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Assassin's Creed Odyssey's first DLC expands on its best feature but could still do more

Assassin's Creed Odyssey might be a singleplayer RPG, but the way Ubisoft have been updating it since launch almost makes it feel an MMO instead. Though repeatable daily missions, entirely new features, and free side quests are all fine in their own right, it's the Legacy of the First Blade paid expansion that really makes Odyssey worth returning to after beating its main story—if only because it adds even more cultists to track down and assassinate.

When I first reviewed Assassin's Creed Odyssey, I said its cultist system was one of the best things about Ubisoft's interpretation of Ancient Greece. With 44 masked cultists hidden all over the Aegean Sea, tracking them down often required an uncommon use of deduction and wits. Some were unmasked through the story, but others required finding carefully hidden clues or making clever deductions about their identity and whereabouts. I was thrilled when I discovered that Legacy of the First Blade expands on this system with seven new cultists to hunt. 

Killing in the name of

Legacy of the First Blade does some unexpected things, but I hope this first episode gives way to something much more ambitious.

Legacy of the First Blade is a paid expansion broken up into three episodes that will release periodically into early 2019. The first of which, Hunted, released on December 4 and sees Kassandra caught up in a war between a treacherous band of Persians looking to avenge the fallen King Xerxes after he was assassinated by one of his own. As the name of the expansion implies, that man turns out to be Darius, an early progenitor of the Assassin Order who first wields the series' iconic hidden blade. After killing Xerxes, Darius and his son fled to Makedonia in Greece, where Kassandra serendipitously stumbles upon them. With Persians storming through Makedonia in pursuit, Kassandra, Darius, and his son Natakas must form an uneasy alliance if they hope to survive. 

As it turns out, this particular band of Persians belong to the mysterious Order of the Ancients who not only want Darius dead but are also to trying to purge "tainted ones" like Kassandra and her family—an allusion to her supernatural bloodline revealed in the main story. In total, the Ancients have seven operatives scattered around Makedonia, and it's up to Kassandra to find and kill them all while also taking on several quests for the nearby villagers.

Most of them are unmasked just through playing Legacy of the First Blade's five-hour story, but I really enjoyed having to track down the few that weren't. In one instance, a quest required me to collect some bear pelts and so I rode north to where I had last seen some. By complete coincidence, I happened to stumble across a bear den one of the Ancient's operatives had turned into a hideout. That chance encounter is why I love the cultist system so much. Because each operative exists in the world and isn't spawned in by some behind-the-scenes cue, there's always that possibility I can accidentally game the system and discover them without first finding the requisite clues. That might sound like less fun, but the result is a sudden and unexpected boss fight—in this case being against a crazy hermit who had a vanguard of six bears.

A new branch of cultists to stalk wasn't the only pleasant surprise in this first episode of Legacy of the First Blade. Though I went in expecting little from the story, Darius quickly grabbed my attention because of how surprisingly complex he is. It quickly becomes apparent that he isn't being completely transparent about his past, and unravelling his story had me second guessing our allegiance and his intentions. Darius' moral ambiguity also invited some unexpected introspection into my own journey as Kassandra.

Like most any action game, Odyssey asked me to kill people and I did so without a second thought. But one encounter with Legacy of the First Blade's villain put a spotlight on the consequences of taking all those lives while presenting a dialogue choice that is fiendishly clever in its design. It's a gruesome scene that is etched into my memory, as Kassandra is forced to face the ghosts of her past in a quite literal way. I won't spoil it but I think it might be one of the highlights of my entire time in Odyssey so far.

It's a shame then, that this DLC's thoughtful story and cultist killing is stitched together by boring quest design that brings little new to the game. For the most part I was still creeping through enemy forts, stabbing random guards, or taking on mundane tasks from the local villagers. And all of this was happening in areas of the game that I had already explored. I like playing Odyssey enough that these things didn't bother me, but I'd like to see Legacy of the First Blade's two other episodes go even further. More cultists and story are welcome, but if this is all we can expect from future expansions it'll ultimately end up feeling formulaic. For a paid expansion, Legacy of the First Blade does some unexpected things, but I hope this first episode gives way to something much more ambitious.

Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.