If there’s one game out there that really. really doesn’t need DLC, it’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Here’s a game that can effortlessly absorb a hundred odd hours of a player’s finite time on this plane of existence and barely break a sweat. Do we really need more forts to raid, alpha animals to kill and armour to loot? Based on the evidence of episodes one and two of the Legacy of the First Blade DLC the answer is an unequivocal ‘kind of’.
Unlike the Assassin’s Creed Origins DLC, which saw players explore entirely new environments, Legacy of the First Blade takes place in Makedonia and Achaia, both of which are already present in the massive game map of Odyssey. I didn’t find this too much of an issue, having previously explored neither of these regions during my time in the base game, but those who have reached one hundred percent completion (there must be a couple of you out there?) might be a little disappointed that there is little new to see in the game world.
Plot wise this is a re-tread of the main campaign: a secret order – the Order of the Ancients this time – wants to kill either Kassandra or Alexios because, well, reasons. This set-up means that there are even more cultists for the player to uncover, track down and spartan kick off the side of a building. It’s basically more of the same, though I did find several of the cultist encounters more challenging and exciting than those found in the base game. One epic battle against a particular foe and what can only be described as ‘a swarm of bears’ certainly thrilled.
You’ll get to meet some new characters too. There’s Darius, a mysterious and wonderfully bearded assassin who may or may not be on the player’s side. To say much more is to enter spoiler territory, but I will state that Ubisoft have done an excellent job of clearing up the confusion of several Greek historians about who exactly killed the King of Persia, Xerxes 1. Darius also has a son, Natakas, who could have done with some more frames of facial animation, his rictus smile and dead eyes are frankly terrifying. I believe the intended effect was meant to be charming, but who can say for certain?
The story is neat and self-contained within the overarching plot, so you can head off and complete the DLC whilst still playing through the main game, as long as you’ve reached level 28 and have completed chapter 7. It’s worth pointing out that the limited and dubious player character ‘choices’ found in the main story are even more empty here. There’s several occasions when a NPC reacts in the same way regardless of which dialogue option is decided upon or where the player has no decision during crucial narrative moments.
It reached its zenith at the end of Episode 2, with the forced romance and removal of player choice receiving enough backlash from players that Ubisoft are amending the dialogue options and cutscenes, and working to include player choice much better in the final episode. For now, it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and for those seeking a detailed RPG experience you’ll be disappointed. Then again, chances are you’ll have stopped playing Odyssey a long time ago if that’s you.
Some sections of the game attempt to explore the illusion of the freedom of choice and that seems fitting in a game that itself only offers the illusion of freewill. These themes are clunkily explored and awkwardly delivered however. What real choices are available to the player when the mechanics of a game are all about killing and gathering loot? Unless the choice is to not kill and not gather loot and still to be able to progress then it’s an empty one.
Still, all the killing and loot collecting is mighty satisfying. Odyssey’s enriched combat over its predecessor still delights and the ability to switch between a stealthy approach and all out warfare on the fly have the potential to make each encounter fresh. There’s some new abilities to unlock to help in your murdering, sadly an exciting sounding ‘rapid fire arrow attack’ proved unnecessary and went unused but ‘Death Veil’ – which makes assassinated bodies disappear – was very useful and led to me exploring stealth on a more regular basis.
The stand-out addition to the player’s repertoire comes in Episode 2, and it’s the nautical equivalent of the spartan kick when it comes to satisfaction. Whoever on the development team came up with the idea of being able to attach flamethrowers to the front of the ship deserves a pat on the back. Ramming into an opposing trireme and then send scalding flames pouring across its bows make the plentiful sea-based combat in the second episode fresh and exciting.
There’s all of the usual problems that plagued Odyssey present once again. Loading times, particularly during the often pointless flashbacks, are painful, and there seemed to be even more occasions when I had to murder entire villages as well, just because stupid Natakas had to go and hit a friendly NPC whilst we fought alongside them. Having said that, one of the delights of the game is the way chickens attack you during these fights. Mercenaries, despite offering the most interesting combat challenges, still turn up at the most inopportune times. During one boss battle I was contained within a small area, but the mercenaries weren’t and they kept on turning up until I had a veritable army set against me. And then there’s Phobos, dear, sweet, pointless Phobos, who’s stilted animation has a habit of breaking the game when you ride him over rough or cluttered terrain.
Still, I enjoyed what Legacy of the Blade’s first two episodes have to offer. Whilst narratively there’s no real freedom of choice, the opportunity to find and kill cultists however you see fit seems to be an evergreen gameplay mechanic, and who can resist finding even more loot to dress your character in? Once this story arc of DLC is wrapped up however, in order to keep players engaged long-term, Ubisoft will need to offer something rather more revolutionary when we finally get to travel to Atlantis later this year.