Since our beloved Ezio Auditore ran his course in the Assassin’s Creed series, it has felt like there’s been a clear void in the series. Sure, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was a great game on its own, but it’s hard to hold it in the same regard as Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood. Assassin’s Creed III had already left a bad impression on some gamers, so it was going to take something exceptional to get people to love the series the way they once did. Along comes Assassin’s Creed: Unity, with its great emphasis on co-operative gameplay. I’m knee-deep into the experience already, and the feeling is much like playing Assassin’s Creed II for the first time. Read on to learn the good and the bad.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity follows the life of Arno Dorian, an orphan out for revenge due to the killing of his adopted father. His quest for revenge leads him to the Assassins, and through this affiliation, he begins working towards exposing those instigating the French Revolution. What I particularly liked about the story set up is that the introduction phase, which is usually drawn out in most Assassin’s Creed games, is more brief this time around. You’re given enough time to get used to the new gameplay mechanics, and enough time to digest the key characters in the game, but you wont have to wait too long to don those bad-ass Assassin robes.
Once you do get into the robes, the game truly begins, and the amount of options available to you can be quite overwhelming at first. If you want to stick with story missions then you’re free to do so. However, Assassin’s Creed: Unity gives you a great reason to take part in the various side activities, and that reason is earning enough money to dabble in customization.
Unity feels more RPG than any other Assassin’s Creed game. This time around, you can unlock new skills with sync points, purchase new weapons, and the biggest addition is being able to fit Arno with new gear. You can buy new headgear, chest pieces, glove sets and boots; and all gear has its own unique stats to enhance Arno any way you wish. If you want to tailor Arno to excel in stealth, you can focus on boosting the stealth stat with your gear. If you want him to have range, you can do that too. If health is important to you, then you can go for that. You can equip Arno to match your play-style, and this makes the game feel much more personal to the player.
Upon playing Assassin’s Creed: Unity, you’ll remember just how perfect it feels to play one of these games that’s set in a major city. Assassin’s Creed III was ambitious with its forests and small town spaces. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was more of a pirate game, and sailing the waters was the attraction. It’s not until you return to a huge city environment—Paris in this case—that you realize just how necessary the setting feels when playing as an Assassin. You’ll then begin to enjoy the subtle gameplay updates to the game, such as the way Arno interacts with the environment as you bolt through the streets. R2 is still your running command, and a further press of circle allows you to either slide under or jump over/through structures that are in your path.
Climbing has also been improved. In previous games, you’d easily find yourself climbing up or down when you didn’t want to. The classic case in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was jumping from the side of a building to your death, by accident. That won’t happen often in Unity thanks to the fact that you control when you ascend (with X) or descend (with square) whilst climbing. So there’s no more just holding R2 and analog to climb up a structure, we now get more control over climbing, which surprisingly makes it much less tedious. Stealth has also been similarly improved, with the game allowing you to use the L2 trigger to sneak at will.
These new advances in gameplay are complimented by the impressive animation. Arno feels fully responsive to your actions. It’s little subtleties like the way he scales rooftops, or climbs onto window ledges, or takes cover upside a wall, that make you really appreciate the decision to make this a next-gen only title. There are many open windows in Assassin’s Creed: Unity, and swooping into them and surprising NPCs is enough fun on its own to entertain your for minutes at a time. NPCs seem to respond to your actions much more than before, too. There was one instance where I climbed down from a building quite fast, and it startled a man so much he fell to the floor in panic.
Something I found unbearable in Assassin’s Creed: Unity was the load times. Whether booting up the game, or loading in or out of co-op mode, the loading screens felt far too long. It’s understandable when you have a game with this much content packed in, but I’m sure there are tricks that could have lessened the waiting time, or even tricked us into thinking we’re playing the game while it’s still loading. Other games have tackled this issue in creative ways, so it’s slightly frustrating to have to tolerate it here, in a next-gen title.
There’s a reason this isn’t a full-on review, and it’s because I haven’t experienced enough of the co-op experience. This is due to receiving my copy early and being unable to find other players to pair up with. However, I managed to find a couple people to play with today and so far the co-op experience has been fun.
Each mission has its own cutscene introduction which gives some insight to what must be done. Your four-man team of Assassins then tackle a number of objectives that lead to the final task, which is more than likely either a series of assassinations or a theft. Because the game was still new to me and my comrades, there wasn’t much organization. It resulted in the four of us just running around slaughtering guards as they catch us in the act. This is likely to be the extent of the co-op experience for the first few days, but once the majority of people have gotten used to the pace of the game I’m sure there will be lots of fun to be had in stealthily approaching the objectives. What’s great is that you can also earn skills that help you in co-op. Also, all of your gear carries over into co-op mode with you.
Co-op missions are initiated by walking up to the many NPC’s supplying the missions, the game will then attempt to match you with other players. You can also invite your own friends into your game, which begins a free roam mode. Once in free roam you can find co-op missions at any time. As is expected, nothing beats playing co-op with your friends as opposed to randoms.
So far, I can honestly say that I haven’t enjoyed an Assassin’s Creed game this much since the second game. That’s saying something as I consider myself a huge fan of the series, but even I have put Assassin’s Creed II up on that pedestal. I’ll need to spend much more time with Assassin’s Creed: Unity before I can say it’s officially better than Assassin’s Creed II, but it’s certainly shaping up to be excellent. Arno is clearly the most standout character since Ezio, and his story is one that’s exciting to see play out. Look out for our official review of this game to find out how it fairs after some more analysis.
These first impressions are based on a review copy of Assassin’s Creed Unity sent by Ubisoft UK