Assassin's Creed Syndicate's first piece of narrative-driven DLC is a curious thing. It takes the main game's skill tree and morphs it into a combat system based more on intimidation than physical prowess. It retains all the core mechanics of Syndicate--the rope launcher for easy traversal across London's rooftops, the familiar bounty hunts and laborer liberation missions, even one of the Fryes' powerful allies--but they are wrapped in a different package. The result is an odd, surprising mix, one that is engaging but not quite the best use of the Jack the Ripper story.
What follows are spoilers for the main story of Assassin's Creed Syndicate, and it's difficult to explain Jack the Ripper without mentioning these elements. Stop reading if you haven't finished the main game!
It's 1888. Evie Frye returns to London after nearly a 20-year absence, having followed fellow assassin Henry Green to his homeland of India. There, Evie trained with the Indian assassins, learning non-lethal intimidation techniques meant to frighten enemies rather than kill them outright. Evie's brother Jacob summons her--now 40 years old--back to London for help in the Ripper murders, and Evie arrives to find him missing in action.
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What follows is an ordeal that will test Evie's resolve, both as a woman and as an assassin. There's a moment late in the DLC where the horror of the Ripper's acts--the brutal mutilation and murder of prostitutes--crashes down around her. However, Evie is physically strong and very clever, and has proven time and again she is highly capable in protecting herself and others. Having Evie rather than Jacob investigate the murders of these helpless young women is a powerful narrative move; here is a woman horrified for her gender, seeking to avenge wrongs done to her sex. Throughout the story, it's hard not to imagine Evie can see herself in these young women's positions, fighting for her life against a ruthless man without mercy. Voice actress Victoria Atkin's exquisite performance as Evie carries into the DLC, and we can hear the pain in her voice as she inspects each murder scene.
On inspecting murder scenes: if you've played the Dreadful Crimes DLC--which was included as a pre-order bonus for Syndicate--you're already familiar with Jack the Ripper's format. Some main quest missions require Evie to investigate a crime scene, searching for clues in the environment using eagle vision and then piecing together what happened. But unlike Dreadful Crimes, it's not up to Evie to search out and confront the perpetrator. Instead, the solution is handed to you outright, with Evie manipulating the environment to decipher secret messages left by the Ripper. It's not as satisfying as Dreadful Crimes, but just as Syndicate is good about shaking up the traditional mission format, so is the main quest of Jack of the Ripper.
If you're interested in collecting bits and pieces of stories lying on the fringes of the Ripper tale, then you'll want to dig into the DLC's side missions. They are the same as they were in the main game: escort missions using carriages, bounty hunts, and liberation missions. This latter type focuses on prostitutes instead of children in factories, with Evie sneaking into brothels to scare off or kill the men holding these women hostage. But unlike the children liberation missions, these prostitution ring breakups come with a rather dramatic fail state: each time Evie is detected during these missions, a prostitute is killed. There's no undo button for this. Admittedly, it made me work harder to stick to the shadows, but the captors had no motivation to kill the prostitutes other than to keep Evie from liberating them. Those enslaving children in the main game didn't kill the children if I was detected, so having this side effect in the DLC felt unnecessary and made me feel a little gross.
Another mission type revolves around publicly shaming men who beat prostitutes. Evie must kidnap the men in question and parade him through the streets, shouting his bad deeds to the crowds. The HUD map even marks where the biggest crowds are, and a large blue "SHAME" meter adorns the top of the screen. It's heartening to see abusive characters get their due, even if it's just within the context of a video game side-mission. It's just funny and weighty enough to make you forget about the whole prostitute-killing thing.
But some of Jack the Ripper's side missions make little sense. One string of them involves Evie shutting down underground fight clubs. Our middle-aged Evie jumps into the ring to kill or frighten away waves of thugs. It seems out of place for Evie's character, especially now that she's not the same young, scrappy woman she is Syndicate's main game. There is now a certain grace in Evie's maturity, and it's evident in her speech, her movement, and her turn towards non-lethal combat.
A word on combat: it's largely the same as the main game, except instead of playing as Evie and Jacob, you play as Evie and Jack the Ripper in turns. Evie's weapons are all non-lethal unless you want them to be, but her and the Ripper share the same scare tactics. There's even a new, small skill tree for these new abilities. Using scare tactics allows you to make an enemy anxious, which increases their fighting potency. If you can scare them completely--a small face over their head will turn red--they will stop putting up a fight and sometimes run away from you, eliminating the need to kill them.
You also have small bombs that explode with a scream and a burst of fire but do no physical damage but can make enemies anxious or frighten them away entirely. There's also a spiked weapon that in Evie's hands can be used to pin enemies to the ground just long enough for her to frighten them into incapacitation. The Ripper, however, uses these to kill. It's a more dramatic dynamic than the Jacob/Evie, brawler/stealth duality, and I enjoyed being able to creep through areas like a boogeyman rather than a cold-blooded killer. These tactics work reliably, and a couple of well-placed bombs and spikes quickly clear crowded areas. I found myself prioritizing frightening away enemies before giving in to killing them.
I enjoyed my time with the Jack the Ripper DLC--I'm a sucker for creepy cult history stories and I loved watching a middle-aged female assassin take a town to task. However, playing as the Ripper unnerved me. It was chilling to be playing as the villain; the HUD ripples with Animus glitches and bursts of text that look like they've been hastily scratched out, making your time as the Ripper a visually interesting experience.
But as the Ripper, you're asked not to kill just his female victims, but a slew of others: men in your way, police officers investigating a crime scene, and--most horribly--an insane asylum full of mentally ill patients and their doctors. You can get through these areas without killing most of them, but there's no way to avoid killing altogether. I understand Assassin's Creed takes liberties with history when it tells its tales, but I felt sick to my stomach killing hallways full of patients. I spent most of my time painstakingly trying to scare them away to avoid killing them.
In the end, the Ripper's tale and his identity aren't much of a revelation. The DLC lets you know early on the best suspect, and from there it's just waiting for Evie to open her eyes and figure out what you already know. However, running through a terrorized London was an eerie, entertaining experience, though perhaps a little short. But if you loved Assassin's Creed Syndicate, I strongly recommend giving the Jack the Ripper DLC a go. It's a lovely ode to the story of Jacob and Evie, and gives the game's strongest character more time in the spotlight.