Something that’s always been a problem with Assassin’s Creed is that its always been so narrative focused, that the world in the periphery is often wholly ignored as players pursue the end goal. That very much changes with Unity, which does a better job of rewarding players for exploring – and with such a well, fully realised Paris, there’s quite a bit to explore.
While secret entrances and side activities have always been a part of Assassin’s Creed, they’ve never been explicitly listed. Even the keenest explorers never quite knew just how many a given area or mission might have. That changes with Unity, which provides all of that info.
While I didn’t get to go hands on with the game today at Microsoft’s play day, I was treated to a look at Assassin’s Creed Unity’s single player campaign. It was an early mission – Arno had only just made his way to becoming an Assassin. His first real mission? To kill some or other French Aristocrat (who may or may not have been Charles Gabriel Sivert), by first finding out where he may be. It required him to move in and about buildings using that very refined French martial art of running away – as is the norm for Assassin’s Creed.
There’s been quite a bit of a change to the parkour mechanic though; our player assassin no longer runs up, down and across things through the action of a single button. No, now there are indeed two buttons for the purpose; one for running up things, and another for running down. And it works. It not only makes Arno’s motions far more fluid, but also makes it quite a bit more interactive. As you can now scale down buildings instead of just vaulting off of them, you’ll find yourself jumping into fewer haystacks in this game.
Another rather big change to the game is that the game takes on quite a few RPG sensibilities. At one point, Arno encountered a locked window in his quest for Sivert. Had he acquired a lock-picking skill, he’d have been able to open it and be on his way. Instead, without it, it required having to find the unfortunate, soon to-be-dead guard with the key. There will be other skills, and even a leveling up mechanic that sees you putting points into them to increase proficiency in certain areas. There’s even equippable gear that, things like legs, boots, forearms, chest, hood, and masks and the like that confer bonus attributes.
One of those attributes is stealth, which is actually not only a viable mechanic in this year’s Assassin’s creed, but also a necessary one. The combat is far trickier now. Taking on more than just a handful of combatants is certain death. It’s often best to stick to the shadows instead of engaging with guards. And of course, Unity now includes 1:1 buildings that the player can enter, without so much as a load screen – which actually makes more of a difference to the game than you’d initially imagine. And all of it – inside and out – is as superbly detailed as you would expect.
The demo ended with Sivert clutching the side of his bloodied head, his Sacrament of Penance in a confessional not with a priest, but with Arno’s blade instead . The mission doesn’t end with the assassination though; as exfiltration is just as important as finishing the ordained task. And it’s where all that exploration came in to play. With prior knowledge of a secret tunnel underneath the church where Sivert met his fate, slipping away unseen was significantly easier.
It’s the RPG-lite mechanics and rewards for exploration that have me excited for this new Assassin’s creed. With these additions, the game is becoming more of a stealthy sandbox rpg – the sort of thing Assassin’s creed was always meant to be, but has never quite managed to pull off properly. Unity has me rather confident that this time, this time dammit, it’ll be done right. Look out for our hands-on of the game’s co-op later this week.