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Its better than Unity, but not the saving grace the franchise needed.

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    Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Its better than Unity, but not the saving grace the franchise needed.

    In 2015, the AC franchise was at its darkest point. After Unity crashed and burned, Ubisoft was in a bad situation. Their biggest franchise just laid a multi-million dollar egg, and the future of said franchise was in danger of being destroyed not by the company but by the fans who were angry with Unity. While Syndicate was originally supposed to be more of the same as Unity until that game became a punchline,Ubisoft knew if they went ahead with the original plan the fans would refuse to buy it. So Ubisoft decided to go back to the drawing board by listening to fan feedback, and the most common complaints were the mediocre multiplayer and co-op functions dragging down the games and the poor combat system. Fans wanted a large but simple to learn single player adventure.

    The result was AC: Syndicate, a much improved game over Unity, but still not good enough to remove the bitter taste Unity made in fans mouths. The mixed reception of Syndicate,as well as lesser initial sales due to the bad blood leftover by Unity, finally caused Ubisoft to stop their yearly triple-A release of AC,not counting the tweaked re-release of the Ezio trilogy and the AC Chronicles trilogy,and spend two years to create a new entry. As of this writing the new entry Origins is still not out, but that’s in the future and as much as I enjoy dragging Unity over the coals for you,which I have done in 3 of my reviews counting this one, its time to see if Syndicate is really one of the better entries in the series.

    The story of Syndicate take place in London,England in the late 1860s during the Industrial Revolution. After AC: Rogue, Shay Cormac and Haytham Kenway managed to unify England under Templar control, so the Assassins are looking to finally reclaim England for themselves. You play as two Assassin siblings Evie and Jacob Frye. Evie is more of a serious type of Assassin like Connor from AC3, and Jacob is more of a wild rogue in the vein of Edward from AC4. Each has their own strengths, Evie is better at stealth and knives and Jacob is better at combat and guns. Together the two of them must go through London killing Templars and taking control of London.

    The first thing you’ll immediately notice is all the fat Ubisoft trimmed to appeal to the fans who walked away from the franchise. Multiplayer and co-op are gone making this the first true major singleplayer only entry,not counting Rogue, since ACII. All that Initiates stuff? Gone. All the excessive forms of currency? Gone,somewhat. In game microtransactions? Gone…again somewhat. Concepts that fans said either hurt or dampened the game have been either removed or tweaked to make Syndicate a better game.

    The biggest change that Syndicate has is a brand new combat system. Combat now feels like a combination of old AC, the Batman Arkham system and some old beat-em up elements thrown together. Dodging bullets with the triangle button make avoiding projectiles quite simple. The dreadful Unity combat engine has been put away, and this was definitely a necessary change. Its better than Unity’s combat but its not great. You can chain kills together when you put every nearby enemy into a weakened state but only when the game wants to. Also when you flee, the enemy will still hit that attack even though you are far away. Its not a chore anymore but it is still nowhere as refined as the Arkham games combat for example. The game is also very generous with collectables and does not lock them until very late game anymore. By chapter 3, you can get everything in London, even the ultimate armor, with little trouble. The only late game collectables are found in chapter 5 when the WWI mission opens but we’ll come to that later. Collecting everything of certain items do reward you with in-game equipment and trophies to a point. Collecting every chest and Helix glitch,the same thing as Animus fragments from earlier games, give you nothing other than backstory when you collect glitches.

    Equipment and currency have streamlined to a point. Equipment is still broken up but it is much easier to figure out since you are no longer forced to do co-op missions to get equipment. You still have to beat levels and open locked chests but its much easier to get better equipment. Money is even more simple, there is only form of in game currency now instead of four. Helix credits are also in the game but they are strictly for microtransactions.

    The story is better than Unity though it is still quite boring at points. You lead a gang called the Rooks and they are your allies to help you fight enemies and complete objectives. The gang mentality gives the story a "Gangs of New York" feeling. Evie and Jacob are better than most AC heroes but only at certain points. Apart, they are just your typical Assassins that you’ve seen before. Together, they are quite amusing as they’ll constantly take funny shots at the other and making snide comments at the others expense…like actual siblings would. Thankfully, for the most part, both Assassins are present in every mission cut scene with the exception of certain missions where you play as one or the other. Besides the character exclusive missions, you can play with either Assassin whenever you wish. As for main game itself, the story is nothing too interesting. I would put it near AC3 in terms of enjoyment. Apart from some historical figures of the time like Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Dickens and Karl Marx the non-historical figures are kind off bland as well.The Jack The Ripper DLC,on the other hand,has the best story in the game, but the main story is mostly AC paint by the numbers. If you played any AC game, you’ll know how the plot goes.

    Leveling up returns from Unity but it is very simple now. Either doing missions or killing baddies will earn you skill points to buy new skills ranging from stealth to combat to exploration. You can max both characters (they level up together so you don’t have to level both separately) by chapter 3 no problem.The enhanced parkour returns with a new item to make climbing buildings child’s play…the zipline. You get this early in chapter 3 and it allows to you to cross buildings and climb to building tops very quickly. Another good element that returns from Unity are the optional methods to take out a target in major assassination missions.

    There are some rough problems for Syndicate though. First the collectables are numerous but they will take a long time to gather, so it’s you up to you if dong so is worth it or not. You have allies that can have their loyalty level up, which will unlock certain premium items and equipment,but for some this means grinding certain missions which can be repetitive. The worst required loyalty missions are racing challenges where you race horse carriages across London. These are quite easy provided you don’t race other racers, but in most of them you will and these races have bad cases of rubber-band AI. Just when you break free to 1st place, the game gets the other racers right back behind you no matter the distance you create. To make this very frustrating, you have to take 1st place in every race mission to fully level up one characters loyalty. Granted, doing so will get you one of the best weapons in the game…but it is a chore for sure.

    The optional objectives in missions can be very frustrating, especially if you want full sync trophies. The objectives are either really simple or crazy difficult and not explained well at all. Some of the objectives are absurd like blow up two supply crates at the same time. How? The game doesn’t tell you how so you either skip the objective or look up how to do so and this happens far too often in the game to be ignored.

    The World War I missions are interesting but also poorly thought out. The last of the collectables are here but you have no maps telling you where they are unlike in the rest of the game. That means you got to find them manually and that takes a long time. The mission itself can be done in a hour but looking for the collectables make it a near 3-4 hour test of patience. It slows the game to a crawl.

    Load times in the game are really long, to an annoying degree. Think 32-bit systems length in terms of loading. They take forever especially warping between viewpoints. The game also has several tech problems but nothing near Unity levels. A certain train mission caused the framerate to chug to a crawl and I had the game crash or bug out on me at least twice.

    Also, the game locks certain items behind paywalls. This is where those helix credits come in to play. If you spend a certain amount, you get maps detailing locations of the ultimate armor pieces and helix glitches. Both maps cost 1000 helix points and if you don’t have enough you can buy them for real money. To make this sting more, even with the season pass, you still have pay up for these certain maps if you want them. I don’t like it since Ubisoft has done this for several AC games now but you either pay the money or use a guide if necessary to avoid paying. The modern story has also taken a major backseat even more so than in Unity, where it was near nonexistent except for those terrible timed glitch collecting missions and the occasional chapter break.

    Finally, the DLC sizes are crazy. Some of the costume packs alone are at least a gigabyte. The story DLCs range from 4 to 16 gbs in size, for the record the Jack the Ripper DLC is the biggest one, so if you have weak DL speeds you are not gonna have fun waiting for these monsters to DL. The DLC is okay to a degree, the Jack the Ripper DLC is the best one easily. The story takes place 20 years after Syndicate with Evie tracking down Jack the Ripper in an effort to find Jacob who has vanished. The Last Maharaja and Dickens/Darwin Conspiracy are just more missions for the main game, there is nothing too interesting about them in my opinion.

    Conclusion: Is Syndicate the best game in the series? No. Is it a suitable apology for Unity? Not really. Is it worth playing? Yes, if you are a big AC fan. There are too many little flaws to call it a great entry but it is a massive improvement over Unity. If this game came out after Black Flag instead of Unity, then I would say Syndicate would be a disappointing entry. Its definitely a mid-level entry to be sure.

    Pros: The game looks and sounds great.
    Collecting mostly everything has in game rewards again.
    The combat is much better than in previous games.
    Evie and Jacob are quite amusing when together.
    The leveling, equipment, and currency are improved.
    The parkour is even better then ever.

    Cons: They are a decent number of tech issues.
    Loading takes an eternity.
    Evie and Jacob are quite bland when apart from each other.
    The DLC sizes are almost too excessive.
    Collecting everything of certain items(chests, glitches) give you nothing.
    Hiding content behind a paywall even with a purchased season pass is not cool.
    The WWI mission brings the game’s pace to a halt.
    The racing missions are terrible.
    The optional objectives are usually poorly implemented (an obvious sign of rushed game development).
    The modern story is not really touched on until the end of the game.

    Last Words: If you can buy the game for under 10 dollars and get the season pass on sale (which is not uncommon) go for it. However for anything over 20 dollars not counting buying the season pass i’d say pass on Syndicate unless you are a hardcore fan. Its a good game, but not the franchise saver Ubisoft needed it to be. Its just another AC game to beat and never play again. Hopefully Origins will be the one that rights the ship but until that happens I choose to remain skeptical of the future of the Assassins Creed franchise.

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