Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s second story DLC, “Fate of Atlantis,” started with a fantastical, pulp-schlock bang. It was a tale of scheming gods and magical powers, as good as anything from the main game. The second episode “Torment of Hades,” released today, ditches the sunlit fields of Elysium for the gloomy soot of Hell itself. It’s not as standout an episode as the previous one, but it’s damn good Assassin’s Creed.

At the end of “Atlantis,” the player character was betrayed by the scheming goddess Persephone and tossed deep into the bowels of Hades. Okay, hold up. If that sounds wild and way wackier than the main game’s historically-grounded campaign, that’s because “Fate of Atlantis” gleefully leaned into sci-fi serial excess. Kassandra spent an entire episode in Elysium, a gorgeous domain that may or may not have been some type of holographic prison-world created by alien gods. Now, she’s fallen down to Hades. “Torment of Hades” abandons some of the previous episode’s dialogue-heavy soap opera writing and instead focuses on a story that feels much more like an old-school epic poem.

To make it clear that this is something a little different, “Hades” immediately starts with a battle against Cerberus, the three-headed dog guardian of the underworld. Kassandra or Alexios, being the tough video-game protagonist they are, slays the beast. Hades demands repayment for killing his pet, and tasks your chosen hero with finding four guardians to watch over the entrance to his realm, lest spirits teem in and cause untold chaos. It’s a very video-gamey set up: Find the four heroes, slay the great beast!

To reach the four heroes, who include Herakles and Agamemnon, the player also needs to find a set of magic armor so they can safely enter the lower realms where they are hiding. That sounds contrived, but it really does capture the feeling of an ancient hero’s poem. It’s easy to imagine Homer contriving a story of a great hero diving into Hades to collect magic armor and fight heroes of old. “Torment of Hades” lets players live out that fantasy. There’s less politics and roleplay than in the first episode, and much more exploration and combat.

Hunting down each of the four heroes and gathering the armor necessary to reach them means dealing with the Fallen. This is how “Torment of Hades” integrates the main game’s mercenary and cultist system into the story. The Fallen that populate the underworld are members of the Cult of Kosmos that Kassandra killed during the main story. You can either work your way up the chain, killing one to find another, or you can simply stumble on them in your exploration.

For instance, I accepted a side mission from the godly ferryman Charon to help ease a lot soul by challenging them to one final fight. One my journey to find their weapon so we could duel, I stumbled upon one of the Fallen, a poison-making cultist I killed in the main story. But on my way to kill them, I ran into an entirely different cultist holding one of the ancient armor pieces I needed, whose body had a clue leading me to where Agamemnon was imprisoned. It felt organic, and while the DLC’s small map meant I quickly gathered all the armor I needed and started beating up legendary heroes, the free-wheeling exploration was a lot of fun.

I’m not all the way through “Hades” just get. So far, it hasn’t placed its titular god in the spotlight for too long. Instead, it’s focused on bringing back characters killed off in the main story, with mixed results. This is the main narrative thread that holds together all the relic-hunting and hero-battling. Old foes return, and it’s up to the player to decide if their change from scheming murderers to penitent allies is genuine.

Reuniting with one fallen friend brings the story’s focus back to the characters from Kephallonia, the game’s starting island. These stories never feel completely integrated into the action, and it sometimes felt like the underworld was only populated by people Kassandra knew while they were topside. But there’s some heart here that was missing from the first episode.

It’s not perfect. The reduced focus on role-playing means that there’s less chance to really define your character’s responses to anything. The small map and ashy atmosphere pales in comparison to the vast Elysium fields from the last episode. There’s also less direct connection, for now, to the game’s real-world plot, where the Assassin Layla Hassan contends with the evil Templar Order. I’ve yet to finish it, but “Torment of Hades” has provided enough tricky combat and character drama that I want to hop back in as soon as possible. It’s not as expansive or flashy as what came before, but Odyssey’s continued push into the underworld continues to delight.

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Heather Alexandra

Staff writer and critic at Kotaku.