay off if you can’t avoid the scammers. As I mentioned before, Freelancer will do NOTHING in relation to your money. Here’s why this is a problem for you: Every single time you accept a new project, you get charged a fee. This fee varies but is usually an absolute minimum of 3 pounds, dollars, Euros or whatever else. Long story short, you have to pay to work for an employer. You’re essentially betting that they will pay you. We’ll touch on this in more detail during the next section but one thing to keep in mind is don’t hastily accept projects without discussing details with employer first.

Also keep in mind that people can be dicks…and so you might accept a project that sounds great and then the person just leaves. Sure, you don’t lose any time because you haven’t done any work yet…but you do lose money. I was spending more money than I was making when I first started out and the staff at Freelancer refuse to do anything to help because freelancers being ripped off benefits them. The system isn’t broken; it works exactly how they planned it.

These are basically the two main issues you’re going to encounter. So how can you avoid these? In all honesty, I’m not sure you can completely. When you first join the site you have no reputation at all. Nobody paying a decent amount of money is going to want to employ you and so you need to dive into the murky waters and just hope that the greedy river goblins don’t drag you down under!

Avoiding the Scammers

Freelancer

image via R Capital Associates

Let’s take a look at the simplest methods for staying away from these scummy pieces of shit! I’ll write this based on the assumption that you’re completely new to Freelancer and therefore have no reputation, no reviews and often no choice but to aim low.

1. No Reputation or Information

The first red flag is a pretty standard one. If the profile contacting you is brand new (especially if it was made within the last week) and is blank, then they probably have no long term plans for the site. Sometimes, when you click on a profile, it will take you to the employee page instead of the employer page. This means that even a reputable employer may appear to have no reviews. You can always ask the employer if they’ve work on the site before and you can ask for a direct link to their employer page if you’re having any problems.

Similarly, if the profile has a small number of reviews but ultimately still appears largely blank, this can be a red flag. You don’t want to rely entirely on the reviews as many profiles will work with other profiles to give fake reviews. Obviously if they have an incredibly large sample then you have less to worry about. A blank profile alone isn’t enough to ditch a potential employer but its the first red flag out of what could be many.

2. Taking Work Off-Site

This is something that the Freelancer site will reiterate to you over and over again…of course, the reason they do it is because they don’t want their site to be used for networking and then to lose out on off-site financial transactions. They also claim that it relates to their ability to help site users but that’s absolute bullshit. Not once have they helped me in any way and they won’t ever, ever, EVER give you any money back.

However, not a single person who wanted to move the conversation off-site was fully trustworthy. One of them even paid me for half the work and then just disappeared from the face of the world. Bearing in mind that half the work was about 12 articles! I keep using free versions of copyscape to try and track down the work that I did for them! Other examples include transcribing jobs that involved working over a long period of time before being able to “claim” money. Sketchy projects like these should be avoided where possible.

3. Always, Always, ALWAYS Use the Milestone System

When you first start out, you’re going to come across a lot of incredible sounding jobs. These jobs will often state straight away that payment is every Tuesday or every two weeks or even every month. I even had someone try to hire me for 6 months of work, claiming that I’d get paid at the end. Even if the project sounds like your dream job, keep your expectations low and remain level-headed.

The simplest way to root out a scammer is to demand that you’re paid for each piece of work. You don’t have to be aggressive or rude about it. For example, whenever I bid for a project I always mention that I work strictly through the milestone system. To clarify this point, I’ll confirm with any potential employer BEFORE accepting the project that payment will be for each portion/piece of work. Any respectable employer will agree to that. After all, you know nothing about this person. Are you just supposed to take it on faith that they’ll keep their word?

Once you start to build a professional relationship with someone and you know that payment won’t be an issue, you can begin to cut back on the use of the milestone system. For example, my current employer started off by paying me per article, then every two articles. Once I started getting regular work, this spread to once a week and now I tend to just wait until I’ve completed the project in its entirety before asking for payment. So my advice would be to set up any sort of milestone just to find out if a potential employer is actually willing to pay or not.

4. Get ALL the Details before Accepting a Project

Again, this may seem like common sense but once you start finding projects that sound interesting, it can be a natural reaction to jump the gun a little bit. No matter how compelling and detailed a project description was when you bid for it, establish everything you can about the project within the chat function on the site. The more details you can compile within this window, the better. Ask questions such as: When is the deadline? What sort of work is it? How long does everything need to be? What is the total payment? How will the milestone payments be divided up? What style of writing will it be?

You’re probably wondering why this is so important prior to accepting any project. It actually serves three functions. For starters, it helps root out scammers from the get go. They tend to reveal details that simply sound sketchy or they will try to keep certain details from you. Secondly, it will stop you from accepting a project that will be hell to complete. I’ve made the mistake of accepting a project with very few details and while they only took a few hours to complete, it was painfully dull. The problem is that as soon as you accept the project you’re financially invested and so to just breakeven, you have to complete the work. Failure to do so not only results in loss of money but also in a negative review. This brings me to my third point.

In the event that your employer tries to dupe you into doing more work and you’re worried that failing to do so will result in negative reviews, you NEED to have all the information at hand. Freelancer staff can remove negative reviews if (and only if) you can provide evidence that the employer was being dishonest or manipulative in some way. So have everything detailed in the chat is a great back-up option.

5. If It Sounds Too Good to be True, It Usually Is

Another worrying scam that I’ve only recently encountered on the site is people trying to steal your identity. Freelancer isn’t the only freelance site but as far as I’ve found, it’s actually one of the easier ones to get work from. Upwork, for example, requires you to be approved. As such, people will steal your identity (sometimes through promising payment for doing so) and will use your face and qualifications on other sites. My encounter with this was a guy offering me a project involving writing film reviews. The pay was good (too good) and he claimed he needed proof of my qualifications and UK residency.

I don’t actually live in the UK but according to my driver’s license, I do. So I sent this scumbag my scanned copy of my university degree and a photo of me holding my driver’s license. I purposefully hid my full address as I was aware that the whole ordeal seemed off. The piece of shit then came up with some excuse like “my marketing manager has just informed me that we need your full address to send you information that can’t be sent online”. On that note I reported him and his account was deleted.

The first red flag should have been the payment though. That’s not to say that you won’t find great offers on Freelancer. I get paid more now in two weeks than I would in a month at my previous job…but you have to weigh up everything about the employer, the work and all the other aspects I’ve mentioned so far.

6. Use Freelancer as Intended

The final point I’m going to mention is related to other project types that you may come across on Freelancer. As I mentioned in the last point, people may try and employ you to set up profiles in your name and with your experience on other sites. This will typically involve uploading confirmation photos, forms of ID, etc. Don’t…just don’t! These are never, ever, ever going to end well and you’re just allowing yourself to be noticed in a negative light on these other sites. When I first started on Freelancer, I fell for one of these scams because it sounded simple.

For over a month, this person used a profile that was in my name and with my photo and information. I refused to give up complete control of the account and when they refused to pay me (the account had already been blocked by this stage) I simply messaged the staff at UpWork and explained the situation in full. All I wanted was to have my information removed.

Another example is people trying to buy bitcoins. I almost fell for this one and it is only through complete luck that I didn’t. Some guy was looking to buy bitcoins for more than they are worth. I had some spare and thought, why not? What you have to remember is that transactions can be reversed. So this guy sent me like $200 which appeared on my Freelancer account. I was just about to send him the bitcoins, I had everything set up and just need to click “done”…when I thought I’d double check the money…and it was gone. This guy had essentially reported himself to Freelancer who reversed the transaction because it broke terms and conditions and had I sent him the bitcoins, I’d have been down over $100. Just use Freelancer for the jobs it allows. I mean the staff aren’t going to help you with anything anyway but they certainly won’t help you if you break their rules.

7. Freelancer is NOT Your Friend

This point might sound a little ridiculous but it’s something that I’ve mentioned a bit throughout this post. However, after posting this article I decided that I should come back and make this lesson/warning a point of its own: Freelancer is NOT your friend. The staff are not there to help you, they aren’t there to help you earn money, they aren’t there to make sure that you get a fair deal, they aren’t there to stop you getting ripped off. No…their sole function is to earn money for the site and avoid people taking business off-site.

Am I paranoid? Possibly…but not in regards to this. I recently completed a project and in doing so one of my milestones had to be updated to a higher amount. To do this, the employer has to send the employee (me) a milestone removal request. When you receive this request, it comes with the following message:

Once you approve the request, the milestone will be removed from the project. If you decline, the milestone will remain unchanged. However, it’s likely your employer will initiate a dispute process and may leave a negative review.”

So essentially, if you read between the lines here, Freelancer are telling you that failure to accept this change (regardless of what the change is) will likely result in the employer giving you negative feedback.

I subsequently ended up on another page and found this:

Please note, the only way to gain feedback and reputation is to be paid through Freelancer.com. The higher your reputation, the higher you will appear in the bid list for future projects. 
Freelancers with the highest reputation are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars per year!
Remember to communicate regularly with the employer. Lack of communication is the leading cause of problems.

Even when they are trying to sell you the idea of joining Freelancer, they are still trying to stop you from taking money or work off-site. I can understand this from a business perspective but shouldn’t customer support be the priority? This company is so focused on earning money that their moral compass spins Beyblade (90s reference).

Assume that Freelancer will not support you, no matter how right or wrong you may be, because chances are they won’t!

Finding Solid Work

Freelancer

image via Tech Juice

Obviously, the main goal of any freelancer is to find solid work. Going from project to project, achieving very little experience or money is not a great long-term plan. When you first join, you’re going to be slightly disadvantaged but everyone starts off in the same position. In this section I’m going to share some tips for finding solid work.

1. Flesh out Your Profile

This one should go without saying. If your profile is blank, you don’t have a picture, you haven’t uploaded any examples of your work into your portfolio and you haven’t worked a single project yet, then you’re unlikely to find any long-term work. Take some time to really sell yourself! If you don’t have examples of any work then write some. I simply used previously written blog posts or university essays as mine. Simply edit them, make them presentable, and then upload them. It’s really that simple.

2. Take Advantage of Freelancer Offers

On top of charging you fees per project, Freelancer also has the audacity to limit site functionality to those unwilling to pay for a membership. When you’re starting out on Freelancer, using the free membership is going to be extremely challenging. You only get 8 bids and it takes about 90 hours for just 1 bid to regenerate. However, they will often offer trial memberships for new members and if they do, take it! I got about 300 bids with my trial membership. Just remember to go on and deactivate the auto-renewal. I simply set a reminder on my calendar for the day before it would renew and then I cancelled it.

If there aren’t any trial memberships available, I would recommend paying for one month of membership. Starting out on Freelancer is all about building up a reputation and with 8 bids, that’s going to be nearly impossible. Look at it this way, you’ll likely use up all 8 bids on your first day and in order for you to regenerate all 8, you need to wait 30 days!!! Obviously the bids regenerate one at a time so you won’t be completely without bids but getting work with a blank profile is challenging and you really do need as many bids as possible.

3. Start from the Bottom

Step 3 is unfortunately not a fun one. When you’re new to Freelancer and have zero reviews, you’re going to have to do some boring-ass work. Not only is it boring but it pays practically nothing. You need to just look at it as an investment. As long as you’re making enough money to at least cover your membership (if you had to pay for one) and your fees, then do anything you can. Find work that is simple and quick!

My advice would be to go for small pieces of work that require little to no time. Even if you do them for free, most reviews are done per project so if you do 5 or 6 small projects that take maybe two or three hours then you’ll already be off to a great start. This is the only time I’d suggest working for the middle men (something we’ll touch on in a moment). Ideally, you want to get each small piece of work from a different employer but make sure that it is related to the work that you want to do. For example, if you want to write creatively, don’t do SEO or copywriting. Do creative writing! Only move to other areas if you’re struggling to find any work at all.

4. Demonstrate your Ability

Working through Freelancer is one way to demonstrate you writing ability (assuming that that is the area of work you’re doing) but you need sources from outside the website as well. The more ways that you can demonstrate your passion for your work, the more likely it is that people will hire you for more long-term projects. If you’re planning on doing blog writing, then start a blog.

I have three blogs on the go at the minute: this one, my mental health/travel blog and a random weed blog. So I cover a range of different topics. If you don’t have the time or energy to start your own blog then you need to at least contribute to an already existing blog. If you need a way to do this then follow this link and you can write a guest post on my travel blog. Then at least you can send evidence of your work.

Similarly, if you’re trying to enter a niche area of writing, you need to demonstrate a passion for it. I regularly contribute to a movie review site called Movie Babble, where I’ve written about Braveheart and Star Wars movies. Why? Because I love writing about movies and it’s the area I hope to one day work in. Even if you only write one guest post somewhere, it’s just another piece of evidence that demonstrates your ability and passion.

5. Avoid the Middle Men

Now, this one is going to seem a little strange and ultimately, you may choose to ignore this step depending on the sort of work you wish to be involved with. The “middle men” are employers who are part of an agency. Working for them is going to pay very little, involve incredibly dull work and rarely benefit your exposure (if at all). This is how the middle men work:

They bid on as many jobs as they can find (sometimes on other websites). They then hire people like you to do the work, paying you half (sometimes less) of what they are getting paid. Typically, they give you multiple pieces of work involving various types of writing and payment is usually delayed quite drastically. You then get one review for 6 or so pieces of work while their profile gets a positive review from you and from the original employer. This then boosts their profile and allows them to get more and more projects.

I suggest avoiding these people for two reasons. A) They are shady as fuck! That’s not really a reason but I felt like I should mention it. As I said a moment ago, payments are always delayed, you’re paid very little and they are awful at leaving reviews. When you’re starting out, it can be a handy place to start but once you’ve already received several reviews, you need to move away. You can get solid work from such people but you will not make much money doing so. B) Allowing these people to win more and more project bids means there is less and less work going directly to Freelancers. It just creates more of a long-term problem.

6. Build Relationships

When you’re starting out, you’ll find that you build relationships with people. If they only offer you pennies for work and they are nothing more than a stepping stone then just forget about it and move on…but if you’re writing frequently for them and you know they’ll need more work in the future then don’t be afraid to ask for more money. For example, if you had written for the same employer for a few months because the work was pleasant enough but the pay was a little less than what you needed. Wait until you’ve completed a project and when they offer you a new one, simply state that you can only do it for an increase in payment.

Similarly, if you work for someone and the work isn’t incredibly boring but the payment isn’t great, provided it isn’t taking up too much of your time, it can be useful to continue doing the work. To give you an example, when I first started out and had reached the stage of clawing my way out of the mud, I got work writing blog posts about Pompeii, Italy. My employer and I got on well, I did everything to his guidelines and met all expectations and as I enjoyed writing about the topic, I continued to do so. Was I getting rich? No…but I was still getting paid, still getting reviews and creating more examples of my work, ultimately creating a higher level of exposure.

Now, I’m working once again for the same employer but this time I’m writing information on Ancient Roman structures for a Rome guide app. I love learning about history and Rome is one of my favourite places in the world so the opportunity is excellent. Not only that, but once it’s completed and released, I can download the app and demonstrate it as my work.

7. Exposure

Exposure isn’t as big an issue when you’re first starting out. That being said, the more published work that you can get your name attached to, the better. This is usually a problem when you’re starting out as most of the work isn’t related to you. You might be doing someone’s psychology homework (true story) or gathering information on types of violins (also a true story). So in these instances you’re not going to be involved with the process beyond supplying your work.

However, if people are asking you to write blog posts or something similar, then getting your name somewhere on the website (or at least getting a link that you can send future potential employers) is a vital step. That adds to the previous point of developing relationships with your employers. If you can get to know them and ask for your name to be credited somewhere (even if it means you’re paid slightly less) then it’s worth doing.


Thanks for reading! Are there any other insights I can offer you about freelancer work (particularly on Freelancer) or do you have any questions? Let me know down below! 

Don’t forget to follow me on here and on Twitter to stay up to date with my posts!

If you have anything to add or perhaps a suggestion for a future post, leave a comment!

Peace!

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The Quarter Life Crisis!

As I near the age of 25, I’ve come to realise that there is an aspect of life that nobody warns you about. I don’t think any adult as I was growing up ever mentioned their 20s as being a time of horror or confusion. We always hear about the clichéd mid-life crisis where in the movies someone in their late 40s/early 50s randomly decides to dye their hair or buy a motorbike. But what about the quarter-life crisis…why is that never mentioned?

Perhaps you’re wondering what I’m talking about. Maybe you’ve never heard the term before and you’re wondering how anyone could have a crisis at the age of 25. Surely I’m just being dramatic, right? Well, I wish (and perhaps even hope) that that is indeed the case. Sadly, there seems to be a growing body of evidence that I am moving across the border from “young adult” to “adult”. This isn’t a friendly border that greets you with flower necklaces (or Leis) and champagne. No, this is a hostile border with armed guards and vigorous, even invasive searches. It marks a change: one where you begin to realise that you’re not that young anymore. I mean if you compare yourself to others, you may seem young but you know in your heart that there are doors closing behind you that will never be open again…and it’s a little terrifying.

The Hair!

Mid Life Crisis

image via WordPress

So what is actually going on? Well, a receding hairline for one. That’s right, the male-pattern baldness gene which I always knew was inevitably coming my way has finally been activated: Similar to a Treadstone agent from the Bourne movies. One of the worst things about this is that once you become aware of it, you feel like it’s constantly getting worse. I’ve always had thick hair and after a few months of not getting it cut, I usually feel like I’m wearing a door-mat on my head. Yet as I near the 3-month mark I can run my hands through my hair and notice how unusually thin it is. It feels wispy and it serves to remind me of what my grandparent’s hair was like not long before their death.  Many people can go bald and own it but I have an abnormally large head and baldness would not suit me. I have the perfect comparison picture which I’m going to upload above. In fact, since you’re reading this, you’ve already seen it!

The Teeth

Mid Life Crisis

image via Luxtimes

My teeth have started to become a problem as well. I’ve always regretted not getting braces because my bottom teeth are all over the place but not quite erratic enough to create any medical issue…or at least they weren’t. When I first started writing this post (about a month ago) I had been suffering from wisdom tooth pain for 6 months. Not from one tooth or two teeth but three wisdom teeth. Luckily my dentist assures me that they’re just moving but aren’t creating any long-term damage. I still have this fear that my teeth are all moving like continents and that the removal of wisdom teeth (if it eventually happens) won’t change that without braces (which cost a small fortune and would look bizarre on a 25 year old balding man!

The Body

Mid life crisis

image via YouTube

I’ve also found that going to the gym has started to become more difficult. Where I used to be able to laze around for months, only moving off the sofa to eat, wash, use the bathroom, sleep and then return to the gym with a similar level of strength. I now find that even when I’m regularly going to the gym, my strength isn’t improving. This could be down to diet but if anything my diet has improved: I’ve cut out refined carbs as much as possible and I certainly eat less junk food. I’ve barely touched alcohol so far this year and my drug intake has also been drastically lower. By all accounts my gym game should be the best it has ever been! Yet even finding the motivation to go is a challenging endeavour!

This doesn’t even touch upon the sore feet and legs I get from going down the couple of flights of stairs from the flat to the street outside. I can run quite happily and my legs barely suffer (at least that was the case the last time I went for a run) but small walks seem to rip the energy right out of me.

Another thing is my metabolism. I’ve always had an incredibly high and efficient metabolism and my flatmate used to describe me as “carb-resistant” because I could live of carbohydrates and not put on any weight…but over the last 6 months or so, my metabolism has been starting to slow. In truth, this could be due to a number of things but part of my always knew this day would come. I’ve joked about it with people in the past: about how one day it will all just hit me and those chippies for lunch and bags of sweet and sugary drinks that I consumed over the course of two decades will suddenly take their toll.

The Mind

Mid life crisis

image via WakingTimes

A quarter-life crisis isn’t limited to just physical effects though. I find myself feeling mental side effects as well. These are most likely due to my sudden awareness of the physical aspects but it’s still all a bit bizarre. I’ve never really been a night owl by any means. I mean on nights out I can stay up as late as anyone but on a day-to-day basis I’ve always leaned more towards an early night (unless I’m binging a new game like Assassin’s Creed). Recently, this seems to be even more the case as I find myself waking up earlier and going to bed earlier. As of this morning, I was naturally awake at 6:58 and up working by 8.

Of course now that I’m living in Spain I should have adjusted to having siesta in the heat of the afternoon (which is a whole other topic on its own). Instead, I find myself feeling pretty awake until about 5 and then the rest of the evening I can barely function due to sheer tiredness.

That doesn’t even cover the other impacts that aging has brought on. Where I used to be able to binge TV shows and films, I find myself getting bored. In truth, this could perhaps be a positive change as I spend WAY too much of my time watching movies and TV shows…but when I’m going to be bored regardless, at least I could stick a film on that I’d seen a million times already and still enjoy it.

The Money

Mid life crisis

image via The Oklahoma Eagle

Now, before I start discussing money it is important to realise that some stereotypes are based on facts and as a Scottish person, yes, I tend to be quite tight with my money. I can think of many examples through my life where I chose not to buy something simply because I didn’t want to spend my own money. Granted, the opposite of this has also been true where impulse has led to me returning from work with a Playstation 4 (which I returned the next day).

Yet now, more than ever, I find myself thinking about everything I buy. My mind focuses on the work aspect i.e. how much work do I need to do in order to cover the cost of what I’m buying. Do you have data limits set on your phone? I have similar limits mentally set on my bank and when I reach a certain level of cash alarm bells ring. Again, this isn’t perhaps entirely a negative development but it does make me full super old. It’s important to realise that I’m not a mature person. I have a bag of googly eyes in my bag that will be getting attached to inanimate objects in the near future!

The Career

Mid life crisis

image via Everyday Author

An additional mental aspect that hits you around this age is your career. When you’re aged 15, 18, 21, even 23, you feel like you’ve “got time”. You’ve got time to go to university, you’ve got time to start a career from the bottom and work your way up, you’ve got time to decide where you want to be in life and put some sort of a plan into action. Time, time, time, time, time! As you near 25, you soon begin to realise that many people already have this plan: they’re working in a job that is taking them towards their chosen destination, they’ve built up a CV with managers who will give them references. Up until recently, one of my references on my CV was the shop where I did my paper round for 5 years!

This fact sort of sends you into an existential crisis of sorts where you start to realise that you aren’t that great at anything. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an author (a dream I’ve since circled back to), then I wanted to be an entrepreneur (until I realised I have the charisma of a log!), then it was a clinical psychologist (until I realised that you needed to have a ton of experience before getting into an entry level psychology job) and so I settled on becoming a police officer (until I realised that I love drugs and strongly disagree with the drug laws in my country). So perhaps it is some form of regression that has me once again knocking on the doors of authorship in search of a career!

The End

Mid life crisis

image via Behance

Strangely, despite my life not nearing its end (not that any of us actually know that…but we can hope) I do find myself considering the mortality of others. I’ll see the parents of school friends and be shocked, even speechless, at how much older they look. When you grow up with people, you never look at them and think “wow, he’s aged drastically since those days when we used to use sticks as pretend lightsabres!” but when you see someone’s parent after some amount of time, it sort of hits you like a brick wall.

This of course then leads you to considering the mortality of other people: siblings, parents, aunties, uncles, cousins, friends, pets…pets especially! My dog is like 12 this year and my last dog died at the age of 13. It’s a little worrying! There is a moment every now and again where I genuinely worry that any day now I’m going to look in the mirror and be unable to recognise myself. What if I’m actually sitting in a home for the living dead right now and I’ve lost all my memories from the summer of 2018 onwards? I look around and don’t recognise a single person, where I am, my own possessions…myself. Do I feel angry? Upset? Cheated? If you lose all those memories and die without them…have you really lived?

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!

Mid life crisis

image via Genius

I was going on that but it seemed a little dark and gloomy. Allow me to clarify that I’m not regularly fearing the great abyss and the general aging process isn’t what scares me…rather it’s our inability to focus on the present that causes time to appear to whizz by. Time is merciless, it’s ruthless, and it doesn’t waver or flutter for anyone. You can’t tame time: it’s like a winding, powerful, flooded river which froths over sharp rocks and cascades down giant waterfalls. You’re riding along on an inflatable ring, watching as each sight goes by, wishing that you could get a few moments longer to admire the view…but each moment you waste struggling against the power of the river only causes you to miss more!


Thanks for reading! Have any of you hit the dreaded quarter-life crisis? Let me know down below! 

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Peace!

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey…The Final Nail in the Coffin?

Summary: Gameplay will be amazing and as far as RPG’s go it will probably be awesome. In terms of the storyline and the franchise as a whole, it will be a failure, alienating any remaining fans who will ultimately feel that Ubisoft has finally given up on them!

With the release of Assassin’s Creed: Origins still fresh in our minds (along with the many failed yearly-releases prior to it), 2018 marks the release year for the next game in the franchise: Odyssey. It’s worth noting that when I started writing this post, I was incredibly excited by the prospects of this game. I’d seen only bits of the trailer and heard rumours but perhaps still feeling the after-glow from Origins, I was in a positive mind-set. Unfortunately, after only a miniscule amount of research, my opinion has shifted rather drastically! So let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the next game and why all my contempt for Ubisoft has come flooding back!

Origins After-Glow

Odyssey
I’ll keep this short as I’ve already delved deep into my views on Origins but let’s briefly cover some of the points that will be relevant to the rest of this post. For starters, let’s explore the gameplay. Origins changed and improved the combat system of AC quite drastically. After all, Assassin’s Creed used to be more heavily focussed on…well…assassinating. But I’m happy to say that the gameplay in general is without a doubt number 1 as far as the franchise goes. However, there were some issues with the story.

For starters, there’s now this switch from Desmond being “the chosen one” to Layla which from a logical standpoint alone just doesn’t make a great deal of sense. I understand why they need a new main character but I actually quite enjoyed the idea that you were the person joining Abstergo or helping the assassins. We’ve had previous-civilisation being communicate with Desmond using their technology and now they’ve simply scrapped that and now have different being (from after the cataclysm) doing the same thing with Layla. Why couldn’t the previous beings see Layla as being of value? We’ll stop there because if we start picking apart the story elements then there will be nothing left!

Why Origins and Odyssey Aren’t Compatible!

Odyssey
Before I explore Odyssey in depth, I’m going to touch upon why Ubisoft has fucked up (for lack of a better phrase). You see, Origins touched upon what I, and I’m sure others, wanted from the franchise: The Origins of the Assassins. The game ended in such a way that the path was set for future games to explore the early days of the Brotherhood. The story of Bayek and Aya may be over (although I’m still unsure how they both ended up in the same tomb given that they parted ways) but the ground was set for advancing the Brotherhood.

This idea was undermined in two ways: 1) Upon completing the main storyline, the brotherhood just magically seems to form. There are suddenly Assassin Bureaus within Egypt which are marked with the same symbol we see in Assassins Creed 1 and have the familiar dude standing behind a desk. These come out of nowhere! And 2) There is a DLC which appears to allow the player to explore the training of recruits and the formation of the new Brotherhood. I think this was a horrible idea. This isn’t something that should have just been glossed over but rather the focus of the next game!

This is where Odyssey also fucks up! Origins takes place around 50BCE and essentially introduces us to all the main game ideas: the hidden blade, the leap of faith, the formation of the Brotherhood, ETC. Yet Odyssey takes place nearly 400 years earlier in 431BCE! I’m going to touch on this in more detail momentarily but I’m sure you can understand where the problems are going to arise.

Exploring the Potential Issues of Odyssey!

Odyssey
Odyssey does have a number of potential problems, many of which are likely going to rip the heart and soul out of the series (or at least what little heart and soul is left from all the games post AC: Revelations). That’s not to say that I can’t see the benefits of these changes but it seems that Ubisoft needs to make decision on whether they want to keep current fans happy or reel in new ones.

The Power of Choice

Assassin's Creed
Choice isn’t a major aspect of the previous AC games as the entire premise is that you’re reliving memories. You can’t change the past, only experience it. This idea becomes a little fuzzy from AC: Black Flag onwards as the games are sort of games within games i.e. Abstergo has turned memories accessed through the Animus into games accessed through the Helix system. Only the later versions (designed for gameplay by Abstergo industries) allow for this. Even then, your choices are limited to whether or not you wish to explore an area or hunt animals, etc. These choice don’t impact the storyline in any way and nor should they.

Odyssey hopes to change this entirely! Not only can you choose your sex but also who you enter into dialogue (or even romantic relationships) with. This goes a step further as you can change history through fighting for different factions/sides and ultimately the outcome of the game is set to vary depending on your decisions. How? How is this possible?

As far as I’ve read, Ubisoft have explained that Layla’s Animus allows for access to corrupted files and therefore more information…or some bullshit like that. So the choices only appear as choices to the player but are in fact just the deciphering of previously unknown data. It seems that if this turns out to be the case then Ubisoft missed a trick. All the precursor temples seemed to hint at the idea that Layla could potentially travel through time via the Animus and actually alter events. Many speculated that this would allow for the return of Desmond while others figured it was just a way to introduce choice to the games in a similar manner as Bioshock or Mass Effect.

While the whole time travel idea would have been completely ridiculous, I wouldn’t object to it entirely…IF it was used properly. So the game would have to explain how it becomes possible, why the precursor civilisations never used it, the limitations of such technology, etc. They can’t just snap their fingers and wave the “Layla’s Animus is special” wand across the storyline.

Assassin’s Creed or Soldier’s Creed?

Assassin's Creed
This next aspect has me more worried than any other aspect of the game. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag was a great game. It was refreshing, it had interesting characters, it introduced entirely new gameplay…but it wasn’t an Assassin’s Creed game, it was a pirate game. Odyssey looks to essentially do the same. Since Origins set up everything and marks the start of the Brotherhood, the only logical step was forwards (or so far back that we explore precursor memories).

So far there hasn’t been a hidden blade mentioned or shown within the trailers or walkthroughs, something that the game would be lost without. Sure, Origins sprung a hidden blade out of nowhere but we don’t need a game solely to explore the origins of the hidden blade. Similarly, all other tricks that Bayek learned through being a Medjay don’t need explained. There’s a worrying shot where an inventory items reads the phrase “Everything is permitted” which I imagine will serve absolutely no story element whatsoever and is simply there as a reminder to players that they are in fact playing as Assassin’s Creed game. Pointless additions such as this are what infuriate me! Who thought that was a good idea? I’d imagine someone who has NEVER played an Assassin’s Creed game!

Odyssey looks set up to become a war game and nothing more. Sure, Ubisoft will throw in some nonsensical and ultimately undermining objects or characters but I get the feeling that this is the end of the franchise for me. Ubisoft are simply trying to create a game that appeals to more people while not starting a fresh franchise. Essentially they want to keep the Assassin’s Creed fans while bringing in more by removing many of the base Assassin’s Creed elements.

Piece of Eden

Piece of Eden
One of my biggest issues with Unity and Syndicate (and Rogue and Black Flag to a lesser extent) was that the pieces of Eden weren’t used to serve any real function. They were added simply to give the game something to revolve around. In Assassin’s Creed 1, the POE idea was a twist which introduced itself gradually into both the present and past storylines. In AC II, they were further explored and in Brotherhood and Revelations they acted as vital story components. The same could be said for 3, Black Flag and Rogue but by Unity and Syndicate they were nothing more than objectives.

Odyssey seems to be throwing the same tactics into play by giving us the Spear of Leonidis, which was mentioned briefly in Origins. What function will this serve? I’m willing to wager absolutely none whatsoever. It will be a fancy toy for the character to play with and by the looks of things, it will simply introduce the familiar game elements that shouldn’t exist in that time such as the leap of faith or perhaps it replaces the hidden blade for assassinations. It’s not going to play a role in the modern day storyline, it’s not going to create a larger, overarching storyline, and it’s not going to be of any historical significance beyond this game.

Potential Positive Aspects of Odyssey

Piece of Eden
It wouldn’t be fair of me to say that Odyssey is without flare. I think there are some incredibly interesting aspects to the game and if it wasn’t part of a franchise that I love and wish to see explored further then it would be getting two thumbs up from me. Let’s take a look at what stands out:

The RPG Element

RPG
Since about Assassin’s Creed III or Black Flag I’ve been saying that the series needs to do two things: 1) It needs to explore the Origins of the Assassin’s and 2)  it needs to introduce a skill system. Now that Origins has successfully implemented both of these, only the latter needs to continue. Odyssey certainly seems to take the RPG element further with much deeper customization options which allow players to make the character appear however they like. They can develop relationships with NPCs and even turn these into romantic relationships. These sorts of aspects will allow for different story elements and for different directions to be taken.

It does look like they’ve somewhat simplified the skill tree though and this does have me a little worried. When they tested the idea out in Unity and Syndicate, they added stupid abilities and often there were only a few to choose from. They should exist simply for the sake of it, they should give player a tactical advantage based on their style of play.

The War

War
Odyssey also appears to be introducing drastically larger warfare to that of previous games. Once again, I highlight that this is exactly how Ubisoft does things: they introduce an idea briefly in one game (in Origins we had the war part which was mostly glossed over but allowed for momentary participation) and then use that as a focus for the next game. I’d be lying if I said that the game doesn’t just look like a human version of Shadow of Mordor.

That being said, it still looks highly entertaining. I mean even in Skyrim and the like, we only get very minimal wars and even invasions of settlements ultimately only involve like 20 soldiers. If Odyssey manages to keep the warfare interesting then they could have a great fighting game on their hands.

The ISU and Juno

Piece of Eden
One issue that the franchise keeps running into over and over again is consistency. In Assassin’s Creed we are introduced to the Pieces of Eden and the notion that these objects were from an intelligence civilisation. It isn’t until AC 2 that we are introduced to “those who came before”. This idea is developed further in Brotherhood, Revelations, 3 and even to Black Flag, which seems to mark the end of this chapter. Juno, a being that has just escaped into the world is literally never heard from again in the games.

All the precursor stuff is essentially ignored and rebooted with Origins where we now have new messages directly to Layla. I’m going to discuss this idea in a moment but I think we can agree that the story needs to develop one way or another. Ubisoft can’t just start using the ISU in the same manner they use the Pieces of Eden: Only bringing them into the story as a way of adding excitement or creating mystery. It appears that Juno’s storyline has been moved to comics and so it seems like Layla and her interactions with new ISU members will be the focus. There needs to be some genuine traction. They can’t just keep sending messages! Ubisoft have been teasing us with Precursor DNA use since Black Flag (although Shaun mentions a similar premise in AC III) and yet we’ve still had nothing.

I think that if Odyssey doesn’t involve almost entirely around the ISU then that aspect of the games needs to just be forgotten about. Was it fun finding the temples in Origins? Hell yeah! I thought it was fucking amazing! But ONLY if it actually serves some sort of purpose. Finding these cool but otherwise insignificant items isn’t fun if they are only there to give us something cool to look at. Adding aspect like that to a game simply for the sake of it is moroic!

Ubisoft Hates Fans!

Assassin's Creed
A bold statement, I know. Why would a company hate its fans? Well, it’s because once they have fans they still crave more. By the time Assassin’s Creed 3 came out, many fans had lost interest and new fans couldn’t be bothered playing through all the games to catch up. So we get Black Flag, Rogue, Unity, Syndicate and even Origins which are all entirely self-contained storylines. You don’t need to have played a single game for most of the storylines to make sense and as such, each game doesn’t feel connected to the next beyond its name. I mean sure, they throw in a reference or two: a piece of armour, a sword, random trinkets or actual messages, but in terms of content with substance? No!

Ubisoft needs to decide what they want to do: do they want to create a fan base or do they want each game to be playable by anyone, despite them never having played an AC game before? I get the feeling that it’s the latter. I had such high hopes with Origins and I hoped so badly that it would continue and would allow for the development of genuinely interesting storylines. I mean they had everything from 50BCE onwards to explore! We could have had an Aya based game that starts off with the assassination of Cleopatra! The possibilities were endless! Sadly it seems that Ubisoft cares very little about the lore and even less about the dedicated fans.

All Ubisoft does is take the base points of a game and copy it to the next. What did people like in Origins? They liked using Senu to spot targets, they liked the RPG element, they like the more basic navy battles…OK, let’s throw all that into our next game. I said it in my Origins review and I’ll say it again: using a bird doesn’t make sense in every context and sure as shit doesn’t in Odyssey.


Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on Odyssey? Do you think it will destroy what’s left of the franchise? Let me know down below! 

Don’t forget to follow me on here and on Twitter to stay up to date with my posts!

If you have anything to add or perhaps a suggestion for a future post, leave a comment!

Peace!