So I bought Assassin’s Creed: Unity not too long ago. Despite the bug reports, the chance of having a romp through a city I’ve been in a few times was too appealing to pass over. But then Ubisoft offered this one for free and I thought I might as well play this first to find out what actually happened to Desmond, so here I am. For the record, I’ve played all of the previous titles except Revelations. I didn’t intend to play this one either but you can’t beat the price of free.
I hadn’t spoiled myself before playing and having no idea of what I was in for was very pleasantly surprised by the switch from controlling Haytham Kenway to Ratonhnhaké:ton. I’ve seen the cover image of the game of course so I knew that the main character would be a Native America but the revelation of Kenway’s identity was still a clever twist to me. Unfortunately I found the rest of the story to be a mostly incoherent mess and I am honestly in awe of how the writers can waste so much dramatic potential. There are so many important confrontations in the game, Connor and his father, Connor and his childhood best friend, Connor and George Washington, but all of them are handled so badly that they have zero emotional impact. Fridging Connor’s mother is such a waste of a coll character as well. The entire conflict between the Assassins and the Templar seems so silly in this game, like children having a private feud among themselves while more important things happen in the background. There’s so much potential depth here in exploring the social and political ties between the Native Americans and the Colonialists but the game ignores all of that in favor of empty philosophical platitudes and childish outbursts.
That said, I found myself really appreciating the change in scenery with the shorter, more widely spaced buildings. Tree parkour is so much fun and so is stalking animals. I really wanted to spend more time as the younger versions of Connor and enjoyed being in the frontier more than in the cities. The combat system has changed a bit so I needed some time to get used to it again but I found it generally rather easy once I did. In fact, combat in general is so unchallenging that I wondered what was the point of having other assassins on call. Stealth seems somewhat more important than it was and maintaining it is a lot more difficult than brute forcing your way through waves of enemies. The sea combat is very arcadey but looks great and is decently fun.
There are plenty of side activities as usual, too much in my opinion. There is an astonishingly involved system of building up your homestead, gathering people who can craft various things and then trading these things for profit. I did recruit everyone to see all of their stories but there’s nothing special there. As for the crafting and trading, it’s an easy way to earn a whole lot of cash, but there’s not much that you can spend money on and there doesn’t seem to be much point in making all that stuff. Worse is the fact that all this homestead building and recruiting for the assassins’ brotherhood stuff detracts from the immersion as it is hard to see how all this activity fits in with Connor’s main story. My favorite side activity was the Captain Kidd treasure hunt. Again, it’s not integrated with the main story at all but it does take you to exotic places to do cool stuff.
I think this is also the first game in the franchise in which they have real action sequences in the modern world. I was a bit excited about this at first as I wanted to be able to use assassin skills in a modern setting but I soured on it very quickly when I realized how ugly the graphics are and how bland the environments they made were. Why even bother if they weren’t willing to put serious resources into creating a modern setting? It’s actually laughable how awful the guards are despite being armed with modern firearms while Desmond has no ranged weaponry at all. Desmond’s final confrontation with Daniel Cross is yet another example of how terrible this team seems to be at creating meaningful encounters.
Overall I found myself enjoying this somewhat more than I thought I would. The core gameplay loop is still solid and addictive. I really liked the change in scenery and Connor, with his milder personality and divided loyalties, is a more sympathetic character to me than Ezio Auditore. I really wish the story was better written. Finally I was surprised by how well the graphics, at least outside of the dumb modern day setting, holds up for a 2012 game. Maybe I’ve spent too much time on cheap games, but this rendering of 18th century America looked great to me.