I posted about my holiday tradition playing Assassin’s Creed III and noted that I wasn’t sure if I would finish it before moving onto the next game in the series or if I’d start playing them in parallel. Well I decided to play the next game in the series… and then the next… and the next. For the last month I’ve been playing four different versions of Assassin’s Creed at the same time.
Assassin’s Creed III
As I stated before, I really love this game. You play as Connor, a Native American assassin during the Revolutionary War. The world is highly detailed with a great reproduction of Colonial cities and forests, day / night cycles, weather that changes by the season, and realistic interactions with animals and people. The graphics engine holds up extremely well for being almost six years old. It still looks great and I can run it at max settings with buttery smooth frame rates. Other than some finickiness on Windows 10 (needs compatibility mode, run as admin, virus scan and FRAPS disabled) it still works.
I’m about 80% through the game so far and I’ve just started to understand all the pieces of the world. When I first started playing I didn’t really understand the idea of open world games. I’d do the missions assigned in order but didn’t spend much time exploring the other aspects of the game such as buying new weapons in shops or trading goods. There are a ton of side missions that I haven’t visited yet and didn’t realize I could use to improve my abilities and weapons for the main campaign. I’m going to take some time off from the main story to play them and enjoy the games colonial setting.
Assassin’s Creed Black Flag
Black Flag is the next in the series, a.k.a AC4. It uses the same graphics engine as AC3 but is set in the early 18th century, more than 60 years prior to AC3. It’s not a prequel, but the main character is Connor’s grandfather and provides some family history. It centers on pirates and mixes the sailing-style missions from AC3 with stops on small islands.
The world is just as detailed as in AC3, but is set in tropical locations with mountains, sand, palm trees, beaches, and glistening water. Some of the islands have towns in them with structures and crowds of people while others consist of huts and mostly tropical animals. You’ll often come across pigs, crabs, monkeys, turtles, and the occasional whale or shark. You can hunt many animals, as in AC3, to craft new upgrades.
I really enjoyed the city aspect of AC3 so I wasn’t sure if I’d like to have to go from island to island but Black Flag is very fun so far. I haven’t played a lot of it, but the first island that I arrived at was very cool. The game includes a lot more treasure chests than AC3 which makes it a little more fun to navigate across the map on the way to side missions and the main campaign. The controls have been adjusted a bit and it is easier to hide behind cover such as rocks and vegetation to grab enemies and assassinate them.
As much as I enjoy the colonial New England landscape from AC3, I’m enjoying the bright and tropical landscape of Black Flag. Still highly detailed, still runs great at max settings.
Assassins Creed Unity
Unity, technically AC 5, is set during the French Revolution, a few years after the American Revolution. It uses a new version of the graphics engine that supports huge numbers of characters and more detailed worlds. It was heavily criticized upon release for numerous game-breaking bugs as well as poor performance across all platforms. Patches were released that addressed most of the issues. That was almost four years ago so I expected all of them to be addressed; unfortunately some have not.
First the good stuff. Paris is beautiful once I configured my graphics cards correctly. AC3 introduced certain buildings that you could enter, but it was only to get through one window and out the other side; you could only enjoy a room as it blurred by during the navigation animation. Unity actually allows you to enter buildings and spend some time in them. They still perform the purpose of getting out the other side but now they are fully detailed with multiple floors and people. You can use them to hide, find treasure, or even start missions.
I really like the beauty of the maps and I’m trying to like the game itself, but there are several issues that I find frustrating:
- The storyline is OK but it doesn’t feel very compelling yet. I’ve started playing some of the side missions and they are better as they go along.
- There are literally hundreds of NPCs lining every street which is incredibly annoying because they are always in the way. It takes a while to traverse the map, but I’ve started spending my time hopping buildings instead.
- The enemies use a new detection system that gives them a radius of vision with which they can see you. They are all super sensitive and catch me almost immediately. I guess I’m not that good at sneaking around but it makes the game much less fun when I’m always being chased.
- It has taken me a while to get the hang of many of the “sneak-around” missions that have way too many enemies to take on yourself and require lots of slow sneaking / distracting / hidden assassinations.
- The skill tree does not offer very many skills and many require you to reach certain progress in the game to unlock. It makes me feel that my character is underpowered. For instance, you have to unlock double assassinations and the game isn’t very generous with experience points.
- Some of the missions include an immediate follow-on sequence that starts automatically after you’ve completed the mission. They annoy the hell out of me because I like to take a break after a mission but the game forces me into some other sequence that usually involves running and dying a bunch of times before I could complete it. I also accidentally started the expansion pack and had to play a mission that took me 1.5 hours before it would let me return to the main game. Oops.
- The game tries to implement fancy additional moves when running, climbing, and sneaking around but they all require additional key hits that break up the motion and make it clumsy. It turns cool stealth attacks into frustrating failure chases.
- Despite numerous fixes and four years on the market, some of the original game bugs still remain. I’ve seen NPCs from the crowds floating in mid-air or halfway in the wall of a building numerous times. I’ve had NPCs loudly have a conversation in the middle of a cut scene. I’ve had enemies freeze and stop fighting in the middle of a sequence while preventing me from killing them and from completing the sequence.
- Though it was adjusted and improved through various patches, the game still has pretty obnoxious pop-in where character and building detail abruptly increases as you come closer to it. The facial modeling in this game is really detailed, but only applies to the main face in a scene – the others look under-detailed and kind of fake.
Overall Paris is a nice looking world with beautifully rendered architecture and lighting but the game is prone to issues and frustrations. I want to like it and there is something that keeps bringing me back, even if I can’t put my finger on it.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
The sixth major game in the franchise attempts to clean up the issues with Unity. Set in early 19th century Britain during the industrial revolution, you play as a pair of twin assassins, Jacob and Evie. Throughout the game you can switch between them to take advantage of their respective skills. Jacob is a tiny bit more tough and Evie is more stealthy but they have nearly the exact skill trees save for a single Jacob-specific toughness skill and an Evie-specific stealth skill.
Syndicate uses the same graphics engine as Unity but fixes the character drawing issues, addresses detail pop-in, and addresses the issues with people rending in mid-air. You can tell that the team scaled back a lot to stabilize the engine – there are far fewer NPCs in any one place, you can’t go into as many buildings, and the overall detail in faces and buildings has been reduced a tiny bit. Even with the adjustments London still looks gorgeous with great brick buildings and monuments such as Big Ben and Buckingham palace.
Similar to previous games, Syndicate has a concept of libration. Each section of the map is under Templar control and you can perform different missions to liberate those areas for money and experience. Each area on the Syndicate map has 5 different missions and an associated level of difficulty. The player upgrades their character with skills to match the various areas and then liberates them. Each section has the same 5 mission types but they are all pretty fun and are a nice break from the main storyline.
In addition to the main story, side missions, treasure boxes, animus fragments, and character upgrades, you also can enlist other NPCs to help you in the form of a gang called the Rooks. Rooks can help protect you from Templars on the street, attack targets for you, or create distractions so you can sneak around. As you progress through the game you can even purchase upgrades for the Rooks that increase their level and abilities.
The overall mechanics of the game are simplified too: stealth, running, and climbing are all pretty much automatic and don’t require a bunch of extra keys like they did in Unity. You also start out as assassins and get access to cool assassin moves immediately instead of learning them over time as in previous games. The skill tree is much more robust than in Unity and has some really great options like bonuses for fast attacks on enemies and upgrades to Eagle Vision. Skill availability is linked to the character’s overall level which means that you can spend your time doing side missions to increase your skills before taking on main missions. This is a huge improvement over Unity which locked many skills to the completion of certain sequences in the game. Add the new grappling rope and the ability to switch between Evie and Jacob and you have a pretty entertaining game.
A Tale of Four Creeds
I’m playing four games at once and they are all different. If I rate them in order of fun I choose Syndicate, Black Flag, AC 3, and then Unity. If I rate them in order of world detail and realism I choose with Unity, Syndicate, AC 3, and Black Flag. If I rate them in order of historical interest I choose AC 3, Syndicate, Unity, and Black Flag. They all have their strengths and weaknesses but overall provide enough entertainment to keep me coming back.