UPDATE 11.45pm: Ubisoft has responded again to the criticism of Assassin's Creed Odyssey's latest DLC episode, this time with a slightly clearer statement. It comes from creative director Jonathan Dumont, and was shared with fans on the game's forums and reddit this evening.
Warning: spoilers follow.
In tonight's statement, Dumont apologises again for the way Ubisoft handled the episode's storyline - which sees players forced into a relationship and into having a child regardless of which options they choose during the DLC, or have chosen previously during the 100+ hours of Odyssey's main storyline.
Here's the message in full:
"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 realising 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."
I certainly agree with Dumont that the set-up for this plot twist was poorly executed. As I noted in our original story, below, Alexios/Kassandra's own parentage comes from a union of necessity to ensure their powerful bloodline was continued. It's a poor and somewhat icky precedent to follow, but regardless, it was barely presented as reasoning to players at all within the DLC.
The DLC provides a romantic relationship regardless of your choices, with the option to briefly suggest it was a more utilitarian union only included after the unavoidable romance scenes have played. What we got instead feels like it played out backwards, while the choice - such that it was - lacked any alternatives, and any options which respected your choices made so far.
Dumont's statement tonight suggests the message has now been received by Ubisoft - but also that it's too late to fix this particular plotline now.
ORIGINAL STORY 11.00am: Legacy of the First Blade is a three-part DLC initially billed as a look into the life of proto-Assassin Darius but, as players have discovered, it's really about something else entirely.
Warning: spoilers follow.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey's first major DLC arc in fact hinges on a relationship like no other in the game - one which is prescribed and, regardless of your choices during the DLC or the rest of the game, results in Alexios or Kassanda having a baby.
The writing was on the wall from Legacy's first episode, released late last year. It introduced Darius and his child - either the male Natakas if you play as Kassandra or the female Neema if you are Alexios - someone whose gender is, unusually, dictated by your protagonist choice.
Fans suspected a new straight romance option was being set up, but hoped the usually inclusive Ubisoft wouldn't dictate a relationship which differed from how some had role-played their own Alexios or Kassandra up to that point. Each main character option can be played as straight, gay or bi - the game lets you engage with any of its potential romance options regardless of gender.
Ubisoft has repeatedly promoted Odyssey's narrative choices as a core part of the game - being able to choose who you want play as, which factions you wanted to side with, and who you wanted to jump into bed with. Alexios and Kassandra are not presented as blank slates, but elements of their personality such as who they romance has until now been left entirely for players to choose.
Shadow Heritage, the DLC's second episode which launched yesterday, gives players only the illusion of choice. Regardless of your main character's sexuality, Ubisoft pretends you can pick what happens next - but has the same thing ultimately play out either way.
At the DLC chapter's end, you can choose to romance Darius' offspring, settle down and have a baby. Or you can choose to say farewell to Darius' offspring, only for them to turn up regardless, leading to you settling down and having a baby in the exact same way.
Whichever you pick, the action then skips forward to a montage of scenes where your main character breaks from mercenary life to enjoy a period of peace. You are shown getting close to your new family, kissing your new partner, before a quick gameplay mission where you fetch bread and milk to take home. Finally, your new baby is shown.
This video covers how each of the options plays out:
It's meant to be a shock ending to the chapter - and it is, though in an unwelcome way for some fans.
Many who role-played their Alexios or Kassandra as gay or who did not romance anyone feel betrayed by being locked into having a child with this particular character - there are multiple threads on reddit to that effect where fans say their version of Alexios or Kassandra has been invalidated.
Some were particularly angered by the Achievement/Trophy which pops up as you are revealed to have become a mother/father - named "Growing Up" - which some took to mean their character had matured personally due to having a child.
Yesterday, I contacted Ubisoft with a list of questions surrounding the plot and the handling of this episode. Why wasn't there an option for players whose Alexios or Kassandra did not want a heterosexual relationship? Were other ways to give the protagonist a child considered? If ensuring the bloodline of the protagonist (a common Assassin's Creed theme) was so important, why wasn't some other mystical means found instead?
Kassandra and Alexios were born out of necessity (their mother and the powerful Pythagoras decided to have children to continue each of their rare bloodlines) but this union is hardly a positive relationship to follow. If a similar reason is trotted out as an explanation here, why still present the option to leave behind Darius and your romance option as a choice, when in effect there was none? Why not at least provide a non-romantic cut-scene and an explanation why this has happened? It feels like a betrayal of fan expectations and of Ubisoft's promises to date.
Fans have pointed to a statement made last year by Assassin's Creed Odyssey creative director Jonathan Dumont, where he set fan expectations in this regard:
"Since the story is choice-driven, we never force players in romantic situations they might not be comfortable with," Dumont told Entertainment Weekly. "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."
Of course, there's still a third episode to go - the fates of your child, Darius and his offspring are still up in the air, and at some point Kassandra has to leave this family anyway to assume her role seen at the very end of the main game. But there's only so much Ubisoft can do now they've begun this story. And, simply put, this key chapter feels fumbled.
Ubisoft is yet to answer our questions but has provided me with a couple of more general statements. I'll update again if I hear more.
Here's the first statement, where Ubisoft apologises for the "surprise" of the events taking place:
"We strive to give players choice whenever possible in Odyssey and apologise to those surprised by the events in this episode," a company spokesperson told Eurogamer. "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."
And the second:
"We don't want to reveal too much right now, but we have always tried to keep the story inclusive of people of all sexual orientations, and players will be able to choose their motivations behind this particular narrative depending on their sexual preferences," Ubisoft continued.
"Assassin's Creed Odyssey was developed by people of all sexual orientations, backgrounds, genders and beliefs, and we have tried to reflect that within the game."