Last year the Assassin's Creed franchise was going through something of a transitional phase. We had two games, one for current generation of consoles (Assassin's Creed Unity) and one for the old generation (Assassin's Creed Rogue). They were connected to each other, but offered distinctly different experiences; Unity was attempting to look to the future, while Rogue was attempting to pay tribute to the past. However, despite their attempts, fans ended up with two games that by previous standards were not only underwhelming, but in some cases ended up being controversial. Assassin's Creed Syndicate looks to right some of those wrongs and forge a new path for this prominent franchise.
Looking to address some of the feedback from Assassin's Creed Unity, Syndicate focusses on the story of the Frye twins, Evie and Jacob. Sick of waiting on the sidelines in South-East England, they decide that the Assassins must be more proactive about dealing with the Templar threat. They travel to London, defying the orders of the Assassin Council, to work with Henry Green, the main assassin located in the city.
Evie and Jacob are rather different characters and this is clear from the outset. Although she is proficient in combat, Evie prefers to spend her time looking to find artifacts before the Templars, albeit while still getting her hands dirty. Jacob on the other hand, is much more focussed on killing Templars and thinks everything else is pretty much a waste of time.
Their objective is the same, but their methods are entirely different. It makes for something of a frustrating storyline, as you are pulled from one perspective to the other and during this time the two protagonists might not even interact. You can go through entire segments where there might be missions for both Evie and Jacob, but it can often feel like you're playing two different storylines. They only merge together when there's a little tiff about the repercussions of what Jacob has done.
Evie felt like a much stronger, relatable and more interesting character than Jacob. She has clear ties to her father and develops more of a rapport with pretty much every character they encounter. Yet these relationships see only minor development because the two of them are sharing the limelight. But not even that, they are sharing the limelight and not even sharing the narrative. It's hard for any relationship between Evie and Henry to be believable when it only surfaces a handful of times, for example. Evie is also much more attuned to what we have come to expect from previous protagonists. She combines combat with a thirst for knowledge and is looking to stop the Templars in a multitude of ways. Jacob, on the other hand, seems to be fueled by his interest in killing people and having fun.
Outside of the two characters, the rest of the story feels substandard. This is epitomised by how the game starts, but it's prevalent throughout. Nothing is made of the fact Evie and Jacob, essentially two low-ranking assassins, are defying the Assassin Council. Henry Green, who you'd think would be a high-ranking assassin if he's looking after London, just accepts a half-baked reason for them being there (he asked for help from the Council, but heard nothing and assumed them turning up was it), then essentially offers to help them, as opposed to them helping him. That in itself doesn't make a great deal of sense, and is too convenient to be a plausible premise for the game.
The present day story also continues to disappoint. It was mentioned in our review of Assassin's Creed Unity that it has been getting progressively worse and that continues to be the case with Syndicate. There seems to be no real thought into what's going on anymore. What transpired in Assassin's Creed IV, Rogue, Unity and now Syndicate has limited cohesion. Without there being a focal point in Desmond and a shared goal, it now feels forced. Desmond was a strong character, as were Lucy Stillman and Warren Vidic. "Bishop", Berg and da Costa, are not. It also cannot hinge on Rebecca and Shaun, supporting cast members, to carry it forward and make people care.
If "Bishop" hadn't contacted the "initiate" to detail a very loose premise for why you even need to even interface with the Frye twins, it wouldn't have made any difference to the overall experience. Had the very brief interactions with Rebecca and Shaun not happened, it likewise doesn't feel like it would have made any difference.
You could even make the same case for the inclusion of Lydia Frye in World War I and Juno as a whole. It's so far-fetched at this point that it lacks any real substance and unlike before, these elements serves as a distraction. There's no mystique, no intrigue and no shock; it's hard to become drawn into something that's now so disjointed.
Where the game excels, is its representation of London. It's a grand city and it feels much more fleshed out than Paris did in Unity. The sheer size can be daunting, but once fast-travel locations start unlocking, this, combined with the use of horses, helps to make areas accessible quite quickly.
Perhaps it's because London is somewhere that is rather familiar, but it feels both odd and surreal to be traversing around such familiar locations. You'll get to sit on the top of Nelson's column, walk around Buckingham Palace and sneak around the grounds of the Tower of London. Each of these moments feels perfect for the time and if the World War I part of the game does at least serve one purpose, it's to show another clear parallel that reflects how much London has changed.
However, these complicated structures and the massive depth of London do make the climbing suffer a little. It now feels somewhat cumbersome, but this is somewhat negated by the welcome introduction of a rope launcher. This allows you to scale tall buildings with relative ease, but it means you can also make a zip-line between buildings. Once you get the hang of it, the only use for climbing will often be climbing down, as opposed to up.
As with the addition of the rope launcher to ease gameplay, combat has been refined and is perhaps the best it's ever been in the Assassin's Creed franchise. It's now a lot more streamlined and is more tied into your character level than any skill prerequisites from the player. This may frustrate some, but it is, on the whole, a positive change. This is complimented by a simplified choice of weapons. Due to the era, you are restricted to either using a Kukri, a Cane-Sword or Knuckles. Kukri are better at injuring enemies, while the Cane-Sword is better at stunning enemies - the Knuckles provide a happy medium between the two.
Character level, which mentioned before plays a part in denoting how much damage you deal out and receive, as well as what equipment you can use, is governed by unlocked skills, and these are acquired by obtaining experience. By completing missions, side quests, obtaining collectables and performing moves such as air assassinations, you can now gain shared EXP. Upon gaining 1,000 EXP, you gain a skill point, and these can be used to unlock skills.
There are three skill chains, each with a wide array of moves, which are Combat, Stealth and Ecosystem. Split across the three trees, there are three specific skills that are unique to both Evie (stealth based) and Jacob (melee based). Aside from that, they are pretty much identical to play as. It's a solid system and with the inclusion of Gang Upgrades, is one of the more positive aspects of Assassin's Creed Syndicate.
Things do start to get a little laboured when it comes to tasks though. The story missions are pretty good, but outside of that there is far too much monotony. In a weird comparison, Assassin's Creed Syndicate shares this in common with the original Assassin's Creed, where you would often have to do repetitive tasks to progress. In Syndicate, this manifests itself in liberating the boroughs.
There are seven boroughs in total, and if you want to liberate them all (you will need to liberate at least three to finish the game), you will have to complete 12 stronghold raids, 18 bounty hunting kidnaps, 11 child liberations, 18 templar assassinations and then take part in a gang war to liberate each of the boroughs. That in itself seems like a lot, but you then have to consider that each of these missions is near identical aside from a slight difference in the location. For example, the majority of child liberation missions take place in a similar building, with multiple floors. You are tasked with freeing small groups of children, that are watched by a single guard each, with roaming guards and a foreman. You will also get bonus EXP if you do it without raising an alarm. It's not too bad to do a few times, but not 11.
The same can be said about the collectables. There are almost 750 things to collect in the game, ranging from syncing viewpoints to chests, beer bottles, flower presses and even letters from the optional World War I segment. It's overkill and there is no real reward for doing any of it aside from some better equipment.
Assassin's Creed Syndicate, as with Unity, also suffers from some unfortunate glitches and annoyances. First there's the glitch that causes everything to go into ultra slow-motion, but there are also instances where NPCs just don't interact properly. Even in set pieces, things can break meaning the number of "restart from last checkpoint" actions was at least a handful. It's not something that should be happening with a game of this magnitude, so hopefully Ubisoft can iron this out in future installments.
Assassin's Creed Syndicate serves as an indication that the franchise is going through something of an identity crisis. London looks stunning, and this is one aspect of the franchise that always shines through. The combat and skill tree implementation also works well, but many other aspects feel tired and bloated. The story is weak in its premise, and despite being one of the games more redeeming qualities, Evie Frye is marginalised throughout in favour of the lacklustre Jacob. It's also hard to ignore the monotony of the associate activities and collectables that harken back to the original game. Big steps need to be taken to bring this franchise back up the level it once was.
|Evie Frye is a strong protagonist.|
|Combat feels much more refined.|
|Skill tree and experience system is well implemented.|
|The bias towards Jacob in the story.|
|Present day story might as well not exist any more.|
|Monotony of liberating the boroughs.|