The Fate of Atlantis and the Role of Downloadable Content
My favorite DLC content for any game was the Shivering Isles expansion for Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. The environment provided a perfect analogue to the central plot, somehow managing to extend the boundaries of a fantasy game. It introduced the crafting mechanic, offering a greater degree of customization that would serve as a precursor to the more extensive crafting options available in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Shivering Isles forever cemented my view on the role that DLC should aspire to fulfill, which is to enhance the gameplay of the underlying game and/or take the player somewhere the original game could not suitably venture.
Now, several years later, I’ve found the closest thing to a spiritual successor. A year after initially completing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, I finally got around to purchasing its accompanying season pass while it was half-price, which includes the Legacy of the First Blade and The Fate of Atlantis DLC. Legacy of the First Blade takes place in the existing Odyssey map, adding an additional story line for our protagonist Alexios/Kassandra. But my focus is directed toward The Fate of Atlantis, which introduces the player to three new (simulated) realms: Elysium, The Underworld, and (you guessed it) Atlantis.
Fields of Elysium
The first stop in your journey is Elysium, a floral expanse with mesas overlooking the plains below. Intended to serve as a paradise for certain mortals, Elysium was crafted and is ruled by Persephone, who is trapped here by her husband, Hades. You can see in the design of the landscape that she wants her denizens to find comfort, but more importantly she wants their accolades and undying gratitude. Not only has she placed statues in her image across the map, she even has a dedicated fan club — Persephone’s Devoted Followers. With no control over her own circumstances, she has little sympathy for anyone with the audacity to complain in spite of her generosity, let alone those who rebel.
The environmental design of Elysium is incredibly balanced, offering plenty of room to ride your horse between locations and excellent vertical depth for climbing cliff sides. You’ll dive blindly through fog when leaping from the various peaks. The environment is crafted so naturally that you’d never guess that Persephone molded this realm herself.
In the first chapter in The Fate of Atlantis you are introduced to a brand-new set of enemies — the Isu soldiers. The adrenaline bar is a fundamental combat mechanic of Odyssey, which allows the player to activate special abilities unlocked through the development tree. These soldiers mix things up by using their own abilities which freeze or drain your adrenaline, requiring you to be quicker on your feet and less dependent on your special abilities. To compensate for this downside, you gain a new special ability which hits your target with a string of attacks that rapidly fill your adrenaline bar. Additionally there are enemies called the Kolossi, which are inert statues that animate upon nearby combat. These enemies require additional strategic planning and place greater emphasis on stealth.
This chapter also provides three additional enhancements to existing special abilities, as do each of the following two chapters. Some fundamentally change the underlying ability, while others make minor modifications. There were only a few new abilities that I found especially useful, but given Odyssey’s exceptional combat customization there’s bound to be at least one option players will find to their liking.
The quests in this chapter are fairly interesting. Persephone, Hermes, Hecate, and Adonis all rope you in to their own agendas, but you are given ample opportunity to choose your allegiance. You have to complete all the quests given by each party, but the quests often have mid-points where you can deviate from your instructions to complete the quest in a manner favorable to your preferred faction. This chapter offers the greatest deal of latitude over how you wish to complete the missions, which is always a welcome experience in RPG-style games.
Torment of Hades
The next chapter takes you to The Underworld, where you’re immediately greeted by a mighty foe that sets the stage for the chapter’s plot. The land of the dead is oozing with desolation, overseen by the devious Hades. While he sends you running around completing errands for his amusement, he wagers back and forth with Poseidon over your handling of the situation. The haunting endurance of consequences is apparent in this realm and tributes to the domain’s acclaimed late guardian contribute to this sense of gravity. Characters from Odyssey’s main story find their way into The Underworld to delightful, if tragic, effect.
One fascinating new mechanic introduced in this chapter are the Tartaros Rifts. To engage certain enemies, you must first enter their respective rift; but inside these rifts, you’ll find you only have half your health bar at your disposal. Making matters more challenging, these rifts are often found in pairs, meaning you can only attack enemies from one of these at a time. If you’re not careful, you may find yourself fighting enemies from one rift while enemies from the other rift attack you with impunity.
The Underworld also features the Hounds of Hades. Combatant animals are one of the fun minor additions of the more recent Assassin’s Creed installments, so I was glad to see that they built on this element for an extra layer of environmental immersion.
Personally, I found this to be the most compelling of the chapters in The Fate of Atlantis. The plot is straightforward, but not predictable, and your motivation is clear in every quest: there’s unfinished business and you’re here to sort it all out. The combat brought an incredible amount of ingenuity to the table, both challenging and suitable for the flavor of The Underworld. It’s The Fate of Atlantis at its most cohesive.
Judgement of Atlantis
Last is the famed city of Atlantis, before it went for a deep sea swim. Poseidon has tasked you with a monumental role as the Dikastes, his right-hand man who enforces judgment over humans and Isu alike. You begin the chapter atop the central hub of Atlantis, with an overwhelming vista that draws you further outward through the city. The design features a dense concentric structure, with canals dividing each segment. Domesticated lions roam the city beside their human counterpart. Cavernous gardens contribute provide life to a city comprised largely of stone fabrications. The aesthetics here are nothing short of marvelous.
Unfortunately, from a gameplay perspective I found the city’s design fairly stale once I fully dove in. Once you’ve seen 20% of the map, you’ve seen it all, more or less. Perhaps the most jarring experience was the lack of scalable environments. I couldn’t climb the city’s structures with sufficient reliability, especially frustrating for such a vertically integrated city.
Additionally, the quests were a bit of a letdown. You were supposed to serve as the judge of Atlantis, bridging the relationship between Human and Isu by contributing the best of each group’s qualities. Instead, the quests offer far less opportunity to exercise freedom than initially suggested; the outcomes of many quests feel predetermined, and the choices you do have bear no consequence. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the impetus for this chapter’s plot weren’t predicated on that prospect. As the namesake of the entire DLC, I was a bit disappointed.
However the city of Atlantis did have several redeeming qualities that aren’t to be neglected. The legendary armor in this chapter was easily the most useful armor in the entire saga, providing you temporary, recurring immunity to the Isu soldiers’ adrenaline-draining abilities. Not only that, but in order to obtain each piece of that armor you must defeat the polemarchs found across the city. These are perhaps the toughest battles in the DLC, as each enemy fires a barrage of adrenaline-draining lightning bolts, followed by a flurry of 360-degree spear swings. There’s no good plot reason why you’d be fighting these guys, but at least you walk away feeling like each piece of the armor is hard-earned.
Further, you can collect material to forge three legendary weapons, with the ability to enhance them to suit your preferred play style. They aren’t wildly overpowered, but having the option of customization makes them incredibly robust and deserving of at least one weapon slot (would have been nice if one of the weapons had been a bow though).
But the greatest asset Atlantis has to offer is the lore embedded throughout the map. In order to access certain restricted areas, you must find several Isu data caches and codices, providing you with insight into the ancient civilization. Where most Assassin’s Creed games offer little tidbits about the Isu, this chapter takes the opportunity to flesh out some of their history, character dynamics, and conflicts in greater detail. For the Assassin’s Creed devotee, you’re bound to have a field day with this material.
Creating DLC that expands the game in even one direction makes for a great experience. What The Fate of Atlantis manages to accomplish in each chapter individually is fantastic, but when taken together it is even more exceptional. Each new realm was unique, and the developers (for the most part) took full advantage of the special opportunities that each realm presented. While imperfect, the DLC got the most important elements right. There’s plenty of good material here to guide the next Assassin’s Creed iteration.
The game play experience, the story, and the design elements in The Fate of Atlantis all vary considerably from the original game. Simultaneously, this DLC could not exist as it does alongside any other installment of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Greek mythology, customizable combat, and personal story arcs that underpin Odyssey provide the perfect framework for the exploration of the in-game universe that this DLC achieved. The underlying game and the DLC are inextricably linked and distinct all the same — just as I hoped.