Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has come a long way since last year’s tumultuous entry of Unity, a broken, unplayable mess that featured a boring protagonist and uninspired missions. Ubisoft, determined to learn from their mistakes and reclaim fans they lost, have put out not only one of the best Assassin’s Creed games since the Ezio trilogy, but one of the best entries in the entire Assassin’s Creed franchise.
What’s It About?
Syndicate stars Jacob and Evie Frye, twin siblings and master assassins. As the game begins with brother and sister casually taking down a group of enemies in rural England, fate brings them to London, a city overrun by gangs and the corrupt. Once here, Jacob vows to take over London with the help of his own gang while Evie ventures to track down a lost artifact and keep it out of Templar hands.
The city of London is full of fascinating characters, on both sides of the spectrum. Jacob and Evie will constantly meet many important historical figures who will help them in their quests, from Charles Dickens, who requests help on solving horror stories around the city, to Florence Nightingale, who needs help gathering supplies for the sick. Each character you meet has their own specific story line, and it’s fun seeing many different characters before they are well known for their various contributions. One such example is Alexander Graham Bell, who needs help with his “phonetic telegram” that will help with communications around the city.
Even the villains of Syndicate have their own unique charm and identity. Crawford Starrick, the main antagonist of Syndicate who quite resembles Daniel Day Lewis from Gangs of New York, is a gang leader turned businessman who will vow at nothing to control London, whether it be by bribing or killing. His menacing scowl and vicious words help elevate his role as the ultimate villain.
Why Should I Care?
Because you control both Jacob and Evie throughout the game, the fact that you can switch between them at will is a great touch. Jacob is more of a brawler while Evie is more versed in stealth, so changing between the two to better suit your style of gameplay is a nice addition. There are various boroughs scattered through London that are under control of the Templars, and in order to regain control you must complete certain side quests such as taking out specific targets, freeing child laborers and even initiating gang fights where you must eliminate everyone on the opposite side. They are fun little diversions that help break up the monotony of just killing people, but there isn’t much diversity in terms of mission structure, and once you have done one of each you really don’t need to finish them all off. Of course, doing so nets you experience and items, but the repetition is evident.
Besides switching between two characters at will, Syndicate also added an updated experience system that rewards experience points for kills, missions objectives and just random stuff like running over things in a carriage. Using these experience points gives you skill points you can use to unlock new abilities. Jacob and Evie have different skill trees as well as different outfits and weapons. Utilizing each style of gameplay to your advantage is essential on taking back control of London. Fight clubs and carriage escorts also add to the randomness of tasks you can participate in, and the countless crowd events and various other collectibles you can find throughout London means your time traversing the city will never be boring. Plus, once you liberate an entire borough from Templar control, you participate in a massive gang war against the gang leader, which are always ruthless battles to the death. There are literally hours upon hours of extra quests to participate in to keep you well entertained.
The best new addition to Syndicate is probably the rope launcher, a device which lets you fire a zipline at will and use to cross gaps or traverse up buildings. It is a huge time saver in terms of exploration around the city and how you handle certain situations. I found myself constantly using the rope launcher to glide from building to building and scale up tall buildings with ease. Using it while being chased by enemies is also a very easy and useful way to escape line of sight. Plus there is no need for ammo (unlike the rope darts from previous games) so you will find yourself using it throughout the entirety of the game. The rope launcher almost becomes a necessity in how you approach every situation in the game and it is interesting to see if Ubisoft keeps it as a primary tool from here on out. Voltaic bombs are also another useful addition that creates electric smoke when detonated, which become very useful around groups of enemies.
Combat has gotten a facelift and it is the easiest to perfect in Syndicate. All enemies have a level requirement above their heads, and unless you are equal or better to their level, you will have to work to take various enemies down. Combat is as simple as striking an enemy, but you will have to learn how to counter and break defenses in order to rack up combo points and not be killed when swarmed. It’s a simple, yet intuitive, system, if a bit repetitive. There isn’t much substance to the combat and once you get high enough of a level, none of the enemies pose much of a threat, even in groups. But the new kill animations are brutally superb.
Another new aspect of combat is carriage fighting, which allows you to use your carriage as a battering ram to thwart off opposing rides. Jumping on top of carriages and performing fights while your gang partner drives for you is an exhilarating rush. It’s also noteworthy to point out the attention to detail of the various carriages around London, and like Grand Theft Auto, there are different models and horses that make certain rides go faster and last longer when damaged.
That attention to detail is also evident in the assassination missions that conclude every sequence. Tasked with taking down a mini-boss of sorts, the game points you in the direction of various side objectives you can use to your advantage. You can always rush straight at the enemy and just stick a knife in him, but the better route would be to use the environment to your advantage. Sneaking to a room to talk to a nurse, for example, will give you details on where a certain character carrying keys is located. Stealing those keys gives you access to every room in the hospital, making exploration that much easier. It’s moments like these that help elevate Syndicate in how many different ways you can tackle a single objective.
Is It Worth My Time and Money?
For all the bad Unity had, Syndicate has brought back the excitement and accessibility Assassin’s Creed is known for. London is one of the better settings for the series, and every building, location and character is perfectly recreated in 1800’s style. The Thames (the massive river that divides the city of London) in particular, is so well created that I often spent hours just running back and forth across boats to marvel in the scenery and aesthetics of such a beautiful area. Never has a game moved so fluidly between exploration and combat, and scaling buildings, fighting and driving around on carriages has never been so seamless. If there is one knock to count Syndicate on, its the lack of enemy designs. Far too often many of the less peons had similar faces, clothes and even voice actors. It’s a shame considering how much detail and design went into the rest of the city.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has successfully reinvigorated itself and brought back the action and characters we have come to love from the series. Not since Ezio (and Assassin’s Creed 2) has Ubisoft given us characters we actually care about or a city that was so beautifully designed. Syndicate is the best the series has ever been, and it’s proof that Ubisoft is committed to putting out quality titles year after year…and forgetting about last year’s travesty.