Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was the game that brought Ubisoft’s long-running terrain scrambler back to its best, and Legacy of the First Blade has an equally large challenge to overcome on a far smaller budget.
Ubisoft long ago confirmed that there will be no new Assassin’s Creed game in 2019. The series hasn’t had a properly fallow year since its debut in 2007. As such, the next 12 months will be the first in which DLC alone will have to quell the appetite of the considerable Assassin’s Creed fanbase. Odyssey was good enough to make our 2019 games of the year list, but even its ocean of quests dry up eventually.
It’s fortunate, then, that Legacy of the First Blade is in fact a three-part premium expansion. Its opening chapter, Hunted, arrived back in December, and now the debut of Episode 2: Shadow Heritage is upon us. And yes, that does make the full title of the DLC we’re looking at here ‘Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Legacy of the First Blade – Episode 2: Shadow Heritage’. Even the acronym ACOLotFBE2SH is as absurd as it is bewildering – though absurdity may be Ubisoft’s strongest suit – so I’ll stick with ‘Shadow Heritage’ for now.
But what does Shadow Heritage bring to Odyssey’s sprawling world, beyond an appropriately vast title? Simply put, as with Hunted, what you get is lots more narrative-led adventuring to undertake. This isn’t the DLC to revolutionise or reinvent the game’s virtual realisation of the Peloponnesian War. Broadly speaking, the gameplay, tone, and setting remain largely unchanged. Instead, taking the lead from Hunted, Shadow Heritage’s focus is on fleshing out the backstory alluded to in the broader game – namely, that of the series’ stalwart weapon, the Hidden Blade.
Episode 2 takes place in the port city of Achaia, close to Odyssey’s own starter island. There your chosen lead – Alexios or Kassandra – will collaborate with an early Assassin named Darius, along with local rebels, in an attempt to end the Order of the Ancient’s hold on the region. Darius is, in Creed lore, the first person to wield a Hidden Blade, making him perhaps the most significant proto-Assassin. You can expect to become very familiar with a powerful threat known as The Tempest, get to know Darius a little better, and learn a good deal more about the Order’s allegiances. Then, as the story crescendos, Shadow Heritage moves from the land to grand maritime battles – proving once again that Assassin’s Creed is really at its best when naval elements are close to the central premise.
adds depth to your understanding of and intimacy with Odyssey
As for the practicalities, to play Shadow Heritage you’ll need to have completed Legacy of the First Blade’s first episode, Hunted. Entry also requires you to have completed the Naxos questline in Chapter 7 of Odyssey’s main campaign, and for your chosen protagonist to at least level 28. But if you storm in at level 51, like I did, there’ll still be plenty of challenge. Your Hunted side-quests will remain accessible in your quest log as you play through Episode 2, reinforcing the sense that this is a single Homer-sized epic released in chapters. As with Hunted, Shadow Heritage is included as part of the Odyssey season pass, or available as a paid download in isolation.
Overall, Shadow Heritage appears to readily meet the panache of Odyssey. The narrative moves forward at a carefully plotted pace, the writing and performances are solid, and most of the main cast are likable.
Darius in particular offers a chance to nose around under the hood of the lore that links the entire Assassin’s Creed series. He’s had a background presence in four previous Assassin’s Creed titles, but you won’t have met him before his debut in Hunted. The Persian assassin starred only as a statue in Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood – perhaps the bittiest of bit parts. In Shadow Heritage, by contrast, you’ll get to know him a good deal better, and he stands out as an entirely credible character that helps tie together the full picture of the emergence of the Brotherhood of Assassins.
2019 isn’t the first time the famously annualised series has taken a year off - Ubisoft gave 2016 a miss after the notoriously buggy launch of Assassin’s Creed Unity and cooly-received Syndicate. With updates and retrospect, neither game seems like a particular embarrassment - but both contributed to a wider sense of public fatigue which the publisher no doubt remains wary of.
There’s every chance that, if you’re lined up to play through Legacy of the First Blade, you’ll have already picked through a great deal of what Odyssey initially had to offer. Whether that’s the case or not, what can be learned from the latest DLC’s second episode will certainly add depth to your understanding of and intimacy with the broader Odyssey universe. If you’re utterly devoted to the broader world of Assassin’s Creed, Shadow Heritage should be particularly fascinating to you.
What Shadow Heritage doesn’t appear to do, though, is bring much that is truly new on the gameplay front. Extending Odyssey’s link with the broader series is all well and good, but ‘more of the same’ isn’t what every player will have wished for, even if that ‘same’ is sometimes brilliantly engrossing.
On the matter of doing more than simply adding a new story arc, Ubisoft would be forgiven for pointing to the significant update that preceded Shadow Heritage by a matter of days. The 1.1.2 renovation added free DLC in the form of extra Tales of Lost Greece content, plus a wealth of new low level functions and features, such as the ability to edit scaling, new items, and additional tiers of mercenaries.
While that update to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is entirely distinct from Legacy of the First Blade, Shadow Heritage is the freshest addition to benefit from the likes of level scaling, making it a demonstration of the direction Odyssey will take throughout 2019.
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Further towards that, there’s already a follow-up to Legacy of the First Blade on the way, in the form of The Fate of Atlantis expansion, due in spring this year. And it’s safe to assume the developers will continue to tweak the overall package. That is, after all, how games are delivered these days. If Homer was around in 2019, he’d be scribbling corrections in the margins of The Odyssey even now to appease a rabid and berobed fanbase.
As an expansion in isolation, Shadow Heritage gives the impression of being capable, admirable, and plenty of fun, if a little familiar overall. There’s ample challenge, a narrative that will absorb you, and enough variety in the gameplay to digest. That should not be knocked in the context of a quiet year for Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed studios.
If we continue to see quality paid DLC, free extra content, and a drip feed of feature tweaks, it’ll be a far from arduous task to stick with the series until 2020, when a fully-fledged Assassin’s Creed will hopefully arrive.