Tag Archive: Assassin’s Creed Unity

Assassin’s Creed Unity owners will get the Dead Kings DLC for free to help smooth over the game’s dreadful launch, Ubisoft Montreal and Toronto CEO Yannis Mallat announced today.

The Dead Kings DLC is the first major single player expansion for Unity and picks up shortly after the end of the main game. It follows Arno as he explores the catacombs of Saint-Denis, a suburb of Paris, as he attempts to unravel a new set of mysteries there and deal with greedy tomb raiders in the process.

Because the game’s season pass or Gold Edition owners would have gotten the DLC as part of that package anyway, Ubisoft will make it up to those early adopters by giving them a free game. Season Pass and Gold Edition owners will be able to choose from The Crew, Far Cry 4, Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Rayman Legends, or Just Dance 2015.

Ubisoft will release details soon on how to claim the free game once they work out a distribution system. When set up, Season Pass and Gold Edition owners will have until March 15, 2015, to claim their free game.

As much as we all took shots at Ubisoft with how they handled the launch of Assassin’s Creed Unity, from the review embargo to the state of the game itself, it’s nice to see they’re at least trying to make things up to their fanbase somehow. Maybe next time they’ll just save everyone the headache and not ship a game that wasn’t ready for store shelves, though. Assassin’s Creed Unity currently sits as the worst reviewed game in the series’ history, and you can find out some of the reasons why from my own review.

The Dead Kings DLC does not currently have a release date, but is expected to come soon.

The past repeats itself

It’s a little hard to believe, what with all the releases the series has seen, but Assassin’s Creed Unity marks the first time that an entry in Ubisoft’s history-based action-adventure franchise has been developed solely for a new generation of consoles since, well, the very first game. The original Assassin’s Creed was full of great ideas and really showed the potential of what the Xbox 360 and PS3 generation could offer developers and players alike, but it had some rough edges and poorly implemented early concepts, many of which wouldn’t be realized until its sequel, Assassin’s Creed II.

The hope this time around was that Unity would allow Assassin’s Creed to make a splash on new-gen without having to deal with the growing pains usually associated with a shift in technology—that it could introduce new ideas without the bumps and bruises seen when the series first launched. Unfortunately, Unity’s ideas are as much of a mixed bag as the 2007 original: Some are great, some are bad, and some are just poorly implemented.

Continuing the thread started in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Abstergo—the megacorporation at the heart of the series—has begun mass-producing the equivalent of a set-top box Animus they call “Helix”, allowing everyone at home to now enjoy a variety of Assassin adventures filtered through their rose-colored glasses. When you start playing, though, your box is hacked by the actual Assassins, and they ask you to help them by playing through the French Revolution in 18th-century Paris. So, you’re basically playing a videogame where you play a person playing a videogame. So meta, Ubisoft. Also, very boring. Here, though, you take over as Arno Dorian, a young lad whose father dies under mysterious circumstances and is adopted by the Grandmaster of the Templars.

You watch as Arno grows up and then begins a love affair with his adopted sister, Elisé, always in the dark to his adopted father’s affairs. When the Grandmaster is murdered, however, Arno comes across the Assassin Order—which, unbeknownst to him, puts our hero at odds with his love, who’s been trained in the Templar ways all this time. What follows then is easily one of the most gripping stories to date in the Assassin’s Creed universe: Arno’s tale is filled with romance, intrigue, mystery, and lots of action. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Arno might have to duke it out with Black Flag’s Edward Kenway and Assassins Creed II’s Ezio Auditore on my all-time favorite Assassins list because of his robust character growth over the course of the game.

Sadly, all the other players in Arno’s story—except maybe Elisé—fall completely flat in terms of their development. Characters who are important to the canon of Assassin’s Creed like Napoleon Bonaparte (he wields an Apple of Eden at one point in his life), critical figures in the French Revolution like Maximilien de Robespierre (commonly believed to be one of the architects to blame for the Reign of Terror), and even Arno’s mentor, Pierre Bellec, along with many others, are underutilized and barely serve as little more than footnotes in the development of our protagonist. This was disappointing, considering how many great supporting characters we’ve had in previous games like Leonardo da Vinci, the Borgias, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Blackbeard, and Black Bart. I wanted Arno to pal around with Napoleon. I wanted him to learn more from Bellec. And I wanted him to have some banter with Robespierre. I got none of this.

And since I mentioned the real world, I think now’s a great time to bring up the most startling thing about Unity’s story: the complete removal of that aspect from the game. Not once do you leave Arno and Helix and move about in reality. Instead, you get a handful of voiceovers from your random Assassin hacker telling you what to do and why to do it.

These sequences, which were a welcome respite in previous games, are now replaced by “server bridge” scenarios where Abstergo IT security tries to track you in the primary French Revolution scenario—so, in order to protect you, the hidden Assassin jacks you out of 18th-century Paris and into one of three other time periods. Once you complete a traversal challenge, you go back to the French Revolution, but if you want to revisit these other time periods, you’ll be welcomed back by minigames in which you have to collect inconsequential data clusters that award you 10, 20, or 50 points. This is by far the worst thing Unity attempts to add to the series—it feels like a pointless excuse to give players a chance to climb the Eiffel Tower during World War II or see familiar Templar designs in medieval times.

But there’s more to Assassin’s Creed than just the story. Ubisoft loves to point out their three “pillars of gameplay” (combat, stealth, and navigation), and they’ve said that they set out early in Unity’s development to address each one and hopefully improve upon it for new-gen—but they were only successful in some regards.

The first major tweak comes with the combat, which feels like a change we didn’t know we needed until it happened. It’s much more difficult now, since the overpowered counter button has been removed in place of the more finesse-oriented parry maneuver. Shades of the Batman: Arkham games bleed through here—your enemy’s lifebar will light up above their head when they’re about to attack, which allows you time to prepare your parry. If your timing’s right, your opponent will now be left wide open for a follow-up attack. If you’re surrounded, however, you may have several opponents try to attack at the same time—and Arno’s far more human than Ezio or Edward and will fall to enemy blades if he finds himself surrounded by more than three foes in most cases. The days of piling up dozens of enemy bodies in the streets are over, but walking away from an encounter alive is surprisingly more satisfying now.

Another huge improvement comes in the form of the stealth elements, particularly during assassination missions. This was a huge focus for the development team, because fans have been clamoring for more emphasis on this for years—and part of the success of this change comes about due to the aforementioned combat becoming more difficult. Sneaking around enemy fortresses and encampments is now a must if you want to survive.

The assassination missions are also more open-ended, and the game tells you before you even start your attempt how many entrances exist and how many opportunities you’ll have for special assassinations (my favorite was on a guillotine stage) before letting you loose to overcome the seemingly impossible odds however you choose. Optional mission objectives, such as paying off a maid to open up a particular window or retrieving a monk’s lost keys to open up a church’s back door, are also present and allow for more possible strategies when tackling your task, but they’re by no means mandatory. I had so much fun with these that I wish there’d been more—or even an extra mode just dedicated to assassinating different targets again and again.

As welcome as these improvements are when it comes to two of the three gameplay pillars, however, there’s one that falls flat on its face: the new parkour system. I put more than 35 hours into Unity, and I still never felt like I got the full hang of it. In the original Assassin’s Creed, you held the RT and A buttons (or R2 and X on the PS3) to climb around. Later on in the series, the trigger button alone handled this duty, and the series did away with the grip that became known as the “Creed claw,” since you’d spend most of the game holding those buttons. Unfortunately, in Unity, the developers have gotten away from the one-button concept in favor of a ridiculous four-button system. You still hold the right trigger to run, but if you want to run up, you need to hold A (or X on the PS4) in conjunction with the trigger. If you want to run down or climb over low walls, you hold B and the trigger (or Circle on the PS4) instead. If you want to climb into windows of a certain altitude, you hold both triggers.

Honestly, it becomes a real pain in the neck after a while, because it never feels as intuitive as the one-button system. At one point, I spent 30 seconds dancing around the four corners of a window I was trying to sneak into—before I remembered that I needed to press the left trigger, too. And there’s nothing like falling into a crowd of angry soldiers because you slipped and pressed B instead of A. It felt like I was fighting the controls the entire time, and even when I thought I was doing it right, Arno felt floaty and not nearly as controllable as he should’ve been.

To Ubisoft’s credit, the “controlled descent” feature, which allows you to slide down high walls or quickly get down from towers with RT and B (R2 and Circle on the PS4), is a welcome addition. But I don’t understand why the developers couldn’t just keep the one-trigger system and then add that controlled-descent mechanic on top of it.

And this seems to be Assassin’s Creed Unity in a nutshell. For every good feature or two that Ubisoft Montreal implemented here, they did something else that made me question what they were thinking.

Another example of elation and disappointment comes during the side missions, where you’ve got a cornucopia of tasks that vary greatly in scope and objective. I loved some of them, such as the Café Théâtre’s missions. The Café Théâtre is a small bistro in Paris under Assassin ownership and serves as Arno’s home base, much like Monteriggioni did for Ezio. It also affords the game an excuse to reintroduce an economy system like that seen in Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood. Having a constant flow of currency (and being able to increase that flow via special missions and unlocking other clubs around Paris) is a huge boon and also makes the customization far less daunting, since you’re more able to easily afford the pricier, more powerful items over time. The customization and upgrade system are also surprisingly well balanced, and I never felt like I lacked the necessary skills to complete an assassination.

The co-op missions are also a healthy change for the series and provide some really interesting side stories, along with the single-player-driven Paris Story missions that add both color and context to the time period, as well as the Assassin-Templar war. My only wish is that co-op could’ve somehow been worked into the main campaign. Also, since these missions—much like the game itself—are so narrative-centric, many of them lack the replayability you might expect.

But for every great Club or Paris Story mission, there are the disappointing Murder Mysteries and Nostradamus Enigmas. In the Murder Mysteries, Arno must help the bumbling police force solve various crimes around Paris using his Eagle Vision—but these segments are beyond simple. While you’re awarded with a rare item upon the completion of each case, these mysteries often require far too much running around Paris to solve a crime that you could easily piece together after only a few telling clues—or, if you’re really lazy, you can just Google the answer, since many are based on real-life events.

The Nostradamus Enigmas, meanwhile, are supposed to be the spiritual successors to the Glyph puzzles of Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood or the hacking puzzles from the real world in Black Flag. Instead, cryptic riddles point you to landmarks around Paris, where you scour the building in time-sensitive Eagle Vision and look for weird drawings. There’s no thinking involved—just more tiresome legwork.

Even in terms of the look and feel of Paris, you can find things that’ll leave you scratching your head. The city does feel more alive than any previous Assassin’s Creed setting, with gorgeous graphics and animation helping highlight the scores of NPCs crammed onscreen. But it also brings about the potential for several hysterical glitches, like people snapping into place like a movie extra late for the “action” call trying desperately to get their spot, or some getting constantly stuck on random pieces of furniture in houses or boxes in the market. The vibe is also rather bland, with most of the districts taking on similar, monotonous tones that just start to wear you down after some time. The game does briefly take an aside in Versailles, but even then I found myself longing for the cities and landscapes from previous games.

For the first time in a long time, in fact, an Assassin’s Creed game felt like a bit of a grind. Arno’s story, the new combat, the return to stealth, and the economy and customization were all high points. But the implementation and addition of many other ideas fell short of the quality I expect from this franchise. I can’t help but think that even with a four-year development cycle, this game needed some more time to polish and flesh out the concepts. It’s kind of funny how a franchise built around reliving history is reliving some of its own now, though—so, at the very least, I’m still looking forward to its sequel when, hopefully, they finally get a lot of this stuff right.

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.11.14
Unity follows in the original Assassin’s Creed’s footsteps in many ways as the first game in the series developed exclusively for the new generation of consoles. And, much like its ancestor, for every good thing Unity does, it adds something else that just leaves you scratching your head—giving the whole experience a hit-or-miss feel that we haven’t seen from the series in a long time.
The Good A strong main narrative; combat and stealth are much improved.
The Bad Fighting the parkour system the entire game; side missions are hit-or-miss.
The Ugly All those French people…and almost no French accents.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review.

United we stand

In many ways, Assassin’s Creed Unity aims to be the most ambitious game the franchise has ever seen. Featuring systemic gameplay, narrative driven co-op that uses the same world as the single-player campaign, and a huge emphasis on stealth mechanics that bring the series back to its roots—especially Assassin’s Creed II, which many still consider the best—Unity has vast potential as the first Assassin’s Creed developed solely for the new generation of consoles.

With all that in mind, I was excited to finally get the opportunity for some quality hands-on time with Unity, about four hours in all. Unfortunately, from the sample I played, Unity goes a bit too far back in time when it comes to Assassin’s Creed, because it reminded me more of the original game with Altaïr: tremendous ideas alongside some very poor execution.

My demo consisted of Sequences 3 and 4 in protagonist Arno Dorian’s timeline. He’d just been fully inducted into the Assassin Brotherhood and now had access to the entire city of Paris while he carried out missions to further the Assassin cause—and here’s where my first issue arose. Unity includes a new progression system where, much like in an RPG, players will be able to buy skills and abilities for Arno and customize him as they see fit. Since I was already into Sequence 3 when the demo started, I had some ability tokens in the bank. I like the idea of a progression system and unlocking more moves as you go along; when I went to assign these tokens, however, I was shocked at just how bare-bones Arno was.

Skills that we’ve come to expect over the years, like crowd blending, double assassinations, and even just carrying a pistol, all needed to be purchased with skill points. If he was a full-fledged Assassin now, I hate to think of what he’s like in Sequences 1 and 2. What exactly did he learn from his teacher? How to pull the hood up over his ears? I’m not expecting Arno to have everything at his disposal from the get-go, but these skills in particular are staples of what it means to be an Assassin—especially during the setting of the French Revolution in the late 18th century—and the fact that I had to spend points just to raise Arno up to the standards of those who came before him made me feel extremely underpowered. I suppose that’s one way to artificially amp up the difficulty, though.

And since skill tokens are acquired by completing many of the side missions around Paris, it’s also a way to force you to deviate from the main narrative. This could be a way to artificially extend the game, however, because the sequences I played were only four missions long, making me worry greatly about the length of the main narrative compared to previous games.

It also plays into a lot of the new systemic gameplay, where the player can tell their own story and have it play out as they wish—it’s very cool to see random fights break out in the streets as warring factions butt heads or approach an assassination target from multiple directions. Unfortunately, though, the only word that came to mind for me during some of these missions was grind. Yes, the sidequests are far more entertaining than hunting animals, since they’re a story within a story, but I felt like I was being pushed away from the main narrative instead of being sucked into it, simply because I needed to make Arno a more formidable force to take on the difficulty as it ramped up. And let’s be honest, folks—for most of us, the story is still the main draw.

Now, that’s not to say that Arno can’t defend himself at all. With his hidden blade, he can still stab people in the face rather effectively. But one change that I didn’t mind related to the combat, which is far more difficult than in previous games—piling up bodies in the street as never-ending waves of enemies swarm is a thing of the past. If you’re not trained well enough, taking on more than three foes will probably spell the death of you, since the counter button’s been removed. In its place is a parry button that must be perfectly timed for you to take advantage of your off-balance foes. Enemies also strike more quickly and more effectively, which puts an emphasis back on stealth and smarter enemy encounters. It’s now a must to wait for guards to be alone before going in for the quick kill or use the whole gamut of tools at your disposal, like poison gas, smoke bombs, and noisemakers.

You can also strengthen Arno by purchasing new items. You’re able to buy dozens of different outfit parts, such as hoods and boots, and you can swap between all items you acquire to accentuate different statistics in four key categories: armor, stealth, health, or effective range of weaponry. This aspect of customization and progression is a lot clearer, and it hearkens back to buying new armor and weapons in Assassin’s Creed II. I will say that the interface back then was a lot sexier than what we see here in Unity, though.

And speaking of Assassin’s Creed II, another aspect that I loved seeing was the Café-Theatre. It basically serves as Arno’s version of Monteriggioni, Ezio’s upgradable home and fortress from Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood. As you buy upgrades and renovations, you can unlock new missions and items—plus, you get a treasure chest that keeps collecting money as the café makes more money from its customers. Along with the new missions from Café-Theatre, Unity also sees a spiritual successor to Assassin’s Creed II’s glyph puzzles, called Nostradamus puzzles here. Since they’re so directly tied to landmarks, I wasn’t able to solve any during my demo time. The landmarks seemed to already be unlocked in-game, and many of the buildings just started to blend together, which sometimes made climbing up to a synchronization point a bother.

This leads me to another negative: the new parkour system. I actually felt like I had less control over Arno than most other Assassins before him. Unity features a new control scheme that allows you to parkour up or down across much of the landscape, and I admit that it takes some time to get used to. Once you’re experienced, though, and can pull off all manner of flips and stunts, it still feels like you’re fighting the controls to get them to go where you want—or, worse yet, you go bounding off in the completely wrong direction. Since there’s such a return to emphasis on stealth, the last thing you want is a lack of pinpoint control when free-running through Paris.

Besides the two single-player sequences, I also got to try out two co-op missions. The first one, the Heist, is great for earning a lot of quick cash, but it’s really meant more for players near the end of the game. Coordination among the team is critical, since Heist missions require four players to infiltrate a heavily guarded location and raid it to stuff their pockets with gold. If you get spotted, you’ll walk away with less gold, and if one person dies, the mission restarts.

Though I enjoyed the concept, everyone playing was at such a high level that we just started spamming attacks, throwing a bevy of smoke bombs into every room and then running in and clearing it out. I know that’s not the purpose of the game mode, but when you’ve got 25 smoke bombs, they’re cheap to buy, and you can walk away with as much as 60,000 credits, it’s hard not to.

The other co-op mission was the more narrative-driven one—and I loved it, because the reason I still play Assassin’s Creed is for the story. In this mission, I had to save a French spy who’d happened upon a Templar plot. Once they found him out, the Templars branded him a traitor and sentenced him to death. First, I had to free him from the Templars and then help him escape. My co-op partner and I were a force to be reckoned with as we used our environment to our advantage and quickly dispatched the Templar agents in our way, zigzagging across rooftops and using our smoke bombs when necessary to escape.

I appreciate that Unity offers players more to do than ever before. Whether it’s the new sidequests or the openness with which you can complete missions, it definitely feels like a step in the right direction for the franchise. But I can’t get over the progression system and the shoddy parkour. These are two definite missteps—and I worry about how they’ll affect the main game as a whole when Unity releases next month.

Ray Carsillo inteviews Dan Jeannotte at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con. The talented actor behind the on-screen face and voice of Assassin’s Creed Unity’s lead character reveals what goes into playing a digital role and the challenges faced in bringing Arno Dorian to life.

Ubisoft released an Assassin’s Creed Unity gameplay video, which follows Arno through one of his first assassination missions.

The video, narrated by creative director Alex Amancio, walks you through several new key aspects to assassination missions. These include the new, smoother parkour traversal system, as well as mission “mod objectives”.

The “mod objectives” are optional objectives that can change a mission on the fly depending on what paths you do or do not take. They can offer up different pathways, or in the case of the demo, an extra kill option for your target.

The gameplay video also highlights the look of the game with Paris stretching as far as the eye can see while running along rooftops, while also showing off some of Paris’s subterranean tunnels. The tunnels give you even more options as an assassin since you can go above or below now to eliminate your targets or escape sticky situations.

Assassin’s Creed Unity will be available on November 11 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.