Review Scan: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (PS4)

01.05.16

 

POSITIVES

The Setting is Impressive

Critics most enjoyed wandering around 1860s London in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. This sense of place has always been a big selling point for the series, as previous entries have focused on cities like Rome and Paris. Syndicate specifically is called out for its bigger and wider streets, and the area around the Thames is mentioned often by reviewers as a bright spot that feels realistic and authentic. The new grappling hook allows players to traverse the city more quickly, and critics called it out not only as a strong innovation, but also as a good way to explore and see the sights of London. More than anything else, critics agreed that the best selling point of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was its great recreation of a historic city during this time period.

Characters Are Memorable and Likeable

Syndicate stars two siblings named Jacob and Evie Frye, and critics consistently cited these two characters as providing both interesting perspectives on the unique setting and excellent dialogue for the game as well. Jacob, critics said, is a rowdy character who’s loud and ready for a fight, and Evie is a more stealthy character, embracing the two tenets of Assassin’s Creed gameplay well. Reviews also stated that the two characters were very likeable and enjoyable to play as, and a few critics even suggested that they would be happy to see them revisited in future Assassin’s Creed titles.

Other games in the series have also seen the likeability of lead characters strongly reinforce their success. Ezio Auditore from Assassin’s Creed 2, for example, was a very likeable and successful lead character, while Ratonhnhake:ton (from Assassin’s Creed 3) and Arno Dorian (from Assassin’s Creed Unity) were not as well-received, just like the games in which they featured.

Solid (if Limited) Innovations with Grappling Hooks and Carriages

Two other positive features in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate that resonated with critics were the innovations of the grappling hook and carriages in the title. The grappling hook is a popular feature in other titles (including the Just Cause series, Dying Light, and Batman: Arkham Asylum), and its addition into the Assassin’s Creed series both makes climbing up buildings easier, and allows players to more quickly pass over the relatively wider streets of London. Critics agreed that the hook was easy and fun to use, and made for an innovative addition to the franchise.

Carriages are also new to the series, and critics appreciated their inclusion as well. Carriages not only bring vehicular chases and combat to Assassin’s Creed, but also allow players to transport other characters and cross larger distances more quickly. Grand Theft Auto and lots of other series have included vehicles in open-world settings, but this is their first appearance in Assassin’s Creed, and critics said that the mechanic (so to speak) was handled well.

Strong Upgrade and Crafting Systems

This is a relatively minor point, but many reviewers agreed that the upgrade system for the Rooks gang, along with the crafting systems included in the game, were compelling and well-built. Crafting systems are of course nothing new for open-world titles (with the extensive crafting systems in games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 4 garnering a lot of praise), but especially in games like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, they can really help to provide meaning and context to the player’s actions. When the player accomplishes missions as Jacob and Evie, for example, they can make their own gang more powerful, pushing them back into accomplishing more missions, and so on. The upgrade and crafting systems definitely weren’t the main point of positive focus for critics, but they were mentioned often in the game’s reviews.

 

NEGATIVES

Repetitive and Throwaway Quests

Critics’ main complaint about this title is that many of its quests and activities felt repetitive, both in that they have been seen in the franchise’s previous titles, and that they are represented multiple times in this game. Bounty hunts (where the player is asked to escort an NPC across the map while also fighting enemies) were specifically called out as frustrating and repetitive; both because there were a lot of them to do, and because the game’s AI sometimes made those quests tough. Critics did enjoy the game’s main storyline, and said the most fun activities were those where the player was given free rein to approach a unique task however they liked. The London conquest tasks were also cited as interesting, because their outcome directly showed a player’s progress around the city. The game’s other tasks were cited as repetitive or inconsequential, and many critics said that the game’s action felt “overly familiar,” and too similar in general to the gameplay from other titles in the franchise.

Controls and Objectives are Imprecise

Another big complaint from critics about Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was that the game’s controls felt imprecise and unreliable. A lot of these comments seemed to stem from the series’ method of control, where players push in a direction and hold a button to climb up walls or move around environments. Much of the specific movement is handled by AI rather than direct player control, and critics said that too often, their movements weren’t correctly interpreted by the game. In addition to the frustration of not feeling in control of their character, critics also said that the title’s objectives were sometimes hard to accomplish with these controls (players would see their character accidentally step out of stealth and fail a mission, for example, or miss a dodge or parry during combat and fail an objective). Critics compared the controls and objectives unfavorably to other titles that felt and played better, like Tomb Raider and Batman: Arkham Knight.

Technical Problems Remain in the Series

Assassin’s Creed Unity was attacked harshly by critics for the technical problems that it suffered, and while critics for the most part agreed that Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was an improvement, there was no shortage of technical problems to deal with here, either. AI issues were a consistent problem, with non-player characters walking into walls, getting caught on the environment, or not moving correctly. Objectives were also problematic, with the game sometimes not recognizing that the player had accomplished a certain goal.

It’s worth noting that while Assassin’s Creed Unity introduced co-op gameplay to the series and other franchise titles have offered competitive gameplay, the action in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is strictly single-player. Most critics didn’t have a problem with this omission: A few noted it, but said that they preferred a technically proficient title over additional modes of gameplay. Some other complaints about Unity were also smoothed out, according to critics, like loot chests that required an external app to open and a confusing structure for microtransactions. Critics did not say that all of these problems were completely fixed, and technical issues remained a complaint, however, even though the game was seen as an improvement on Unity.

Present-day Storyline is Forgettable

One break from series tradition that critics did not like was that the “present-day” storyline, which shows players the modern future of the battle between Assassins and Templars, was relegated to non-interactive cutscenes in this title. Critics said that this story was predictable and easily forgettable, especially in contrast to the much richer characters of Jacob and Evie. Fans have definitely expressed an interest in this narrative in the past, though it may be hard to successfully integrate both storylines and deliver a strong level of quality in both. Most critics said that they would prefer the present-day story to be more meaningful and consequential, rather than simply relegated to voiceovers and cutscenes.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Overall, EEDAR would recommend leveraging the strength of the game’s setting even further in future titles, and especially using the uniqueness and authenticity of the setting to dictate interesting quests and objectives (rather than just repeating different quest archetypes around the map). Even if individual quest types need to be repeated, placing them in very different settings could change up their feel (a following-style quest through a busy open market, for example, would be very different than the same type of quest through a hedge maze or a series of closed-off alleyways). Leveraging the environment in this way would both encourage the strength of the setting and hopefully help to reduce the repetition of the quests.

EEDAR would also recommend revamping the game’s controls, and building them specifically from a perspective of reliability and responsiveness. The game’s environments could be tweaked to make movement options clearer, and the button layouts and animations could also be smoothed out so that when a player does take action with the controller, the character follows suit swiftly and cleanly. Ensuring that objectives are correctly registered and are compelling is also important. At any given moment, players should know what’s expected of them, and have clear options for how to meet and exceed those expectations in the title.

Finally, EEDAR would recommend focusing a future Assassin’s Creed title on a strong and compelling single-player experience. Multiplayer has been an interesting experiment for the series, but critics have responded best to building up their own expansive network of assassins and resources. Implementing a strong resource and crafting system (similar to the systems in Assassin’s Creed 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag) with clear benefits and solid consequences for the player will focus the game on what works best rather than spreading out the title with more ambitious but problematic features. Critics agreed that Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was an improvement over last year’s Unity release, but there’s definitely lots of room to focus in on what makes the series work best for players.

 

Mike Schramm
Manager of Qualitative Insights, EEDAR


 

EEDAR often performs analysis like this on work-in-progress and pre-release titles for Game Evaluations and Mock Reviews. If you have questions or needs around a reliable and insightful evaluation of a title in development, contact Cooper Waddell at cwaddell@eedar.com.

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