Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is the latest offering to the main Assassin’s Creed storyline, set in Victorian London because of course it is. London is great. So great, in fact, that I moved to Manchester. The game is the second in what I’m calling the “Pre-Modern Trilogy” in the series, following Unity, but I’ll get to that later. Set in 1868, you play as Jacob and Evie Frye and set about liberating the City from the Templars. All in all, nothing has changed but everything is different.
Syndicate was the first entry to the series that I’ve been genuinely interested in since Revelations, way back in the cool Ezio Trilogy. I’ve played every game in main series so far, and that’s including Unity. Syndicate is what Unity could have been, if they’d bothered to finish programming the game. There weren’t any game-breaking bugs, everyone’s face stayed firmly in place and everything from the controls to story felt more refined. Having said that, apparently the DLC skipped past that sort of quality control and is quite poor.
The new gimmick for this game is the Rope Launcher, a handy addition to your Hidden Swiss Army Blade that you can use to create makeshift ziplines between rooftops or grapple immediately to said rooftop. This made movement through London’s streets a lot quicker and easier, but felt like it was taking giant strides away from one of core elements of Assassin’s Creed. It’s not as rewarding to synchronise your viewpoints, when you can just stand on a nearby rooftop and fire a grappling hook at the peak.
The views you can get from grappling between chimneys is worth it though. Victorian London feels very real, it’s clear the team put a lot of effort in to the design of the City. There is a difference between the lower and upper class areas, from factories and terraced houses to grand mansions and the great sights of London. Though the world is confined to Central London, it still feels vast and has intricate details tucked away between the streets.
There are plenty of side activities to do, as has become common with the series, with can range from Child Liberation missions to Cargo Heists. These all help you to conquer the Boroughs, decreasing Templar influence and making your gang (The Rooks) more awesome. Some of these have certain conditions to accomplish for 100% completion, but they’re not absurdly specific for the most part. The same optional objectives add to the main story missions as well and are just as easily obtainable.
The variety of side missions is nice, but a few have an issue of being the same the entire way through. The Child Liberation missions are the worst for it, always set in a factory with a slightly different layout, predictable patrols and the same side objective (don’t raise the alarm). Bounty Hunts are similar for their lack of diversity, but they do get more difficult by increasing the amount of guards and patrols as you progress. Other activities, such as Templar Hunts and Strongholds, are challenging all of the time. The Income activities are diverse and spread across the City, increasing the amount of cash you accumulate per 15 minutes, but take care with the Heist missions.
Syndicate improved on assassination missions, still using Unity’s method of giving the player a target and multiple methods of achieving that goal. You are given opportunities for infiltration and attack, some that coincide well with whoever you’re playing at the time, though you can be funnelled in the same direction towards the end. Not that that’s a surprise, in the end it always “stab that dude in the face”.
However, there are some significant changes to the combat system implemented in this game. As a whole, it feels a lot quicker and more visceral – although it can easily just boil down to hammering ‘X’ until everyone is nearly dead and then one more to slaughter them all. But at least it’s not holding down Right Trigger and pressing ‘Counter’ for the whole fight any more!
As I mentioned before, you can play as two characters through the game. You can only swap freely between them outside of a mission, playing to their strengths during the side missions. Evie’s focus is on stealth and you can get a useful skill fairly early in game which allows her to become almost invisible when standing still. She is particularly invaluable for the Child Liberation and Bounty Hunt side missions, where a quiet and tactful approach is needed. Jacob is focussed on combat, with his unique skill doing more damage in combat.
The main storyline missions are split between Evie and Jacob. You don’t get a choice who you can use for these and the split seems uneven, in favour to Jacob. As Jacob, you’ll be following the standard murderous romp throughout the city. As Evie, you’ll be on the hunt for the Piece of Eden and occasionally cleaning up Jacob’s mess. There’s an open ended feel towards the missions, you can pick up whichever at any point and follow the storyline as you like. However, in practice, it felt confusing and disjointed at times, picking up different threads of plot here and there across London.
As for the modern storyline, there are some flashes of some familiar faces. It’s chugging along slowly behind the game and we do see a bit of development in the modern Assassin/Templar rivalry. The problem with the modern storyline is that we are quickly catching up with it, some flashbacks showing us the influence of the two groups within World War I and II in previous games – and yes, there is another World War ‘glitch’ tacked on to Syndicate’s map.
Although it may not sound like it, I enjoyed Syndicate and I’d recommend it as a replacement for the disappointment of Unity. It’s a strong entry to the series, but I am glad that Ubisoft are taking a year aside to work on the next game. As I mentioned before, the series seems to follow a set of trilogies and, by that logic, we’re very close to the end. The Pre-Modern trilogy has a final set piece for us to get through and – before I heard the announcement – I didn’t know where it would go next (it’s Egypt, in case you were wondering).
The series has got stale for a lot of people, a washed out frame of the exciting and immersive experience that Ezio offered us. Ubisoft need to put time and effort into making sure they have a compelling story, a focus on the core elements of Assassin’s Creed and rounding the trilogy out to a satisfying end. They have clearly learnt from their mistakes with the poorly received Unity, so I have high hopes for the next game.
I’m also looking forward to the Chronicles trilogy pack coming out this year, so prepare yourself for more Assassin’s Creed reviews!