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Interview: The Finer Points Of Assassin's Creed Syndicate

by Joe Juba on May 12, 2015 at 06:31 AM

Players will be traveling to the Victorian era for the newest entry in the Assassin's Creed series, managing a gang and taking London back from the Templars. Those are the broad strokes, but we spoke with Assassin's Creed Syndicate's creative director, Marc-Alexis Côté, to get more info about the characters, setting, and improvements in this year's installment.

These question delve into the details, so make sure you have the basics covered by reading about the 5 Things You Should Know About Assassin's Creed Syndicate.

Unlike some previous AC settings, Victorian London is well-represented in entertainment media. How do you approach making something familiar feel unique to players?
It’s really easy to fall into the clichés of the era, and this is why it requires a lot of thought and a lot of research…For the first time in the history of the brand, we are tackling an era where we have photographs. We have videos. Just a bit later, like the 1880s, but that’s what gave us inspiration for things like building the traffic system – seeing the streets of London being so filled with people.

One of the keys to tackling this is era is that it’s an era of peace. Over the last few years, we’ve been covering periods of war. [Syndicate] brings us back to the magic of Assassin’s Creed II, the Renaissance, which was an era of peace, progress, and transformation for humanity. That’s the magic I want to capture – the magic of innovation, of change, and to make our players feel that.

People think about the Victorian era, sometimes they think about the darker aspects. But there was so much more to it; it’s the era of Charles Darwin, it’s the era of Charles Dickens – and other characters that I cannot name. So many things were invented during that era, and it will be great to share with our players.

So, we’ll be seeing more famous figures jumping in and out of the story?
Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that’s so different about this game is that it all occurs in 1868. This being an era of peace, we don’t have to take the player from battle to battle and constantly move the clocks. The game starts in 1868, it ends in 1868. We’re really focusing on immersing the player – for example, we’re bringing back the day and night cycle. We really want players to feel like part of this environment. We’re also making it about our two characters – about their stories and development. About meeting people and being influenced by them. So, you meet those historical characters in the main storyline, and then it will open up threads you can follow to learn more about Charles Darwin, for example.

It’s all set in 1868 – is it all set in London?
What we’re revealing today is that Assassin’s Creed Syndicate takes place in London.

Do the two main characters – Jacob and Evie – have different abilities? Or do players just apply upgrades independently?
Both characters have different skill trees and playstyles that reflect their personalities.

Are you taking a similar approach to Unity regarding the modern-day storyline?
Yes, we are following in the footsteps of Unity, and we’ll be talking more throughout the summer about exactly what we are doing with the present-day storyline.

By adding vehicles, are you worried about players losing interest in climbing around the world?
That’s not what I’m seeing right now when I see people play the game. We’re introducing a lot of player choice; we see players doing things differently than before, but parkour stays an integral part of the gameplay. Recall all of the facades that you see in the trailer; we’ve got some of the most amazing parkour elements. You need to stalk your targets, follow them, and you can’t do that from the middle of a rooftop. So parkour is absolutely an integral part of the experience.

Speaking of your targets – in the earlier Assassin’s Creed games, players had a clearer idea of who they were going after and why. How are the targets presented in Syndicate?
What I can tell you is that we’re returning to an approach that is closer to the roots of the franchise. You know from the start who your target is and what the organization is. Our two heroes give themselves the mission of taking the organization down. And they know what it is; there’s no mystery about who you are going to kill. You know from the start. And what I like about this is that it’s an open-world set-up – you know your targets are there, you know they’re in the world, and you have to go after them.

Can you give a little more detail about how all of your activities contribute to the Rooks’ takeover?
Absolutely. Each borough has a series of activities related to it, and your goal is take control of the city, borough after borough. In each of those, you’ll have gang strongholds. You’ll be able to liberate children from Templar factories. You’ll have fight clubs… Once you’ve done enough of those activities, you’ll draw the attention of the Templars. Like we saw in the demo, the City of London area was under the control of Bloody Nora, and she came out and challenged you to a gang war. The gang war is pretty much the capper to conquering the borough. Once you’ve won the gang war, it’s under your control. What this changes is the ecosystem of the borough. The more you shift the power, the more the Rooks will be present and available to recruit, so that they come and move around the city with you.

One of the things that’s cool with that is that they are aware. Say you’ve got five Rooks with you, and you move onto a growler. A growler has four seats, including the driver’s seat – so there’s only space for three Rooks. One goes into the passenger seat, two come into the carriage, and the other two will actually steal another cart and join you. So you really have the impression that you are moving with your gang and that you can use them to attack your target, invade another borough, even in the main missions.

With the focus on the gang, do you have any plans for multiplayer?
One of the things that’s happening this year is that there will be no co-op and no multiplayer. We’re focusing on the single-player experience, and we’ve got all of our nine studios working on that experience to deliver something that’s very polished to our players this holiday season.

It’s really about returning to our roots. Returning to what made this series such a success. For us, it’s truly the single-player experience, and investing in that that’s going to make Assassin’s Creed feel more modern and fresh for our players.

Previous installments have let players customize a base of operations, like Monteriggioni and the Jackdaw. Does Syndicate have anything along those lines?
Like in Assassin’s Creed Unity, the players are one of the customizable aspects. London is something they can invest in as well and we’ll get into the details of how this will work over the summer. As for the player’s base of operation, we’ll reveal more about that over the summer as we have something cool and new in store for our players.

What can you tell us about that sword cane and how that’s used?
The sword cane is something that we’re going to talk more about later on. Sorry! It’s there to tease you…so it worked!

It seems like you’re making several improvements over Unity, but what elements of that game do you want to make sure carry over into Syndicate?
Assassin’s Creed Unity made huge investments in the crowds and the crowd ecosystem. This is something we’re bringing to the next level with the police, but it is enabled by the technology from Assassin’s Creed Unity.

From a combat perspective, what are the main differences players will notice between Unity and Syndicate?
In Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, we’re keeping the same philosophy as Assassin’s Creed Unity. The combat will be challenging for the player. In my opinion, if combat is too easy, there’s no point in having stealth. You’ll just mow through everybody and it unbalances the game, so we’re keeping the philosophy of making fights harder. What people will find is that the fights are more responsive. We’ve cut the latency in half, so you can quickly jump from one target to another. We’ve shifted the initiative to the player away from the A.I. – we’re still working on it – but making sure the A.I. doesn’t wait for their turn, and that you have to stun your enemy and do crowd control.

Considering Unity’s technical issues at launch, what is the team doing to avoid another situation like that?
I think we’ve talked a lot about it as a company over the last year. This year, we’re focusing on the single-player experience. I’m sure you don’t recall seeing Assassin’s Creed [at this stage] this early in the cycle; we’re showing it on console today. We’re doing playtests earlier than we’ve ever done them and integrating the feedback into the experience. Not to say we weren’t doing playtests in the past, but we’re doing them much earlier and play-testing the entire experience. This is all stuff we’re doing to ensure that players can be happy on day one, and say how great a game this is.