Feature Article

The Newfound Storytelling Potential of Assassin's Creed Unity

Arno he didn't!

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Have you heard of Arno the Bold? He was one of the greatest figures of the French Revolution before his name was lost to the passage of time. An eccentric man, Arno was known to wear a garish purple hood best described as "wizardly." He also wielded a rather large and imposing pickaxe, or la Pioche de la Justice as he referred to it. But when Arno wasn't going for dips in the Seine, he was devoted to bringing liberty to all his fellow Parisians. No Templar was safe from Arno the Bold. Nor was anyone who looked at him funny. And I suppose anyone who got caught in one of those smoke bombs he was always throwing around. Arno was a bit sloppy about that.

Okay, so maybe my version of Arno wasn't all that great of a hero. But Assassin's Creed Unity, with its newfound dedication to customization and open-ended mission design, has this way of making you feel like you're building your own story. Yes, it's definitely still an Assassin's Creed game, but after four hours of scaling Parisian rooftops, I like where this game is going.

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Making Sure I Had the Right Look

The very first thing I did in Assassin's Creed Unity was jump into the character customization screen. I knew right from the start that I wanted to stress-test the options that this game had to offer. After all, customization options have existed in Assassin's Creed since the early days, but they've all been pretty modest and mostly cosmetic. I wanted to know how far Unity had gone to improve on that legacy.

Pretty far, as it turns out. Within each clothing category are dozens of gear options, many of which bear wonderful names such as Handmade Napoleonic Breeches or Legendary Phantom Hood. Some are subtle fashion choices, while others are absolutely ridiculous. However, all of them come with different stat modifiers, affecting things like mobility, health, and sneakiness.

I decided to buy the Handmade Medieval Hood because it provided a nice health boost--something that would come in handy now that Ubisoft has made the combat more challenging--and also because it made me look like a totally sick wizard. I paired it with a Handmade Medieval Coat because I am a man who cares about fashion consistency, and then added a Handmade Prowler Belt because it was actually three different belts all bunched together and that just seemed like a good value.

But what color would I paint my new gear? Unity lets you select from a broad assortment of color swatches, which like the gear itself can run from the modest to the absolutely garish. I first went with a greenish color called Emerald Regret because, well, it's called Emerald Regret. But then a bright purple purple hue caught my eye and I decided to go with that. A wizard's gotta stand out.

Finally, it was onto the weapon screen. I knew that a man wearing a bright purple wizard hood wouldn't settle for some boring sword, so I took a look at some of the more eccentric weapon options. Would I go with the bident (like a trident but with two prongs instead of three) or the pickaxe? The bident looked pretty amazing, but I figured the pickaxe was a better fit for a people's revolution. That bident had royalty written all over it.

Feeling confident in my look, I decided to try out some some story missions.

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Exploring the Assassination Sandbox

After an early mission that shed a bit of light on Arno's entrance into the Assassins' brotherhood, I was given my first target: a slimy fellow named Sivert. These big assassination missions work quite a bit differently in Unity compared to the last few entries in the series. Think of them as big, open-ended sandboxes similar to early Hitman games. In this case, my target was hanging out inside the Notre Dame and it was up to me to figure out how to get into the heavily guarded cathedral, how to kill him, and how to escape without being swarmed by guards.

It's a structure that leaves you a lot of choices, but you wouldn't know that at the beginning. That's because Unity is very eager to suggest a few key options by leaving them sitting prominently on the screen like any other mission instructions. An example: there's an associate of Sivert's who's going to have a secret meeting with him in a confessional booth. If you take this guy out, you can surprise Sivert during this would-be meeting. A nice way to deal with your target without drawing any attention, right?

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Probably, but I wanted to forge my own path without any hand-holding. So I shrugged off the game's suggestions (the other included a man who had keys to a special entrance) and set out in search of my own way in. After doing a lap around the Notre Dame, I found a well leading down into the catacombs. Down there, I was able to discover a secret staircase leading into the cathedral. I did my best to sneak around any suspicious guards without raising too much attention, and quickly managed to blend into a crowd of people watching a priest give his sermon.

After a little while, I caught a glimpse of my target walking just beyond the throng of church-goers. He was flanked by guards, and my window of opportunity was a short one, so I made a split-second decision. I threw a smoke bomb, let the chaos and confusion spread like wildfire, and planted a blade in Sivert without anyone noticing. Before anyone could see what happened, I was already strolling back to my underground entrance. Mission successful.

What makes these types of missions neat, though, is the sheer number of options you have for approaching them. There are all manner of entrances and opportunities to take down Sivert. I actually replayed this mission and found an open window up on the roof, then prowled up in the rafters before doing a slick aerial takedown on Sivert. Sure, this attracted a whole bunch of angry guards who nearly killed me (guards now use group tactics much, much more effectively) but I managed to escape by the skin of my teeth. I suspect these missions are going to provide some of the best replay value in the entire game.

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Making a Mess With Friends

Another thing about Unity: some of the game's best stories are going to emerge from co-op missions. I had a delightful time doing a four-player heist, a mission where we all had to sneak through a large and rather elegant palace stealing valuable art. Only this palace was bristling with guards who really don't like having their art stolen.

These heist missions reward you for stealthiness and precision, so the more you alert the guards the more cash you stand to lose. It's an impactful penalty given that all the money you make in these missions can be used to kit out your character with new gear both in single-player and co-op. (You use the same character across all game modes.)

On top of that, you can also unlock unique co-op skills to lend a hint of class-based roles to these missions. That includes things like group healing, dropping shared ammo caches, and shared eagle vision. So between this and the fact that the palace was a huge building with all manner of balconies and windows to sneak through, there was a lot of potential for stealthy cooperation.

Not that that did us much good. See, my teammates were great. They were organized, sneaky, and surgical. Then there was me, the Leeroy Jenkins of the team. I was the one charging headfirst into a room, letting my teammates clean up my mess while I pocketed the art. This led to some pretty hairy situations, but finding a way out of them was so much fun that I didn't even care. Arno the Bold plays by his own rules. Probably all that river water he's gulped down from swimming across the Seine.

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A Few Causes for Concern

I really enjoyed playing Unity. There's the terrific atmosphere of Paris, with its filthy streets and dense crowds of rioters. There's the new improvements to the movement system, like the ability to parkour down buildings just as easily as you can parkour up (an absolute godsend when you're searching for hidden entrances like those windows on the Notre Dame). It's a return to the series' roots, but one that makes huge improvements on those fundamentals.

That said, there were some things that bothered me. As much as I like the idea of the catacombs, that vast underground network of tunnels and sewers you can sneak through to find hidden entrances to places, those confined spaces really don't mesh well with the camera. Half the time I was down there, I was fidgeting with the camera--which was often bumping into the walls--to get a better look at nearby enemies. At other times, I was simply lost, unable to find an exit as I ran into one dead end after the next.

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Then there's the return of tailing missions. Ubisoft has talked a big game about its adaptive mission design for Unity, promising that when you're asked to tail a target and you get caught, it's capable of turning into a chase mission on the spot instead of simply throwing a "mission failed" screen at you. I like that idea a lot. I'd like to try one of those missions. I did not get to try one of those missions.

Instead, I was asked to tail a target--a twisted doctor named LaTouche--in order to find his little hospital of horror. I was happy to see that when I let him get too far away, the game didn't make me start over; it merely asked me to go find him again. A nice change of pace from the way these missions worked in earlier games. But when he caught me outright, it was mission over.

Talking to one of the designers, he assured me that these missions are now extremely rare and this particular one was a necessary evil because you had to know where his hideout was in order to advance the story. Be that as it may, these instant-fail tailing missions have long been one of the most frustrating parts of the series and I'm sad to see they're still in Unity at all. They're at such odds with the new focus on customization and open-endedness that they now look even more out place than ever.

Those issues aside, I enjoyed the four hours I spent playing Assassin's Creed Unity. I definitely like what's been done to broaden the potential for emergent gameplay and player customization, and the way you move about the world feels smoother than ever.

I should probably rethink that purple outfit, though.

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Brazucass

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I will miss pvp a LOT! For me it is a downgrade for the franchize.

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Qixote

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More tailing and eavesdrop missions. Yay.


Seriously, this is getting old.

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esqueejy

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Screw them. 900p 30fps capped on my PS4 means I won't be getting it. The people who bought the lesser system should get the lesser experience rather than the people who bought the better one getting the least common denominator treatment.

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Splincir

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<< LINK REMOVED >> If you bought either of the next gen systems you bought the lesser system. Get over it. There are other ps4 games that arent 1080 or 60 fps. I'm sure there will be more in the future.

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NL_Skipper

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Still though, it's not really wise to just let Ubisfot keep delivering less and less without saying something about it. It's more about the principal of the situation/decision than it has to do with the actual graphics. Ubisoft just wanted a nice easy way to deliver less to everyone, and they found a good excuse to hide behind this time.

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esqueejy

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >>

First, having a PS4 doesn't mean I don't also possess a high-end gaming rig. Some games just play better on console...or I prefer them on console so they can be in the living room on the giant tv rather than on the rig in the bedroom. So yeah, take the PC superiority complex elsewhere...it's a miserable fail when you're talking to someone who also owns one. You'd be better off taking selfies with smoochie lips and posting them on Instagram in an attempt to show the world how cool you are.


Second, the point is that developers should not be encouraged to "dumb down" their product for one set of console owners just to avoid or mollify the hurt feelings of the other set of console owners. Rather, they should be encouraging the competition to exist and participating in it so that we get better products.

2 • 
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angeloti83

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Hopefully this game will be more challenging!!!

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5443Thomas

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ninja assassin's creed? anybody? i would really love that

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JustBeFahad

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<< LINK REMOVED >> People have been asking for an Assassin's Creed set in Feudal Japan or Ancient China for a long time. They responded by making an android card game with some Japanese characters and a 2D runner set in China.

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Morphine_OD

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Who cares, I won't pay a buck to a company who thinks that my platform of choice should be underutilized in favor of some parity and stuff.

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BusterFriendly

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<< LINK REMOVED >> It's not. You've just been suckered by Sony. Sorry.

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Morphine_OD

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<< LINK REMOVED >> is suckered even a verb? You must be one of them xb one meatheads.

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Blaise0fGl0ry

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@Morphine_OD No your just an ignorant fanboy. Kind of ironic calling people meth heads with a handle like Morphine_Of isn't it? Don't start crying now that the scales are tipping, and spilt some of your milk along with it.

Any gamer who is that worried about resolution is no real gamer at all. Gamrplay is still king. Always has been, always will be, and ACU has plenty of that on tap by the looks of it.

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Morphine_OD

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<< LINK REMOVED >> do you even read, homie? I call him a "meathead", which means a stupid person, someone like you as well. And I don't know what is "Gamrplay", but I doubt your writing capabilities would prove sufficient to explain it anyway.

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KidsNDad

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Then don't, but your wrong if you believe this is what happened in this case because your precious PS4 is to blame too... oh and don't play PC games either almost all of them are held back because of consoles.

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Morphine_OD

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<< LINK REMOVED >> except that an average PC is not a double 980GTX beast, capiche? If anything, new gen of consoles defines the average PCs to have.

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layleaf1

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> My 5year old crappy laptop can play ac4 on medium, it has something like a geforce gt640mgt640m (not to be confused with gtx!) And it runs with 28fps, almost as good as a ps3... If you were to have have a gtx 980 it would be running on idle all the time!

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Morphine_OD

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<< LINK REMOVED >> you prove my point that PC gaming is not being held down by consoles, but by it's own average install base.

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layleaf1

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> No what I'm saying is this: You don't have to have an extremely powerfull machine to have roughly the same experience from an old pc. My old laptop can do it (although not vey smoothly) but my normal pc a normal home pc costing around 500$ and an extra 40$ for a gtx460 and everything runs on high around ~45fps. Having this said, pc gaming is cheaper in the long run, I bought AC4 for around 20$ 2 months after it came out. And with the steam platform you can play multiplayer extremely easy, and plat it for free (the MP). Also you can buy games like thief or hitman for about 7$ when there is a steam sale... The only problem pc gaming has is badly ported consolgames... which are made for old hardware. The 900p case just proofs that consoles were already old when they were being developed. I can go on for a while but I'm going to give you a chance to tell me how I am stupid and totally wrong, but I know that consoles most of the time are the new virtual boy. By the way, I have nothing against controllers, that might be the only good thing when it comes to input devises for a third of all games.

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Morphine_OD

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<< LINK REMOVED >> 500$ will earn you a mid range home PC that will run games like consoles with the same level of detail as consoles. Right? This implies that an average home PC is exactly on the level of last gen consoles and is by no means restrained by them.

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layleaf1

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Yes, if you were to buy everything new from an expensive retailer!

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Morphine_OD

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<< LINK REMOVED >> and if you buy a used console, you could get 10-20 games along with it and the console itself for 2/3 of the price. So what?

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layleaf1

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Well than, why do YOU think why consoles are better?

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Morphine_OD

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<< LINK REMOVED >> I don't think so, I just don't think that PC games are held back by consoles. I think that console market actually drives the average gaming PC market.

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layleaf1

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> I do not agree, name one genre of games that are not on the pc, than I shall name a dozen. For a starter strategy games: real time or turn based.

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Morphine_OD

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<< LINK REMOVED >> what does it have to do with average gaming PC hardware?

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kryotech

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This all sounds good, but I still just wish that we had some better setting. Maybe in the next AC (you know it's coming) they'll have all this good stuff in a good setting.

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Blaise0fGl0ry

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Better setting? What could be a more appropriate back drop for the Templar/ Assassin War than the French Revolution? It fits the entire theme of the franchise like a latex glove.

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lonewolf_de

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Are co-op missions an essential part to playing the game? I can't be the only one, especially on PC who buys games only for single player.

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M31R3

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Do you need 3 friends for the 4-player co-op, or can you simply go in with 1 other friend and finish the mission?

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blainose

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<< LINK REMOVED >> it will give you 3 random partner

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KidsNDad

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> And you can find them in game, you don't have to go to forums and apps to ask for groups... like other games... Destiny looking at you...

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Darth_Pietrus

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Looks really awesome. Didn't care for AC3 and AC4 but this looks great with a beautiful city and a more classic assassin.

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gamefreak215jd

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It sounds good. Hopefully the game won't be saturated with tailing missions. AC4 was the most repetitive game in the franchise.

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vadagar1

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LET ME GUESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS


ur a guy that kills people ... the end


wow good stuff

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Igal-Ze

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I played them all, but Shadow of Mordor is the best AC game to date :)

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abhisheknerdy20

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Assassins Creed IV was the worst AC ever

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Navardo95

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<< LINK REMOVED >> True that and imo ACIII was far truer to the roots of AC than ACIV.ACIII took a LOT of risks and it was massive in its ambition and scope of the storyline. ACIV...not so much granted people say its a game that is tenfolds better than its predecessor,its just not an AC game but it is an excellent pirate simulator.

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mirage_so3

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<< LINK REMOVED >> I would argue 3 was the worst. I hated Connor not to mention the "end to desmond's story" we were promised.

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robbiejones

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> i preferred 3 over 4, because the ship was used as a side activity, rather than playing a bigger role. I enjoy adventuring on the land, and having a horse was sweet! i also enjoyed the snow a lot as well. Connor was pretty boring, but he witnessed his mother's death at a young age so that's understandable. I wished they made the assassins training longer than what it was, out of the blue you become a full assassin, and get the uniform etc...

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advocacy

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By Odin's beard, I absolutely detest those tailing missions. Hopefully we won't have too many of them in this game (the developer in the interview says that these will be rare, but I will wait and see.)

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robbiejones

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<< LINK REMOVED >> after seen the video on the "hands on" experience i've become worried with the climbing mechanics.

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