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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s woeful error

[Warning: Right from the first paragraph, this story includes spoilers for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s new downloadable content, “Shadow Heritage,” the second episode of the Legacy of the First Blade expansion.]

Kassandra settling down to the life of a housewife and mother is one of the worst betrayals of a fictional character that I can recall. The narrative crime occurs at the end ofShadow Heritage,” a downloadable story chapter for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey that was released Tuesday. It is entirely at odds with Kassandra’s journey to date, and with her personality. It is also a startling misstep by a writing team that has hitherto delivered a world rich with believable characters, sharp dialogue, and human motivations.

In “Shadow Heritage,” Kassandra completes a mission to destroy a tyrannical, murderous pirate. She works with a father-and-son team of assassins, from Persia, whose goals align with her own. The son, Natakas, fancies Kassandra and pursues her, in a dreamy, drippy sort of way.

In dialogue options, Natakas fishes for compliments and signs of mutual admiration. My Kassandra is having none of it. My Kassandra sleeps with people I like, and rejects those I don’t. Natakas is a nice enough fella, but I don’t appreciate the way he moons over me. There’s something desperate, even vaguely douchey, about his demeanor. Yeah, we enjoy getting drunk together — Kassandra always loves to get wasted — but that’s about it. Put it this way: He’s definitely no sexpot love god, like Alcibiades.

As a player, I know that the game is trying to wheedle me into a romance that I don’t feel. I make every effort to reject Natakas. When it’s time for him to sail off into the blue beyond, I wave him off. But then he returns, and the story makes me fall into his arms. We cut to some time later, with a scene of Kassandra fetching groceries and cooing over her baby. It’s a travesty.

(If you play as male lead Alexios, the love interest is a woman named Neema. The story plays out the same way.)

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey - Kassandra surveys a Greek vista
Kassandra surveys a Greek vista
Ubisoft Quebec/Ubisoft

Grocery shopping sim

Kassandra is emphatically not the settling-down kind. She is a mercenary, a traveler, a free spirit. Her life is filled with adventure and danger.

She is the greatest warrior in the world. She can topple regimes, reshaping the political landscape of her country. She is a slayer of monsters, a demigod. Men and women desire her. She can take them or leave them. Occasionally, she will pursue a love interest, and she’ll be rejected. That’s life. She’s not one to dwell on failure. She’s amazing.

Occasionally, Kassandra is drawn into the contemplation of a quiet life, raising chickens and smelling roses. But these fantasies never last long. She is certainly not on a narrative arc toward domestic bliss. When I’m given a dialogue option to celebrate my badass life, or to yearn for an arcadian existence, I take the former every time.

The only way this domestic turn in the story works is if Kassandra has become increasingly disenchanted with her life. This does not happen in the main game or in the Legacy of the First Blade expansion. “Shadow Heritage” forces domesticity upon her. No matter how furiously I try to wriggle free of this fate, there’s nothing I can do.

Romantic engagements

I have no inside knowledge of the story’s future, but this happy scene looks designed to go awry. Perhaps her family will be taken or destroyed, giving her a motivation to hunt down bad guys.

This is a pointless exercise. Kassandra is a paid assassin who has expressed no great qualms about the dubious morality of her profession. She is in pursuit of an evil organization that wants her dead, one that is the root cause of a war that has killed thousands, including her closest friends. She already has plenty of motivation.

It feels like a clumsy swing at a big emotional hit, in which Kassandra will maybe face intense worry or grief leading to a vengeful rampage. It’s so far removed from the rest of the story that at one point I hoped it was a dream sequence or some alternative universe nonsense, which would somehow not be as bad as Kassandra actually getting hitched.

Some Assassin’s Creed players are expressing annoyance at developer and publisher Ubisoft for betraying their own, personal Kassandra choices. If your Kassandra is only romantically interested in women, or refuses all romantic approaches, it doesn’t make sense for her to suddenly fall in love with Natakas.

Having given players the freedom to express Kassandra’s romantic life in a variety of ways, the game then forces a traditional familial relationship, one that flies in the face of player freedom and her central personality.

It’s especially galling that Kassandra becomes girlishly delirious as she fetches the milk and rocks the baby. This is perilously close to the notion that a person can only be truly fulfilled by raising a family.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey ‘Shadow Heritage’ - naval battle
Naval action in “Shadow Heritage.”
Ubisoft Quebec/Ubisoft

Bad choices

My sense of ownership over Kassandra is a carefully manipulated fantasy, one that’s been nurtured through smart writing and good game design. Perhaps this is what makes Ubisoft’s decision to domesticate Kassandra so baffling and infuriating.

Leaving aside its dreadful denouement, “Shadow Heritage” is a serviceable slice of video game storytelling. It’s a balanced confection of Odyssey’s many activities (explore, investigate, chat, sneak, sail, kill).

Its story includes a character called Kleta, a mother whose regrets and aspirations for her daughter are convincing and touching. Kleta’s dialogue, animations, and eye work combine to create a real person. It’s a lesson in narrative game design and one of the reasons I admire this game.

Game stories seek to tie player and character together in ways that are not available to other art forms. During my time with Kassandra, I’ve dressed her, directed her actions, influenced her moral outlook, and guided her relationships with other people. I’ve spent more than 150 hours with Kassandra. That’s a time commitment I haven’t given to any novel, narrative game, or single character-driven TV show in my life.

But I don’t think it really matters that Kassandra is a character in a game, as opposed to one who appears in a movie or novel. The rules of character consistency are the same in all forms of fiction. Surprises ought to work within the framework of the character’s personality and circumstances. If the nice young war hero becomes a murderous gang boss, we’re generally shown his journey. We know why that happened.

When the writers of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey decided to suddenly turn Kassandra into a housewife, they betrayed the person they’d spent so much time and care creating. They made her into a cutout for a hackneyed plot.

At the end of “Shadow Heritage,” I return to Kassandra’s adventures; she’s back to slaying her way across ancient Greece. But she is diminished. She is not the person I thought she was. No matter what happens in the next slice of the story, I doubt she’ll ever be quite the same person again.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Legacy of the First Blade – “Shadow Heritage” was reviewed using a final “retail” PlayStation 4 download code provided by Ubisoft. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.


After Lawsuit From Bethesda, The Westworld Mobile Game Is Shutting Down

The WestWorld mobile game that Bethesda claimed was a “blatant ripoff” of Fallout Shelter is shutting down following the lawsuit that Bethesda brought against its developer. A statement posted on the game’s Twitter page confirms the game has been removed from App Store and Google Play, with a final closure taking place on April 16, 2019. Additionally, all in-app purchases have been switched off, and you’re recommended to spend any remaining currency before the final shutdown.

It’s not immediately clear if refunds will be available, but it doesn’t sound like it. “We are sorry to see the Westworld mobile game go, and had an incredible time creating new content and events for players to enjoy. We deeply appreciate our community’s enthusiasm and participation in the game,” developer Behaviour Interactive said.

Nowhere in the statement is the lawsuit from Bethesda mentioned. Bethesda reached what was described by the company as an amicable settlement with Behaviour and Westworld studio Warner Bros. earlier this month. Terms of the settlement deal between Bethesda and Behaviour were never made public, so it’s impossible to know if shutting down the Westworld game was part of the deal, but that could be the case.

Behaviour worked on Fallout Shelter, and Bethesda alleged that Behaviour “illegally” used the same copyrighted source code from Fallout Shelter to developer the Westworld game. Not only that, but Bethesda claimed Behaviour “copied Fallout Shelter’s game design, art, animations, gameplay features, and other elements.

Bethesda was suing Behaviour and Warner Bros. for “copyright infringement, breach of contract, and misappropriation of [Bethesda’s] intellectual property.”


Nintendo Switch Online’s Free NES Games For January Now Available

January’s free NES games for Nintendo Switch Online subscribes are now available. This month sees Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and Blaster Master join the service, while Japan receives one additional title: Joy Mech Fight, which was never released outside of the country.

As in previous months, Nintendo has also added special save states of a couple of previously available NES games, namely the notoriously difficult Ninja Gaiden and Ghosts ‘n Goblins. The former starts you off in stage 6-4, while the latter drops you in stage 6 with the dagger equipped.

Nintendo Switch Online’s NES library launched alongside the service this past September and initially featured 20 games, with additional ones arriving each month. The most recent batch included the aforementioned Ninja Gaiden as well as Wario’s Woods and Adventures of Lolo. More NES games are planned to be released in 2019, although Nintendo hasn’t announced what those will be yet.

Nintendo Switch Online subscriptions run for US $4 / £3.49 / AU $6 for one month, US $8 / £7 / AU $12 for three months, and US $20 / £18 / AU $30 for one year. In addition to gaining access to the NES library, subscribers are able to play Switch games online with others as well as back up their save data to the cloud.

Nintendo also has a couple of special offers for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. The most notable of these is a set of NES controllers for Switch, which are only available for purchase if you have a subscription. The controllers come in sets of two and cost $60.

A remake of Blaster Master, dubbed Blaster Master Zero, launched for Switch in 2017. It was developed by Inti Creates, the studio behind the retro-style Bloodstained spin-off, Curse of the Moon, and features the same basic story and gameplay as the original but with redone visuals and other improvements.


Ronda Rousey Teases Mortal Kombat 11 Appearance

Athlete and actress Ronda Rousey has teased something related to Mortal Kombat 11, and we might not have to wait long to find out what it is. Posting on Instagram, Rousey shared a picture of herself with an invitation to the Mortal Kombat 11 reveal event this week. She captioned the image, “The invitation I’ve been waiting to accept my whole life. Don’t worry, Earthrealm is safe with me ;). Can’t wait for Thursday!”

Rousey’s post fuels the ongoing rumours that she will voice the character Sonya in the fighting game. As of now, this is all speculation, but we should know more very soon.

The Mortal Kombat 11 reveal event is slated to begin at 11 AM PT / 2 PM ET on Thursday, January 17, and you’ll be able to watch it here on GameSpot. In addition to premiering the first gameplay from Mortal Kombat 11, a description of the reveal event promises “exclusive reveals.” It’ll also contain details on the game’s story and characters, as well as some of its “new features.”

Mortal Kombat 11 launches on April 23 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch, and those who pre-order a copy will receive Shao Kahn as a playable character.

Pre-orders on PS4 and Xbox One also come with access to the fighting game’s pre-launch beta. The test will be held for those two platforms sometime in March, although further details have yet to be announced. In other news, Mortal Kombat 11’s cover art has been revealed–check it out here.

In other news, Rousey has a match set for the upcoming Royal Rumble event. You can learn more in GameSpot’s Royal Rumble coverage.


Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is Warhammer 40,000 played at the most epic scale yet

When the original Battlefleet Gothic: Armada came out in 2016, I decided to skip it. To hear some tell it, that means I missed out on one of the best strategy games of that year. This time around, I vowed to make time out of my busy spacefaring schedule to check out its sequel, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2. After just a few hours with the game’s pre-order beta, I’m legitimately blown away.

The team at Tindalos Interactive sells the dream of Warhammer 40,000 combat on a galactic scale. Games set in the 40K universe are a dime a dozen these days, but the moment-to-moment gameplay in Armada 2 has so far exceeded my wildest expectations.

The original Battlefleet Gothic is a tabletop miniatures franchise from Games Workshop, first published in 1999. While traditional 40K miniatures battles are fought by ground forces representing the squad or company level, Gothic is a game of space-based naval warfare. Just a handful of ships is all that’s required to represent crews numbering in the tens of thousands. The game benefits from Games Workshop’s grimdark lore, of course, but also from mechanics that draw upon the hobby game industry’s generations-long love affair with naval wargaming of all kinds.

Sadly, the franchise went out of print in 2013. Tindalos picked up the slack, releasing Battlefleet Gothic: Armada just three years later to critical acclaim. Its sequel begins at a seminal moment in the history of the 40K universe — the fall of Cadia. Fans of the 40K universe will know that engagement as one of the most epic battles of the 41st millennium, with millions of warriors on each side. It’s the same battle where the fortress world of Cadia itself, as the saying goes, broke before the Imperial Guard did.

For PC players new to the franchise, expect to be completely overwhelmed by the scale of the battles that unfold. The introductory CG sequence alone includes thousands of ships in high orbit moving in parallax against a brightly lit nebula. What appear to be stationary stars in the background are in fact thousands more ships painted onto the massive skybox itself.

To properly get your head around what this means in gameplay terms, understand that the tutorial required me to ram an orbital weapons platform the size of a small continent into a starship the size of a large country. During the cutscene that followed, the wreckage of that collision fell from orbit and cracked the planet itself in half.

It was awesome.

Even more exciting than the cutscenes, however, is the sheer quality of the game’s tactical engagements. Compared to similar fleet-level space combat games, such as Stellaris and Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, the difference is night and day. Not only do Armada 2’s battles look flashier and more detailed than those in the other titles, eager admirals are given a host of different bells and whistles with which to control their fleets. For instance, there are nuanced settings that allow you to control which side of a single ship its AI-controlled captain should keep facing the enemy. Meanwhile, it’s fairly straightforward to flip a single switch and issue orders to your entire fleet all at once.

I’m just a few battles in, but already the game is showing me how highly it prioritizes tactical decision-making and rewards adaptation.

In one early engagement in the Imperial Navy campaign, two new allied ships warped onto the map in answer to my admiral’s call for aid. While their appearance tripled the size of my fleet, it also brought a small flotilla of new enemies in hot pursuit.

I ordered all three of my vessels to accelerate to full speed, a pace that the ships would not be able to maintain for very long before needing to recharge. With the clock ticking, I sent my flagship charging full-bore into the incoming enemy formation. Meanwhile, the two new ships I sent screaming away from the enemy forces at a 45-degree angle. To cover their retreat I slammed my flagship hard to the right and fired a full brace of torpedoes across the enemy ships’ line of advance. The maneuver worked, causing the enemy vessels to pull up short and take evasive maneuvers.

A wing of Space Marine assault ships in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2.
Fighter, bomber, and assault wings are all modeled in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2. Individual wings suffer from the effects of attrition and can become less effective during protracted battles.
Tindalos Interactive/Deep Silver

With the enemy bunched together, I sent my two retreating ships into an emergency turn, skidding them around to launch another volley of fire into the enemy’s midst. The barrage scattered the enemy formation, nearly causing two ships to collide. With just a few more clicks of the mouse, I had the entire attacking force surrounded. My ships closed in on them like wolves circling a flock of sheep, all the while bombarding them with withering fire that disabled their weapons and, eventually, brought them down.

Rarely does a strategy game respond so realistically to my actions. I expected the enemy ships to charge forward directly into the initial volley of torpedoes. To see them react in a realistic way was, frankly, unexpected. I can’t wait to find more ways to make the enemy AI scramble.

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 will be released Jan. 24 on Windows PC. It includes all 12 factions from the original tabletop game. It also comes with three dynamic solo campaigns, one each for the Imperium, Necrons, and the Tyranid. In addition, there’s a host of multiplayer features, including competitive and cooperative modes of play.

While I still need to spend more time with Armada 2 once it comes out, right now it appears to be a tremendous value at just $39.99.


The Division 2 Story Trailer Shows A Post-Apocalyptic DC And A Frog With Unique Hopping Properties

The latest story trailer for Ubisoft’s The Division 2 has arrived, and it provides one of the best looks so far at the narrative for the upcoming open-world shooter and its setting in Washington D.C. It also provides a first look a post-apocalyptic frog with unique hopping properties.

You play as an agent of The Division, and after surviving the events of the first game in New York, you’re headed to the nation’s capital to do it all again, it seems. The nation is divided, with the narrator saying America is “slipping into civil war.” The country is on the verge of “total collapse,” and you’re tasked with taking down various enemy groups to restore democracy to the country.

In addition to providing a better look at The Division 2’s story and setting, the video also shows some of the new weapons and gear such as drones and the crossbow. Also, at around 47 seconds, you can see a frog whose jump appears to have no effect on the water below. This frog also does not appear to move very smoothly. Must be the virus.

Given the current political tensions happening in real-world America today, it will be interesting to see how The Division 2’s story unfolds and how close to home it might strike.

The Division 2 launches on March 15 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. The PC edition will launch through Fortnite developer Epic’s new store and Ubisoft’s own store, but not Steam. A “private beta” for people who pre-order begins on February 7.


Valve’s Card Game Artifact Is Running Out Of Players

Screenshot: Kotaku (Artifact)

The collectible card game Artifact released on November 28, and had 60,740 concurrent players that day. A good start—but it was all downhill from there. Last night, its total concurrent players dipped just below 1,500 for the first time ever—a 97.5 percent drop from launch. Yes, many online games struggle to find an audience on Steam, but not usually the ones made by Valve itself.

Today, Artifact game is currently ranked 145 on Steam Charts out of all games being played on Steam. That wedges it in-between Dark Souls II and Assassin’s Creed Origins, two single-player games that have been out for over a year. Even Portal 2, Valve’s much-praised puzzler from 2011, currently has more players online than Artifact.

The Dota 2-inspired card game caught some negative press early on when it came out that there was no way to get new cards without paying money. Contrary to the free-to-play model established by the most successful digital card game of the last few years, Blizzard’s Hearthstone, Valve decided to charge $20 for Artifact and also for tickets to compete in its “gauntlet” mode where prizes could be earned. Artifact cards can also be resold between players, creating a secondary market where players can pay money directly for better decks.

Screenshot: Kotaku (Steam Charts)

I wrote at the time that this alternative model didn’t feel unusually onerous, and I still think that. But it’s become clear in the weeks since that the model is not attracting players to the game. An early round of review bombing by people angry with the game’s monetization scheme has only given way to more negative reviews, despite Valve’s initial attempts to make Artifact more balanced and add a way to earn new packs simply by playing.

A December 11 update added two sorely-needed features: leaderboards for certain modes and a chat wheel that let players communicate with one another during matches. On December 20, Valve released another big update, this time rebalancing some of the more overpowered cards and, more importantly, adding skill ratings for players and a leveling system that allowed players to earn free card packs after reaching certain milestones.

Players apparently remained unimpressed, since they continued to steadily leave the game in the subsequent weeks. Some of them have complaints about the game’s reliance on RNG mechanics, while others say they’re tired of having to continually pay for tickets to compete in the game’s prize modes.

Image: Valve (Artifact)

The marketplace tells a similar story. Back when Artifact was released, the total cost to buy a full set of cards was around $294. By mid-December it was down to $200. Today it dipped just below $100. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself. As more players open up more card packs, the overall price should slowly trend downward. But the quick decline over the first month and a half is also an indicator that Artifact isn’t winning any new players who might drive fresh demand.

Artifact received two minor updates last week. The first, on January 10, tinkered with some of the chat options, adding bindable keys for custom messages and decreasing the amount of time on player clocks during matches in an attempt to make them shorter overall. The second, on January 11, changed even less, fixing two minor bugs and removing the surrender notification. The Artifact Twitter account hasn’t been updated since December 21.

Valve has said that it’s in it for the long haul when it comes to Artifact. But it’s not clear what shape that investment will take in the short- and medium-term. In March 2018, Valve CEO Gabe Newell announced that Artifact would have its first major competitive tournament, featuring a prize pool of $1 million, earlier this year. It’s possible that that could be when the company makes a big push to try and revive the game, although there hasn’t been any real news since on the details surrounding that event. (Valve did not respond to a request for comment.)


Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Next Spirit Event Begins Tomorrow

A new Spirit Board event is set to begin soon in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. This week, Nintendo is holding the second part of the Fire Emblem Fest, which will feature a variety of Spirits taken from the long-running strategy RPG series.

The event kicks off at 10 PM PT on January 17 (1 AM ET / 6 AM GMT on January 18) and runs through the weekend, ending at the same time on January 20-21. During the Fire Emblem Fest, Fire Emblem characters will appear much more frequently on the Spirit Board. You’ll also take home extra Gold for defeating them.

No Caption Provided

The first part of the Fire Emblem Fest occurred back in December and featured the Legend-class Spirits Caeda and Azura, as well Eliwood, Eirika, and others. Both Azura and Caeda will return for Part 2, but this time they’ll be joined by a number of characters who didn’t appear the first time around, such as the Ace-class Spirits Leo and Takumi.

Nintendo is holding a different Spirit Board event each week in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. While most are themed around certain types of characters, last week’s event rewarded players with twice the normal amount of Spirit experience and Spirit Points. The Mario Time event from December also introduced a handful of exclusive Spirits.

The next game in the Fire Emblem series, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, is slated to launch for Switch this year. Nintendo hasn’t revealed many details about the game yet, but we got our first look at it during the company’s E3 2018 presentation. Nintendo has a number of other titles lined up for this year; be sure to check them out in our gallery of Nintendo-exclusive games coming in 2019.


PlayStation VR gets a ‘demo disc’ with nine games on it

PlayStation VR now has a “demo disc” offering previews of nine virtual reality games — some of them pretty good! — available through the PlayStation Store. It doesn’t get you 500 free hours of AOL, but it does give you some time with Superhot VR and Astro Bot Rescue Mission.

The free 12 GB download includes those two games, plus Battlezone, Headmaster, Job Simulator, Moss, Kitchen, The Persistence and Thumper. A PlayStation VR rig (with the PlayStation Camera) is needed; PlayStation Move controllers are optional.

We recommended Astro Bot Rescue Mission when it launched in October, calling it PSVR’s killer app while lamenting the reality that it was well overshadowed by bigger launches in the fall release window. We’ve been sweet on Superhot, VR or standard, since its concept emerged from a 2013 game jam.

Headmaster is a soccer minigame where the player launches headers at targets arrayed in and around a goal. Battlezone, from Rebellion Developments, is a remaster of the 1998 game, with VR support. Both were included on an actual physical demo disc packed with PlayStation VR when the headset launched in 2016.

Virtual reality, overall, had a sedate 2018, so if your PSVR unit has been collecting dust without new games for a while, this demo disc could be a nice chaser for all of the mega-experiences that have launched over the past four months.


Kratos forgetting how to jump and learning to juke made God of War better

If you played God of War (Polygon’s 2018 Game of the Year), you might have noticed that Kratos, a once prolific double jumper, can’t even single jump. In previous entries of the series, he could hop up a storm, and even glide on Icarus’ wings. In 2018’s entry, Kratos can only make modest leaps across specific chasms with a context-sensitive button press. I guess fatherhood really does change you.

But if you’re like me, you didn’t even jump around, because you were enjoying the company of a different staple of video game mobility: the dodge. Dodging in God of War feels fantastic. It looks cool, it feels cool, but most importantly, it’s indispensable to the game’s combat design.

Check out the video above for a deep dive into what makes God of War’s dashes and dodges feel so damn good.