Release Date: June 4, 2019Platform: PS4 (reviewed), XBO, PCDeveloper: UbisoftPublisher: UbisoftGenre: Action-adventure
In “Torment of Hades,” the second of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s three-episode Fate of Atlantis DLC, you’ll explore the desolate deserts and craggy cliffs of the Underworld as you carry out tasks for the manipulative Hades himself, encounter old friends and foes from the main campaign, and come face-to-face with some of the most formidable figures in Greek mythology. If you enjoyed Odyssey (I consider it one of the best mainline games in the series), you’ll certainly be satisfied with this DLC episode—it offers the same tight combat, story-driven missions and free-form exploration but in a new sandbox that’ll take about ten hours to complete. There isn’t a lot to dislike here.
That is, unless you have an aversion to difficult boss battles because “Torment of Hades” brings the heat right out of the gate. The episode opens with a face-off against the ferocious Cerberos, the Underworld’s towering, three-headed guard dog. If you’re like me and haven’t played Odyssey in a while, you’re in for a rude awakening. The battle is long, escalates in difficulty, and tests your reflexes and familiarity with all of the offensive and defensive skills you have at your disposal. Parrying, dodging, and pattern recognition are necessities for survival, but as in the main game, combat is always fair, and once you’ve felled the beast, you’ll be well prepared for the equally challenging battles yet to come.
Once you get a grasp of the flow of combat and the importance of managing your ability meter and planning a few steps ahead, you start to catch a sort of rhythm that makes each enemy encounter pretty engrossing, even if you’re just dunking it out with a little hellhound in an empty field. It’s like learning the steps to a dance and then getting so good that you start to improvise, which is when it gets really fun. Assassin’s Creed games haven’t nailed combat this well maybe ever, and it’s now become my favorite aspect of the game.
Adding a bit of richness to combat is the inventory system, which allows you to modify weapons and armor as well as create custom loadouts that you can swap between depending on the demands of certain enemies and bosses. As in the main game, there are several different weapon types, from dual-wielded blades, to staffs, to traditional swords, and each one brings with it a different feel and rhythm, which is nice if you like changing up your play style from time to time.
Traversal has been a permanent focus of gameplay since the series began, and it’s virtually identical to what you’ll find in Odyssey’s main campaign. The ability to climb up nearly any surface (á la Zelda: Breath of the Wild) really opens things up and makes exploration feel more liberating than it’s felt in recent mainline titles. The Underworld is full of sky-high rock formations and cliffside enemy outposts, and there are underground areas as well, though these mini-dungeons present the game’s main drawback.
When searching for quest items, it felt natural to me to simply make my way toward the corresponding icon on the game map from my current location, either on horseback or on foot. This occasionally led me into an underground area that seemed to be the dungeon or temple holding said item, so I’d search and search, clearing the area of enemies, only to realize that, despite the quest icon being ever so close on the map, I wasn’t in the right area at all.
Essentially, the verticality and depth of the environments can make navigation more challenging than I’d like, though aesthetically I quite enjoyed the grandiosity of the mountains and caves that had me losing my mind looking for a doorway that didn’t exist from time to time. And getting all turned around can be fun. Odyssey’s Exploration Mode (in which you follow clues to find your objective instead of being given a waypoint straight away) is still one of my favorite new features in the franchise.
It’s best to not spoil the details of the narrative as it’s full of surprises, but it mostly revolves around you hunting down baddies unleashed on the underworld as a result of Cerberus’ untimely death, and recruiting (by force) some of the great champions of Greek Myth (Achilles, Herakles, Agamemnon, Perseus), as well as collecting mythical armor pieces and helping some familiar faces on the side. Speaking of side missions, they absolutely should not be skipped—they’re emotionally charged and incredibly well designed, and I found myself getting more wrapped up in them than I was in the main storyline.
To play “Torment of Hades,” players will have to have reached level 28 in Odyssey and completed the “Between Two Worlds” questline as well as the Lost Tales of Greece DLC’s “Heiress of Memories” questline and Fate of Atlantis Episode 1 – “Elysium.” Or, you can jump straight in with a preset, level 52 character like I did, which I can say was quite satisfactory and saved me some time.
“Torment of Hades” had me hooked from beginning to end, mostly because the combat is so tight and addictive, and there’s just enough mission variety to keep things compelling for the length of the campaign. The finale doesn’t disappoint, either—I just about had a heart attack trying to survive the insanely hard final boss battle, in the best way. Hopefully, the third The Fate of Atlantis episode keeps the momentum going.
Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.