Fans of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series got a rude awakening last year with the release of Assassin's Creed Unity.
To sum up, that game and its release became a hot mess and got widely panned by fans of the series, as well as critics.
Unity's release was plagued with so many bugs and technical issues that Ubisoft ended up apologizing to gamers for the fiasco and even offered free games to those who bought a season pass for the title's DLC.
However, it wasn't just technical problems that irked gamers: the game also had distracting multiplayer campaigns and microtransactions that often impeded regular gameplay. Especially annoying was how easy it was to accidentally accept a multiplayer campaign because the large block of text about it would pop up anytime a player was in the general area. Hit the wrong button and poof: you're playing in a multiplayer campaign whether you wanted to or not.
So now that the next Assassin's Creed game, Syndicate, is right around the corner, what has Ubisoft done to fix the problems from Unity? The good news is that the developer learned from its Unity mistakes.
A playable female assassin with new skills
In Assassin's Creed Syndicate, players take on the role of two assassins: one male, Jacob; and one female, Evie. The female is only the second playable female assassin in the history of the franchise, and the first on a major console, so that makes her appearance a big deal. Of course, players can only use Evie about 25 percent of the time during Syndicate gameplay, but they must use her because of her unique skillsets.
Evie has a skill called "chameleon," which activates when she stands still, making her virtually invisible to everyone around her. As long as she doesn't move, no one can see her, even if she's standing in an open area.
Evie also has a "knife master" ability that allows her to throw more knives than any previous playable assassin. Even better? Evie's knives do significantly more damage than those thrown by her brother. Of course, if she throws knives from her chameleon mode, she becomes visible, but not before she can let an enemy get close enough to where she's standing so that she can get a good headshot.
Also, players can switch to Evie when they need her special skills to progress through a mission.
A different way of handling microtransactions
Although most Assassin's Creed fans would like Ubisoft to do away with microtransactions completely, the company probably won't do so because it makes a lot of bank with people buying items that let them get through the game faster. Of course, most gamers see that as a cop-out, but if the money is there, Ubisoft plans on taking it.
However, this time around, Ubisoft promised that microtransactions won't affect those who don't want them. Instead of handling them as they did in Unity (where they almost seemed necessary at times), Ubisoft plans on going back to a previous game, where microtransactions were hardly visible, but easily available if anyone wanted them.
"The model for Assassin's Creed Syndicate is quite similar to Black Flag, allowing players who do not have time to fully explore our huge game world to still be able to eventually acquire the game's most powerful gear as well as other items," said Syndicate senior producer Francois Pelland to IGN. "Rest assured, all of AC Syndicate's content is available without paying anything additional and the game has been balanced such that microtransactions are 100 percent optional."
Perhaps the biggest change in Syndicate from Unity is that Ubisoft decided to not include multiplayer in its latest title. Considering what a mess multiplayer became for Unity, that's probably a smart move.
The biggest problem with multiplayer is that it takes the player out of the main setting and story and disrupts the storytelling process, not just for the gamer, but also for the developer: when creating a game, focusing on creating something that works on a multiplayer-level takes away from time spent on honing the story for the game's single-player mode, which is the focus of the Assassin's Creed franchise.
It was obvious that Unity's story wasn't very cohesive, and multiplayer was one of the many reasons why. However, gamers can expect Syndicate's story to work better and keep players engaged.
And that's exactly why Ubisoft decided to keep multiplayer out of its latest title.
"The reason we are doing this is to really focus on the roots of the franchise," said creative director Marc-Alexis Cote to GameSpot. "That's why all nine studios are focused on delivering this single-player experience."
Improved stealth and combat
In Assassin's Creed Unity gameplay, stealth and combat felt not only a little tired, but also clunky. Controls didn't always work very well and it felt as if Ubisoft hadn't bothered updating its combat and stealth since the first Assassin's Creed title released in 2007.
In previous Assassin's Creed games, stealth was basically hiding behind cover and blending into crowds. In Syndicate, though, stealth has changed and allows players to do things like crouching and crawling, as well as giving a soft whistle to lure unsuspecting victims away from crowds so assassins can deal with them quietly.
Knife throwing has also improved in Syndicate: now knives aren't just for taking down enemies, but also can cut down objects, such as dropping heavy barrels to fall on people or create distractions. Of course, because of the time period of Syndicate, assassins will use knives more than swords in the new title.
But there's also another new tool in Jacob and Evie's arsenal: the rope launcher. Because the new game's setting is Victorian London, the environments in the game are different from anything we've seen in the Assassin's Creed franchise yet.
"The roads are larger, buildings are taller, we want to give players freedom [and] to use tools to create," said senior producer Francois Pelland to Games Radar. "It's a rope launcher that you can also use as a zipline to assassinate guards. It's a tool that will give players freedom to attack, to tackle a situation differently. Is it powerful? Absolutely. Is it going to be a game changer? Absolutely."
Side missions related to the story
One of the main problems with the side missions and quests in other Assassin's Creed games is that they had nothing to do with the main storyline. However, Ubisoft promises that with Syndicate, every side mission will feel as if it's adding to the overall narrative of the game.
"Every activity that the player will do will make sense in the narrative quest of the protagonist," said Cote to Official Xbox Magazine, as reported by Games Radar. "The goal is to take back London, so all the activities that you will do in the open world will serve that as well as the main storyline."
Syndicate also offers players a way to make money for Jacob and Evie because that's the only way to buy all those cool knives and gear needed to live as an assassin on the streets of Victorian London. Those missions include pit fights, train robberies, carriage races and cart escorts.
"As you can see, Assassin's Creed Syndicate has a number of different ways for you to get rich (or die trying)," writes Ubisoft on its Assassin's Creed blog. "Once you've filled your coffers you can use your newfound wealth to buy essential gear and stylish upgrades to your assassin's wardrobe."
Assassin's Creed Syndicate goes on sale Oct. 23.