The past several years have seen Assassin’s Creed take some big gambles. Some have paid off, but many more have caused the series to falter. Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate overcomes this problem in an unlikely way. Rather than attempt to grab your attention with risky additional mechanics, it instead focuses on refinements to the core Assassin’s Creed experience. The result is a game which reminds you what there is to love about Assassin’s Creed.
Set in London, players take on the role of twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye, as they attempt to retake the city from Templar control. The story is very straightforward, with little more complexity than this one line synopsis. However, the clear goals of the game actually add a direction to the experience that has been missing in the most recent entries.
In lieu of over-complicated lore and story, the game focuses on fleshing out the colourful characters of Victorian London. Evie and Jacob are simple, yet excellent protagonists. They each have distinct characteristics and focuses that contrast nicely. Jacob is focussed on starting a gang and Evie on retrieving assassins relics from the Templars. The game strikes a great balance with these characters – for a story about killing people, there’s a lot of light-hearted fun that fans have come to love from previous assassins such as Ezio and Edward.
The supporting characters are just as well-executed. Many of the side-missions available in Syndicate are offered by some of the most famous names in history. Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin and Alexander Graham-Bell all make rather impressionable appearances throughout your adventures.
Each figure is included to offer perspectives of Victorian London. For instance, Marx outlines the plight of the worker and Dickens illustrates the cultures dependence on superstition. These perspectives make Syndicate more historically relevant than any other Assassin’s Creed game, with the key issues and themes of the period clearly illustrated and outlined.
The game is also notably diverse. Besides finally having a female assassin in a core entry, the whole game includes a healthy range of racial and gender minorities. Like the historical figures, these minorities add a whole new set of perspectives to the game and add to how realistic the world is. It’s awesome to a see a game invest in diversity beyond token characters and to actually see female villains and enemy NPCs.
On the technical side, Ubisoft Quebec has refined many of the franchises most inherent mechanics, including the traversal systems. Though the Assassin’s Creed traversal systems have made a little progress with each entry, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate has demonstrated a great step forward by not being too beholden to the series' legacy.
The best example of this is the introduction of a grappling hook for quick ascension and ziplining. It’s an immediate revelation, and the change it makes to the feel and experience of traversal is completely transformative, turning exploration from an often-arduous chore to a thrilling pleasure.
Also significantly improved are the fighting mechanics. Unlike other entries, melee combat doesn’t feel like a punishment, but rather a valid approach to many situations. Which is a good thing, because the melee combat in Syndicate makes you feel like a total badass. Although it isn’t very challenging, the inclusion of a multitude of finishing and combo animations makes fighting a real pleasure.
Supporting the combat system is the new crafting and upgrades system. These systems require you to collect money and items from around the world in order to craft new weapons and armor, as well as purchase upgrades to your gear and gang. What makes this system great is how it gives legitimate reasons to engage with some of the games more tedious operations. Opening chests is way more enticing when it has a function besides clearing the map of icons.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is the first entry in a long time which feels like it was built on a solid foundation. The advances of the games mechanics, combined with a streamlined and focussed story, make this potentially the beginning of a golden new era for the Assassin’s Creed franchise.