This article contains spoilers for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. You’ve been warned!
I was sold the moment I saw the trailer for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. It excited me so much that I actually bit the bullet and bought Assassin’s Creed Unity in an attempt to catch up with the lore before I played. It also derailed my first playthrough of Dragon Age: Inquisition.
(Spoilers: I gave up on Unity completely in favor of reading the Assassin’s Creed Wiki for deets, and NOW DA:I has been shafted in favor of Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. I’m sorry, Bioware. I think Geralt of Rivia deserves my time more than Iron Bull does this year.)
I don’t regret playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. In fact, by my assessment it is likely one of the best games in the series. It’s great for fans. It MIGHT be all right for older players who feel that Assassin’s Creed is suffering from franchise fatigue. It’s also a decent “introductory” game that’s capable of either drumming up interest in the series’ previous entries OR as a new AC for a new generation of consoles.
And that’s the problem. It looks as though Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the highest point that the franchise could ever reach, which could make every OTHER game after it feel incredibly redundant.
More on that later.
Tom Bissell, author of Extra Lives, sardonically remarked that praising any recent video game release for its graphics was like saying a Michelin Star restaurant’s tablecloths were nice. That said, though, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a really, really pretty game. A really, really pretty game where you get to play Victorian London Batmen.
GRAPPLING HOOK!!!! And yes, that is Evie Frye scaling towers close to Big Ben.
…And when I say “Batman”, I kind of mean it literally. In a lovingly rendered (not to mention amazingly accurate) simulation of London during Queen Victoria’s reign, players get to switch between Jacob and Evie Frye as they seize control over London from the Templar. From hitching rides on trains to hijacking carriages, from liberating child workers to saving civilians from vicious gangsters or horrible bullies, from duking it out in fight club rings to stalking your prey through the gilded hallways of Buckingham Palace, there is a shitton to do in the game – and unlike its predecessors, you may actually want to do it.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate seems to be an exercise in “it’s the little things that count”. They’ve adjusted the rewards system to show players that going for full synchronization in a sequence actually MEANS something. They’ve scaled difficulty using a leveling system with a skill tree and perks. Part and parcel of this is being able to determine whether you’ve the right tools AND the right Frye for the job. All collectibles also have a direct impact on the experience points that you gain in-game, beyond feeding history nerds with all sorts of awesome trivia on England when it was still “the first city of the world”. Furthermore, the side missions are generally fun.
When I first caught wind of the game, I was honestly annoyed that Assassin’s Creed was yet again immersing a part of its series in a Western setting. Syndicate did not disappoint. All of the major side sequences involve the Fryes assisting historical figures like Alexander Graham Bell, Karl Max, Charles Dickens, and Charles Darwin – great thinkers of the time who all happened to be a part of the Industrial Revolution. In fact, people playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate on the Playstation 4 get to enjoy the Dreadful Crimes, a mechanic that makes use of the crime-solving mini-game they first introduced in Assassin’s Creed Unity. The NPC following you around there, you’ll note, is none other than a young Arthur Conan Doyle himself.
Getting to play two Assassins is a pretty big thing in my book too. Beyond the fun that comes with being able to switch things up, we also get to play a female Assassin for a major entry of the franchise – one of my greatest wishes for AC, fulfilled. Ubisoft also used this as an opportunity, on a narrative level, to show divergent opinions within the Brotherhood. You’ve got one Assassin who thinks this Piece of Eden stuff is bullshit, especially when there’s an immediate need to help the innocent or crack some Templar skulls. On the other hand, you’ve got an Assassin who never takes her eyes off the prize, but may also do things by the book too much and too often.
TL;DR Evie Frye is a British cutie, and a believable character. She also has freckles. Freckles are love.
The game also seems to be an attempt at returning to the OTHER side of the plot, namely the events that are taking place during the present. They ALSO managed to make other Assassins outside of Desmond’s line interesting yet again, and they did it without having to include a “tragic” love story.
They went for a biracial romance set in an INCREDIBLY interesting point in world history instead. Recall India, Imperial Rule, and all that jazz.
There is, as well, a sequence which punts the player forward in time, to London during World War I. This was a clever way to refresh players on (or introduce them to) the franchise’s next big plot twist. Beyond that, you’re playing another female Assassin, AND you get to shoot down German planes for fucking Winston Churchill.
Nevertheless, the game has some pretty serious flaws.