This week’s arrival of the fantastic – and completely free – Assassin’s Creed Stories crossover was much heralded for bringing immortal Odyssey star Kassandra into the world of Valhalla. With very few exceptions, Assassin’s Creed protagonists do not meet and share screen time – and they certainly do not team up in the fashion we see in Valhalla’s new Island of Skye location, where the long-lived, wise-cracking Kassandra acts as a neat foil for the no-nonsense Valhalla hero Eivor.
Such crossovers are always going to be fan-pleasing fun – but it was actually the first half of this new content, added to 2018’s Odyssey, which really took me by surprise. It has been a very long three years since I explored Odyssey’s sun-drenched Aegean for the first time – and this week’s sizeable new questline, lovingly crafted by Odyssey’s Quebec studio, felt like a trip back in time.
It’s a little surprising Ubisoft hasn’t said more about what Odyssey’s new “A Kind of Treasure Hunt” DLC has in store – or how much there is there to discover. I wonder whether this is to stop anyone who doesn’t play it feeling alienated – and it’s true, you don’t need to play it to understand what Kassandra’s up to in Valhalla. I’ve also seen plenty of people, including fans, say they just don’t have Odyssey installed anymore, or their save is gone.
But to skip this extra slice of Odyssey would be a great shame, not least because this fresh epilogue is a reminder of what made Odyssey one of the series’ high points. The warmth and humour of Odyssey’s writing is all there, amidst the sun-baked Greek locations and fantastical hero powers. Better still, the DLC does what many good additions don’t – and actually serves to improve the base game in hindsight.
One of Odyssey’s few failings was its inability to balance the freedom to travel basically anywhere, anytime, with the need to provide a satisfactory conclusion to its base storylines. 80 hours in, you could have wrapped up several of its three main arcs. However, the need for narrative flexibility meant these conclusions were brief, rushed affairs which, by necessity, then left players in the same world state, floating back around the Aegean.
“A Kind of Treasure Hunt” finally provides a firm end point to Kassandra’s time in Greece, and brilliantly brings back her two closest allies for one final adventure. The scholarly Herodotus and endearing Barnabas find Kassandra taking a much-needed vacation on Korfu, a modest-sized new area for Odyssey, in a time period that is definitively post-game.
The setup here is clear, and not particularly spoilery to spell out. Towards the end of this new chapter, Kassandra is given a quest to track down and make safe more Isu macguffins scattered across the globe in order to protect the world from their threats. Kassandra has already seen the effects of these objects in the past (the consequences of the tragic Medusa questline being one). Here in Korfu, she is also given another chance to see these potential dangers up close.
It’s this setup which sees Kassandra eventually, hundreds of years later, turning up on the Scottish island of Skye and meeting Eivor. But it’s also this setup which it is hinted could see Kassandra turn up in other time periods, too. Ancient Egypt is teased via a wonderful piece of fan service, with several potential narrative threads to be picked up there. But I wonder whether this is something that now makes financial and mechanical sense to release as a DLC for the ageing Assassin’s Creed Origins. If people say they have struggled to dig out a copy of the three-year-old Odyssey, how many people still have 2017’s Origins installed with a save file to hand?
This DLC chapter is not just narratively setting up more interwoven Assassin’s Creed stories, then, but also setting up a place where such stories can launch and live on in a more natural setting. Which, of course, is what everyone expects the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Infinity to be.
When Infinity was announced I saw a lot of hand-wringing over ideas of what that concept might entail, and the series’ fan reddit dissolve itself in bile over the phrase “live-service”, even though the franchise has operated as something of a live service for years already (look at Odyssey’s six-part expansion pass, or Valhalla’s seasonal festivals and other new modes).
Assassin’s Creed has always played with history, but more recently found great success paying tribute to its own. Valhalla is adored by fans for tying up numerous loose ends from the series’ past, even if its basic formula remained largely unchanged. It’s time for the series to look to the future and a fresh way of telling individual yet better interlinked stories over multiple time periods, to break up the bi-annual 200-hour monolith of a game release, and hopefully to explore settings and backgrounds which might not have made financial sense to explore that way.
How to tie that all together? Well, Kassandra’s new quest would serve as a good start. Last week I asked Ubisoft about Kassandra’s future, and whether she could serve as a figurehead for the franchise going forward. “Spoilers! That’s all I’ll say,” producer José Araiza told me. “You really have to play the crossover story to figure out why she’s there, where she could go next. So yeah, once you play it, I think you’ll have the answer to your question for sure.”