Friday, May 15, 2015

Assassin's Creed: Unity (spoiler) review

    For those interested in the non-spoiler review, please go here.

    Okay, if you're reading this then hopefully you've finished the game or you don't care about being spoiled.

    So, what do I think about Assassin's Creed: Unity?

    I find it to be an extremely fun game which is brought down by a terribly handled story, awful history, and some serious missteps in pacing. There's plenty of good elements to the game but they're countered by decisions which leave the entire thing a disjointed mess. I still recommend gamers pick up Assassin's Creed: Unity, especially fans of the series, but it is not the best example of the franchise.

    Unity follows the adventures of Arno Dorian, a young boy orphaned by Shay Cormac (who kills his father in the post-credit sequence of Rogue), as he is raised by Templar Grandmaster Francois de le Cerre. Arno falls in love with Francois' daughter Elise and the two are happy together for about a minute before the Grandmaster is killed.

Arno discovers his father is an Assassin and there's a bunch of mysterious messages scattered throughout Paris. Neither of these qualities ever come up again.
    Arno is sent to the Bastille for Francois' murder, despite it being a minimum security prison in real-life, and meets an Assassin named Pierre Bellec who trains him the ways of his father. Arno joins the Assassins soon after and, under the auspices of a truce between them and the Templars, investigates his foster father's murder. Things promptly go to Hell with the French Revolution occurring because of a Templar scheme to destroy the aristocracy.

    It's a nice Count of Monte Cristo-esque plot.

    Except, not really.

    Arno has often been accused of being a rip-off of Assassin's Creed signature character, Ezio Auditore, but this is unfair. They have some similarities but the biggest problem is they're both, essentially, plays on the Count of Monte Cristo. We've already seen a protagonist lose everything and then rise up to dismantle his oppressor's organization. Ezio's family, however, is a constant presence in his life while Elise is gone for large portions of the game. Plus, I never spent enough time with Francois that I should care about his death.

Paris is alive in the game, very often surprising me with its color and vibrancy.
    The entire situation between the Assassins and Templars in the game is weirdly ambiguous. They have a truce during much of the game's earlier half but Arno is still taking side missions to kill them. Likewise, there's never any real sign that the truce officially ends. The Assassins never go to all-out war with the Templars nor do they retaliate. I really expected a full-scale assault on the Assassin's home base at some point.

    Then there's the bad history element. The French Revolution was a violent, tumultuous period in history but it wasn't a one-sided display of savagery either. The Revolutionaries outlawed slavery and attempted to impose a rule of law which would make all races equal in French territories. They also struck at the brutality and corruption of French aristocratic culture and privileges. In other words, you can't reduce the French Revolution to the Terror and nothing else.

    Having the Templars responsible for the French Revolution is something the game treats as purely evil. However, the contrast for those who know anything more than an elementary school summation of the French Revolution, it actually depicts the Templars in a very favorable light. Having Arno express no interest in the Revolution in light of the complicated, direly important issues involved seems a trifle ridiculous. As one reviewer said, "A French person with no interest in the Revolution at this time is like a New Yorker with no opinion on 9/11."

At one point you get to climb the Eiffel Tower and shoot down Nazi planes. That buys Unity a HUGE amount of slack.
    It doesn't help the game also shows a number of very interesting dynamic figures which Arno compares poorly to. Elise is trying to avenge her father she knew was a Templar from the beginning. Likewise, she's hunted by people she's known her entire life. Pierre Bellec is a figure who admires Assassins Ezio, Connor, and Altair. Arno just doesn't have the strength of purpose to make a strong leading man and that hurts the narrative. Even the Assassins' mentor, Mirabeau, acts with a stronger social conscience and desire to change the world.

    Which brings another problem to the forefront in the game kills its darlings far too early. Mirabeau and Bellec both die at the mid-point of the game while Elise's death robs the game of a lot of its emotional strength. She's willing to die to avenge her father, sacrificing her future with Arno for it, and that's not a bad thing.

    However, Elise's vengeance-related death keeps the story squarely focused on Francois de le Cerre and he didn't make enough of an impression that I cared about Arno's devoting a decade of his life to hunting down his killers, let alone Elise. The story is left with no real sense of justice or triumph with even the modern-day story turning out to have been a wild goose chase. Unity robs its player, essentially, of any reason to have paid attention to the narrative.

Poor Elise. You were a wasted character.
    There's also the fact that, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, Arno Dorian is the worst Assassin ever. If it's a question of who is the best Assassin ever, Arno Dorian has the distinction of being down at the very bottom. Over the course of the game, he kills the good Grandmaster of the Templars (during a truce, no less), fails to kill the evil Grandmaster multiple times, kills a Master Assassin, blows up a stockpile of weapons to fight the evil Templars, let's an Apple of Eden fall into the hands of the 18th century's worst dictator, and repeatedly screws up every mission he's given.

    Past Assassins have been accused of not understanding the Creed but I'm not even sure Arno cares. He's a member of the Assassins because it's something to do when he's kicked out of his family home. I *LIKE* Arno, don't get me wrong but he's as good an Assassin as Homer Simpson is a safety inspector. Shay Cormac may top out Arno due to the whole "treason on par with Darth Vader" thing but Arno certainly is down there.

    The gameplay is entertaining, as mentioned, and the graphics are superb. There's also some truly out-there moments I love like a sequence where Arno "time-travels" via the Animus to climb the Eiffel tower and shoot down Nazi biplanes. My only regret is there weren't a bunch of Nazi guards to stab but this is quibbling over pure awesome. The fact you ALSO get to climb around the Statue of Liberty is another sign this game is fun--and that's something that earns it a lot of forgiveness.

If the game had been more hot-air balloon chases and Nazi stabbings, I might have given this a 10 out of 10.
    In conclusion, I recommend this game to both Assassin's Creed and video game fans in general. It's fun, it's pretty, there's a lot of stuff to do and I will continue playing it for a long time. The problem is there's just so much they could have done differently and better. As a result, this game jumps along the rooftops when it could have soared.



  1. They missed the opportunity to really tell a complex and morally grey story. Instead we got Templers bad, Assassins nowhere to be seen as if they were a complete afterthought.

    1. Agree with you Michael 100%. Not to mention the game makes the assassins look like they are in favour of a monarch that is basically goes against everything the assassins claim they fight for.

      This is the big problem I feel overall towards the series, with the assassins becoming more and more unsympathetic each game due to the fact they never seem to change anything. Nor do they seem to do much but kill Templars for the sake of it, they have become so reactive and started to contradict a lot of their views and beliefs by AC3 time.

      The series in general has fallen under what Tvtropes call the Chris carter effect, namely Ubisoft dragging this series out further and further with no real modern day plot and ending in sight.

      It's become very hard to be invested in the series, and Unity mostly just took those flaws to it's extremes, Arno was a lazy rehash I feel of Ezio and Edward Kenway but given none of their charm, depth or likeability, the man is a spoiled brat in my eyes from start to finish.

      Who goes around doing what pleases him with no regard for the consequences and overall just makes things worst, refuses to take responsibility for his failures. Personally I feel he brought most of his suffering on himself with his foolish actions.

      Plus the fact he has no real tie into the plot, setting or deep reasons for his actions makes him very boring and unfit to be the lead character.

      I feel the writer of this game didn't ask themselves the serious question of why Arno's story was worth telling overall, what makes his story interesting among other things. That's what writers should ask themselves when deciding a main character for their story.

      Pierre Bellec would have been a much more fitting main character for this game I feel, has many flaws. Ties into the plot and setting a lot more than Arno and provides an interesting view into how past main characters are viewed within their own order.

      Ubisoft really fucked up I feel with this game and maybe turned me away from this series for good. Such a wasted chance to do a brilliant game and story on so many levels.

    2. We will see with Victory. Though Victorian London wasn't exactly known for great social unrest. If they wanted Victorian times there were plenty of places in the 1800s where there was: India, China, Greece, and Russia come to mind.

      I am surprised that they haven't set one in Prague that spans the 30 years war. Start with the 1618 Defenestration and end with the Siege of Prague in 1648 and the battles on Karluv Most.

    3. they recently did China with Shao Jun from AC Embers, and they have done India as well online I believe.

      Yes the 100 year war would be an interesting setting for the assassin Templar conflict.

      Syndicate didn't make much of an impression on me, simply due to how much Victorian setting has been used in other games recently and feeling quite clichéd overall.

      At least I have Witcher 3 to look forward to this week. Been waiting for that for ages now.

  2. I didn't dislike Arno nor do I think he's an Ezio clone but he suffers in comparison to some truly excellent protagonists like Connor, Shay, Edward, and, yes, Ezio. Which is part of the problem for the game as it lacks a strong center.

    Only the grand finale really moved me and I can't help but think the game should have at least have given Arno the last word. Something like:

    Germaine: Blah blah blah progress.

    Arno: You don't at all realize I don't care about any of that, do you? This was about the human heart all along. If you couldn't understand that and it was able to undo your order, you and your kind will never control the world.

  3. Then Arno becomes a Bonapartist.

  4. Anyone who is interested in the many historical inaccuracies of the game should check out this post. It gives some really great insights into the whole thing.**SPOILERS**?p=10353166&viewfull=1#post10353166

    1. The author of the original post seems to lionize the Jacobins a bit too much. Considering what they did once they fully seized power.

      The point is that there is a good story about the corruption power, radicalism, and revolutions often replacing bad governments with worse ones.