Assassin's Creed 3 developer Ubisoft has assured fans that the events of its nutty new alternate-reality DLC are "canon", and will matter to the series' storyline.
The Tyranny of King Washington, to be released in three monthly instalments starting next week, sees hero Connor awaken in a timeline where George Washington has become a power-crazed King. Dead friends and foes are alive, his tribe can now grant superpowers through special herbal tea, and he is the only one who remembers his actions - your actions - throughout the main game.
"By the end of the last episode you will see how this relates to Connor and the real George Washington," game director Marc-Alexis Côté assured Eurogamer. "This experience is canon."
Discarded ideas for the DLC were nuttier. The team dialled back on some designs that became too odd. Which ideas? Côté did not want to be drawn on exactly what Ubisoft had experimented with, but imagine the usual open-world DLC tropes and you're on the right track.
"We threw a lot of ideas around, but you need to find the ones that are core to the experience," he explained. "That's one of the things you do during a game's conception period. You give yourself no limits."
Ultimately, such experiments did not work well enough within the Assassin's Creed framework - even with the kind of narrative explanation that fans will get at the end of Tyranny's three parts.
"It's a super important question for fans," Côté explained of the series' internal continuity. But players will have to work to uncover the truth. "It requires an investment from the player to discover and to believe that answer.
"The first episode starts with a 15-20 second video that's all garbled, but you can un-garble that if you collect all the memory artefacts." These artefacts are Animus glitch-style collectibles hidden around the game world. "It's actually a two-minute video - we just took images from it for the garbled montage."
Connor will be just as confused as players - and voice many of the same questions about changes in the timeline.
"Right from the start, Connor is questioning that things aren't right. He's asking 'Why is my mother alive?' You understand that this is all related to Connor but you don't know how or why it is canon. But, by the end, you will understand - and it's a great, clear-cut end to the story."
For a series so deeply ingrained in its historical settings, the three episodes are something of an experiment. The DLC adds game-changing new mechanics such as eagle-like flight, allowing for teleportation across small distances, and a new wolf cloak that makes Connor temporarily invisible.
But each new skill is balanced by having them slowly drain your health bar. They are tactics to be proficiently deployed, not a simple cheat code to enable. Each is gained from a visit to the sky world, and is a gift from the Native American gods.
"The way we originally had Connor access the sky world was by him visiting spiritual stones with the symbol of a specific animal on it," Côté explained. "He would touch the stone, pass out and go on your spirit journey.
"But when we showed this to our native consultant he found it to be quite insulting for his culture. It's something that we've been really sensitive to throughout the development of the game, respecting the culture of the people we portray."
Instead, powers are now gained after drinking hallucinogenic tea made from red willow bark, and a huge tree was added to the game's Frontier map.
The Tyranny of King Washington is an intriguing experiment that bends the series' boundaries through new gameplay and story ideas - but boundaries that Ubisoft is still keen not to break.
"I can certify that this DLC is not a tea dream," Côté concluded. "There's a lot more to it than that."