The surprise at the end of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s second downloadable episode still happens, but the developers have tweaked the path to getting there. As best we can tell, Ubisoft has trimmed one cutscene and changed two dialogue choices.
The changes are relatively minor but may become a major case study in the ongoing debate about how games can or should change due to fan feedback.
Note that it’s impossible to cover the changes without spoiling the DLC.
A lot has already been written about why the DLC’s content was going to change, but until this week we didn’t know how they’d change it.
To get the why out of the way: The developers acknowledged that they’d “missed the mark” with their portrayal of a required heterosexual relationship for the game’s main character, Alexios or Kassandra. They had promoted Odyssey as a game designed to grant players a lot of choice, including about which men or women either of their characters would romance, if any. Yet the game’s second DLC chapter, Shadow Heritage, ended with the protagonist not only settling down to live in a house with a non-player character of a different gender but also having a baby with them. Some fans didn’t care. Others saw it as a betrayal of a developer promise to their players and even as an offensive twist to those playing their character as gay. It’s not that gay people don’t have children, of course, but the idea of a gay character suddenly hooking up with a person of a different gender and moving in with them, and doing so in a seemingly loving manner, seemed strange at best.
As the game’s developers reeled, they said that they’d meant for players to feel through dialogue options that they were choosing to have Alexios or Kassandra either pursue a romantic coupling or simply sleep with the required partner in order to further their bloodline.
Here’s how they changed things:
First, they renamed the trophy/achievement for completing Shadow Heritage, a process that began rolling out as far back as last week. The accolade “Growing Up” is now called “Blood of Leonidas.”
The next batch of changes came via Odyssey’s 1.14 patch, which was released on Tuesday.
The first change we noticed pops up near the beginning of the DLC’s final quest, which is called Home. At the start of the quest, Alexios or Kassandra stand at a dock with Darius, a Persian proto-assassin, and either Darius’ grown-up daughter Neema or grown-up son Natakas. The game only generates one of those characters, depending on who you play as, and it’s that person with whom the player’s character has a baby. As the scene on the dock unfolds, Darius and Neema/Natakas prepare to get on a ship and sail away. Prior to this, in both Shadow Heritage and a preceding DLC chapter, Alexios or Kassandra has spent a lot of time with Neema/Natakas and exchanged longing glances with them. There have been ways to play those situations coolly, but the DLC is written to at least present the idea that the pair are forming a bond. In this scene on the dock, you’re given a dialogue choice, with the options labeled as “stay” or “farewell.” The choice runs on a timer. Before the patch, the choices are presented without any special notations.
After the patch, the “stay” option is labelled with a heart, Odyssey’s indication for dialogue choices that further romantic connections between heroes and hot Greek people.
Today, if players choose the stay option, events unfold as they did pre-patch. Darius and his offspring don’t get on the boat and move into a house with the player’s character. A montage plays and eventually we see Alexios or Kassandra with their lover holding a swaddled baby.
If players choose farewell or let the timer run out, Darius and his offspring prepare to sail away. The recorded lines that follow appear to be unchanged. Neema or Natakas tells Alexios or Kassandra that they’ve left them a letter in a house in a village called Dyme and then they depart. As, say, Kassandra then heads to the house to find the letter, she mutters to herself that she is “alone again.” She then adds, “Natakas left a letter for me in the house in Dyme. I’m not sure I’m ready to read it.” She reads the letter, in which Natakas talks about forming a bond with her. She gets tearful, even post-patch. Natakas then shows up in the doorway of the house, as does Darius. They decided to stick around. And then a montage follows.
The montage cutscene has been changed via the patch and now concludes differently based on the player’s choice on the dock. Both versions show Alexios/Kassandra, Darius and Neema/Natakas cleaning up, preparing food and doing some sparring. The one that plays after the romantic “stay” choice then shows Alexios or Kassandra at night, sitting on the roof of the house next to Neema or Natakas under moonlit sky. The two lean into each other, as a couple might in a romantic moment. Prior to the patch that scene had always played no matter the player’s choices, but the roof shot no longer appears if the player had chosen “farewell” on the dock. It’s replaced by blackness.
After the cutscene ends, a first-time player isn’t supposed to know that Alexios or Kassandra has had a kid during the time elapsed via the montage. Instead, Shadow Heritage’s creators get cute, tasking the player with having to get some bread and milk for some mysterious, very hungry person. They do the fetch quest, return to their home and come upon Neema or Natakas who is – surprise – holding their baby.
Pre-patch, the player is then given a choice about what to say with their options labelled as:
- I chose this life because I love you
- I chose this life to have a family.
Post-patch, the choice is presented in different terms.
- I chose this life because I love you
- I chose this life to secure the bloodline
The dialogue that follows hasn’t been changed. If the player is talking about love, then Kassandra or Alexios starts reminiscing about how they met Neema or Natakas. If the player chooses the family/bloodline option, the conversation is about the main character keeping the baby safe. The dialogue converges to discussion of the future, right and wrong, then banter about the baby and even some jokes from Darius about being a grandfather. Then the developers offer a tease about the bad guys’ next move, setting up the next episode of the DLC, which will be released next week.
Ubisoft declined to provide a breakdown of the changes made to Shadow Heritage, but we believe we spotted the main ones and, likely, all of them. These changes involve aspects of game content that are relatively easy to change: blacking out a cutscene rather than creating a new one; rewriting the text of a dialogue prompt but not bringing voice actors back into the studio to record new lines. They therefore won’t go far enough to soothe some fans who may be hurt or at least flummoxed as to why their character spent parts of two DLC chapters exchanging longing glances with this other character. They do at least more clearly indicate a possible non-romantic option for the player’s character to have sex with Neema or Natakas: furthering the bloodline. Why exactly Alexios or Kassandra want to further their bloodline is not itself explained well in the DLC, though the developers have promised more clarity about the main character’s motivations in the next chapter.
Game development has long been a two-way conversation with players. Games have been shaped by fan feedback for decades and since the rise of internet-connected PCs and consoles, games have been frequently tweaked and transformed after their initial release. Changes to gameplay largely are expected. Players may grumble about how a character or weapon is being altered, but the convention to change elements of how a game plays is widely accepted by people who make and play games. Aesthetic changes are also generally accepted and often welcomed as post-release patches make text more readable or change ugly blue boxes into beautiful gold ones. Changes to narrative, however, remain divisive. For some reason, some players consider this aspect of a game to be more preciously tethered to authorial intent, saying players of even quasi-multiple-choice role-playing games should suck it up if they don’t like the choices given them. Others, myself among them, see narrative change as being as fair game as any bug or balance tweak. We saw this debate years ago for Mass Effect 3.
In the case of Odyssey, the authors haven’t changed their ending – just small parts of the journey. They’ve split the difference. The authors still get their ending, but they’ve changed the way they get there, just a little, because some of their players had feedback to offer.