We all know that Ubisoft has gone on record saying they wanted to get back to the roots of the Assassin’s Creed series with Syndicate. It’s why they removed multiplayer and co-op, turning their sole attention onto the single player experience. Until I was able to go hands-on with a couple of the game’s early sequences last week at a special London event, however, I wasn’t sure just what that would entail.

Well, it meant we’d get what could be some of the most memorable characters the series has yet to offer. New villain Crawford Starrick, the Templar Grandmaster who has wrapped an iron fist around 19th century London, made his power felt right from the get-go of our time with Syndicate. A cruel, ruthless man, Starrick takes no prisoners when it comes to making sure things are done his way, and has zero tolerance for the Assassin Brotherhood.

His early emergence in Syndicate was a welcome sight, as it gives the Frye twins a clear and ever-present goal throughout the narrative. Eliminate Starrick and save London; not since Rodrigo Borgia and Ezio have the battle lines between Templar and Assassin been so clearly drawn. Nor have they been so fun.

Getting to Starrick is, not surprisingly, going to be very difficult. Between him and our would-be Assassin heroes are Starrick’s seven lieutenants, each in charge of a key part of what keeps London ticking. High-rolling bankers, members of Parliament, even the city’s most prominent crime boss all get their marching orders from Starrick, and only by drawing them out and removing them first from their respective territories will you have a chance of luring out the Grandmaster himself.

To do this, you’ll have to perform a variety of both new and familiar side quests. As an added bonus, many of these missions take advantage of the new mechanics introduced courtesy of the time period. For example, one set of side quests requires you to kidnap key Templar targets and then transport them via stagecoach across London for interrogation. Others missions more recognizable to fans of the series will require you to tail a particular target and listen in for information, or remove a certain number of Templar thugs from an area before claiming it in the name of the Brotherhood. Thankfully, new devices like the rope launcher make it easier than ever to traverse across rooftops or line up air assassinations in large, open courtyards.

Not all the memorable characters have aligned themselves with the Templars, however. Some of history’s greatest faces from the Victorian era have thrown in with the Assassins—although not all knowingly. Famed author Charles Dickens is a man about town, is as well connected as they come, and the Frye twins will surely use his contacts to ascertain vital information. Inventor Alexander Graham Bell provides the Frye twins with some of their greatest weapons and gadgets, as well as a kind ear to bounce ideas off of. Not since Benjamin Franklin or Leonardo da Vinci have we had such a colorful confidant standing side-by-side with the Brotherhood. And then there’s Henry Green, the Indian Assassin mentor who guides Evie and Jacob throughout their adventure and knows just where, who, and when to strike the Templars to cause the most harm to their cause. There’s even some comedy relief from Agnes, the train conductor, who maintains the Assassin’s locomotive base of operations.

Yes, you did not misread. Much like Monteriggioni or Café Theatre, the Frye twins have their own base of operations. And in fitting Industrial Revolution fashion, it’s always moving. Through a series of fortunate events, the twins come to acquire an entire train, and enlist the aid of its conductor, Agnes. From there you can collect coin from parts of the city you’ve liberated from Templar control, receive new quests, keep track of upgrades, and more.

But, of course, the most important characters in the game are the ones you play as, and Evie and Jacob are as different as they are similar. Jacob’s brashness and Evie’s thoughtfulness provide some brilliant banter between the two, whether in the company of others or on their own, planning their next movie. Their ever-growing personalities will surely influence you when it comes time to take control of one or the other while exploring the open world Syndicate provides. The other aspect of this is that they both play very differently, each with their own set of upgrades, equipment, and special abilities that can be unlocked as they level up by exploring and freeing more of London from Templar control.

There is still one more character that I haven’t touched on yet, though, and that is London itself. From its iconic architecture like Big Ben and St. Paul’s Cathedral, to the small alley markets teeming with life, London gives off a personality unlike any city we’ve seen yet from Assassin’s Creed. Each neighborhood truly comes across as unique, with stark contrasts that you can see and feel. You’ll instantly be able to recognize when you’ve moved from the seedier parts of town like Devil’s Acre or Whitechapel to the more affluent avenues of high society in Westminster or Buckingham. Syndicate’s London may be the most impressive city Assassin’s Creed has recreated yet.

If getting back to the early days of Assassin’s Creed was the plan all along for Syndicate, then from the two sequences I played, it could well be on its way to doing that. The team at Ubisoft Quebec seem to be crafting a narrative and a setting that looks to suck players in right from the start, and lead them by the nose through one of the deepest adventures the series has provided yet. We’ll just have to wait for October to see if it can follow through and deliver on this lofty promise.

 
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