If you want a summary: it's amazing just how obviously filler and disposable this game was meant to be. I never really got the whole "these games come out every year, you're not really supposed to be invested in an individual entry" thing people talk about - sidequels, sure, but I always thought someone cared about "main" entries. Not this one though - it's just another
Plot and characterization
The plot of Unity feels like ever so much careless filler, but still gets a lot of time devoted to it, which is definitely the worst of both worlds?
Arno loses two father figures within the opening hour, and I couldn't give less of a shit about either. The arrogant butler who dislikes Arno (and disappears from the story entirely thereafter, so I'm not sure what the purpose of that blunt method of exposition even was) has more dialog and characterization than both combined. Just sloppy writing all around – a lot of “you already know what’s going to happen, so why waste time establishing things instead of telling you they happened”.
Remember how Ezio got to spend some tutorial time with each of his family members? Basic stuff, but it got us to care about them all (except for the littlest shit and his feather obsession), making the player empathize with Ezio’s goal. Monsieur whatever’s death is what drives Arno and the plot as a whole, but we don't care at all. And all his previous exploits with Monsier’s daughter are told, not shown (I’m not saying we should have had more flashbacks to kid!Arno, but still).
After being adopted by a Templar and falling in love with a Templar, Arno doesn't know shit about what either order stands for (and never has it explained to him on screen) and joins the Assassins to get revenge because... ? Because they offered? Because that's how AC games go? Because Bellec happened to be in the Bastille to investigate hidden messages that also don't feature in the plot beyond this point?
The way the game jumps between acknowledging that the protagonist should by all rights have no fucking idea who these absurd cults are and "look, you, the player, probably played a bunch of Ass Creed games by now. We're not going to bother explaining the whole Templar / Assassin shtick to any of the characters in-world (and we pretty much have no idea what they would actually stand for, really)" is highly disconcerting.
At least Arno might have gotten some off-screen exposition. The present day non-entity
Honestly, it's kind of the opposite of Black Flag. Edward refused to join the Assassins for the entire game
Anyways, we end up meeting the Assassins, and we run into two problems with the basic structure of the plot: we don't care about the assassins and they don't care about the revolution.
The Assassin council members have a lot of lines. They have a great deal of screentime. Someone put a great deal of time and effort into designing their appearance. And they are complete and utter non-entities. Mirabeau and Bellec have just about enough traits to be called flat characters. Everyone else are just random crowd extras with an inexplicable about of time devoted to them.
I wouldn't call the brotherhood in AC2-Bro incredibly deep characters, but once again - someone put basic good crafting work into them. You've spent time with and learned from them, and you could put a name to a face and a basic description for each.
This is the freaking co-op game! First of all, you should have been able to co-op main storyline missions, but more to the point - you should have had a a bunch of co-op missions with brotherhood dudes. Figured out who the fuck they are and what they do. Build up the brotherhood strength in Paris (which would give the assassins some kind of goal, see below). You could use different assassin avatars in co-op, even. I still give a fuck about a bunch of NPCs from Black Flag. This is the bloody co-op game. Why do I have no fucking clue who any of my assassin buddies are? The conflicts, betrayals and expulsions within the order mean so little, because no one put in the work to make us care about these characters.
Or you could borrow from the basic Brotherhood / Revelations setup - you go around Paris, helping out citizens who are menaced by the Templar plots, recruiting them for the brotherhood. Some would have more involved sidequests and actual personalities. Right now you have a thousand "kill the criminals / stop the pickpocket" annoyances that reward you with nothing but $ (see below for more on that).
Azio could also give some sort of opinion about what's happening as he recruits these folks. Ezio was a bit too talkative at times, but at least it showed his personality. When accepting random sidequests, he would generally have something to say that showed his drive and purpose. Arno is so weirdly mute and devoid of character outside cutscenes. The goddamn investigation or assassination missions have people acting at him while he just stares back. Even the basic Ezio "Templars bad, join us and fight for good stuff" would be something.
As an aside - Arno now somehow absorbs his victims memories after assassinating them? And no one feels the need to explain this or even find it odd in any way, shape or form? This game introduced crime investigations, which could have have been used to get more info on Templar activities. Or the brotherhood could have played an active role in getting info, which would have made them a bit less useless. And the only reason Arno falls for the Templar misdirection plot is because he doesn't shank one particular dude / doesn't absorb enough info from the other dudes he shanks. (Weirdly, you still get the “we need this guy to give us info, please don’t shank him” goals in side-stories)
The Assassins don't give a shit about the revolution
Just like "actually introduce us to characters you want us to care about", this is script writing 101, and I have no idea why it's so hopelessly bungled. Every trailer for the game is about the assassins leading the goddamned revolution. It's the hook that probably drew people to the game. Then the dastardly Templars pop up, all "haha, you thought you put us down with the aristos, but we took over and now there's tyranny and terror!" (Then you put them down and Napoleon comes along with the apple of Eden - ready made plot)
The game could have an actual theme about the struggle for freedom and how uprisings / revolutions don't necessarily pan out as you wish. There could even be shared thematic concerns between AC3-BF-U and FC3-4-5.
Most of the story takes place well before the revolution comes into full swing, then fast-forwards through the interesting parts. The open world and all the assorted missions within take place during the Reign of Terror. On the streets, people are waving around pikes with heads on them and guys in red are murdering people based on the accusation that they are royalists before the king is ever deposed, much less executed. The jumping around through history, even between two icons right next to each other on the map, is hella confusing. AC had cities that changed as in-game years passed before, why on earth not do that here?
I know that people were annoyed at Connor Forrest-Gumping his way through the American revolution, but Ano doesn't meaningfully interact with the revolution at all, not even voicing an opinion. We see king Lui executed, because someone felt like we had to, but it doesn't matter - this is not a goal we aspire to, or something we're trying to prevent, it's just incidental. Robespierre is just a Templar puppet. We act to bring about his downfall, but it doesn't matter either. St. Just outright doesn’t feature at all. (His valet does feature in a side-story, ordering a human skin coat).
If the assassins had a goal in the revolution, instead of treating as a background, we might have participated in a bunch of battle setpieces (taken from AC3) or ship combat (I still have no idea why a game set in the 1790's just dropped sea gameplay in the most iconic era of sail ships combat).
Most importantly though, if the assassins don't give a shit about the revolution, and it's essentially a Templar affair (which the game even points out with "why aren't we fighting for freedom? Meh") then why are they even there? What is the point here? The revolution doesn't matter at all in the main storyline, and only kinda sorta has the assassins supporting the more liberal / moderate / corrupt elements of the revolution in co-op sequences.
The Templars drive the plot but are dull as dirt
But that could be fine. If there are no real assassins characters, no assassin motivations, and we don't really care about Arno's revenge plot, than surely the Templar part of the story, as the primary drivers of conflict, will actually be good? Of course not. Of course not. Germaine is a complete and utter non-entity of a bad guy, despite him and Le Touche being the only Templar antagonists of any note.
When Arno is asked to turn in his badge and gun in a very perfunctory manner (I can’t really think of intra-Brotherhood conflict that was well handled outside the Masyaf bunch) he tries to explain the whole “I know the bad guys plan, if you’d only take 10 seconds to listen”. Thing is – I still have no idea what the plan is and how knowing it would help stop it. The bad guy started the revolution to avenge Jack Moley and bring about a liberal democracy? And that’s what ends up happening, so we haven't quite thwarted him, but not quite exactly like he wanted it? There are zero stakes involved beyond personal revenge (which matters more for Elise than it does for Arno, who for all his “consumed with revenge” shtick kinda stopped that as Elise was introduced into the story with no particular character arc or motivation). Since the Assassins have no agency and aren’t trying to affect any changes, it doesn’t matter at all.
Weird, because the Ass Creed series actually had a fairly good history with compelling villains and interesting friendly characters (the lack of both explains most of my problems with Freedom Cry and Liberation).
Elise kinda has a character arc (more so than Arno, at least) and should have been the main character. I mean, if we're not putting any work into the brotherhood, being a rogue Templar makes more sense.
The "RL" plot doesn't even bother pretending it's anything other than filler to the meta-plot in general. I'm generally of the opinion that the Creed games would do much better by dumping the present day plot entirely - but as long as it's there, at least pretend to put some effort into it. As it stands, it's an outright "fuck you for caring about the modern day plot, but we're still going to waste time on it". We start with the extremely limited stakes of "Abstergo could find the DNA of another sage, and it could give them more info they essentially already have, for more points that don't really matter".
And it ends with "guess Abstergo won't be able to find the remains". Why, because Arno hid them among thousands of other scattered bones? No, because they would be too deteriorated with the passage of time. Well... no shit. Unless Arno had a cryo-chamber installed in 18th century France, this was pretty much a given.
Let's say you don't care at all about plot, or themes, or characters. You just want to run around the city, loot shit / clear out map icons, do missions, and get into fights? None of that stuff is really great either, sadly.
Running around and exploring
I will admit that the game looks good, and it's nice to come back to proper European architecture, tall climable buildings and all. But really - once you've spent an hour as a virtual tourist, climbing the Notre Dame and whatnot, you've still got like 50 hours worth of proper gameplay left. How nice it looks doesn't really matter past that point.
Just running across the map isn’t great. Better parkour systems, you say? Tell that to Arno, who keeps playing “the floor is lava” with Paris and frantically humping random bits of fornication instead of stepping foot on the ground as guards peer curiously. So just getting wherever you want is a bit of a chore. I've seen speedrunners (people who are intimately familiar with the game's obscure parkour systems) having trouble getting Arno to jump into a freaking window instead of climbing around it, or just climbing onto a chimney instead of jumping all over the roof. In general, someone added a lot of weight to the parkour system, and Arno feels way more clumsy and hard to control, grunting and oofing as he jumps around.
Remember how in previous games a diagonal surface (a ladder or a cart) leading to a series of ledges, poles and balconies would have you hopping around at speed? Now it's just a mockery of the concept, as you crawl along, far slower than walking the street or running the rooftops proper.
I will note that the newly added ability to quickly and automatically climb down a tall structure is kinda neat. I mean, just giving you better control of the camera as you're climbing would be better, but still.
Anyways. You're running around, it doesn't feel great, and you're trying to clear the map free of tasks and icons. Everyone has already mocked the game for completely overloading Paris with busywork and filler map icons. Once again - if we had a few more cities or if the city changed with time, these things could have been more spread out.
Some of the busywork is terrible in and of itself. AC2 had those stupid feathers. But you ostensibly had to use your eyes to find them yourself, they wouldn’t get marked on your map. Black Flag had shanties, but you had to actively chase them down, planning your approach. Cockades are just extremely Ubisoft pointless busywork, automatically marked on your map and motionless (but very hard to actually spot ingame). Edit – actually, Black Flag has shards, so that was pretty bad as well.
On that note: An annoying remnant from previous games – if you’ve marked something on the map, the mark will disappear as you come near it in-game, and you can’t re-mark it until move away. Having trouble finding exactly where some cockade or chest are? Fuck you.
Some nomad points appear on the map and in-world, but you can’t actually get them - Arno just passes through them to no avail. So you can't even clear the map of busywork, no matter how much you'd like to.
The red chests (there are regular chests, green chests, gold chests and red chests. Green and gold used to be locked behind the companion app, which is so Ubisoft it's like a self-parody. My condolences to people who bought the game at launch) are locked behind a lockpicking minigame. A terrible minigame with 3 different levels of difficulty, corresponding to three different levels of lockpicking skills. Which are locked behind plot progression. So those get to stick around as well. And practically none of the chests have anything in them besides money - you don't get weapons or consumables, which would at least make hunting down all the chests slightly more interesting. You don't need the money either, as the cafe gets you more money than you'll ever get from exploration once upgraded.
I will note that the ability to follow several different quests at once is neat. I mean, all those quests could just exist in the world at the same time, like... it's an actual world, rather than a bunch of instances, but if they can't...
I’m not one of those people who clamors for an in-game map instead of quest markers, but if you keep having street addresses and specific directions in your quests… why? I can’t actually see those in-game, I can’t actually navigate by street and house numbers. The game expects you to learn about the city locations and objects of interest, particularly when solving Nostradamus' riddles, but that's fundamentally at odds with the AC design.
The city is divided into areas, some of which have higher level enemies, with more health and damage. On the one hand, the hidden blade is still an insta-kill even on high level enemies (apparently Origins and Odyssey change that?), and making your way through a high-level mission at a low level, sneaking around disposing of guards is pretty neat. But first of all, there are often rewards scattered around in locked chests or behind locked doors, so there's no benefit to wandering into a high level area before you got high-level lockpick skills. More importantly, you will inevitably get spotted, and the ensuing combat will be awful.
Awful stealth and combat
I get it - someone decided that a game about assassins shouldn't have you charging into a dozen guys and combo executing them all. Ok, go make a new Thief game with an emphasis on stealth, or remake the AC stealth system entirely. Or, at least don't take a step back and make stealth even worse within the system.
There are snipers EVERYWHERE, and your lack of ability to pick up guns from fallen snipers (see below) make sniper patches that much harder to deal with without being spotted and shot to pieces.. The ability to target enemies for air assassinations and shots from above is severely nerfed, to the point that sometimes perching right above a guard's head in the catacombs won't target him for assassination or highlight him for a pistol shot, until he looks up and sees you (stealth game guards really shouldn't have that much vertical vision).
There are, what, 6 enemy types total? I wouldn't mind just a few re-skins even. Regular citizen models can fight, but the instances in which you fight anyone other than a regular enemy can be counted on one hand.
Among other things, a LOT of guards have installed tiny roofs right above the balconies or doorways they hang out in, just to stop you from jumping them. Double assassinations suddenly became extremely unreliable - if you don't take forever to line them up properly (and risk getting spotted by guards with eyes in the back of their head), half the time Azio will just shank one guard and alert the other. Forget about ever doing a double air assassination, it's just not happening.
Whistling to lure guards over for a shanking is replaced with firecrackers - which are consumables taking the place of an infinite ability, and which outright don't work, at all. Guards will just stare at the firecrackers without moving to investigate, unless you drop too many - in which case they'll go on alert and run in to stab Arno as he's stuck to wall, unable to disengage until hit a few times. Apparently, firecrackers are actually based on sightlines rather than sound?
You can't move around corpses to lure guards or stealth either. You can't do a lot of things anymore - whistle, pat animals, pick up weapons, rope people, dart people, shove people off buildings, go unarmed and punch people, go unarmed and disarm people, shank civilians, hire mercenaries / prostitutes / thieves, use the hidden blade in combat, change weapons in combat (one weapon and the pistol / consumables is literally all you get). All you can do is heavy strike, evade, and block. (And half the time, Arno will outright disengage from combat, refusing to draw his sword again until hit a few times).
I'm not fan of Batman combat. I played Asylum, started playing City, and just quit at the thought of punching my way through another thousand thugs. (I know, I should go back and force myself to play through until I convince myself the combat is tolerable). But I've been told this isn't even a good take on Batman combat to begin with.
I can sorta understand how someone thought endless counter kills and combo kills were too easy, but there was an elegance to combat in earlier AC games, if done properly. Now, every time you're fighting a guard that's the same level as you, you're just bashing down their health bar with a blunt instrument. Since the other guards are now free to attack you and shoot you as you laboriously go through your combo, you are poked and shot to pieces with no recourse. Guards can no longer climb buildings to follow you, but each and every one of them has a gun to shoot you in the back as you try to fight them. Or run away from them. Or climb a building away from them (and you can no longer ledge-grab as you fall from a shot). What fun.
So you can't really stealth without ever getting caught, combat is a chore, and it's hard to run away without getting shot to pieces. So you're supposed to use your consumables to solve combat instead of hacking at the enemies? Except you only have so many consumables to go around, the enemies hardly ever drop consumables, and the fantastic "loot all" option from BF is gone, so you have to loot them one at a time. Time to hit the consumables vendor after every mission, yay! (And of course, you get more damaging weapons and clothes that allow you to store more consumables by buying them from Ubisoft)
There’s a special power that has Arno pull consumables out of his ass, but it doesn’t just refill some portion of whatever you’re missing – it lasts for a few seconds, depending on the gear you have, and goes through each consumable category one at a time, refilling a few items in each until it runs out. One of the first items it checks are Mortar Bombs – which only start appearing in the endgame DLC. It doesn't really fix the problem of the player lavishly spending consumable items and then waiting for the power to recharge, because if you want to just pistol and smoke bomb people, you're good to go. If you want to use berserker darts, sucks to be you.
I was just about to compliment the main game on dispensing with trailing missions and "don't get detected" sidequests, when Dead Kings hit me with both.
"Unfortunate that the sidequests and investigation plots don't have anything resembling proper cutscenes to lend them weight.
Well, we can't do cutscenes, but how about the investigations in Dead Kings stick the camera to the NPC as long as he talks, so that Arno can’t walk away and investigate? That's an improvement, surely?"
Dead Kings loves taking camera control away from you. Might not be a problem for other people, but I find it infuriating.
I didn't get anything about Dead Kings. Why is Arno (or De Sade) pursuing the artifact? Why isn’t Arno the least bit perturbed by the Fist Ones stuff and literal holograms? Who thought this game needed more First One's after the main game has practically none of that bullshit? Why is Arno acting all disillusioned as though it's a character arc, when he expressed absolutely no beliefs or idealism in the main game?
Bringing back outpost liberation and adding some new enemy types was a neat idea, but the outposts were so perfunctory, and you spend so much time in the crypts, fighting the same enemy for no clear reason (yeah, you're trying to find a lock, and then a key, and then a door, but it's broken up into so many arbitrary side-sections it barely even matters).
Odds and ends:
Co-op sessions are amazingly fucking laggy. Like to the point that I kill 6 guys with instant executions on my end because they didn't spot Arno in the open, and then take damage at random intervals for the next 2 minutes or so, without actually seeing anything happen in the game world. Heist payments and achievements relying on pubbies not being spotted is... not the best idea.
The game has pop-ups obscuring its own pop-ups, stepping on its own lines. Achievement notifications often hang around until you leave the game entirely.
It’s been so many AC games, is it really so hard to have the game note whether my current costume has a hood, and whether Arno should be fiddling with an invisible one? And ffs, don’t have the dialog mention hoods when half the possible outfits don’t even have one. Though to be fair, the idea of outfits, allowing you to choose gear based on stats and still have coherent look, is good.
The "animus" frequently inserts foreign words into English dialog and translates them in subtitles. Made sense in (say) the Italian games, where there were entire phrases translated via subtitles. This is like a mockery of the idea, with the only French words being “Madam, Monsieur, Mademoiselle”, common words that don’t require a translation and are hella distracting.
I don't know just how buggy the game was to begin with, but this is the glitchiest AC I've ever played, People teleporting around, falling out of the sky, standing on other people, quickly switching facial features... A revolutionary dude grabs a random citizen and tries to shank him. I shank the revolutionary, and the citizen dies of a simultaneous heart attack or something. Arno just decides to leap off a building and hold on to an invisible and intangible ledge in mid-air. The game crashed on me about 5 times in 60 hours or so.