After the technical disaster that was Assassin’s Creed Unity, the series as a whole needed the next game in the series to really step up big. After Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag shook up the series’ formula by adding naval combat, Unity was a pretty big step back as it reverted to what the series was before. Not only that, but the game launched as a bug-riddled mess and remained that way for a long time. So, here we are a year later from that and we have yet another Assassin’s Creed game. While it’s definitely an improvement over Unity from a technical standpoint, we’ve only gotten marginal improvements in both story and gameplay.
The story of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate takes place this time in the gorgeous setting of Victorian London as an initiate is tasked with exploring the narrative of twin sibling protagonists Jacob and Evie Frye. It’s the height of the Industrial Revolution and class inequality is running rampant, resulting in Templars running the show and regular citizens struggling and even children being forced into labor. Jacob and Evie both want something different out of London, as Jacob is trying to create his own army called the Rooks to take on the Templar-led Blighters and free London, while Evie is looking for a piece of Eden which has potentially incredible power.
The plot this time around is definitely more refined and interesting than what we got last time with Unity, as Syndicate gives us two protagonists that are loyal to each other but also at odds. The fact that they are both fighting for two different things results in some pretty interesting conflict, and both characters are well-written and well-voice acted to convey the conflict solidly. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the overall package ends up being very predictable, with the ending of the game actually playing out VERY similarly to the ending of Unity. More needs to be done with this series’ plot creation, as no matter how well you execute something it’s derailed by the fact that it’s all very familiar.
Luckily the gameplay is a solid step up over what was offered previously, as the combat itself is much more fluid and enjoyable. It’s now more along the lines of something you would find in Rocksteady’s Arkham series, though obviously not quite as smooth or responsive. You are constantly being swarmed by enemies and while you’re mashing away you need to be ready to hit the right button to dodge an incoming attack or break an enemy’s defense. Your weapons to take the baddies down are pretty standard for the series, with knives, canes, guns and gauntlets being at your disposal. The game even allows you to switch between Jacob and Evie regularly, which does shake up the gameplay a bit as Jacob is more combat-tuned and Evie is more stealth-tuned.
Where Syndicate tries to twist the gameplay the most is in the traversal department. Where the city of London is the biggest area ever in an Assassin’s Creed game it would take a very long time to get around normally, so now you have the option to hop on a horse carriage to speed things up. Navigation isn’t the only thing you do with horse carriages, as they also result in battles with enemies where you have to try and ram each other off the road or even hop onto the roof of the enemy’s carriage to throw them out. Riding around in horse carriages is actually a lot of fun to do, even if the series’ typically wonky controls do cause some problems every now and then. A rope launcher has also been added to the game, which allows you to shoot a rope to any surface and then climb/zip along at a much quicker rate. I was hugely thankful that this was added to the game, as the traditional climbing from the bottom to a top of a building is getting old fast and anything that can speed up the process is much appreciated.
Your group’s main head quarters also serves as transportation, as you get a train early on that regularly zips around the city that you can always quick travel to. Inside the train you’ll find many of the game’s main characters to chat with or to embark on new main/side quests. Pretty much every aspect of the game can be accessed from this train, which makes doing things like restocking medicine, throwing knives, etc. much more convenient. I always love when a game gives you your own home base, and the fact that this one is a freakin’ train that skims around the city is a really cool and well-executed idea.
While the city of London is home to a standard-length story for the series, there is once again a ton of side content to waste time in if you so desire. It is made up of seven boroughs that each have their own side-quests to take on, collectibles to find and, of course, viewpoints to synchronize. While a lot of the side content is typically filler, there’s actually a few parts that are a lot of fun to do. One such part is the Charles Dickens side quests, which task you with travelling with the famous author to do things like investigate a haunted house. These quests have a lot of mystery to them and give a different kind of vibe that the series rarely ever taps into. For the most part, though, you’ll regularly be asked to do repetitive tasks like rescue child laborers, kill all Blighters in their territory and so on.
As you slowly make your way through all of the game’s content you will level up your characters by upgrading their moves, weapons, armor and item capacity. As mentioned previously, each character has certain moves that only they can learn, but for the most part they both have access to the same skill trees. It all works very similarly to how it did in Unity, though it works a little better this time around. The game offers a lot of freedom to customize each of your characters however you see fit, which is always welcomed. Focusing your skill points in certain areas for each character is recommended, however, so you can really create two different styles of characters to play around with.
It also doesn’t hurt that the city you’re going through is absolutely gorgeous, with both the graphics and design being top-notch. The game is swarming with beautiful buildings with more floors and higher peaks than before, and the lighting effects in particular are jaw-dropping. I also love how the game’s areas are designed to allow you to complete a mission in several ways. While a lot of the time you can proceed directly to your target to assassinate them, you will also regularly have the option to seek someone out to give you a key for an easier way in or even get a support crew to back you up. It creates a lot of possibilities for each mission and prevents things from feeling too linear.
At the end of the day Syndicate definitely gets the job done in getting the series back on the right track after Unity dropped the ball out of the gate. It’s much a more fine-tuned experience from a gameplay standpoint and the characters we’re controlling this time around are more interesting than what we’ve gotten in recent installments. However, as well-oiled of a machine it is it doesn’t change the fact that if you’ve been keeping up with the series then this one isn’t going to do much to wow you. Still, regardless of the series’ flaws becoming more and more prominent with each passing year Syndicate will more than likely leave the average fan coming out of the game feeling satisfied.