Assassin’s Creed Unity is a game of impossible peaks and disappointing valleys. Its highs of movement, customization options, and just the city of Paris itself pierce the sky like the spire of Notre Dame. On a purely technical level, Unity is a marvel to walk through and admire. But at the same time, a lot of my journey through the French Revolution felt as cold and heartless as the darkest depths of the catacombs. I was never given a real reason to care about new Assassin Arno, or the events that transpired. Instead, I had to find my own fun throughout my 30 hours in Unity, which was generally easy to do in its large sandbox assassination scenarios. However, it’s a bit disappointing to see how few of the long-standing problems with the series have been solved by the upgrade to the new generation of gaming hardware.
Assassin’s Creed Unity
The new consoles’ graphical power is put to good use in Ubisoft’s recreation of 18th-century Paris, which is absolutely stunning. As we’ve come to expect from an Assassin’s Creed game, it’s sprawling, gorgeous, and absolutely packed with sights to see and things to do. Climbing to the top of Notre Dame, synchronizing with one of the series’ iconic viewpoints, and watching the camera pull back and show you the breadth of your universe is staggering.
When it all worked perfectly, guiding my Arno up, down, and across the Parisian skyline brought me a great sense of satisfaction. The key phrase there was “when it all worked,” because the series-long frustration of your assassin not doing quite what you want him to do is still present here. I found myself quickly losing momentum and clumsily hopping about whenever I tried to enter a window and explore any of Unity’s huge array of interior spaces. It was also particularly frustrating in stealth sections, which Unity emphasizes heavily. Navigating between pieces of cover is finicky, and it was never clear whether or not I was even hidden.
Getting back on the story track, I found that Unity’s main Assassins-versus-Templars plot is relatively forgettable, and has none of the fun and levity of last year’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Arno is a one-dimensional character whose motivation is little more than the standard revenge tale. I never really found a reason to care about his Forrest Gump-style quest through the French Revolution, and an unfulfilling ending definitely left a sour taste in my mouth. (What’s more, the fact that everyone in Unity – including Napoleon Bonaparte himself – speaks with an English accent is completely inexplicable and immersion-breaking.)
It didn’t help that Arno doesn’t bring any distinctive new Assassin abilities to the table, making combat the same parry-heavy scenarios as in previous games. Enemies are definitely more aggressive this time around, but I found that cheesing the smoke bomb ability led to cheap victories in even the toughest battles. There’s also a sharp, jarring difficulty spike in the final Sequence, which led to a whole mess of annoying failures until I finally found a crude, unfulfilling way to just get past the mission and put it all behind me.
Thankfully, aside from that final Sequence, the missions themselves are generally pretty great. First off, there are almost no annoying tailing missions, which have always been a bane of the series. Instead, Unity is filled with a wide range of interesting activities. Side-quests filled with Parisian myths, legends, and tall-tales pepper the city. Gathering severed heads for Madame Tussaud, uncovering the mysteries of a catacombs-dwelling cult, and befriending the captivatingly weird Marquis de Sade all proved to be great little micro-stories.
Interestingly, Unity has the least amount of outside-the-Animus meta-story of any Assassin’s Creed game – which I’m actually thankful for. The few moments where you do leave 18th-century Paris unfold as surprising set-pieces that I wouldn’t want to spoil for you, but were each extremely entertaining. These sections definitely rely heavily on scripted events, but each one proved to be an exciting break from the main story.
The best missions in Unity, though, are the sandbox assassinations that usually conclude each Sequence, and which consistently left me thrilled. Each one is a puzzle with a ton of different solutions. For instance, your target is inside a heavily fortified cathedral. Do you want to steal a key and creep in through a side door, climb up to the top of the church and shimmy in through an open window, slink through the catacombs and come up from underneath, or simply throw caution into the wind and go in swords-a-blazing?
All of these are possible, and experimentation is encouraged thanks to Creed Points (their term, not mine) that reward interesting decisions with currency that can be spent to upgrade your weapons and armor. This new depth of character customization is one of Unity’s best contributions to the series. Money and Creed Points are relatively scarce, and I always found myself agonizing over which weapon to purchase, which pieces of armor to upgrade, and which skills to unlock. The decision between lock picking or poison bombs, or between armor that improves combat or stealth, would change the way I approached encounters throughout the campaign in meaningful ways.
While Arno’s 15-hour story arc is one that can only be experienced alone, there are a ton of side missions in Unity that encourage, require, and reward drop-in cooperative gameplay. Two-player Heists demand constant communication, with a single misstep usually resulting in a chaotic mess of steel, bullets, and failure. Playing with a buddy was always entertaining, despite the fact that most missions boiled down to us trying to be stealthy, getting spotted, and then proceeding to just murder every living thing within the city limits. Practice might eventually make perfect.
Once four players team up for a mission, a terrific blend of competitive cooperation forms. If one person dies, the entire team loses, so it’s in your best interest to keep your friends alive. At the same time, your rewards at the end of the mission are dependent on how well you played individually, creating situations where you aren’t sure whether you should hop in and help a buddy in need, or remain hidden and grow your own potential reward.
I really appreciate that single-player and multiplayer all feeds into the same central economy. No matter what I was doing in Unity, I was always progressing my character a bit forward down the path of becoming a master assassin.
- Beautiful Paris
- Sandbox assassinations
- Great co-op
- Weak story
- Unrefined stealth
Assassin’s Creed Unity leverages the new-generation consoles to add spectacular new sights and successful co-op multiplayer, but in doing so, it’s created some substantial new problems instead of solving the series’ most persistent ones. The scope is stunning, the customization is satisfying, and the multiplayer touches upon some really ambitious ideas. But the lack of a strong main character or interesting take on the Assassin’s Creed universe costs it momentum and excitement, and the persistent control problems are still a thorn in its side. The first truly new-gen Assassin’s Creed game is a gorgeous, entertaining, and successful proof of concept for what lies ahead for the series, though it isn’t what I’d call revolutionary.