An open world game set in Paris during the French Revolution? I was very excited for the newest release in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series, Assassin’s Creed Unity. It is the 7th/8th installment, released on the same date as Assassin’s Creed Rogue. Unity follows the story of Arno, a cocky douchebag; however, much to the disappointment of my inner history nerd, the storyline does not explicitly interact with the revolution, instead simply running parallel, using the environment more as a backdrop.
Ubisoft’s large, sprawling recreation of Paris in Assassin’s Creed Unity looks fantastic, with the ability to explore the entirety of the map (including the underground sections, and the interiors of buildings) without loading screens. The downside of this is that the initial loading screen is long, up to a minute long. But once it has loaded, you are set until the next mission cutscene. You can also fast travel between locations, however sometimes with the load time, it is just easier to walk there. The load times can be forgiven when you look at the detail of the buildings and architecture. It really looks amazing, especially when you look at the (to scale) game version of the Notre Dame. Really, its beauty is awe-inspiring. Combined with this beautiful map is one of my favourite additions to the Unity game: finally, a button allowing us to free run down buildings. It has been a long time coming. No more do I have to stand on the top of a building and go “Fuck. Reckon I can make that jump?” and then jumping to my death anyway because dying and respawning is probably quicker than trying to work my way down the goddamn building.
The map is Unity is 3D, and allows you to rotate almost to ground level, so looking at a building, you can see whether the chest or mission you want is on the ground level or higher up in a building. This is useful, however it is difficult to tell when a collectible is underground. The map also looks impossibly cluttered to start with unless you apply a filter.
A new style of combat is introduced in this Assassin’s Creed game, which is arguably more difficult (to me at least) from previous games. There is definitely more ‘encouragement’ towards stealth gameplay. When you engage in combat with an enemy, they have stars above their head, indicating their skill. One star being least skilled, five stars being most skilled. This is handy when working out whether to stand and fight, or throw a smoke bomb and fucking bail. You also have a set of stars, changing depending on how you fit out Arno with upgraded weapons and gear. This represents your skill and ability to take on more skilled enemies. This combat system can get very difficult very quickly, and the five star enemies can fuck. You. Up. Very quickly. Two hits and they dramatically stab you in the throat. At the start of the game I found the combat to be frustratingly difficult, but as you level up your gear and weapons (which feels futile at first), it becomes a lot more instinctive and more fun to play.
You can fit out Arno’s gear and weapons at any time provided you are anonymous and on flat ground (apparently roofs also count as flat ground) from the pause menu, even in the middle of a mission. Each different piece of gear available has different advantages, whether it be more health, more stealth capabilities, or more ammo capacity. This is useful when roaming the city, if you want to go around and collect more money from locked chests, you can change your belt to one which allows you to hold more lockpicks (the standard is five, which is definitely not enough). Then if you go into a mission where you keep dying, you can change it in the mission to one which allows you to hold more medicine, or just fit our Arno to suit the mission.
Ubisoft were heavily criticised for releasing Assassin’s Creed Unity full of bugs and glitches. Some of these were game breaking, such as falling through the ground, getting stuck in the infrastructure, and getting stuck in haystacks. Others were purely aesthetic, like the characters in cutscenes missing faces, or Arno’s uncanny ability to stand on a building with one foot in the air. While I do not condone a company releasing a heavily glitched game, to Ubisoft’s credit they acknowledged the disappointment experienced and have worked pretty timely to fix these issues. At the time of writing this, the third patch has just been released, which fixes (to my knowledge) all of the game breaking glitches. They have also sent out an email to all users offering the upcoming Dead Kings DLC free for everyone. Sort of like a downloadable olive branch.
For transparencies sake (and to revel in the hilarity of some of these glitches), these are the glitches I encountered:
– Getting stuck in a haystack once
– Falling through the ground three times, once during a mission I was almost finished, once during co-op, and once just free roaming.
Non game breaking:
– Harmless fire randomly appearing.
– Walking/standing on air
– Climbing down buildings on invisible bits
– Bongo drumming?
– People in the crowd standing in places they shouldn’t be
As you can see, the glitches I experienced most often were purely aesthetic, with zero impact on the gameplay. Perhaps I am a forgiving person, but I find the fact it was so heavily criticised, to the point where people said it was unplayable, to be an overreaction. I can only speak from what I experienced playing the game, but I did not find it to be unplayable, and I experienced no frame rate drops which others complained of. To get four game breaking glitches out of about 20 hours of gameplay is not that bad. It is definitely not desirable, but in my opinion it does not take too much from the game. Especially considering these have now been fixed. I found the glitches to be only a temporary and minor blight on the overall quality of the game.
Another heavily condemned and completely unavoidable aspect of Assassin’s Creed Unity is Ubisoft’s inclusion of microtransactions. While I think the fact that they exist in this game is absolute bullshit, I found them to be of no effect on my gameplay, and easily ignorable. To simplify it:
You buy gear with Livres (earned in game). You upgrade your gear with Creed Points (earned in game). Or you buy/upgrade your gear with “Helix credits”, which you buy with your hard earned money, from anywhere from $20USD to $100USD, which bypassing needing to earn money and Creed Points.
But the thing is – Creed points are ridiculously easy to earn. With all my gear I own for Arno upgraded, I still have 20 thousand spare Creed points. You earn points both in missions and free roaming, just by doing Assassiny stuff. Air assassination? 150 Creed points. Vanish from conflict? 50 Creed points, etc etc. Once you start doing social club missions, money starts rolling in. I found no need or temptation to buy Helix credits, and I feel like anyone who did had no real interest in actually playing the game.
My issue along these lines was less with the microtransactions present in the game, and more with the horribly implemented “interconnectedness” that Ubisoft has gone for. They’ve put in four different types of unlockable chests in the game. Two of these can only be unlocked by either playing the ACUnity Companion phone app, or by linking an AC Initiates account to your UPlay account, and levelling up. How you level up, I have no idea, because it’s pretty much not explained, or I was too busy rolling my eyes and missed the explanation. These are two poorly thought out features which only distract from the gameplay. From the brief period of time I used the Unity companion app I found it to be clunky, battery draining and stupidly difficult to use. It is really off putting, as neither the game nor the app explain how to use the app to open the chests in game. When I am sitting at home playing Xbox, I want to be doing just that, playing Xbox, not wondering if I played enough on my phone to unlock things in the game. Furthermore, you need to use the companion app as you are playing Unity, meaning you cannot do anything on the go to further your Unity gameplay. Because I really like having to pause my Xbox game to fuck around on my phone, and I’m sure you guys will too right? Oh, and it might wipe your saved game.
As far as the missions and collectables go, you could probably spend more time playing the side missions and opening chests then you could spend on the main storyline. The side missions are vast, ranging from murder mysteries (my favourite), where you find a dead body, interview suspects and track down the killer, to social club missions, which earn you more income, to Paris stories and multiplayer missions. A lot of the main missions give you your own way to go about the mission, telling you how many guards, entrances and hiding places, with some missions offering you other smaller objectives inside that mission that can aid you. These are optional. There is no shortage of in game content to keep you playing, even if you didn’t enjoy the main storyline. And why wouldn’t you enjoy the main storyline? You get a hot redheaded Templar girlfriend, and have sex with her in a hot air balloon. Okay, so Arno is a bit of a douche, and you roll your eyes every time he opens his stupid mouth. The main story does leave a little to be desired, it is not bad, but it is not fantastic. This is not too much of an issue to me, as I have always believed that storyline is secondary to gameplay. A game could have the best story in the world, but if the gameplay sucks, I’m not going to play it. The opposite is in effect here. Apart from a few cool twists that you don’t see coming, the main storyline is an agreeable, somewhat cliché, love story between two impossibly attractive rich kids out for revenge. And as mentioned earlier, the variety of side missions available is more than enough to make up for any disinterest you may feel towards the main storyline.
Overall, Unity is a fantastic game, both visually and in its gameplay, brought down only by glitches and the sneaky inclusion of microtransactions. This is a scary look into what we might have to expect in the future, but hopefully the public scorn thrown Ubisoft’s way is enough to discourage them and other companies from trying it again. The storyline is solid, the gameplay is engaging and really, I don’t believe that Unity warranted some of the criticism that it gained. I had very little problems playing it, and found it to be an engrossing addition to the Assassin’s Creed series.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Assassin’s Creed Unity for Xbox One by Ubisoft.