Assassin's Creed Unity: Dead Kings Review

  • First Released Nov 11, 2014
  • PS4
  • XONE

...and you will know us by the trail of dead.

Whether it's a sequel from an annualized racing series or an expansion pack to a well-received game, there's comfort in the familiar--and, potentially, boredom as well. Dead Kings, the first downloadable content for Assassin's Creed Unity, is an unfortunate example of the perils of taking the beaten path and the design bugs that go with it. So it's a minor blessing that protagonist Arno Dorian returns without a thirst for vengeance or a love interest to protect, his two motivations from the main game. All he wants to do is leave late 18th century Paris...almost as much as I do.

It is from a "one last heist" premise that Dead Kings springs forth. Without the need for money or emotional attachments to complicate the situation, Arno comes into the job as a brooding ex-assassin who just wants to get away from all the dark memories of his time in the city. This is also why Dead Kings is set in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis rather than in Paris proper. Safe passage to Egypt is Arno's reward; all he has to do is find a manuscript and solve several tomb puzzles. One would think that a ticket from Paris to Egypt would be less complicated, but it wouldn't be much of a game if Arno just spent a day pickpocketing for boat fare, now would it?

The Marquis de Sade, one of the highlights of Assassin’s Creed Unity, makes a welcome return.
The Marquis de Sade, one of the highlights of Assassin’s Creed Unity, makes a welcome return.

The sight of a new set of vertical bars in the Progress Tracker provides an initial (and irrational) hope that Dead Kings might aspire to more than the usual half dozen story missions expected from Ubisoft's post-release add-ons. Suppress your enthusiasm early: aside from one bar devoted to tracking the six main assignments, the other columns represent an unremarkable swath of optional missions and collectable trackers.

Dead Kings is a wholly unsurprising sampler pack of many of the mission types from Assassin's Creed Unity, right down to the easy-to-solve environmental puzzles. Tailing objectives are painless, as are the foot chases, which both benefit from thick urban designs. As one who was indifferent to the much flaunted crowd densities of Assassin's Creed Unity, I greatly preferred maintaining pursuits from rooftop to rooftop even if my target was on the street. A combination of patience, guard patrol observations, and an ample supply of stealth gear ensures that you can clear a few missions completely undetected, if that's your preference.

No Caption Provided
Of all the Parisian characters sporting inexplicable English accents, these Raiders have some of the strongest cockney accents.
Of all the Parisian characters sporting inexplicable English accents, these Raiders have some of the strongest cockney accents.

If you guessed that the title “Dead Kings” implies that tombs are to be raided, then you are absolutely correct. Much as in the search for the Well of the Souls in Raiders of the Lost Ark, you have an advantage over the looters desecrating catacombs for treasure. Dr. Jones had better information than the Nazis; Arno has wall climbing skills, which is all he needs to get ahead of the Raiders, the new faction of this DLC. They're not an especially bright bunch. In fact, compared to elite guards, alley gangs, and other factions from prior Assassin's Creeds, the Raiders are no more than annoying thugs with longer lifebars.

As if to recognize that we may not have patience for these bullies, Ubisoft included one of the most useful and potent weapons in franchise history: the Guillotine Gun. If you can buy into the absurdity of the Animus, then you won’t laugh when I tell you that I assumed that this weapon would fire wide guillotine-inspired blades, like a primitive version of the plasma cutter from Dead Space. The reality is less novel, more practical, and resoundingly brutal. The Guillotine Gun is a bayonet on steroids; two blade swings can take down brutes and the firing mechanism functions as either a grenade or mortar launcher, depending on the distance. As with any high damage weapon in the series, dealing death is utterly satisfying, provided you don't get caught in the blast of your own gunfire.

The completion of a campaign should leave you with the sensation of a job well done. It should not leave you with the relief of knowing that you won't have to endure another second of a mediocre game. I experienced the latter during my playthrough of Assassin's Creed Unity and had similar impressions of Dead Kings, albeit in a slightly more tolerable bite-sized package. This new content is best experienced by those who have yet to complete the main story, since the Guillotine Gun is a sufficient stress relief tool for coping with Unity's glitches (although you will experience the story out of sequence). As much as I appreciated the shift away from the crime investigation premise of Assassin's Creed Unity, sending Arno on a mere fetch quest turns Dead Kings into the blandest kind of open-world adventure, in which a man who used to be a hero is reduced to a mere errand boy.

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The Good

  • The Guillotine Gun is rewardingly lethal no matter the range
  • Classic Assassin’s Creed mission types have some innate appeal

The Bad

  • Fighting Raiders is almost as one-dimensional as their personalities
  • Arno’s new brooding personality makes him less likable

About the Author

Going into Dead Kings, Miguel had already become familiar with Ubisoft’s vision of Paris after about 20 hours in Assassin’s Creed Unity. (That included a 100-percent sychronization playthrough of the story.) Dead Kings served as a reminder that Miguel dislikes playing a gofer in open world storylines.