The Assassin’s Creed series has been seeing a new entry every year since 2009. This years entry fully embraces the next generation of video games, while moving the series away from the pirate themed 4 that revitalized it so. Will another radical change in gameplay save Assassin’s Creed, or does this game lack the unity it claims to have?
Assassin’s Creed Unity puts players in the role of Arno. After his father is killed he is taken in by a nobleman named De La Serre. Years later De La Serre is also killed and Arno, along with De La Serre’s daughter Elise, investigate his death. Things don’t quite work out perfectly: Arno is recruited to the Assassin’s, while he discovers that De La Serre was the Templar’s Grandmaster that that Elise is a member of them. Furthermore, there is conspiracies of betrayal going on with both the Teplars and within the Assassins’, leaving Arno stuck in the middle.
The strongest element of the plot is the relationship between Arno and Elise. Both characters have similar ideas on how the world should be, but different ideas on how to get there. The fact that they are in love, but also kept apart by their organizations, makes for a very interesting dynamic. Combine this with very strong performances and I got a video game couple I actually cared about: something that’s a relative rarity in games. By the end of the game Arno and Elise are the two things I’ll remember most about the plot. Sadly, the rest is sort of a mess. The plot hits its peak somewhere around the middle of the game and everything after that feels like it’s lazily dragging itself over the finish line rather than contributing to the story. The main villain is uninteresting, there’s a few too many characters that appear one or two times while contributing nothing to the plot (especially Napoleon), and several character’s motives are just difficult to care about.
As for the modern day stuff, its mostly been ditched. Occasionally Shaun will reappear to take his role of “snarky historian” back, and a new character named Bishop will show up from time to time to remind you that this is a sci-fi game. Overall, the modern day stuff is at its weakest in Unity. Yet this may be a good thing, as the modern day stuff was starting to drag in the last few games.
There’s no two ways around this: Assassin’s Creed Unity is drop-dead gorgeous. I’m not sure where to begin, but every part of this game is absolutely beautiful to look at. From the extremely detailed recreation of revolutionary Paris, to the breath taking number of people on screen in crowds, to the simple way cloths depress when a character steps on them. Each character model is also expertly crafted and all the voice actors do a pretty good job with their roles (although, despite taking place in France, a lot of the voice actors have British accents for… some reason) and the soundtrack is catchy enough that I would find myself humming or tapping along.
Yet we have to also get the big elephant in the room out of the way: Assassin’s Creed Unity is a very glitchy game. During the course of the game I saw NPCs pop into existence, characters fall through the world, ragdolls flop around, floating scenery objects… A lot of the terrible ones have been fixed now, but the game is still noticeably messy. I also found some things, like navigating the overly stuffed map, to be kind of difficult.
Like past games, Assassin’s Creed Unity is a combination of stealth and action. First things first, the entire combat system has been reworked. It does still keep the basic “square to attack, triangle to counter” stuff, but countering is no longer a kill but just a deflect and it has to be timed perfectly to make it an actual attack. Enemies now all have a rank between 1 – 5, as does Arno. Stealth becomes more important than I’ve ever seen it in the Assassin’s Creed games, as getting into combat with a higher ranking enemy or a swarm of normal ranking enemies becomes a battle that I simply couldn’t win.
This also means that for the first time there’s some light RPG elements in Assassin’s Creed. Arno can earn money throughout the game and can use it to purchase better weapons, armors, and items. He can also earn skill points to unlock new abilities, attacks, and passive buffs. All of this contributes to Arno’s level, which gives a vague idea of what missions I could go after. Of course this isn’t a straight up RPG, I could still lose to enemies lower level than me if I didn’t pay attention to combat, but it’s a step in the right direction to help add some variety to Assassin’s Creed’s gameplay.
To assist Arno he has various tools to help keep the stealth. One of the most important is the Phantom Blade, which is a wrist mounted crossbow that can silently execute enemies from a distance. He can also use it to shoot a poison that causes enemies to attack their friends, though this is nothing new to the Assassin’s Creed series, it’s just done in a slightly different way. In fact, the Phantom Blade itself just reminds me of the crossbow in Brotherhood (albeit with actual aiming rather than an auto-aim), but it’s still nice to see come back to the series. Besides this Arno can drop smoke or stun bombs, use a pistol or rifle, and throw pouches of money to distract enemies. Nothing really new to the series, but a good set of tools regardless.
The game’s story missions took me through a long list of varied tasks. From protecting flying balloons, to breaking into parties, there wasn’t any missions that stood out as a problem. The big assassination missions are particularly cool, showing me the target that I had to kill and several events in the area that could assist me in taking the target down. For example, it may show a riot I could start or a key I can steal. They feel open ended and I really enjoyed them more than the usual missions.
Of course, in normal Assassin’s Creed style, there’s a ton of side quests that are available. They’re broken into a few different types. The most involves are Paris Stories, which has its own story (often involving a historical figure of Paris) and are structured similar to quests from the main game. My favorite, however, were Helix Missions. These allowed me to travel to Paris in other time periods and had me collect data packets and save Assassins. It was really cool getting to see Paris throughout the years, though I wish there were more time periods available. Besides that there were also Murder Mysteries which allowed me to step into the shoes of a detective for a bit and put clues together to solve whodunit, Social Club Missions that were similar in design to Paris Stories but without the story, and Companion Missions that were very short quests that I never really understood the purpose of.
Yet at times I couldn’t help but feel overloaded. I ended up counting nearly 550 collectibles, and probably around 100 side quests. Every time I look at the map I saw that, between me and my next story mission, there were often dozens of things littered along the way for me to interact with (and that’s assuming one of the random events didn’t show up to distract me). Worse: a lot of this feels like filler content. A lot of the time I found that side quests were only there to add a little more to an already overstuffed game.
One of the big advertised features for Unity was the co-op missions. These missions allow either two or four players to team up and complete a list of objectives. While I like the idea in theory, it still reminds me of Black Flag’s “wolfpack” mode. Instead of feeling like a group of coordinated assassins that were going through and clearing out Templars, I felt like a group of four idiots with knives that blundered their way through an objective. It’s fun, but it feel silly. I also can’t help but lament the loss of a competitive multiplayer mode: that was something that I always found to be ridiculously fun in Assassin’s Creed games.
Still, I came away from Assassin’s Creed Unity rather impressed. It took some time to get there, but this may actually be one of the best entries in the series. You have to look past its faults a little, glitches, a story that doesn’t really go anywhere, and a mass of filler content. Yet in the end I’d recommend this one to people looking to get back into the series.