Assassin’s Creed Unity: A last look at some big changes - Games Weekly

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Assassin’s Creed Unity: A last look at some big changes

Unity is striking for the way it goes back to the drawing board on most of its central systems, from navigation and combat to progression and mission structure. It’s clear that Ubisoft hopes to set a fresh groundwork for the franchise to move into this new generation, and it's willing to risk some disgruntled fans who aren't interested in such sweeping changes.

Character growth and development has always been a big part of the series, but Unity’s hero, Arno, has more customization options than ever before. Various currencies (including the option of real money shortcuts) allow the purchase of dozens of weapons, from one-handed swords to bulky polearms. Costume pieces can be purchased separately and color schemes can be applied to any given
combination of gear, ensuring a hero that is distinct from your friends. Basic abilities are also purchased one by one, meaning that early in the game players are deprived of some of the basic skills all previous assassins have taken for granted, such as hiding on benches or lockpicking.

Stealth is a bigger focus than ever before. Unity borrows from its sister franchise, Splinter Cell, to create a framework for sneaking. Arno regularly crouches and hides behind tables and boxes to stay out of sight, and if spotted, a transparent “last known location” outline indicates where guards will look next. During my time playing, guards were better at spotting me and coordinating their searches than in previous installments, and I found myself getting cornered and challenged regularly.

In the more recent Assassin’s Creed games, these kinds of confrontations could be met with brute force, but that strategy rarely did me any favors. Instead, combat difficulty has been ratcheted up; just three or four enemy soldiers could easily bring me down. Part of that may be because I’m still adjusting to the new fight controls. Attacks, parries, and a rolling dodge are all options, but nailing the timing takes practice, especially because off camera enemies don't provide clear warnings before their attacks come hurtling in. If you fail at stealth, and a number of guards show up, discretion is often the better part of valor, and retreat is your best choice. Even then, the deadly power of enemy bullets may still end your run.

With fewer skills available early in the game, and generally more challenging encounters in store, players shouldn't go in expecting a lot of hand holding. The same is true for mission design, which seems inspired by the roots of the franchise. Like in the first Assassin’s Creed game, assassination missions often indicate a target’s location, and then set the player loose to find a creative path to completion. Side tasks, like stealing a building’s keys or causing a distraction, change the mission parameters on the fly, providing a sense of creative freedom. On the down side, a faulty approach can go wrong in a hurry, so occasional frustration is unavoidable.

Outside of the solo campaign, another big change is in the implementation of multiplayer. The cat-and-mouse competitive modes are gone, replaced by two or four-player cooperative missions set around Paris. The duo Brotherhood missions offer additional story content, while the four-player heists provide a quick way to gather some cash, but with randomized guard locations, building entrances, and objective sites, all in the name of increased replayability. I enjoyed what I played of these mission types, but given the focus on stealth, it’s clear that a team is only going to be as strong as its weakest link.

In charting the big changes coming to Unity, the mobile companion app has to make the list. Ubisoft has doubled down on the importance of this second-screen experience. Even if the mobile app is not mandatory, it is now the exclusive place to engage with some content that might previously have been integrated into the main game. Glyph puzzles allow players to explore landmarks around Paris, uncovering hidden symbols on the city’s historical structures. Discover all the glyphs, and you unlock a new nomad mission within the app Unity’s replacement for the fleet building or Mediterranean conquest experience.

Nomad missions allow you to send out individual allied assassins on missions, and each task requires a different combination of health, attack, defense, and stealth, which are upgradeable stats on each of your team members. Complete one of these 63 nomad missions, and you unlock something extra in the main game, like a special chest that includes an exclusive outfit for Arno.

Along with the shift back to a primarily urban setting in French Revolution-era Paris, players are undoubtedly in for a change of pace from recent adventures through the seas of the Caribbean and the open wilderness of the American colonies.

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