Time to take a leap of faith
Its fine, Ubi Quebec. Its not like weve been waiting for Victorian London since we cottoned on to the fact that you were deciding to leapfrog through history or anything. Nope, no pressure at all...
As the most modern Creed to date with only 40 years until the 20th century looms, Assassins Creed Syndicate has a lot to contend with. Ultra wide streets, six storey buildings, horses, carriages, trains, industry and, well, twice the Assassins in the shape of twins Jacob and Evie Frye. How does it stand up to a blades-on analysis? After three hours playing in a frankly overwhelmingly huge London was I asking for more, Oliver Twist style? Heres 11 stabtacular things I did in Victorian London.
1. Got up close and personal with new Creed combat
Victorian London means no swords dangling from belts or battle axes on backs. Not that there werent just as many weapons on the streets, but in a perfect fit for the Assassins hidden blade (perhaps not the innocent civilians of London) they were just concealed. Knuckle dusters, knives and a cane sword are all ready for Jacob and Evies brutal brand of Brotherhood brawling (say that ten times).
Combat is much closer and full of flying top hats, showers of molars and dislocated bones. The feel is far more physical than previous Creeds and although still not quite as Batmanny as Batman or even Mad Max, theres still something satisfying about Jacobs bone breaking ways and Evies penchant for skewering skulls with her cane sword. Plus, every assassination and dodge feels like its doing something when it comes to progression. Perfect stuns and blocks all filter into your XP for the levelling system and mean you can unlock skills as fast as possible. Its this that means you wont just stick to one Assassin as you explore. Both the arrogant Jacob and pleasantly smart Evie have their own skill trees and switching between them is as easy as a press of R3 while in the pause menu.
2. Met the cast of historical characters
Darwin? Yep. Dickens. Of course. Alexander Graham Bell as your Da Vinci replacement on inventor duties? Yes please. The affable Scot aids Jacob and Evie in their plans, even fixing up the rope launcher so that both Assassins can wear it on their gauntlet. From what I played, thats not all hes inventing either, teasing a smoke bomb to let Evie get out of Dodge fast. Plus, I played with Evies new Voltaic bomb full of electric bolts at Gamescom, and Id be willing to bet my mobile phonetic telegram that Mr Bell is the one responsible for that.
Apart from literally bumping into Charles Dickens outside a pub in Sequence three - because of course - I didnt meet too many historical celebrities, but others have now been confirmed. Florence Nightingale will be making an appearance, as will philosopher and all round revolutionary Karl Marx. Queen Victoria will also be gracing our presence but shes probably not too amused about it.
3. Boarded the Assassin train
Theres a childlike joy in the fact that your Assassin hideout this time around is a moving steam train chugging through London. Theres also probably a joke to make about British public transport here but Im not going to make it. From your very own Thomas the Tank Engine Train Hideout, you can organise your gang, admire your gear and outfits, or even just take in the sights of London as they hurtle on past.
Your fellow Assassin Henry Green offers up extra missions here, as does train staff member Agnes MacBean (yes, seriously, Im Scottish and it hurts a bit, but in her defence she does use the word eejit). Not only is it just thoroughly good fun that your base is a train, but its also useful and means that youve got a portable fast travel base that isnt locked to a particular location making things that bit more cohesive.
4. Played Assassin Frogger
Sometimes its important to get the key things out of the way. Yes, you can jump from boat to boat across the Thames without getting your little Assassin booties wet. Good thing too, because all those layers look like theyd be a hell of a thing to wander around in wet.
Londons winding river is positively teeming with nautical life, and while the water is a tad browner than were used to from Black Flag, theres still plenty of scenery to take in. Paddle steamers make their way up and down, and there are even people on small boats who will oh-so-unfortunately take the plunge if you give them a nudge. There are also cargo ships scattered across the river, so you can still feel a bit like Edward Kenway and get your loot and pillage on. There are even hayboats floating past if you want to be slightly more stealthy.
5. Discovered more Helix Rifts
Remember those wormholes into other dimensions in Unity? The ones that stretched the entire concept of the Animus to within an inch of its historical maguffin-shaped life? Well, theyre back. After some stealthing through the menus I not only found reference to the Rifts themselves, but also multiple time periods.
I didnt spend any time in the modern day, but Ubi has promised more 21st century bits and theres plenty of references to our Desmond (RIP) chums Assassins Sean Hastings and Rebecca Crane. I imagine were still in the same situation as an Abstergo employee, but some trips outside the Animus would be nice this time around. Member of the First Civilization, Juno, is out there somewhere after all.
6. Got to grips with fighting on rails
Fancy a battle atop a moving train? You got it. With the dramatic skyline of London zooming past, I took on a bundle of bads from enemy gang The Blighters to claim the train for The Rooks. Jumping from carriage to carriage as you take on brute after brute is an injection of fresh fun that the series really needed, and hurtling through stations adds an excellent sense of drama. While the combat is mostly business as usual - top hat flies off, cane sword goes through the noggin - I thoroughly enjoyed the ability to kick enemies off the side of the train.
And its not just locomotives you can climb aboard for a spot of fisticuffs either. While carriages are useful for hiding inside, theres an option to take to the roof to battle. Somehow the horse still usefully knows to follow your waypoint, leaving you open to fight on top of the carriage without the worry of ending up in the Thames.
7. Tested the rope launcher on Big Ben
The newest string in the Assassin bow is something old Ezio would have killed for. The gauntlet-mounted rope launcher means you can zoom up walls in a reverse abseil without having to do all that pesky climbing. While youve still got the choice, and Arnos free-run up and down mechanics are back to lend some grace to proceedings, its a useful tool to have. Case in point, a mission where Evie assists Alexander Graham Bell takes you to the base of Big Ben, and believe me when I say it makes getting to the top a hell of a lot easier than it would have been otherwise.
The prompt to fire with L1 doesnt appear quite as fast as I would like, but I had plenty of fun monkeying across from turret to turret by firing the rope launcher as a portable zipline. It even makes a nice aerial assassination tool, provided the guards below dont spot you playing at Spider-Man in the middle of the day. Speaking of superheroes, theres a nice Batman element to proceedings if youre stealthing around at night and zoom skyward into the darkness.
8. Caused carriage chaos on the streets of London
Carriages were a somewhat luxury item during the industrial revolution, so the best way to get your hands on one is to steal it. With a crack of the reins, you head off down the busy street and, if youre lucky, the police will see you and give chase. Then you can have the not so stealthy fun of attempting to ram them off the road.
Theres a distinct sense of madness to it all, as horses arent the easiest to control and dont have a reverse option, but its enjoyably chaotic. You can boost with X to gee your horse on faster, or hammer square for a sideways ram. This sends wood flying into the air and horses hurtling in every direction. Alternatively you can always just shoot rival drivers with your revolvers quickshot ability, or even execute the horses. But PETA probably wouldnt like that.
9. Beat some goons in Fight Club
So its totally against the rules but I really want to talk about fight club. Both Evie and Jacob can take part in Fight Club missions, which deliver brutal showdowns against some seriously ugly fighters. In the fighting pit you can earn sweet sweet pounds for, well, pounding some heads in. Its one of the many types of side mission that feed into the whole gang ethos of the game.
Speaking of gangs, I only managed to liberate Whitechapel, but every district has its own story and side missions that tie into destruction of the Templars control over London town. As Evie, I stealth into a workhouse where children are being forced to work illegally and instead of a lecture about the work laws regarding impoverished minors, a blade to the guts seems to work just as well. I also take on a Templar gang stronghold and recruit some extra gang members who can be used to distract or fight enemies as I wish. Its still very Assassins-y, with a gang warfare skin this time, but even clearing that one area of the map is a satisfying tick on my to do list.
10. Got a bit crafty
This is an Assassins Creed game so, as usual there are chests scattered across the world. But dont worry, theres no lockpicking mechanic this time around. What there is though, is the return of crafting. While chests and crates give you good old pounds sterling, youll also find crafting materials in them, such as metal and leather. These can be hewn into new and more exciting versions of the cane sword and even more brutal version of the knuckle duster.
11. Tried out some killer skills
In an attempt to stop you being some kind of Assassin Terminator, Unity was the first Creed game to lock your skills away behind sync points (and three too many currencies). Syndicate follows a similar model but, like Destinys recent update, has removed most of the nonsense. Everything you do adds to your XP. Every 1000 XP you get a skill point to spend on the ever-growing individual skill trees of both Jacob and Evie. Your Assassin level then follows suit.
Another first for the series is a levelling system for entire districts. Locations with more police and guards will be a higher level, significantly increasing your risk of being slaughtered should you choose to take on a mob. This also encourages more stealthy play, where you can take advantage of Evies improved throwing knife skills or her high level chameleon ability. Overall, the city is sprawling and beautiful with a real sense of place and theres some criminal fun to be had in London town. Its just going to be a matter how much when it comes to the games release next month.