Greece is beautiful. Oh, in real life sure, but I’m talking about the Peloponnesian War-era Greece that’s open to explore in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I’ve spent an almost embarrassing number of hours in the game, most of which are spent in the most picturesque digital landscapes imaginable. But for almost a decade now, while gambolling across all the incredible locations the franchise has had to offer – from Renaissance Italy to the Caribbean, Victorian London to Ptolemaic Egypt – there’s a small part of me that has felt unfulfilled. Ever since we first learned of the Isu, the precursor species on Earth and the race who created humanity, in that Adam and Eve-centred scene in Assassin’s Creed 2, I’ve wanted a game set in that fascinating sci-fi civilisation. And with every little tease and detail that have been sprinkled, somewhat clumsily, into the following games, that desire has grown. I’ve wanted more than a mere cinematic cutscene. I want to walk among them and explore their advanced cities and culture. Happily, the latest DLC for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (the third episode of the second DLC pack) has finally answered my call. The Isu city of Atlantis is the setting and the content the game presents within the sunken city’s walls finally gave me everything I always wanted. At least, until I started to think about it.
In Assassin’s Creed, where sci-fi melds with history and mythology, Atlantis was an Isu city where humans lived with their creators and keepers before the eventual war between races. And, just like I’d always dreamed, you are free to traverse the city, interacting with humans and Isu and finally exploring this long-lost civilisation. After years of hoping for such a location, it didn’t disappoint. The game seemingly fully and unashamedly explores the series’ sci-fi elements and backstory as Kassandra is tasked by Poseidon to watch over the city and aid both Isu and humans as tensions mount. The short storyline explores the reasons for the coming war, as well as tying into other aspects of Isu lore we learned in previous games. The increased solar activity is mentioned and even Juno and Aita appear. The lore is so often hidden away and so it was a joy to see it inhabit the limelight. And there was even more of it to find by scanning objects throughout the world. I think this is probably the best way to feed the canon of the series from now on: discoverable insights into the backstory that mean everything to fans but can be easily ignored by those who want to.
Just walking through the streets of Atlantis you absorb this long discussed but rarely seen culture like never before. And what streets! Who knew ancient Greece could be so boring and restrictive in comparison. Atlantis is exquisite, with incredible – and completely climbable – architecture, impossibly tall structures and a maze of underwater pathways. It’s an incredibly beautiful environment and everything is much more diverse than in the main game. Not just the locations but the weapons, armour, characters, quests and enemies. Everything is turned up to 11 and a joy to experience. The Odyssey formula mixed with elements introduced early in the franchise’s history felt totally refreshing and was just what I always wanted.
As the credits rolled, I felt totally satisfied in experiencing a long-gestating gaming pipe dream. But then I started to think about it. None of it happened. You see, the connective tissue of these three DLC episodes is that Kassandra, and Layla in the modern day, are tasked with bonding with the Staff of Hermes, a Piece of Eden, and to do this Kassandra is dropped into simulations created by Alethia. It was all a simulation. It wasn’t actually backstory. It was all made up. Well, okay, it’s all made up, but this was a fiction inside the fiction. It’s useless. Irrelevant. It was fun to play but in the lore of the game everything we witnessed was false. Kassandra believed she was visiting Atlantis and therefore so did I. But it was just virtual reality. Kassandra was playing a game just like I was. Everything I played, everything I learned about Atlantis and the Isu, everything I have been waiting years for was given to me, but it might not have happened. The Fate of Atlantis gave me everything I ever wanted, and then snatched it away from me.
Alethia describes everything experienced as simulations but with “echoes of memories” so it’s possible what I played happened. But not in the way I saw. Kassandra wouldn’t have been a part of Isu history, let alone be able to visit fictional places like the Underworld and encounter the dead as seen in previous episodes of the DLC. It feels like Ubisoft are failing to commit to nailing down the Isu backstory that fans like me have come to care about so much, and instead came up with such a non-way of exploring it so they could introduce the supernatural enemies, incredible locations and everything else that comes with it without committing to a story. Like they’re scared on canonising any of it, which is exactly what I want. Ubisoft have a history with failing to commit to parts of the Assassin’s Creed lore. Just look at the modern-day sequences. I used to love them in earlier games and now it’s clear that Ubisoft just doesn’t care about them. So why should I? The same goes for the Isu backstory, which is now just an element to be mined for bonkers fight scenes and a way to bring mythology into the series rather than something to be genuinely explored.
But if I enjoyed it why should I care? I’m having trouble answering that question. Maybe I feel duped into thinking I was getting something I wasn’t or maybe my fandom is making me petulant, like so many on the Internet. But as I distance myself from the game, I do accept that I enjoyed the Atlantis DLC immensely. I loved exploring the world and meeting these characters, even if it ended up being a cap on this Isu storyline rather than a celebration, and that the developers seemingly don’t care for this lore like I do, although that may be unfair to say. I got what I always wanted, and I love it. But maybe I also hate that I got it. It almost feels like the franchise has been keeping me hostage all these years with the promise of exploring the Isu and, now that I’ve got it, I don’t know what to want for anymore. I’m free but directionless. My fandom is in turmoil. I’m looking forward to what the future of Assassin’s Creed has to offer, more from a gameplay perspective and what new stories the series can tell. But The Fate of Atlantis, by giving me what I’ve always wanted, has disintegrated a large part of my fan interest in the series. I love what it gave me, but I hate where it leaves me.
Have you played Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: The Fate of Atlantis? Am I looking at this the completely wrong way? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.