Beyond the Odyssey: Reviewing the Fate of Atlantis DLC

When I finished Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey’s main quests, I was still very much enjoying the game and thus it made sense to move right into the DLCs. The Fate of Atlantis DLC is a huge expansion that takes place over three mythological realms and expands beyond the main story in ways that focus more on the mythology of the ancient world. This opens up the game for new opportunities and designs. The rest of this post will contain spoilers for the DLC so this is your warning!

This is your last chance….

Okay! So. The Judgment of Atlantis DLC is broken into three parts, and all three are quite large with plenty to do. The overall story is that Kassandra (or Alexios, but I played as Kassandra) must learn to harness the power of the Staff of Hermes Trismegistus and achieve your destiny as the Staff’s Keeper. In order to do that, Kassandra must venture through Elysium, Tartaros, and finally the lost city of Atlantis.

The first arc is the Fields of Elysium. Kassandra must ride through paradise: a perfect world overseen by Persephone, who rules with ironclad order. In Elysium not a blade of grass is out of place, and all is perfectly well.

The screenshots took themselves.

But… all is not well. Hermes pines for Persephone, who detests her husband, Hades (I think the internet has spoiled me with the trope of Persephone and Hades actually loving each other and caring deeply for each other). Persephone also longs for Adonis, a human who is trapped in Elysium and is planning a rebellion against Persephone. While the scenery was beautiful, I wasn’t really taken by the story. I wasn’t entirely sure whose side I should be on, if anyone’s; I found the missions kind of tedious, and the world of Elysium, though beautiful, dull to play in. In all fairness, the week I was playing it was really hot and I had fans going all the time, plus the Smol Human redoubled his efforts to cling to me at all times, so I wasn’t paying as close attention as I could or should have. It was interesting enough, but not particularly gripping. I think the best part was riding my sparkly rainbow-trailing unicorn through the fields and taking screenshots! I did appreciate that, unlike the main game, Elysium as a realm had to be created, rather than recreated. I love the attention to detail in the AC games, but really appreciated what they did to create a version of a mythological realm.

A different Afterlife requires a different horse.

The Torment of Hades was the middle chapter of this DLC, and really, I felt, the strongest and most interesting. Now, when I was teaching and had mythology classes, they enjoyed the afterlife unit quite a bit, and especially the bits about Tartarus and Dante’s Inferno. And really, in The Divine Comedy, Inferno is the most interesting bit, so it made sense that the Torment of Hades was such an interesting game experience.

For starters, story-wise it played a lot more emotional than Fields of Elysium. Fields of Elysium had a great sequence with Kassandra and her grandfather and I appreciated that, but it didn’t pack the emotional punch that Torment of Hades did. Torment of Hades had several quests and characters that had me near tears (I admit I get emotional pretty easily anyway). But there were sequences with Phoibe and Brasidas, and one section called the Cradle of the Underworld that just gutted me as a mother. Kassandra experienced regret, and myself through her based on the choices I’d had her make throughout the game.

Restless Nekropolis. Appropriate name is appropriate.

Level design also shone here. The Pits of Tartaros were suitably creepy and haunting, and Hades’s reign of chaos was made evident through the constant gloomy gloaming that made up the realm of the dead. Sections varied from the fiery pits of punishment you’d expect, to night-dark temples of dead kings. Here also we had the gods, tricky as always. Charon the ferryman was harried and darkly humorous. Hades was a contrast to his surroundings: rather than being chaotic and ugly, he was smooth with finely crafted features and a silky, almost musical voice. The fight against Hades was challenging until I picked up on his attack patterns. Medusa still remains the most difficult fight in the game so far in my experience.

Persephone was methodically precise; Hades was tricky and smug. The third segment of the DLC, the Judgment of Atlantis, introduces Poseidon as the ruler of Atlantis. This segment brings in more of the fantastic lore of the AC series, painting the Greek Pantheon as the Isu: technologically advanced beings who left behind remnants of their society, which Assassins and Templars now fight over in order to control or liberate humanity. In this case the monsters of mythology are Isu experiments gone wrong, which makes for a nice way to blend the game’s myth with Greco-Roman myth. In terms of design, Elysium and Tartaros are much what we’d expect from the Greek mythological influence, but the designers for the game had a lot of fun with the lost city of Atlantis.

In this installment, Kassandra is tasked by Poseidon to preside over Atlantis as a dikastes, or judge. At first I found the missions kind of dull and wasn’t really sure what was at stake. Poseidon’s sons rule different areas of the city and fight with one another and with their lovers and the humans they rule. Atlantis is unique in this case because it is where humans and Isu coexist. It’s a technological marvel, full of scientific research and advances, but it’s far from perfect.

One of the key elements of this installment’s story is the idea of hubris, or reaching for more than one should; it’s confidence transcended to arrogance, and takes many forms. Once I got further in the story and started doing more than just making judgments for fighting families, the insidiousness below Atlantis’s gleaming surface came out. In trying to make Atlantis perfect, Poseidon has ignored what goes on, and how his decrees are disregarded. Humans are disappearing and being used as lab rats by Isu researchers. And when all is said and done, it’s up to Kassandra, as dikastes, to determine if the gods have gone too far.

Of all three areas, Atlantis had the most liberty for design, and the level is a mix of technological advancement with clean, angular architecture in bright white, gold, and soft aquas that evoke the feeling of the sea realm without being expressly nautical. It’s layout is orderly, its aesthetic clean and linear and bright. When the true horrors of what’s going on come to light, it’s a nice contrast to the overall level design.

Overall I enjoyed the DLC and it brought a nice element to the more historical and reality-based main game. As a former mythology teacher, I really enjoyed playing through and seeing these versions of the Greco-Roman afterlife, the gods, and the myths of Atlantis. Fields of Elysium was definitely the weakest installment, and not a great opener in my opinion, but still creative, and I liked the lead-in to the next installments. Each segment had new things to learn to keep the gameplay fresh and interesting. The enemies provided good, suitable fights and challenges, to the point that going back to the world of the main game feels a little too easy now… well, until I tried taking on a level 75 mercenary. That put me in my place!

I still have Lost Tales of Greece I can play, as well as the other paid DLC, so I’m not finished exploring Kassandra’s world. Until I get to that though, check out my gallery of in-game screenshots here! Thanks, and chaire!

A Journey Like No Other: A Review of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Journeying through the ancient world

So, I’m close to a year late to the party. But I picked up Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey last October, after being absolutely enthralled with the trailers at 2018’s E3. I hadn’t played any other AC games, though I liked the premise and the historical settings. But the trailer for this one promised branching dialog choices, a huge open world, and the chance to explore ancient Greece. In my former life as an English teacher, I taught mythology for 11 of my 12 years, so the chance to move all over the ancient world fascinated me.

I did pick the game up when it dropped… so why am I only writing about it 10 months later? The biggest reason is life: I’m a toddler mom, which keeps things interesting to say the least! Also, that fall I had two classes I was teaching in addition to my full time job. And I was writing, obsessively revising Sneakthief and drafting Turncoat (I’m still revising and drafting the latter). And I also played through Dishonored yet again (went through a no-fatalities run, yay!) and then Assassin’s Creed: Unity this spring. I’ll probably review that one later, because I liked it a lot!

But lately it’s been all Odyssey, all the time, and I don’t mind that one bit!

This is the first game to ever make me seasick. That was a new one.

I chose to play as Kassandra, and I like her voice acting and her personality. She’s tough but compassionate; she makes tough decisions and fights tough battles. She’s a lover and a fighter on a quest to find herself as well as her destiny. There are many NPCs throughout her world to befriend, or to woo. While the romances are often pretty surface-level, I chalk it up to my experiences playing BioWare romances, so I didn’t mind too much. Kassandra has had many lovers; sometimes it’s any port in a storm (Alkibiades, I’m looking at you), and sometimes it’s genuine, mutual respect and affection (ah, Roxana, you fierce fighter).

Many of the other characters are interesting as well, and sailing around Greece meeting some of the Big Names of the ancient world was fun. Herodotus joins in and Sokrates lends a hand. Kassandra’s search for her mother, brother, and father is at times heartbreaking, and at other times frustrating. I felt like I lucked out with the dialog choices I made, and was able to get the “good” ending for Kassandra and her family; my best friend got a different outcome, and she said it was hideously underwhelming, to the point she isn’t interested in progressing any further in the game.

Certainly there is some unfinished business of the emotional sort with all of that, even if you do get the good ending. I don’t think that’s necessarily a shortcoming of the game, it’s just something that isn’t dealt with and something I’ve found in the other choice-heavy games I’ve played. And that, friends, is what fanfiction is for. But more on that later. Ahem.

In terms of gameplay I found it pretty smooth to play and control on the One, especially in comparison to when I played Unity; I was so used to how nicely Odyssey played that Unity felt downright buggy. The fights run the gamut of very easy to super challenging–if you’re not leveled properly and haven’t upgraded your gear. Then those fights are just challenging, but once you figure out the pattern of the attacks then it’s just patience. I think the toughest fight in the game was the Medusa fight; I tried her when I was a few levels below, and got my backside kicked. Hard. When I went back appropriately leveled and upgraded it took a few tries, but then I found her pattern and just settled in for the long haul. In some games discovering the patterns and repetition can make things dull, but in this case it’s helpful and the fight can still be a challenge. Patience is a virtue, and is rewarded.

The game story overall is vast and interconnecting, and brings in the intricacies of politics; as a misthios, or mercenary, Kassandra is often tasked with doing the dirty work. There are many ways to accomplish this, including diplomacy or just the old-fashioned high body count. It also brings in mythology (to us in the present), which I enjoyed. In the main game the mythological appearances are peppered in carefully for effect, and used well. I’m in the DLCs now, and those make excellent use of the ancient Greek pantheon, but I’ll review those separately later on. Suffice to say, just part one is HUGE.

One reason that I haven’t written a review since finishing the main game was… well, I wasn’t sure exactly when I’d finished, and that may be my biggest gripe with the game. And then, I think it’s because I like resolution. I’m a storyteller; I like stories and I like the happy ending, but happy in the sense of being resolved. I finished one major arc, and it was kind of a downer–like, I fought all those cultists for… what? That one felt really unresolved, and still kind of irks me. The other plot arc I know continues in the DLCs, which is fine… but there was no sense of it being completed. It lead right into the prologue-ish mission to tempt you into buying the DLC (I see what you did with that, Ubisoft!), but even after completing that there was no sense that I was done. It was kind of like when I finished Skyrim the first time. I beat Alduin, I won the civil war, I ruled every faction… now what?

This isn’t a metaphor for the gameplay. I just liked the shot.

I know there are other Lost Tales of Greece to play through and more DLC to get, and then the My Stories mode to try out, but as for the main game I felt unresolved. I’m not sure what I wanted to see; I mean, the credits? Something to show me it was over? I got the New Game+ option a lot earlier on, well before either of the main arcs was completed, which was odd to me as well.

That aside, I love this game; the pacing is good, the characters are fun, and the world is lush and beautiful and a joy to explore! I love the option to take screenshots and save them. I love how even the seas are populated with life… and death. My Kassandra has sunk ships and swam with dolphins and whales. She’s explored shipwrecks and hidden grottoes. On land she’s climbed mountains, cleared ruins, and galloped across fields of flowers in one moment, and charred and bloody battlegrounds the next. The experience is wondrous, and I’ve enjoyed traversing the ancient world. I think I need to add Greece to my travel list for the future. I always did want to go, particularly where I taught mythology as long as I did, but now, seeing the reenvisioned ancient world in this game, I really need to go.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is absolutely worth what I paid for it, given the sheer amount of things to do in the main game alone. I think I had close to 100 hours logged in the main game, and that’s only ticking upwards with the DLC missions. The game is rich and well developed, and definitely worth your time, especially if you love open world games and making choices that will shape the future of the world.

Okay, that last part is a little dramatic. But this game will take you on a journey that you will enjoy. In the words of Kassandra, χαίρε: chaire.

Delirium in the Imperium

Part 1 of Dorian Pavus: Scholar of the Inquisition

Gaming is a big part of my identity, and has been since I was a kid and we got our first NES console. I’ve played quite a few games on a few different consoles over the years, and one of my favorite game series is BioWare’s Dragon Age. BioWare is known for their immersive storytelling, complex characters, and relationship building. The lore gleaned from the codex entries paints a picture of a rich, vast world full of possibilities. 

Thedas (literally shorthand for The Dragon Age Setting) is full of the expected humans, elves, and dwarves, but also the horned Qunari. It hosts a complex magic system that shapes beliefs, cultures, and even the world as a whole. The world is divided between the south, which is skeptical of magic and mages, and goes to sometimes extreme measures to ensure that magic doesn’t dare “rule over man”, as the Chant of Light forbids. And then there is my specialty: my favorite location, possibly because we know so little of it so far, or possibly because what we do know is fascinating: the northern lands of the Tevinter Imperium.

Throughout the first two Dragon Age games Tevinter is the shadowy land to the north, filled with ambitious magisters who don’t fear magic, nor do they subscribe to the most basic belief about magic: that it is meant to serve man, never to rule over him. The Tevinter characters we meet are stereotypically ambitious and yes, a bit evil and all too happy to let their magic establish their rule.

In the first two games we meet Caladrius, the magister helping filter elves from the Denerim Alienage into Tevinter slavery; Tahrone, the Tevinter mage experimenting on ways to stir up chaos in the Templar ranks in Kirkwall; Danarius, the wicked magister responsible for abusing his lyrium-marked slave, Fenris; and Hadriana, another magister and apprentice to Danarius, known for her cruelty to slaves. In these cases the characters are sadistic, ambitious, and seemingly irredeemable. The only sympathetic Tevinter character we meet is Fenris, an escaped slave bent on revenge against his former master. Fenris distrusts mages and magic in general, and as a Tevinter, gives us one angle on that location.

Dragon Age: Inquisition widens the world of Thedas, showing us more of Ferelden and giving us the opportunity to traverse quite a bit of Orlais. It also provides us with new characters from Tevinter, each one who shines light on a different facet of Tevinter society in a way previous characters, Fenris excepting, did. While most of the characters we’d met prior to this were flat, and their motivations empty beyond their ambitions, we get more depth in the Inquisition characters.

The central antagonist is Corypheus, a resurrected ancient magister: one of the first to assault the Fade, if the lore is to be believed (the Dragon Age developers are always quick to point out that the first line of Origins is “The Chantry tells us…”, meaning that, like everything, there may not be a simple explanation, or one we can take at face value). While he and the bulk of his Venatori fit the madman-bent-on-world-domination mold, Magister Gereon Alexius does not. 

Alexius shows us that domination isn’t the only motivating factor in this world. He didn’t join up to advance; he’s already a magister and a scholar (more on that later!), but he’s also a widower and a father with a dying son. Alexius is a powerful man caught in a situation over which he has no power. In Corypheus and the Venatori, Alexius may gain the power to save his son; his motivation is desperation. 

His son Felix is dying of Blight exposure, and his motives are driven by his father. Felix took ill after the darkspawn attack that killed his mother, and he sees how his wasting illness affects his father. Not much is said about Felix’s thoughts on this. Does he join the Venatori out of his own desperation? Does he join to keep giving his father hope? Or is it because his father barely lets him out of his sight for fear of losing him? Quite a bit can be left up to interpretation with him, but what’s important is that in the end he sees what grief and desperation has done to his father, and does what he can to help the Inquisition stop the Venatori.

In most of these cases we have characters making power grabs for what it can do for them, which is much of what we’ve seen from Tevinter characters (even if this time the motives are more complex). Inquisition also gives us Cremisius Aclassi, who originated as part of Tevinter’s soporati, or non-magic using class. Krem is a character who deserves a treatise in his own right, but one I’m neither prepared for, or qualified, to write, so for these purposes I’m focusing on his initial place in Tevinter society, and what he tells us about being from a soporati family.

If Fenris provides insights into the slave experience of Tevinter society, Krem shows someone who doesn’t have magical ability, but was also not a slave. This adds another layer of complexity and richness to Tevinter society. Tevinter is a complicated place where the mages aren’t herded into Circles, but sent for training–they’re more boarding schools or centers of academia than holding pens. They exist freely, cast spells freely, and even the poorest mage is still better off than the richest soporati. In the case of Krem and his family, they were comfortable enough; then a magister’s interference, even though well-intentioned, put the Aclassi tailors out of business. Krem’s father sold the family into slavery to survive, while Krem joined the military, and then eventually the mercenary company the Chargers. 

The novels and comics introduce other characters, but there is one notable Tevinter I’ve not mentioned yet, whose character and experience gives us even more insight into this society. Dorian Pavus is fascinating because he was raised with power and privilege, and could have become the flat, cackling magister that we’d seen in earlier games. His family is of the Altus class: the wealthiest, most powerful in the Imperium. He’s been bred for raw power and an impeccable bloodline, something he teases about lightly, but has just enough edge to his voice to suggest that it’s not the great practice the upper echelons of Tevinter society seem to think. Dorian comes from a slave-holding family and has some complex (and yes, often problematic) views on the topic. Dorian is a study in privilege who comes across as arrogant and self-assured, and not without reason. 

Dorian, however, is more than the flashy rockstar mage. Beyond his raw power and noble breeding, Dorian can possess a startling vulnerability; beyond his disdain for the practices of his homeland, he still loves Tevinter fiercely. He’s capable of acknowledging her flaws, and even when called out on some of the tough topics, he’s open to learning and admitting when he’s wrong.

He’s such a multilayered character, and between himself and Fenris, we are given one of the clearest glimpses into the reality of Tevinter life. But beyond all of that, what fascinates me most about Dorian is how intelligent he is. He’s a man who’s studied, who’s experimented, and who gets excited about magic in a way we don’t see from any other character. 

Because Dragon Age is my favorite game, and because academia is my favorite trope, it pleases me to present Dorian Pavus, Scholar of the Inquisition.

Academia: or, My Favorite Trope

I feel like everyone has a thing that draws them into a book. Some people really enjoy the found family trope, or a particular character. Recently author Yolandie Horak wrote a great post about her favorite trope, the Lovable Rogue. Lately I’ve been reading a duology, and between that, and my own work, have come to realize that my trope? My thing? is Academia.

I’ve always been an academic to a degree. I love reading; I love the smell of books, and I love getting lost in a library. And when I stop to think about it, a lot of the books I love are set in schools or at libraries; they incorporate books and academia as a major part of the story and the world. When I sort myself into a Hogwarts house, I come up Ravenclaw more often than not. I love when fantasy books incorporate a library into their world, and when a game has an academic setting I can explore.

There are two games I played relatively recently that incorporate the trope of the lost library: Thief and Dragon Age: Inquisition (both 2014). Thief has a level that is a ruined library (that is almost ruined by a very frustrating puzzle, but that’s more gameplay mechanics than anything else). The game overall is very gloomy, but this gloom works well for this level, and the idea of seeking out long-lost knowledge. Strange things haunt the corners; staircases move; paths change. Which way is up anymore? It makes the idea of getting ‘lost in a book’ a reality.

In Inquisition the Shattered Library is lost beyond time and space, accessible only by the mysterious Eluvians. Spirits of Knowledge and Study, the Archivists, linger, preserving the last words of those who remained in the Vir Dirthara. Books remain, but will shock those who try to take them from the shelves, as if protecting themselves. The Librarians, once caretakers, are transformed into violent guardians. At one point, Dorian Pavus (more on him at a later date) says, “Look at this place! Now that we have so many samples, how hard would it be to build Eluvians of our own?” Even after he’s dissuaded by a very deadpan Iron Bull, he explains that he’d like to make something magical that is also helpful; most of the magical objects they’ve dealt with over the last few years have been tools of destruction, and Dorian, ever the scholar, wants to use this new research for something good.

A Wizard and a Scholar

Recently I finished Ginn Hale’s Lord of the White Hell Book 1; I will do a proper review eventually! I liked the characters and the plot, but I realized what I really enjoyed most of all was it being set at a school. I liked the discussions of classes and homework assignments, and students studying and complaining about professors. I liked the kind Scholars and the gruff weapons Master. I’m reading the second book right now, and I am enjoying it: the plot continues to deepen, and I grow even fonder of the characters. I’m about halfway through, and I actually really miss the school setting! This isn’t a failure of Hale’s by any means; but it’s made me realize that yes, academia is really my favored trope.When I first read the Harry Potter series I loved the magical world that Rowling created, but it was the descriptions of the school: the library with its forbidden section, the classes students took and the tools of their trade. Maybe I was even a tad disappointed when the final book didn’t (understandably) focus on the schooling…

I think, to a degree, one of the reasons I enjoy Tokien’s work as much as I do is that he was first and foremost a scholar. I love seeing that side of him reflected in Gandalf, particularly in that scene in the Minas Tirith library in Fellowship of the Ring, and I love that Gandalf’s initial reaction is to run off to Gondor to do some serious research. And maybe to an extent, this is part of what I centered in on in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. I saw a lot of myself in Cath with the fanfiction writing and all, but most of the novel was set on a college campus, navigating roommates, classmates, professors, and assignments. And of course there’s The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, two thirds of which are set at the University, centered around a precocious (if slightly wise-assed) first person narrator. I love it.

This is in no way an exhaustive list, but given that the University and its library, and the quest for lost knowledge, play a huge role in my current project, I think it’s safe to say that academia is my “thing”. Is there a “thing” you gravitate toward in your reading habits and/or writing? Share in the comments!