Ubisoft has received a lot of flak from critics due to their disappointing titles Assassin’s Creed Unity and Watchdogs but it looks like they have redeemed themselves with Syndicate. It has been a long time since I actually felt excitement over an Assassin’s Creed game and for an Assassin’s Creed fan, I am so happy and relieved that Ubisoft pulled it off.
However, as I’ve written about in my first impressions article, Syndicate isn’t without flaws. As always we should remind ourselves that whenever we’re playing a Ubisoft game, we should never set our expectations too high.
I feel that while Syndicate did an amazing job in the introduction of the game, it still fell flat towards the end. I’m starting to think the Assassin’s Creed series has a Sisyphus problem. The game, or even the trailer, gets you all hyped up and excited to marathon the whole thing only to bring you down shortly afterwards.
Let’s break it down:
Graphics and Aesthetics
Do we even need to talk about this? The graphics and the environment could be the most consistently perfect element that the entire Assassin’s Creed series has. London in the Victorian era is meticulously crafted. Now I’m no historian and being in Asia, I am not as familiar of the goings on in London during the industrial age. But I do have a general gist of it, and I believe Ubisoft has done well to showcase the contrast between the rich and the poor during those times.
There are a lot of differences in terms of gameplay and mechanics between Syndicate and Unity. Most noticeable of which is the ability to play two main characters and switching between them to follow their own storylines. Jacob and Evie are more than just fresh faces in the franchise, they each have their own combat styles, and they each have different personalities.
But more of those two later.
Base and upgrades
Another difference between Syndicate, and perhaps the rest of the franchise, is that your home base is moving. Yes, your base in Syndicate is an actual moving train. You no longer have an island or manor to upgrade. You have a train that upgrades itself after finishing different portions of the game.
And while I did miss all the upgrades, the makeovers, and the crafting particularly for my own parcel of land, the train makes absolute sense. You are in London after all, there are no grand manors to watch over and take care of unless you’re the queen.
Instead, you will get to upgrade your own gangs. You give them weapons, you give them carriages, you train them, and you basically empower them so that they are actually useful when you need to call on them.
Now we get to talk about Evie and Jacob, the leaders of the Rooks in London. As I’ve said earlier, the two have their own distinct styles both in personality and in combat.
Evie is the true Assassin spy. She values stealth and meticulous planning above everything when it comes to getting what she wants. Her weapon is the cane sword which could be the most brilliant and stylish weapon I have ever seen in Assassin’s Creed game.
Jacob embodies power and durability. He’s not afraid to bring in chaos in a Templar-infested area. That’s because he’s stronger in open combat, when armed with the Kukri or a pair of metal knuckles. He’s also tougher to bring down in an open fight.
The two have separate skill trees which are very similar, except for the a few exclusive skills that only one of them can attain. For example, only Evie can reach the highest skills in the Stealth branch, while only Jacob can only reach the highest skills in the Strength branch. These are good in terms of keeping their identities in combat separate, but it would be more interesting and a little more complicated to have more variety between them.
There’s also no need to worry about whether combat is exciting in Syndicate or not. Between Syndicate and Unity, the former is definitely a couple of notches higher than the latter. Syndicate is fast, fluid, and truly deadly. Jacob and Evie execute the best slow-mo kills I have ever seen.
To keep combat exciting and less repetitive, Syndicate allows you to fight in the most cliche yet thrilling places: boats, trains, and carriages.
Speaking of carriages, it’s also a lot of fun to start fights with them. As you are being chased by enemy templars of gang members, you can go ahead to the top of the roof of your carriage, jump on to the enemy carriage beside you, and surprise your enemies by hi-jacking the vehicle.
To grow your network of Rooks, you need to take on side missions that would free certain areas from the Blighters. Do you know what this means? Side missions with an actual purpose!
They still are repetitive though but at least the missions are different from the previous Assassin’s Creed games.
Perhaps the only problem I see with the side missions is that they’re too numerous and sometimes tedious. There’s a side mission where you need to kidnap Templars and bring them in to the police. You can kill them but they are But if you’re not a fan of expanding your network, I still encourage you to completely take over at least three major areas in the city early. It unlocks Sequence 8 early for a nice little plot twist, as well as a switch of tempo.
Another motivation for taking side missions? You get to work with history’s greatest. Why not help Alexander Graham Bell with assuring freedom of speech for everyone? Help Charles Dickens with his paranormal shenanigans? Or maybe help Karl Marx fight for workers’ rights?
They may or may not be historically accurate, but it’s nice to feel like you’ve rubbed elbows with the greatest minds in London.
Now for the hard part, the narrative. This is where Syndicate starts of strongly and ends up badly.
In the beginning, Jacob and Evie are shown as this dynamic duo with different skills and personalities, but with slightly similar goals. The Brotherhood is also happy with just keeping a low profile and not sending any support in London, which frustrates the twins. They set out to London, disobeying their leader and basically leaving their post.
You would think that that would give the two another problem to complicate things once the plot thickens. But nah. Seems the Brotherhood completely forgets about it and the two are free to take over London without any problems or even support from the Brotherhood.
Then there’s the sudden explosive sibling rivalry. There wasn’t enough build up. The cutscenes showing the twins interacting with each other are relatively short. And while there is evidence that Evie’s patience is getting shorter with every big move against the Templars, it’s only shown in her journal and in short conversations with Jacob.
It would have been more moving to also elaborate on their history with their father. What exactly happened to their great dad? I would never know. And even if it was indicated in the menus, there isn’t much motivation for me to go and read through everything.
There was no tug of war to really pull the audience into worrying for the two’s relationship, which makes the ending of the game THAT ridiculous. Frankly I preferred Assassin’s Creed 3’s ending over this one’s. While 3’s weird ending was not plausible, it was certainly a fitting dramatic end.
With that being said though, I understand that Syndicate’s characters are more light-hearted. That everything must be taken less seriously despite everything. Still, there was very little wisdom instilled in the last scenes of Jacob and Evie, and I think that was what was needed. For the two to show growth beyond their sibling rivalry. After all, Assassin’s Creed still deals with individuals trying to maintain the world’s freedom.
We should also talk about what’s going on in the modern era. To be honest there isn’t much, but I’m glad that Syndicate sees the return of Shaun and Rebecca, the two remaining pioneers to remind us where Assassin’s Creed started. There’s also the return of the precursor plot with Juno, at hidden scenes in the game and at the final bit of the game when we discover she has found a new human to help her for her plot.
However, she doesn’t reveal anything beyond what we already know. Assassin’s Creed fans who have played every single game in the series already know what she’s saying in the game most of the time. At least there is some plot movement going on for that area of the story.
Here’s the best way for me to describe Evie and Jacob. They’re like Ezio, if his personality was split into two. Jacob is similar to the younger Ezio, with his shenanigans, recruiting, and playful antics. Evie reminds me more of the slightly serious and intellectual Ezio. Of course she’s still young, so she isn’t exactly so much like the “Revelations” Ezio.
They’re not entirely one sided, but they’re not exactly complex either. It’s a nice mesh for everyone who doesn’t want to get too involved in the characters. They have great voice actors and their expressions were well done too.
I do feel though that both could have also shown more growth in terms of their understanding of how Assassins work. We don’t know their motivation for fighting against Templars. The only reason we know of why why they’re Assassins is that their parents were Assassins as well.
It would have been interesting to show their backstories so that we could see how they’ve come to understand their world. And maybe it would have made the ending better. Thing is, I know little about their history. In fact I’ve learned more about the Templars than Evie and Jacob themselves. This is of course, based on the cutscenes, and their logs.
That being said, I love how their flaws are always shown throughout the game. They may be the most badass brother and sister team out there, but they also have their faults. Jacob has difficulty of keeping things discreet. Evie is too much of a perfectionist and it strains her relationship with others.
Syndicate has breathed life into what could have been a dead series. Just when we thought Assassin’s Creed is over, it comes back swinging. This isn’t just some upgrade from Unity. It also added new things, and brought back old favorites that I certainly appreciated. Gameplay wise, this ranks the second-best game in the franchise following Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.
Narrative wise, it could have been better. We could have a had a deeper understanding of everything and everyone, while keeping things light. The ending could have been more complex than just the gang suddenly fixing everything in one fell swoop. There could have been more growth for the two siblings.
With all things considered, I think this game deserves an 8/10. And it looks like the game can continue to improve. Ubisoft can still stretch this game with new inclusions and DLCs. I’m especially excited for Jack the Ripper, and I hope we can learn more about the twins and their history moving forward.
Would it be wise to continue their stories for a sequel, similar to how they did with Ezio? I’m not entirely sure, as Ubisoft has this bad game-goog game- bad game pattern. But I hope that if they do so, they take their time with it and try their best to break their streak.