Update (4:00 pm): Ubisoft has posted an apology to fans from creative director Jonathan Dumont. You can read the statement on Reddit, or copied below:
Reading through player responses of our new DLC for Legacy of the First Blade, Shadow Heritage, we want to extend an apology to players disappointed by a relationship your character partakes in. The intention of this story was to explain how your character’s bloodline has a lasting impact on the Assassins, but looking through your responses it is clear that we missed the mark.
Alexios/Kassandra realizing their own mortality and the sacrifice Leonidas and Myrrine made before them to keep their legacy alive, felt the desire and duty to preserve their important lineage. Our goal was to let players choose between a utilitarian view of ensuring your bloodline lived on or forming a romantic relationship. We attempted to distinguish between the two but could have done this more carefully as we were walking a narrow line between role-play choices and story, and the clarity and motivation for this decision was poorly executed. As you continue the adventure in next episode Bloodline, please know that you will not have to engage in a lasting romantic relationship if you do not desire to.
We have read your responses online and taken them to heart. This has been a learning experience for us. Understanding how attached you feel to your Kassandra and your Alexios is humbling and knowing we let you down is not something we take lightly. We’ll work to do better and make sure the element of player choice in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey carries through our DLC content so you can stay true to the character you have embodied throughout.
Original story: Well before Assassin's Creed Odyssey launched, Ubisoft made it clear that this is a full-blown RPG where players have control over the story and their character's place within it. For me, that meant playing Kassandra as a do-good mercenary who also couldn't pass up an opportunity to hop in bed with any willing participant regardless of their gender. But, in a confounding twist, Odyssey's latest DLC completely undoes that freedom of player choice, and fans are understandably pissed about it.
Legacy of the First Blade is Assassin's Creed Odyssey's first batch of post-launch story DLC that sees Kassandra joining forces with the wielder of the fabled First Blade to battle a troublesome band of Persians invading Greece. The first episode explored Kassandra's uneasy truce with the legendary Darius and his son (or daughter, depending on your main character's sex) Natakas (or Neema). Though it was just another excuse to kill a bunch of people, that first episode was fun. The second episode, Shadow Heritage, is also just as fun and I'm really enjoying its focus on naval battles.
But players who rushed through the five-hour episode ran into an extremely personal choice that is made for the player, and it's aggravated a portion of the community.
"I just don't understand how Ubisoft ever thought the ending was a good idea to begin with," writes one redditor. "You don't unilaterally make a big narrative decision like this in a game marketed heavily on player agency. In what world would this have been received well?"
Warning: Spoilers for the ending of Shadow Heritage's ending start here.
At the end of Shadow Heritage, Kassandra, Darius, and Natakas defeat a second branch of the Persian cultists who are hunting them, and the unlikely trio is about to go their separate ways. Natakas, who has spent much of his life on the run, clearly doesn't want to leave Kassandra behind. It's here that the player is given a choice: Either bid Natakas and Darius farewell or implore them to stay.
But here's what's so frustrating. That choice simply doesn't matter.
Whether you let Darius and Natakas go or ask them to stay, they'll ultimately decide to stay. That twist in itself isn't so bad. Darius and Natakas are cool enough characters and there's still an unreleased third episode coming in this DLC. It's no surprise they'd want to stick around. But watch the cutscene above, and things quickly go from platonic friendship between Kassandra and Natakas to a sudden and very jarring romance that jumps forward in time to reveal that the two have... sired a baby? What?
All of this happens without any input from the player, which is frustrating considering the entirety of Assassin's Creed Odyssey is built on the premise that player choice matters. While my character might be pansexual, other players chose to make their Kassandra/Alexios gay—something that Ubisoft claimed was perfectly valid.
"Since the story is choice-driven, we never force players in romantic situations they might not be comfortable with," Ubisoft creative director Jonathan Dumont told Entertainment Weekly back in October. "Players decide if they want to engage with characters romantically. I think this allows everybody to build the relationships they want, which I feel respects everybody’s roleplay style and desires."
Apparently, Ubisoft changed their mind, and now Kassandra and Alexios are canonically straight. As more and more players had time to complete the DLC, the controversy spread on community sites like Reddit where players are expressing their confusion and frustrations with this forced narrative beat.
"The story gives zero choice, spitting on a core tenet of the base game," writes 'GarrryValentine101' on Reddit. "Leaving sexuality of the character to the player as a role-play option was a big [attraction] to many folks to play the game, as LGBT representation in gaming is small."
In response to the growing controversy, Ubisoft issued an apology: "We strive to give players choice whenever possible in Odyssey and apologize to those surprised by the events in this episode," the developer said to Kotaku. "Without spoiling it, you will engage in an important relationship as part of a set story. The motivation behind this relationship is yours to explore in game and will be reflected in your character’s story arc. There is one episode left in Legacy of the First Blade which will tie your character’s actions together."
The promise that episode three will "tie your character's actions together" feels pretty damn hollow, though. Without getting too deep into Odyssey's lore, Kassandra and her brother come from a very special bloodline that, for reasons, has to continue in some way. My guess is that episode three will let players choose to play off their relationship with Natakas as a strategic one—Kassandra might be gay but she needs an heir so Natakas steps up to the plate. That's just speculation, however, and given how hamfisted the story of episode two feels, I'm not very confident Ubisoft can turn it around.
Episode three, titled Bloodline, is due out some time in March.