It was with a bittersweet smile on my face that I came to the end of The Fate of Atlantis, the final piece of long-form DLC for Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. It’d been a long time coming; I started playing Odyssey back in mid 2020 and while I took a little break in playing between now and then, it’s still taken me over 2 years to get through all the content for it at my relatively placid pace. I wouldn’t have played this much Odyssey if I didn’t enjoy it, although in retrospect the fact I played over 120 hours of the game and paid Ubisoft’s stupid season pass prices probably clues you in that I’m either an idiot with more money and time than sense or that I actually massively like what I played!
The Fate of Atlantis (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Switch, Xbox One)
Base Game: Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
Released Apr 2019 | Developed / Published: Ubisoft
Genre: Action RPG | HLTB: 14 hours
The main framing narrative of The Fate of Atlantis concerns the modern day storyline. We return once again to Layla, our former Abstergo engineer and now allied with the Assassins. Layla’s exploration of the ruined entrance of Atlantis leads her to the staff of Hermes Trismegistus, an ancient Isu artifact, but finds she can’t wield it or its incredible power. She is contacted by Aletheia, an Isu who, much like others we’ve seen in the series before her, has managed to use her civilization’s hyper-advanced technology to leave messages for the future. Aletheia leads Layla deep within the ruins to a dais that used to house a series of powerful simulations designed by her to train those who find the staff to use it. It’s long dead, unfortunately, but handily Layla has an animus and Kassandra was also a holder of the staff so it’s off into the animus in order to relive Kassandra’s life to do some learning via proxy.
We’re clearly doing some big-time setup work for whatever is to come in Layla’s future. I’d never thought I’d say this but this DLC really made me miss Desmond! Yes he was boring but at least he wasn’t a complete tosser whereas Layla seems to have taken a few levels in cruelty and general arsehole-ness since Origins. The Layla we get here doesn’t seem even vaguely recognizable compared to the previous game; in Origins she came across as headstrong but generally nice in the face of the pressure from hiding from Abstergo, but here though she is mean to the point of viciousness and callousness. By the end I felt entirely detached from her as a character, and it does leave me a little worried for where her narrative takes her in Valhalla.
Just like Legacy of the First Blade, this DLC is split into 3 episodes that you can either buy separately or all together in one expensive lump. Unlike Legacy, however, The Fate of Atlantis actually does a lot more with the episodic format, and it suits it more. Each episode follows Kassandra as she enters one of Aletheia’s simulations to learn how to use the Staff. Our first part is set in the ancient Greek heavenly realm of Elysium, but Kassandra finds it struggling under the increasingly tyrannical rule of Persephone. She meets Hermes, the creator of the staff which she becomes the inheritor of during the events of Odyssey, who points her towards hidden stashes of knowledge that he tells her will help her understand its power. There’s a plotline going on involving discontent with Persephone’s reign and Kassandra finds herself having to help grow a burgeoning revolution against her rule. It winds up a little confusing as the plot sees Kassandra having to flip-flop between helping the revolt and palling around with the Isu a bit. There is an effort made to give you choices in the dialogue but the differences it makes aren’t especially huge.
The design of Elysium is incredible though. It’s a bright and colourful plane, with massive towering rocks perched on the top of which are the various cities and fortresses of Elysian society. In order to help you traverse the environment the game points you towards the Wings of Hermes, teleporters that shoot you up to the top of the rocks. They do make you sit through a loading screen though when you use them so they’re not the most handy thing to use. Unsurprisingly, most of the stuff in the world to do is the same as the base game. Some mechanics are cut for the DLC, namely the ship and the mercenaries; the ship makes sense since there’s no great expanse of water to sail around on, and thankfully the loss of the mercenaries makes little difference to the experience. A central gimmick to this episode is needing to lower Persephone’s control in order to trigger the revolution. This is largely a reskinning of the mechanic in the base game used to trigger conquest battle; all the usual things like looting the regional chest held in the local fortress and defeating the regional commanders all loosen Persephone’s grip just like in the base game, but it can also be lowered by destroying statues of Persephone and by using the staff of Hermes to liberate humans from the Isu’s mind control. Enemy encampments now feature Torches of Hypnos, Apples of Eden mounted on pedestals which exert their mind-bending influence over the humans beneath, which Kassandra can also destroy to lower Persephone’s control. It’s all very pretty but ultimately feels a bit flat; the interactions throughout the story are unfocused and building it around the lowering of Persephone’s control turns it into a bit of a grind.
The second part takes us to the underworld realm of Hades. Upon her arrival Kassandra is attacked by the 3-headed dog guardian of the gates of the Underworld, Cerberos. She defeats it but since that leaves the underworld without a guardian, murderous spirits from the prisons of Tartaros start to invade and things go a bit to pot. Hades tasks Kassandra with fixing the problem by finding 4 legendary heroes who reside in the underworld and making them agree to each protect one of the underworld’s gates. Invaders from tartaros appear as semi-incorporeal; each squad of enemies appears around a nearby Tartaros gate, which Kassandra needs to activate in order to defeat them. However, doing so cuts her health in half, making the encounters more perilous than ever. In addition, certain places are hidden behind huge Tartaros Veils which Kassandra cannot pass without first finding a special set of armour, which means that the initial goal of finding 4 heroes becomes hidden behind the armour fetch quest, and to get all those pieces Kassandra will need to explore the world and complete quests for other people in the underworld.
Some of these quests feature characters who died during the main campaign of Odyssey so there’s some wonderful emotional weight as they get epilogues and Kassandra gets to say a proper goodbye. Because our quests this time are to recruit some heroes and stop the Tartaros invasion, the lowering control mechanic is gone; in its place the mercenaries system returns although we’re not hunting down sellswords but villains formerly interred in Tartaros. I love that these are all minor villains from the base game, such as the Cyclops of Keffalonia, a bandit who ruled Kassandra’s home and was defeated in the very early stages of Odyssey, or the Poisoner of Athens, whose plots were thwarted by Kassandra. The 4 heroes come at the end of this quest and provide a set of very fun and challenging boss fights. We also get yet another stunningly designed map to run around in. The underworld is a bleak and sand-blasted environment where the sun is constantly choked by the dust and ash that whirls up in great swirls in the raging wind. Trees are barren and dead, with gnarled branches twisting out and intertwining into grim forests in which hanging corpses line the road. It’s not as visually inventive as Elysium but it is more satisfying to get around and the atmosphere of despair and decay is palpable.
Our third and final part takes us to Atlantis itself in its height. Poseidon brings Kassandra in to be his dikastes basileus, essentially a being entrusted with overseeing Atlantean society, making binding lawful decisions in the name of Poseidon. The big man himself has a specific task for Kassandra as his dikastes: he wants her to judge Atlantis as a whole and pronounce her judgment upon it. What’s most interesting about this episode is that we finally get to see Isu society in action. This is my favourite facet about this DLC in general but this episode specifically; we’ve seen bits and pieces of the Isu across the franchise as Ubisoft slowly built the mythos behind the Assassin’s Creed backstory but this is the first time we’ve been put into the midst of them. The impression that we’ve been given of them across the series has been pretty negative: the artifacts that survived them all seem to be universally built to control and subjugate humanity, and the examples people of the Isu we’ve met have been have all been either detached, with only a vague sense of interest in the wellbeing of humanity, or straight up evil and manipulative. Our glimpse into Isu society here largely confirms that humanity was a servile race beneath the Isu, with members of the Isu walking tall and aloof through the wide boulevards of Atlantis. All seem concerned with either their own advancement within the Isu political class or obsessed with scientific progress without regard for the cost. It’s a world of quiet but utterly efficient and unbreakable subjugation. For example, Kassandra meets a young boy whose parents simply disappeared without warning, she helps one woman who is essentially a sex slave for an Isu overlord, and more than once she comes across helpless victims of human experimentation. More than once her position as a human given the authority of an Isu comes up and you can choose to either try and help humanity in the face of the oppression they live under or try to see the point of view of the Isu which, if nothing else, means this asks far more questions than your average Assassin’s Creed experience.
This episode’s gimmick is in filling up a bar to represent Kassandra’s “Knowledge”, the Isu’s secret sixth sense. Collecting Isu artifacts, reading data logs and finding Hermes’ hidden caches all boost your Knowledge, allowing you access to sealed places within Atlantis. Atlantis as a location is beautiful, a city built of pristine concentric circles, with gargantuan architecture pointing high into the sky or carving down into the depths below, around which flows glittering, clear rivulets and streams. It’s a bit of a pain to get around: highways break up the city like spokes on a wheel but getting up them is a chore, and even once you’re on flat land, you can only ride your horse for so far until you reach water and need a boat or have to find a teleporter to get you up to the highways, or else laboriously climb up the city’s superstructures.
Each episode has a unique gimmick but the one thing that unites all of them is having to find Hermes’ caches, each of which fills Kassandra with Knowledge. As far as the narrative is concerned, this is specifically about the Staff, allowing her to resist its insidious power and instead allowing her to control it. In gameplay terms however each time you find a cache it unlocks a special upgrade for one of Kassandra’s abilities. The abilities which get upgraded are set so chances are some of them you won’t use, but they’re all quite flashy so it’s worth giving them a go at least once and I certainly found a few that were worth running over their base counterparts. Many of them drastically change the properties of their attached abilities, adding in effects like an uncounterable super mode that dishes out immense damage, calling down phantasmal assassins on a target, summoning a volley of light arrows, or even defying death. They’re probably sounding a bit broken, and they are, but it’s balanced out by the stronger enemies you encounter in the Isu realms; many of the abilities you learn can also be used by Isu-enhanced mooks, and living statues called Kolossi surround the fortresses and objectives you come across, ready to animate at the slightest provocation.
If there’s a glaring fault against The Fate of Atlantis it’s really just that it comes at the end of a staggeringly lengthy game, as far as self-contained single-player games go. By the time I got around to this DLC I’d already clocked over 100 hours and by the time I finally closed the lid on the game after completing everything the base game and the DLC had to offer, I’d recorded over 130. It’s not a mark against the DLC per se, but it is simply impossible to keep up the level of interest and excitement that I had at the start of the adventure across all that time. A cynical view, but not an unfair one, might point out that the moment-to-moment gameplay hasn’t evolved at all; you’re still doing all the same stuff as in the base game and if you’re not invested in the lore or locations I’d say there’s no way you could justify the price tag on this thing. Thankfully I am a bit of a lore nerd for Assassin’s Creed but even I found myself flagging towards the end – still, it’s a high quality expansion for Odyssey, and I’m glad I saw it through.
5/7 – GREAT.
Damn fine stuff, a game that doesn’t quite make the top echelon of games but sparkles regardless and holds the interest expertly. Make the time to give this a play.