Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s first expansion, Legacy of the First Blade, started strong, introducing players to the first Assassin and offering a self-aware take on the series’ mythos. The second episode in Legacy of the First Blade, Shadow Heritage, aims to continue the experience. It provides a strong villain and exciting ship combat. But it is ultimately most notable for forcing the player’s hand in a major way—one that I found disappointing.
Legacy of the First Blade focuses on Kassandra’s (or Alexios’s) adventures with the first Assassin, Darius. He and his son Natakas are on the run from the dangerous Order of the Ancients. In the first chapter, players help them fend off a dangerous assassination squad, getting close with the pair. It mixes exploration, cultist assassinations, and a welcome bit of introspection. The second chapter, Shadow Heritage, focuses mostly on naval combat. After an Order lieutenant called “the Tempest” blockades a portion of Greece, Kassandra must help Darius and Natakas defeat the Order and escape the country.
What follows is a string of missions that mix difficult combat on land and sea. Slowly dismantling the Tempest’s security and drawing her out requires rescuing civilians from forts and destroying part of her fleet. Eventually, you even steal an experimental weapon: a flamethrower that is attached to the front of your ship. The story is a bit more pulpy than the first episode but builds to a conclusion that treats its villain with a lot of care.
The first episode, Hunted, opted for uncomplicated villains. They were butchers and manipulators, a vanguard for the Order of the Ancients trained specifically to kill “tainted ones” like Kassandra, or anyone else who bore the blood of the extra-terrestrial Isu. They were effective villains but not very sympathetic. Shadow Heritage goes down a different path. The Tempest is one of the most dangerous naval commanders in the world. But she is conflicted, having been forced into the cultist life against her will. She still has family ties in Greece and much of this secondepisode is spent deciding if you want to redeem her. When I failed to save her, I felt a genuine sense of loss. If I had been more careful, she might have been a great ally.
Legacy of the First Blade has spent time allowing Kassandra to explore her feelings about being a misthios, teasing at choices in which she yearns for a calmer life. Some of those hints involved Darius’s son, Natakas, and one major scene in the first episode involved hunting with him and talking by a fire. There were hints of a romance, but little else to suggest the forced path that Shadow Heritage would ultimately venture down.
Shadow Heritage, unlike the rest of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s quests, doesn’t give you the choice to avoid romance. No matter what decisions you make over the course of this new expansion, your Kassandra will wind up with Natakas. (If you play as Alexios, then Darius will instead have a daughter, Neema, and you’ll wind up with her instead.)
After getting word this morning that this might be the case, I decided to rebuke Darius and Natakas’ companionship whenever possible throughout my playthrough. I was a misthios, after all. A lone mercenary who wasn’t ready to settle down. After defeating the Tempest and parting with the pair, I returned to an abandoned home from earlier in the story only to see Natakas and Darius come back. A montage played out of the trio refurnishing the home and I played out a sequence where I grabbed groceries from the market. We were running out of food thanks to a new addition to our family: Kassandra’s son Elpidios. Shadow Heritage forced me to abandon my mercenary ways and have a baby, regardless of the decisions I had made.
This is not the first time that Assassin’s Creed has revealed lineages over the course of play. Assassin’s Creed 2 contained a sequence in which the player, as Altair, had a romantic rendezvous with the Templar Maria that led to a child. There are two key differences with Odyssey. One is that the series has moved away from the need for its modern day characters to have a blood relation to the past characters, as they did in games before Assassin’s Creed Origins. The other is that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a role-playing game.
Whereas Conor and Ezio were characters with their own personalities, Kassandra is one that we define. Dialog choices help define her personality and, more importantly, her sexuality. Looking back on the main story, I cannot recall having sex with any male characters. My Kassandra was strictly lesbian. And yet here, after countless hours where my dialog selections defined her character, Kassandra is forced down a path that I wouldn’t have chosen. Hell, I’d tried to avoid it. It can feel like a slap in the face, particularly if you were playing Kassandra as gay, to have her embrace domesticity, a heterosexual relationship, and motherhood.
Today, when Shadow Heritage went live, players started to notice the incongruity. On social sites like Reddit, there are multiple threads full of players who feel betrayed by the decision.
“I’m a lesbian,” one Redditor says in a large post. “ I was happy to be able to play a character like myself the same way guys or straight women who play games do. Ubisoft made a big fucking deal of being able to choose your character’s sexual orientation. It was part of their marketing campaign. They used what is clearly a lie to sell the game.”
The reference to a “big fucking deal” about choosing seuxual orientation seems to come from an Entertainment Weekly article that quotes creative director Jonathan Dumont on the topic of sexuality and queer relationships within the game.
“Since the story is choice-driven, we never force players in romantic situations they might not be comfortable with,” Dumont says. “Players decide if they want to engage with characters romantically. I think this allows everybody to build the relationships they want, which I feel respects everybody’s roleplay style and desires.”
And yet, Shadow Heritage’s ending seems to push back against that notion. There doesn’t appear to be any option to avoid that final sequence. There is a third and final episode in the series coming in March, which will presumably continue after Shadow Heritage’s ending, but Kassandra (or Alexios) is now settled down, and the Order of Ancients continues to ominously gather its forces.
When asked by Kotaku about this development, Ubisoft sent over an e-mailed statement. “We strive to give players choice whenever possible in Odyssey and apologize to those surprised by the events in this episode,” the statement said. “Without spoiling it, you will engage in an important relationship as part of a set story. The motivation behind this relationship is yours to explore in game and will be reflected in your character’s story arc. There is one episode left in Legacy of the First Blade which will tie your character’s actions together.”