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Assassins Unite: Our Hands-On Impressions Of Assassin’s Creed Unity

by Kimberley Wallace on Aug 11, 2014 at 09:00 AM

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For the first time, the Assassin's Creed series will introduce seamless cooperative play into the mix with Assassin's Creed Unity. This was one of the most requested features from fans and something Ubisoft was just as passionate about including. During our recent cover story trip to Ubisoft Montreal, Jeff Cork and I got to test out a co-op mission that played off the Reign of Terror called "Heads Will Roll." What did we think? In a candid conversation, we discuss stepping into Paris for the first time, trying to work together, and what we think co-op will add to the experience.

Kim: We finally got hands-on time with Assassin's Creed Unity, teaming up together to take on one of the Brotherhood missions. Robespierre was out to kill a man named Paton who learned some top-secret Templar information. How'd you feel about how they introduced the mission to us? I felt it was pretty straight-forward and gave you just enough information to get an idea of the objectives, but I wouldn't expect these side stories to compete with the campaign. They definitely fall into that side-quest category, which isn't a bad thing. When you're playing anything co-op, you often want to get straight into the action and not watch lengthy cutscenes.

Jeff: As Ubisoft put it during the visit, the multiplayer missions are all about advancing the story of the brotherhood, not Arno's story. I'm glad that they're making the distinction; it would be kind of goofy to have a bunch of tag-alongs with you wherever you went. The organizational structure of the Assassins supports this kind of split, too. Arno is a member, so he does jobs for the group, but he's also out for himself. After a quick introductory cutscene, the mission started. We both started off on the rooftops, but we immediately split up. I think both of us were excited to check out the new controls, objectives be damned. What did you think?

Kim: Yeah, to be fair, it was our first time in the game, so we just split up and ran rampant. However, it was cool to be in the world with a friend. I like that they aren't pushing players to tackle these missions in one specific way. It felt like we could work together and work separately and it wasn't the end of the world. Same goes for taking a more stealthy or combat-focused approach, although I think we both learned quickly that if you want to just fight a large group of guards, you better rethink that strategy. I like that the mission had three different objectives. In ours, it was to locate a warden's key, find a secret notebook, and then save Paton from getting executed. I liked how time started to become a factor; the longer we took, the more people we couldn't save from execution. Do you think these missions could be effective without being on a headset to coordinate? I have a feeling more complex missions could get tough without communication, especially if you want to go the stealth route.

Jeff: I don't think anyone is going to enjoy any success attempting to play stealthily without communicating with their teammates. A lot of multiplayer games emphasize coordination, but you can always fall back on killing everyone if things go south. If you intend on completing missions without being detected, you are absolutely going to need to be in constant communication with your fellow assassins. I don't see how it would be possible, otherwise. Of course, we weren't going for a straight-up stealthy approach. That's great, because we would have failed immediately.

Kim: That's what I liked - that we always had a backup plan. I know when we were talking to the developers, they discussed how you build up your Arno along the way by putting skill points in three different areas: combat, stealth, and navigation. This extends into co-op, so if you know you're not great at stealth, you can build your character to take or deal more damage. Ubisoft says it's focusing on replayability for co-op missions for replayability, and is accommodating a lot of different playstyles and creative ways to complete the objectives. For me, I've always been awful at stealth, but I've also noticed that I couldn't entirely depend on brawn in Unity. I think we had one or two instances where we both just lunged at a group of five guards like we were Superman and we both died. At the very least, you can revive your teammate, but if you're too far away, you might not reach them in time, so it forces you to stick together. We fared better when we teamed up to fight off enemies. How'd you feel about the difficulty?

Jeff: They talked up the difficulty a lot during the first day of our visit, which made me nervous for the hands-on portion. There are fewer things more nerve-wracking than playing a game for the first time while surrounded by the people who made it. I will say that the combat in the Assassin's Creed games has always clicked with me, and while Unity deemphasizes the feeling of being a one-man wrecking crew on the ground, you're not fragile, either. I missed the instant counter-kill maneuver, but I didn't have any trouble getting back into the rhythm of countering, parrying, and generally slicing through my opponents. I may or may not have gotten a little too cocky (and dead) at the end, but that's the way it goes. Ubisoft did buff up our characters a bit (or so they said), so maybe I was just overpowered. It didn't feel like it, though. Before we started our mission, they asked what special skills we'd like to bring into the game. I picked the morph ability, which let me assume the identity of an NPC to temporarily blend into the crowd. What did you end up grabbing? I didn't see you transform into a Paul Revere look-alike, so I'm assuming you went a different route.

Kim: I took communal sense, which shares the entire map. There's also one that lets you hold more consumables I believe. I'll be interested to see if these few perks end up being important or not. Yours seemed beneficial. Communal sense made navigating a bit easier, but I wouldn't say it was the greatest perk for our mission. We weren't able to test it out entirely, but I'm really interested in seeing how far the customization goes for co-op. Ubisoft showed a few of the different outfits and some of them were really festive. I like the idea that if I find a cool sword, you're going to see it, and maybe I can tell you where to get it. Do you think you'll be playing a lot of the co-op? I like how everything just carries over between single-player and multiplayer.

Jeff: I think having both modes under the same roof, instead of as different modes in the menu, is going to convince a lot of people to check it out - myself included. I like having your progress carry over from one side to the other, too. Ubisoft was clever by having everyone who plays experience the game as Arno; nobody is stuck with a secondary character that doesn't matter in the world. The sneaky part is that the other players appear to have different faces in your game, so it's not like you're part of an army of clones. That helps keep the illusion of this all being Arno's story intact, too. I wanted to touch on one thing real quick: The biggest change that I noticed when we played was the way traversal has been tweaked. In previous games, you could hold down a button and scamper your way up buildings, trees, or nearly anything else that had a flat surface. Getting down was trickier. Unless you were perched above a haystack for a leap of faith, getting down was a clunky combination of falling and grabbing ledges; jumping onto the ground and into a roll; or jumping onto the ground and splatting. Now, the controls are mapped in such a way that you hold a button to scale up, and another to work your way down safely. It's a subtle change with big gameplay ramifications. If you're like me and you play these games in a constant state of motion, it's going to save a lot of lives, too.

Kim: That's the first thing I noticed, outside of the breathtaking atmosphere. Traversal is so much fluid and natural, just that simple ability to smoothly scale down buildings is such a nice touch. I don't feel confined to one path, like I can drop at any moment and see what's going on down below. A lot of little touches just make things nice, and interiors add something new. They have a few cool new window assassination animations, and being able to actually go in buildings adds some variety to strategy. I like that if you go into an interior, you're not always sure what dangers you're walking into, either.

They also redesigned how guards detect you. I made use of the last-known position system; guards detect where they last saw/heard you. It makes moving away and hiding a lot easier than that triangle that would just keep filling until you got a specific distance away. From everything I saw, these enhancements are great, and the normal Assassin's Creed that fans know and love is still intact. I just hope in the end the co-op missions all have some variety and don't feel run-of-the-mill. I liked what we played of the one, but I hope they're all designed with some cool differences to making teaming up with friends even more fun.

Jeff: They said that each of the missions will be split into three different phases, so there will be variety baked in just as far as that goes. You mentioned the last section, which tasked us with finding hidden Templars as an execution was taking place. The longer we dawdled, the more people were killed. Presumably, there's either a penalty for completely blowing it (or a reward for doing well). The crowds were impressive, and wading through them added tension, since they slowed you down. I will say that I was bummed that the crowds were unaffected by my poison-gas bombs. I climbed onto a roof and chucked a few down - cackling to myself in anticipation - but it just made people go into coughing fits and they parted like they were in the midst of a bad fart. Oh well.

Kim: You would try to figure out ways to torture the crowd. I love watching the crowds though. They're not just people standing around. I remember seeing a couple get into an argument. But I also like how the commoners in the crowd might also help you as you get into a fight. It was cool to have unexpected back-up like that, so maybe it's not a good idea to try to harm the crowd, Jeff. I do like that they can be an asset or obstacle depending on the situation and how you play; it adds a layer of unpredictability.

I'd say in all, our first stab at cooperative play was a success. I'm excited to play more. Assassin's Creed has always felt like such a singular experience; even when it had multiplayer, it felt like a separate game. It's refreshing to finally be able to share a world as an assassin with your friends, and I imagine this is only the beginning of what Ubisoft has planned.

Assassin's Creed Unity launches on October 28, to learn more about it and Assassin's Creed Rogue, click on the banner below and stay tuned to hub of exclusive content.