Return of the hidden blade.
Ubisoft's massive Assassin's Creed Odyssey offers the series' largest open world to date, greatly dwarfing the scale of its predecessors. With no plans for another AC game in 2019, fans will be firmly set in the realm of Ancient Greece for some time, though the developers at Ubisoft plan to keep things interesting for the foreseeable future. Players have already seen some new events in the form of the free Lost Tales of Greece series, along with tweaks to the core gameplay. Now, the debut installment of the first major DLC releases on December 4 for season pass holders on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. With the first episode, Odyssey shows off a promising start for its post-launch initiative.
In Legacy of the First Blade, the lead character will encounter Darius, son of Xerxes and one of the earliest assassins to wield the original hidden blade. Fans with a sharp eye will recognize the character from one of the hidden tombs visited in Assassin's Creed II, and you'll eventually team up with him to take down a new threat in the form of the Order of the Ancients. As something of a mini-series, Legacy of the First Blade will span across three episodes, with the conclusion coming sometime in early 2019. We had the opportunity to play the first episode prior to launch, and we also spoke with game director Scott Phillips about how much has changed since release and where Ubisoft plans to take things from here.
"We've been very happy with the feedback from fans so far," said the director. "It's been very cool to see the reception from people that like the big things we've all worked on, such as the role-playing and progression aspects, the dialog systems, the massive world, the naval [systems], and all that stuff. People have been coming back for the daily and weekly events, and so on. So having players being continually engaged with the events has been super fun to see. We wanted to keep that going for the long-term with this new DLC."
Legacy of the First Blade feels very much like a continuation of the gameplay loop from Odyssey. Taking around four to five hours to complete, the new questline will unlock after completing the events on Naxos in Chapter 7, with a minimum level cap of 29. In the first episode, Hunted, you'll travel to the existing region of Makedonia in the northern section of the map and find it in turmoil. Though this location, along with others, felt underutilized in the main game, the area is put to better use in the DLC. Once you learn of the Order of the Ancients--setting the stage for their appearance in Origins--you'll work with Darius to dismantle their influence. Continuing the Cultist gameplay from the main game, you'll find a brand-new page in the sub-menu to dive into, with the following episodes adding even more targets to uncover.
Prior to the first story DLC, Odyssey has had many updates since launch, which includes a new level cap, new quests, and mastery levels that allow you to spend ability points on stats boosts. In Legacy of the First Blade, a brand-new skill is also added to the mix. In the Assassin ability tree, you'll find a new passive skill known as Death Veil. With this ability, any target that's killed with a stealth takedown, and without any witnesses nearby, will vanish instantly--leaving no traces behind. Though it only has a single rank, as opposed to the typical three levels, the passive skill is a great fit and should make stealth-focused players feel more at ease during some of the more challenging encounters in the episode.
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Over the course of the first episode, we took on missions that covered the gamut of what you'll find in Odyssey: investigations, stealth gameplay, naval travel and battles, and plenty of on-foot combat. Though the missions themselves consist of the sort of events you'd find in the main game--save for a few standout encounters--the narrative in the DLC offers many surprising and heartfelt moments with the lead character as they realize the growing impact their choices have throughout the world. Moreover, seeing the earliest traces of the Assassin order in Odyssey's world--which is largely devoid of their influence--is interesting. Though it all manages to tie back into the larger story, especially if you've played the game to completion, the developers wanted to keep it as a side story for the sake of those who haven't seen the game's main arc to completion.
"We knew that there were certain systems that were sort of infinite and would continue to expand--such as the mercenaries and conquests--but it was important for us to gradually expand and pace things out for players to keep them coming back to the game with interesting events," says Phillips. "We're aware that more people will be coming into the game later on as the months go by, so we wanted to make sure that new content we are adding wouldn't negatively impact the core game itself. This DLC is a great way for newcomers especially to level up and take part in an interesting quest while stepping away for a bit from the longer term odyssey."
The most apparent thing playing through Odyssey to completion is the massive scale of the game. However, the first episode of The First Blade sticks with the island of Makedonia, making it feel like an interlude during many of the core chapters throughout the game. That's not a bad thing. Given the scale of Odyssey, easing into a new quest that slowly builds up to what's to come is a nice change of pace--especially for those that have already completed all the main stories.
It is a bit of an adjustment seeing Assassin's Creed take a different approach to launching new content. The series has seen all sorts of standalone DLC over the years, so having a continuing story unravel over several weeks could make for a more engaging story. Along with the free updates adding new quests and enemies to fight, there always seems to be something new happening in the world. The events in the first episode of Legacy of the First Blade does keep things a bit subdued compared to some of the larger events in the main game. However, the teases for what's to come during the brisk first episode hints at a much larger battle with greater stakes, and it'll be intriguing--especially for longtime fans--to see how it all manages to play out within the broader setting of the world.