The latest entry in the mega popular Assassin’s Creed franchise isn’t revolutionary, but provides an interesting take on a bloody time in French history.
REVENGE IS A DISH BEST SERVED FRENCH
Assassin’s Creed: Unity puts you in the shoes of Arno Dorian, an adopted child of Grand Master De La Serre. De La Serre is (unbeknownst to Arno) the head of the Templar Order and father to Elise, Arno’s love interest. Arno’s father was an Assassin but is murdered at a palace in Versailles.
13 years later, we witness Arno being framed for the murder of De La Serre on the evening of Elise’s induction to the Templar Order. Shortly after, Elise reveals to Arno that the note that he was supposed to deliver to De La Serre on the night of his murder would have likely prevented his death. Arno joins the Assassin’s Brotherhood in a plot of revenge.
Arno is not a particularly strong new lead character, but I grew to like him as the game went on. If there’s something that I have to hand to him, it’s his Jack Sparrow-like punk attitude and dialect. As for his appearance, picture a character ripped right out of Phantom of the Opera. The character I marveled was Elise. Ubisoft deserves major credit here. As the most prominent female character yet aside from Liberation’s Aveline, Elise’s personality is lovable. She is fierce yet feminine. Gorgeous yet deadly. I wish she would have been the playable character. As the main campaign goes on and the story gets deeper, you spend more time with her.
After Arno and Elise, there unfortunately just isn’t much to write home about. A brief appearance from Napoleon Bonaparte got me excited, but it didn’t last. These little moments are what make Assassin’s Creed special to me. As a big history buff, I wish we would see more of these central figures in the main storylines. Though AC 3 was not critically acclaimed, it might have been my favorite story due to my interactions with George Washington, Ben Franklin, and a loaded cast of memorable villains.
The backdrop for the vast majority of the game is Paris, and it is stunning. Running on a new game engine designed for the new generation systems, each building features loads of detail and feels unique in itself. You’ll see iconic places like the Bastille and the Eiffel Tower. The lighting effects in the game add a level of realism we haven’t seen so far in an AC game. Though the character models are impressive, the hair is lacking. Elise’s curls look realistic until she starts moving.
Unity introduces a handful of new elements that tweak the series’ long consistent formula. Running up buildings has always been simple, but now there is finally a somewhat graceful way to run back down. Known as “controlled descent,” this allows you to glide or target lower jump points to get back to ground level easier. In the past, you’d often jump off of a roof and lose half of your health bar. With the new game engine and the power of the Xbox One & Playstation 4, you can run through buildings. There’s no popping and the draw distance is very impressive. It makes the drastically long load screens a little bit easier to swallow.
Perhaps my favorite addition is the occasional “server bridge,” which ties Arno back to the modern day story of Abstergo. In it, a glitch in the player system forces the modern day technician to create this bridge that will allow you to continue on with your story (and not be lost in cyberspace forever). These glitches take you to random points through history. My favorite glitch was running up the mostly finished Statue of Liberty before it was shipped off to the USA. Another one takes you to 1944 occupied-France, when Germany was in control. You are forced to run up the Eiffel Tower to get out in time.
For all that I applaud Ubisoft on with regards to the generally solid gameplay, there are a number of complaints that I have that tainted my overall experience.
Though the long load screens are a minor gripe, my issue is that they ruin the immersion and take the player out of the game. I can’t tell you how many times I would look at my phone and forget what just happened because I would be sitting for 60-90 seconds. I know it’s a new game engine on a new system, but this should be better.
Aside from a few brutal day one glitches that were patched, some remain. Often times, the opponents that I killed would be spazzing out like a fish out of water, with limbs going in impossible directions and looking double jointed. One of my favorite things about the series has historically been how good the combat is. Unity is the exception. Facing more than 2-3 enemies? Can’t fight your way out. Blow a stealth mission? Good luck. Often times, I wished Arno would just keel over so that I could get the load screen going and restart my next attempt. The parry system is spotty at best – no matter how many times I would perfectly press the button when prompted, I would still be bested.
While I thought the pacing and overall length of the main campaign was solid, the missions often followed a sequence of “find some dirt on this target, find where they are stationed, then sneak in and kill them without being detected.” The often annoying chase missions are few and far between, but when done are executed nicely for a change. There’s also one epic boss fight mid-game that is a crazy twist on the story but is ruined by an instant death that is unavoidable.
Co-op missions are a nice addition but don’t add anything to the main campaign. It’s nice if you have a friend that you want to kill time with online, but are lacking a bit and frankly bland. There’s no shortage of side missions to tackle and while it seems daunting, it is a good amount of content for completionists to challenge. You can purchase cafes and other clubs for extra income. Want even more income? Take the time to invest and renovate them.
Unity features a good deal of customization. My Arno had green and purple garb, you know, so I could look like the Joker. For the first time, there is an upgrade and progression system that lets you choose which skills you want to obtain next. You need to do a fair amount of side missions to unlock everything and I felt I was at a severe disadvantage by not being able to upgrade my character as much as needed. This is just a matter of a balancing issue and I believe that Ubisoft will take care of this and tweak it for future entries in the series.
Despite its shortcomings, I still enjoyed Unity. There’s a lot to be polished for the next game but if history is any indication, we are in for a better game next Fall.
+ Gorgeous visuals, particularly France’s infrastructure.
+ Elise and the dynamic of her relationship with Arno.
– Forgettable story.
– Load times.
– Inexcusable glitches for such a big budget AAA game.
– Choppy, inconsistent combat system. It wasn’t broken in past games, it shouldn’t have been “fixed.”
Josiah LeRoy is The Geekiverse’s resident Assassin’s Creed guru. Check out his rants on Twitter.
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Assassin’s Creed: Unity was reviewed for the Xbox One. It is also available for Playstation 4 and PC.