Assassin’s Creed is in full swing hyping their title with promotional wallpapers, ringtones, and a 9 minute gameplay reveal teaser. The new setting is in London and the pre-alpha footage looks far more promising than the glitch riddled mess of what was supposed to be the first next-gen Assassin’s Creed title, Unity. As is customary with the franchise they are taking you to a historical time and place with iconic environments, sights, and sounds. The footage and aesthetic has a very “Gangs of New York” feel to it, which is a welcome change and fresh identity. But not only that, they are showing off what could be some helpful changes to the mechanics and gameplay, ushering the title out of the carbon copy feel the last few titles seemed guilty of.
Drive and Dive
The first notable addition to the game are the carriages. They are shown off as a new and quicker way to move about the game world, and by the looks of the level design, they will play a significant role in navigating long distances. The juxtaposition of dense slums with large open streets is a nice environmental change as some of the previous titles felt very cluttered and messy which lead to every area feeling the same. This new approach to having vehicles will also allow players a new way to hide, which should lead to some fun stalking missions as well as intense getaways. And not surprising, close to the end of the reveal we are given a glimpse into what a chase mission might look like, driving the carriage through the streets, crashing into people and light poles in what feels like an old-timey Grand Theft Auto Origins game. Hopefully there are not too many “drive as fast as you can” missions with insta-fails or frustrating turning mechanics as that can pull away from the experience. I tend to feel like those type of missions pull the player out of the game too much as you tend to hit a stride with the regular movement and fighting mechanics and suddenly have to become an olden days Nascar carriage driver just to advance the story.
One of the first things that stood out to me in the reveal is the addition of activating “stealth mode”. As far as I know this was not a feature in Unity, so it looks like a brand new mechanic to me. Rather than always walking around hooded like a cryptic magician that nobody seems to notice, you can walk around completely normal, and then decide to pull up your hood and enter into stealth mode. This gives the game a more realistic and immersive feel, as the NPCs and townsfolk react to you differently and you get a true sense that your focus and attention are now shifting from navigation to being an assassin. Something always felt slightly cheesy in the previous titles, always able to walk around with your hood up with most people only being shocked by your strange behavior when you suddenly mounted and climbed an entire building. In the first Assassin’s Creed there was a context for this with the priests walking around in similar garb, but at the story line got more distance from this era, each title felt a little gimmicky at times. I especially like the contrast in your getup as you look like a character straight out of “Gangs of New York” and then quickly don your hood vanishing to the building tops above. And yes, you can definitely vanish up into the shadows quickly.
They have also added a new tool to your movement choices with the “Rope Launcher”. While this is a clear mimic of something fans of Batman will be familiar with, I think it was a necessary upgrade to you ability to move around the game world. It immediately creates a quicker and more efficient means of verticality. Gone are the days of having to Spider-Man crawl up every single building you want to scale, and enter the days of the Batman Assassins. Not only will you be able to launch up the side of buildings much quicker but you will also be able use this new tool to zip-line from building to building. I think just the inclusion of this new tool is a huge step forward for the franchise. The movement started to feel clunky and frustrating as they tried to rework things when encountering windows, un-climbable edges, and scaling side-to-side when you wanted to move vertically. As the new titles grew in size and scope, the buildings became more intricate, the landscapes became larger, and getting from place to place became a bit of a slow bore. The “Rope Launcher” will hopefully bring an air of quickness and fluidity to your movements as the old mechanics did their job but really started to hamper the expanding experience.
Rock ’em Sock ’em Kill ’em
When Unity launched they boasted of a new and more challenging fighting system. I never thought the fighting system needed any significant injection of difficulty as some of the areas get pretty dense if you play fast and loose with your assassinations. Sure, you get pretty confident at taking on a crowd of guys, but it felt empowering, fun, and fitting for the genre to flawlessly string together combos and take-downs. I can see, however, that some might find it a little boring with the difficulty factor never being truly a threat, so I’m okay if they went with a more challenging fighting mechanic in this game. The reveal says nothing about the difficulty, but does boast of a new fighting system that is, “Faster and more responsive than ever before”, and it certainly looks it. Rather than feeling like the player is in total and calm control, it looks more like a true rumble with quick blows and counters as you somewhat clumsily fight your way to satisfying execution. The old titles did get a little “everyone is waiting to get punched”, and this reveal feels a little more chaotic, which some players may not like. They also show you unlocking an area on the map for your gang to get a foothold and you free an ally to fight alongside you. It’s possible that reminiscent of Brotherhood you will be able to call in support the more influence and strength your gang gains, which of course leads to my conclusion and hope.
Alas, no co-op
I was really hoping they would finally add true 4-player co-op to the game, instead of sequestered side mission nonsense. Assassination missions were probably fun for a while in Unity, but I wanted to play through the actual game with my buddies. And the “Gangs of New York” feel would have been a fitting time to have a narrative that allowed for complete co-op play. I already guessed the feature would be absent after they showed a main story mission with a “chase the enemy” mechanic that would not have translated well into a 4 player co-op experience. But it isn’t just absent from story missions, co-op and multiplayer have been completely ignored and done away with in this title. At the very least I hoped they would let you do something similar to what Far Cry 4 allowed, which was the ability to have co-op engagement with all side content except for main story missions. Assassin’s Creed as well as the Batman franchise are crying out for good and exhaustive cooperative gameplay, and hopefully they start to get on board, as the growth of Twitch streaming and gaming YouTube channels are proof that gamers want a more communal gaming experience. I will do a future post about why I think this is good news in light of the apology that Ubisoft has issued regarding the poor reception of Unity, and how co-op could have played a part in that.
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