Friday, May 15, 2015

Assassin's Creed: Unity (non-spoiler) review

    If you want the spoiler review, please go here.

    The Assassin's Creed games are one of my mainstay series and I've done my best to play every version of the story while keeping myself immersed in the lore. Still, I've been hesitant to review this particular incarnation of the game since it's launch release was somewhat infamous in gaming circles.

    I decided I would delay my review until several months later in hopes they'd clean up all of the problems with patches. This review, as a result, is with all of the patches and modifications done to the game including removing the requirement of the Initiates game in order to open certain locked chests in-game.

    So how is the game?

    Pretty good.



Paris is beautifully realized. Make no mistake.
    Assassin's Creed: Unity is a game which has extremely fun gameplay, is absolutely gorgeous, is full of entertaining side-missions, and has a fun main character (by which I mean Elise). The problem is the almost complete lack of a modern story, the protagonist's frequent stupidity, bad history, iffy storytelling, and some absent features from the previous games make this far less entertaining than previous entries in the series.

    Unity is Assassin's Creed and said series will always be fun unless you royally screw it up but I can't help thinking this game needed another year of development as well as major rewrites. The fact I'm enjoying playing it, though, should tell you I'm not unhappy with my purchase. I just wish I could enthusiastically embrace the game as I did Rogue and Assassin's Creed III.

    The premise is Arno Dorian is the son of an Assassin named Charles Dorian. Charles Dorian is killed in one of the (no less than three) opening scenes of the game. Adopted by Templar Grandmaster François de la Serre, he grows up beside the beautiful Elise to become a carefree swashbuckling rogue. Then Francois is murdered, Arno is framed for it, and ends up joining the Assassins who tepidly offer him the job of investigating the Grandmaster's murder. As all this occurs, the French Revolution brews in the background.

Arno is a charming, funny, and thoroughly incompetent Assassin.
    The story is somewhat disjointed from the beginning and lacks the elegant simplicity of, say, Assassin's Creed 2 or Brotherhood. The murder of Arno's biological father plays almost no role in the actual story other than to justify why the Assassins might be interested in him. Arno's passionate desire to avenge Francois de la Serre is kind of off-putting since we spend all of thirty-seconds with the man and only know he's the leader of a group traditionally treated as villains in the franchise.

    In short, I found it hard to get invested in Arno's story.

    The use of the French Revolution is also troublesome as it has long been considered the ideal location for an Assassin's Creed game. The Assassins have traditionally been revolutionaries fighting for equal rights and freedom while the Templars are often conservative reactionaries. Many fans were hoping this would be a game which depicted the Assassins as driving the Revolution, only to go too far and events spiral out of control.

    Here? Not so much.

The streets of the game are vibrant and alive with many mini-games.
    Without spoiling, the Assassins have very little to do with the actual Revolution and their interest in the subject is almost incidental. The story of Arno Dorian, Assassin raised by Templars out to avenge dear old dad, could have happened in any other setting in history.

    This is the polar opposite of Connor, who was a character deeply involved in the American Revolution even if he probably shouldn't have been. The problem is, I'm not sure Arno's political indifference really makes much sense. We see rioting in the streets, mass starvation, the execution of the nobility, regular murders in the streets, and gigantic slums where the poor live like animals.

    You'd think he'd have a comment or two on the subject.

    Despite this, I actually like Arno. Usually. When I don't hate him. He's a nice enough main character with a charming attitude and a strong moral compass. His motivation isn't particularly strong and he does some truly idiot bone-headed things in the game (what happens with Napoleon, for example, is a crime against Assassindom) but this doesn't ruin the character. I also love Arno's relationship with Elise and would have happily had the entire game be about those two. Except, well, there's times I just want to reach into the game and strangle him. Basically, he comes off as warmed-over Ezio without ever really maturing or learning from his mistakes.

Elise is a beautiful, fascinating, and fun character.
    Gameplay alterations include changing it so an Assassin can no longer just counter his opponents until they're all dead. Arno, also, avoids a common problem of Assassins in that he doesn't fall off every ledge he's on at the slightest provocation. Indeed, the latter is somewhat annoying when you're chasing someone and he sticks to the wall like Spiderman. Arno has only one Hidden Blade, unlike previous protagonists, but makes deadly use of it in fluid animations. I also love the new investigation mini-game.

    Arno Dorian, Private Consulting Detective of the 18th century.

    The biggest gameplay change, though, is the best one and something which compels me to forgive a lot of Unity's flaws: assassination missions are actually fun now. The game gives you a target, a location, and some suggestions on how to do it but you're free to kill them in any way you want. This freedom is a welcome change from the heavily scripted assassinations in previous games. I regret the loss of the Hidden Blade as anything but an assassination tool with a greater focus on the sword but, really, that's a small complaint.

The modern day plot is a complete excuse and that's disappointing. Also, I miss Rebecca and Shaun.
    As for the much-touted multiplayer element? Eh. It's fine, really, with a lot of really well-done missions for co-op gameplay but its greater incorporation into the single-player campaign felt like an unwelcome intrusion. There were numerous missions spread throughout the map I just had no interest in because I'm not a multiplayer man. The few times I did play them were fun enough but clashing playstyles led to a bit of frustration. I'm a run and stab sort of guy while other players were stealth or murder-frenzy types.

    Fans of Black Flag and Rogue will regret the loss of a pirate ship but I'm glad Arno Dorian isn't a sea captain since I think Assassins should have a variety of different qualities. I also don't miss the "recruit Brotherhood members and send them on mission element" which wouldn't have fit Arno's character arc either. I just wish Arno's role as the Assassin Investigator had been better incorporated into his character arc.

    In conclusion, Unity is quite fun and I suggest gamers pick it up when they have the chance. It's not as good as Black Flag or III but it's not bad. I had a lot of fun and will continue playing it past the main campaign.

    I just wish it had been better.


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