As I battled the final boss in the new and final chapter of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s first big episodic expansion, a chapter that happens to be all about parenting, I heard my two-year-old daughter cry out for me and her mum. It was half past midnight. She was down the hallway, three rooms away, wide awake and very upset. I paused the fight and rushed to the baby monitor to try and parse her cries.
Deciding what to do when your young child is crying is one of the most challenging quanadaries of parenting. Sometimes they cry when they’re supposed to be asleep but have woken up and realised they miss you. Sometimes they’re having a nightmare. Sometimes, as we discovered last night, they’ve eaten something bad and thrown up all over their sheets.
Parenting is no easy quest, and it seems the hero of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey agrees with me.
“I’ve faced walls aflame, skies black with arrows and more beasts and blades than Herakles himself, but none match parenthood,” the game’s protagonist says near the start of Bloodline, that third and final chapter of the game’s at-times controversial Legacy Of The First Blade expansion that I was trying to finish last night when my daughter started crying.
I am playing the game as Kassandra, a lethal Spartan mercenary, though others may be playing as her younger brother, Alexios. Either way, Bloodline begins with Kassandra or Alexios stressing over being a parent. First Blade’s previous chapter, January’s Shadow Heritage, had ended with the plot twist of the game’s protagonist having a baby.
Bloodline can be accessed by players midway through the main game and continues the story of the previous chapters. It’s a fun enough finale with some good character moments, a satisfying if telegraphed outcome, some pleasing resolutions to certain sidequests that have threaded throughout the three-part expansion and a cool outfit to unlock. It is held back, however, by its lack of freshness. The first chapter of Legacy of the First Blade slightly tweaked the main game’s formula, but by chapter three, those tweaks feel routine. The chapter is limited even more by the narrative need for optional side content that can be accessed mid-game to somehow resolve itself so it doesn’t impact how the main game plays out.
Legacy Of The First Blade turns out to have been more “Legacy” than “First Blade”, a story about parenting in a series obsessed with that theme. It was announced and hyped last spring as an introduction of the Persian proto-Assassin Darius to Odyssey’s pre-Origins ancient Greek world. The arrival of Darius could be a welcome relief to the Odyssey players who had lamented that the game, though sprawling, beautiful and fun, featured no assassins, no creed, nor even the series’ iconic weapon, that hidden wrist blade originally wielded by — guess who? — Darius. In December, the quiet Persian killer showed up in First Blade’s first chapter with a grown child of his own.
His progeny was a man named Natakas if you were playing as Kassandra, or a woman named Neema if you were playing as Alexios. Enough longing glances and quality bonding time between our hero and Darius Jr. strongly hinted that these two would eventually be establishing a legacy through some horizontal co-op. Whether your hero would also be getting the “First Blade” was another matter. Reality-check spoiler: you don’t.
The parenting turn in Shadow Heritage continued the Assassin’s Creed series’ persistent focus on parents and kids, as seen in the interactive stories of the Miles families, the Kenways and more, which were featured in early and mid-era franchise games. Even after the series ditched the requirement for its playable historical characters to be related to its lesser-seen modern heroes, the games continued to have a creative focus on parents and kids. Assassin’s Creed Origins, in 2017, was propelled by the anguish that the ancient Egyptian main character and his wife felt after the murder of their young son. Odyssey’s main quests are dominated by the fates of Kassandra’s mum and dad.
Of course you’d have a kid. It now seems so obvious in retrospect, a narrative beat that Assassin’s Creed’s loremasters seem unable to resist, even if they only put it in part of the paid downloadable content.
Bloodline is about what happens after the kid’s birth and a few months of swaddling, which in the world of Assassin’s Creed also involves the kidnapping of your baby by a malevolent secret society, a particular parenting stress I’m pleased to have not encountered.
Shadow Heritage’s baby ending went down badly for some players whose mighty Kassandra would never fall for the sad-faced — and, by the way, male! — Natakas. Such players bought the pre-launch promise that Odyssey would allow players to roleplay Kassandra or Alexios as gay, straight or bisexual, something supported by 100-plus hours of content that played by those rules.
When Shadow Heritage seemed to break those rules, this prompted an apology from the developers and a tweak of that chapter. Right away, Bloodline makes it far clearer that depending on players’ dialogue choices, Natakas (or Neema) could also just be a platonic means to spawn, not necessarily a romantic partner.
“Welcome home!” Natakas said to my Kassandra, while holding their baby, Elipidios.
Dialogue options: 1) This is not my home; 2) It’s hard being away from my loves.
My Kassandra, going with option 1: “This is Elipidios’ home, and I’m glad you’re here for him, Natakas. My duty is still to this bloodline. And I couldn’t have secured it without you.”
Soon, all of that is moot, because a massacre happens and the Order of the Ancients kidnaps the kid. What follows is the most intense but least surprising chapter of Legacy Of The First Blade. This third section turns into a bloody vengeance quest that moves with the heated pace of an action movie. Would Kassandra really urgently feel the need to continue her bloodline and have a child? I’m not sure. But would she impale every person, person’s friend and person’s friend’s doctor’s blacksmith associated with kidnapping her baby? She sure would, and that’s basically what Bloodline is. They took her kid. She’s taking their heads.
All three First Blade chapters have been set in large but underutilized sections of Odyssey’s massive map. Chapter one, Hunted, took place in the forests of Makedonia, and Shadow Heritage moved south to the region of Achaia. The latter is the overall narratives’ geographical highlight, what with its plateaus and valleys, its city based on all things ship-building and a coastline covered in shipwrecks. Bloodline is set further south in dreary Messenia, where the skies over its two small cities seem perpetually overcast.
As with the first two chapters, it extends one of Odyssey’s most fun ideas by filling out a second expansion-exclusive tree of assassination targets. It also complements its multi-hour main adventure with a side dish of small quests, changing the first two chapters’ hunts for rival mercenaries with a hunt for rival groups of soldiers.
The problem is that, by Bloodline, everything feels overly predetermined and rushed along by the pace befitting a mum trying to rescue her baby. Narratively the pace makes sense, but the mission flow is too hurried. It’s fun to hunt down the newest members of the Order of the Ancients, but the old flow of identifying the weakest members of the branch, killing them, collecting clues and using those clues to expose and hunt the stronger members is inverted in this chapter by the designers’ willingness to jump you right to most of the bigger targets. Bloodline’s accelerated mission flow sends Kassandra and her swords right at the masters unless players actively avoid the momentum of major quests to instead spot and hunt some minions.
Naval gameplay got an injection last go-round with the addition of a flamethrower, of all things, for your ship. For this chapter, Odyssey’s gameplay systems struggle to make things feel fresh. A required naval combat mission is a mid-episode dance of warships that can’t compete with the tension of the higher-stakes naval battles that filled Shadow Heritage. A bold attempt to bring back the series’ notorious tailing missions with the twist that you’re tailing multiple people to figure out which one is your target gets undermined by the game too quickly just telling you who it is.
One late mission delivers the best flavour twist to the formula as Kassandra and Darius find themselves on the rooftops of a burning city, their targets walking the streets below them. Here, for a moment, is the set-up for a classic mission of rooftop assassinations that have been absent from recent games. The gameplay systems don’t force it, but this mission can at least be played that way if desired.
Character moments are Bloodline’s strongest suit. The early pre-massacre scenes of Kassandra with Darius, Natakas and the baby are an intriguing mix of playfulness and grave discussions about the clash of Kassandra’s far-flung mercenary adventures and the duties of parents to raise a child. Later, some of the new Ancients that Kassandra can or must kill hint at connections to the series’ mysterious First Civ. One turns out to be a storyteller who seems to be chronicling Kassandra’s adventures.
Another grumbles in a letter about the main villain of the previous downloadable chapter. Then there’s the finale, which connects Odyssey more directly to some other Assassin’s Creed games and has spurred debates on places like the series’ subreddit about whether the connection is forced and mere fan service. I saw it coming and liked it, hard as it was for me to see some of the final choices the parents in this mini-saga end up making.
You can’t play The Legacy Of The First Blade without playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey overall, so consideration of the first can’t happen without the other. The overall three-chapter offering of First Blade has been just different enough in plot and the kinds of turns of events it entails to avoid feeling redundant, but it doesn’t stand out as special compared to many of the self-contained multi-hour sagas that play out on Odyssey’s islands in the base game.
Off the game’s main Greek landmass, those islands tell some wonderful multi-hour adventures tied to specific themes: An island full of hucksters and people obsessed with the minotaur; an island with two lovers at the center of a rebellion; an island where people are obsessed with a battle royale competition; and more. First Blade’s three-region adventure feels like a hop across three more of those islands, and depending on how many other islands you’ve seen before you visit it, its use of Odyssey’s gameplay and quest mechanics will feel more fresh or more tired.
I ultimately enjoyed First Blade’s diversion, much as it made me yearn for a game in which my character again has a hidden blade. I wish its ending didn’t tie everything up so neatly and that Odyssey’s gameplay systems were harnessed to give players a wider range of things to do. I also wish it felt like the expansion mattered more to the Odyssey game I’m still playing, the one where I still have plenty more main and side-quests to go, even with my play clock now at 101 hours.
The stresses of parenthood are compelling. At least, they are to me. I left my game paused for the night last night. Our daughter was sick, and her twin brother was confused. I didn’t get back to sleep until nearly 3 am when the kids were finally going back down to bed. I unpaused the boss battle at 7 AM, and after beating it, I checked out the expansion’s touching epilogue. My daughter was feeling better when she woke up, though my son was cranky that he got so little sleep. My parenting adventures will continue. Despite some disappointments with how routine and bottled up Bloodline turned out to be, I wish Kassandra’s would, too.