THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ASSASSIN’S CREED ODYSSEY, SHADOW HERITAGE DLC
Right out of the gate I have to say that Assassin’s Creed probably has influenced my life more than any other video game franchise. That fact, combined with my immense confusion regarding the franchise’s vision and direction of late, has kept me from broaching the subject on Dat Convo thus far as subjectivity and bias are powerful things and I’d like to maintain credibility despite the casual, fun nature we try to embody here at DCD. With all that on the table, I’m finally going to cover something Assassin’s Creed related because they messed up in a big way last week and you’re here for the news. The first bit of this article will be facts, and then I’ll allow myself some subjective commentary afterword.
“Since the story is choice-driven, we never force players in romantic situations they might not be comfortable with. 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.” That is what Jonathon Dumont, creative director of Assassin's Creed Odyssey, told Entertainment Weekly in October... Last week, Dumont apologized for their Shadow Heritage DLC that forced players into a heterosexual relationship many were not comfortable via a story arc that the player cannot change even if they actively oppose it with their choices...
Throughout the narrative of Shadow Heritage, the player’s story is intertwined with the legendary pre-Assassin assassin Darius and his child, whose gender is dependent on the player's character. The child of Darius is a woman if you play as Alexios and a man if you play as Kassandra. A friendship is built throughout the narrative and there’s obvious romantic subtext from the NPC, but the player chooses how they handle it throughout the game. At the end of the DLC, the player can choose to call out for the person to stay, say goodbye, or say nothing at all as they leave on a ship— and that choice turns out to hold no value or weight. Regardless of what the player chooses, they are reunited with Darius and his offspring after some time has passed, and the player's character has a child with the latter. You get one or two dialogue options that don't change anything but are there for justifying why your character has suddenly made life altering, possibly completely out of character decisions, and that's the game. Ah, and you get the achievement or trophy “Growing Up” for starting a family...
Many players were unhappy with this outcome and Ubisoft’s first response to the issue was in the form of a comment to Kotaku:
“We strive to give players choice whenever possible in Odyssey and apologize to those surprised by the events in this episode,” the statement said. “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.”
This response was followed shortly thereafter in the Ubisoft Forums by Dumont:
“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.”
That’s just the beginning of a three paragraph apology from Dumont which you can see here. The rest of the message justifies Kassandra’s or Alexios’ actions in relation to their character arc, outlines the developers’ intentions and shortcomings, and promises understanding and an attempt to “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."
As if watching your character make arguably the biggest decision of the game without you and having them choose something the character you've crafted and become would have never chosen to do isn't going to irrevocably break the immersion? "So you can stay true to the character you have embodied," Seriously? Except for it's now a disembodied character, no longer ours, because the Odyssey team tried to tell a "set story" and define a character's arc, both of which they promised would be controlled by the player. They meticulously crafted this hype train of choice and player agency and then parked a garbage truck on the tracks, and yet they're surprised at the train-wreck. They gave up AC's soul and identity and narrative masterclasses for this crowd-pleasing, RPG, lore-desecration and then after going full on for over a year they stumbled back into some middle ground between RPGing and storytelling and managed to slap old and new fans across the face. It's really remarkable. And shamefully I haven't even mentioned how hurtful this could be for those that aren't heterosexual or role-playing a heterosexual character. This goes much deeper than bad business and losing trust from your consumers. Ubisoft built a pedestal from which they claimed praise and appreciation from the LGTB community for crafting a world in which player's could express their sexuality freely. They played on that strength in interviews and promotional material and then, after potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay, after promising that safe and fun environment, they rip it away and throw an insult with the "Growing Up" achievement as if landing in a heteronormative relationship with a child is the only way to be an adult, and any of the other tedious, possibly emotional and/or significant things accomplished in the game through player choice and character exploration was simply childish. They did more than mess up with their fans, they messed with peoples' identities and self-expression after explicitly promising to not do what they did.
You can argue that their intentions weren't bad and they explained what they were trying to do in the apology but to that I say this:
A real apology is when you take responsibility for your actions and don't try to excuse yourself.
And yes, I do believe intentions matter on occasion; but, if you have to explain your narrative, you didn't write it well enough. And that is a thin line, to be totally fair, but this isn't a small overlooked mistake in the script. An entire theme was missed by a huge section (maybe a majority) of the audience. Possibly the script is amazing and it's all down to trying to fit a strict narrative into an RPG game. The point I'm making is that it could've been a number of things, but should've been none of them; and I really hope Ubisoft makes it right because it hurts me deeply to be so disappointed in Assassin's Creed.
I'm going to leave it there and take a breather. We're on the line of this turning into a proper rant. But there will be more very soon. Let me know your thoughts on this Shadow Heritage DLC in the comments below!