Thus far at E3 2014, Assassin's Creed Unity's showing has been a tale of two design approaches.
The first approach is the openly violent one on display during the game's cooperative demo presented at Microsoft's press conference. This demo began by following a dark-robed assassin along a stabbing-heavy journey. After he entered a giant rioting crowd, he was joined by another assassin, and the two made their way to the front. After killing the guards holding back the crowd, the rioters surged forward and the assassins climbed into a window above and roamed the halls of a palatial abode, where they were joined by two other assassin's in a furious free-for-all. There was a silent takedown or two to take in, but the demo was striking for the bloody rampage that ended it. Four assassins battled individual enemies, and their target found himself decapitated, watching his own body from his head's vantage point atop a stake. This was not the Assassin's Creed we were first introduced to so many years ago.
The second idea is the more surreptitious one depicted during Ubisoft's press conference. In this single-player-focused demo, black-robed hero Arno looked upon a rampaging crowd before slipping down the walls to find his primary target, Captain Xavier. The opening parkour sequence was a delight to watch, featuring slick acrobatics showing off the quickest locomotion we've seen in the series thus far. Arno's narration, a sequence in which you might chase after a thief, and Assassin's Creed's signature social stealth were thematic confirmations that the series was not yet ready to abandon its core mechanics. Arno found the captain, and he did so without making much commotion. This was the Assassin's Creed I wanted to see.
Yet I admit I am grateful to see both approaches represented, as fond as I am of the more traditional stealth action that the first two primary Assassin's Creed games offered. I don't know yet how the cooperative gameplay and solitary exploration will mesh, but I have in mind a Watch Dogs-type scenario in which players can begin a mission on their own, or participate in one with other players, either as a guest in their worlds, or with them guesting in yours. The Wolfpack online mode in previous Assassin's Creed games was a highlight, and it seems sensible to see its ideas make their way to Unity's campaign setting. Watch Dogs' insistence on constantly bugging me with opportunities to join other players has me somewhat wary; I would rather Unity not bombard me with notifications and reminders. But if Ubisoft can be a little sneakier about threading in cooperative play, they might actually be on to something with Unity's integrated multiplayer.
Nevertheless, the second demo inspired a breath of relief, and it was there that I noted some improvements over previous games that intrigued me. The first was the apparent addition of an actual cover system in which you could press a button and stick to cover rather than have the game choose stealth stances on your behalf. Suddenly, the prospect of sneaking missions in Assassin's Creed sounds like a delight rather than a burden. The other improvement was the fluidity of descending movements on display. No longer will we need to drop down and grasp protrusions. Instead, we can briskly make our way down to the ground with a grace befitting a true assassin.
But sometimes, I don't feel like being silent. Sometimes, I just want to participate in rhythmic swordplay and shed some Templar blood. I find some delight in knowing I'll be able to do that with a few friends at my side. I don't know whether Assassin's Creed Unity will represent the best of both worlds, but I have confidence that the game will, indeed, unify them.