The birth of a new era
So weve been brushing up on our Victorian history. Perhaps while smoking a pipe and gazing broodily into a fire but you cant prove anything - especially about the fire. 1868 in London was a time of massive upheaval. The Industrial Revolution was the true steampunk era as technology drove the world into the modern day with railways, metal construction, modern medicine and even Darwinism. Assassin's Creed Syndicate needs to deliver an entirely new world.
This isnt news to Ubisoft Quebec. This is a different era from anything thats come before and the Syndicate needs to evolve accordingly. Only 75 years separate this from the French Revolution that we featured in last years Assassins Creed Unity but for our players it will feel as if a thousand years have passed, says creative director Marc-Alexis Cote. All those technological changes will make it so that our players are leaving behind the eras that have featured in past Assassins Creeds and move into the modern age. Lets take a look at what this means for gameplay as our twin pair of hidden blade wielders, Jacob and Evie Frye, take to the skyline of Victorian London.
The rope launcher means better free running
While Italy and Paris had their fair share of tall monuments to clamber up like Spider-Man, the cities of past Creed titles have been rather low to the ground. London, on the other hand, has endless streets of buildings stretching six or seven storeys and that means a serious Assassin-ache if you fancy hurtling up to the nearest rooftop to check out the view or chase some pigeons. The rope launcher changes all of that. Part of the new and improved Assassin gauntlet, this tool means a quick tap of a shoulder button can send you speeding up walls. Bet Da Vinci wishes hed thought of that one.
Not only useful for quick rooftop access for Jacob and Evie it also means you can get between buildings with an instant zipline without having to keep an eagle eye out for any of those historically tenuous rope bridges. Plus, you can choose to either speed across to the opposite building or fire the zipline and sneak across if you fancy taking out any enemies below with some of the new toys offered up by the Victorian era
The revolver is the six shooter we deserve
Another big change from even Unity is the weaponry on offer in Victorian London. Its always been the main talking point about the limitations of a modern Assassins Creed as theres nothing terribly sneaky about a machine gun. This time around, Jacob Frye is armed with a six shooter. Gone are the days of Assassins Creed Black Flag when you juggled four guns to get four shots in a row and it looks like Ubi is taking the upgrade seriously.
Revolvers were invented in the later half of the 19th century, explains Cote. This is something that we are fully embracing in the experience. It feels great to have a six shooter in a game like Assassins Creed. And weve modernised all the free aiming, the snapping of the free aiming mechanic to make it much more accessible and fun to interact with.
Vehicles are a whole new world
London in 1868 wasnt just packed with humans (3 million of them, no less) but there were multiple ways for people to travel. Prepping for your commute, the London underground was under construction at the time, the Thames was packed with boats and the streets filled with carriages. Adding a fourth pillar to the three traditional Creed staples of navigation, combat and stealth, the systemic vehicles in the game are a significant addition to the Creed as whole.
Carriages can be driven, leapt across on busy streets and used as portable hiding places. Boats can be traversed and you can even ride trains. Playtests have apparently revealed that vehicles are changing the way people play entirely. Instead of fast travelling, people will hop on a vehicle and let themselves experience the city, Cote says. They let themselves be distracted by the dozens of side activities that we have...They engage with the city itself.
Combat gets closer and nastier
Creed combat has gradually evolved over the years but countering has always been key. Black Flag almost made hammering counter into an art form as Edward Kenway expertly stabbed and twirled his way across the Caribbean. Unity attempted to rein things in a bit with harsher combat and less connected counter kills but Syndicate is upping the game further with closer kills and a better flow.
Concealed weaponry was all the rage in Victorian London. Jacob is armed with not only a grim set of knuckle dusters but a brutal concealed Nepalese knife known as a Kukri. Also, accidentally revealed by the merchandise line up, Jacob's innocent looking cane is actually a sword with built in scythe blade. All of this combines to create much closer combat situations than previously possible. Things that we are doing is bringing our players and enemies closer together, says Cote. Weve cut the latency of the fight in half to make it much more responsive for our players.
Now with even better sneaking
Stealth has had a significant overhaul. Not only does Jacob switch from his dapper hat to a hood for stealth, the mechanics have been tweaked for a far sneakier experience. It was only last year that Unity introduced a crouch button to the series but now the cover system has been significantly improved. While Unity had you juggling buttons to snap to a wall, Syndicate does all that automatically, promising a better flow when you're getting your stab on.
For some reason Arno lacked the ability to whistle in last years Unity but Jacob and Evie seem to both have the knack for luring enemies to their death with a quick chirp. Ubi is upping the distraction ante too. Throwing knives can be embedded in walls to send enemies looking in the other direction and environmental hazards can be utilised too. Fancy dropping a tonne of barrels on some bad guy noggins? A quick throwing knife in the direction of that crate will do nicely. As they said in Victorian times? Boom.
This city is alive
London is a modern city. The 19th century might still have been a terrible time to be alive but it was a terrible time that had carriages on the streets, people on pavements and a hive of industry hard at work. This is an Assassins Creed with traffic rules and the the names of companies emblazoned across the skylines. Its fresh ground.
The police force had just been founded meaning that instead of city guards or enemy factions making sure youre behaving, theres a stack of bobbies on the beat who wont like you just casually stabbing two people at a time. Syndicate not only realistically has far more police patrolling Westminster than Whitechapel but also assures a far more cohesive world. Side activities wont just be cookie cutter across London, each one will have a purpose within each area of the city. For someone who has slogged through far too many identikit stabbing missions to get the last few icons off a map, this is seriously good news. Heres to the future of the Creed.