Twelve Assassin’s Creed games down, a handful more to go (until Odyssey). This time around, we hit the streets of London and say goodbye, as Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the last game in the old AC format that has been there since Assassin’s Creed 2 (unless it is brought back). As always, you can find the rank itself here.
Taking place in 1868, Assassin twins Jacob and Evie Frye move from Crawley to London to fight the good fight. London has been taken over by the Templars, and the Assassin presence is minimal. What follows is what Assassins do best: beat back the Templars and keep their hands off of a powerful object.
The Assassin’s Creed story still hasn’t really evolved past “here is the bad guy, kill him/her and the henchmen,” leaving the quality of the story in my mind ultimately up to the characters. Fortunately, the characters in this game are solid, ranking high up with the characters from Black Flag and the Ezio trilogy. The two main characters, Jacob and Evie, play well off of each other and are charming to be around. The side and historical characters are fascinating both because of their relevancy compared to other historical figures as well as their personalities. Having Alexander Graham Bell give me a new grenade type or helping Charles Darwin stop a cough syrup from hitting the market has been more fun than any other character interactions in recent AC games. The villains are also unique, with the exception of the main baddie. One villain worth noting is Maxwell Roth, who is the leader of the rival gang and is a bit unhinged. For the first time in a little while, I actually really enjoyed and come to love the characters in an Assassin’s Creed game.
Throughout this series, the games have gone through different historical periods and locations. Out of all of them, Syndicate is my favorite. I love learning about the time period between the Industrial Revolution and the Roarin’ 20s, and this game is that. The Victorian era/Steampunk London is exciting because it feels like a place on the cusp of modernity, compared to the previous games that feel like eras long past. On top of that, the game also has pieces of Gangs of New York, with a big part of the game surrounding rival street gangs with brutal weapons, questionable fashion choices, and standards and respect for the fight. This game also has a flavor of World War 1, which is a war that feels rarely explored yet vastly more interesting to me than World War 2. Finally, the presence of the modern story line is at its most minimal, with an occasional cutscene interjecting here-and-there. Syndicate will probably be my favorite time period this series touches on until the day it dies.
In terms of gameplay, AC Syndicate follows Unity as a blast to the past, but goes even further. Unity felt like a live service game, trying to show off the new console’s capabilities more than anything. This one, however, strips all of the multiplayer away and leaves a singleplayer experience that is very similar to the older titles. On top of that, Syndicate has refined the gameplay overall and added noteworthy additions that makes this one of the best AC games gameplay-wise to this point.
Movement has always been a big factor in AC, and this game improves on both the parkour as well as other traversal mechanics. The parkour in this game is more streamlined, getting rid of a few controls Unity added and just having the character automatically do those actions. The parkour can be clumsy at times, but it overall feels improved. What is really worth mentioning, however, is the grappling hook. Early on in the game, you pick up a grappling hook that can help you ascend buildings or create a zipline between two points. The grappling hook is one of the best tools added to an AC game to this point, as for it makes traversing London a lot easier and faster. Plus, there are carriages to ride, adding one more way of getting around London. I can’t remember a better AC game to move around in than this one.
Combat has also seen significant improvements as well, both in the action and in the stealth. Combat is similar to Unity, but is much faster and tighter. It almost felt like I was watching an action movie because of how fast the combat is. On top of that, the kill animations are really cool and creative, which I can’t say the same thing for previous games. The action side of things feel solid, but the best part of combat is stealth. For some reason, Unity took out the ability to carry bodies and whistle, which is fortunately back in this game. Also, since there is a larger emphasis on guns in this game, the aiming feels improved, making throwing knives more viable and fun. Where stealth really shines though is in the creative ways of using it. Nothing felt cooler than dropping on guys then immediately grappling back up to the roof or shooting fire pits with berserk darts and watching enemies fight each other. Killing dudes has never been better than in this game.
One thing worth noting in this game that I haven’t really talked about in previous games are missions. While all AC games have main and side missions, none feel as diverse and different than in this game. The same old ‘assassinate high profile target’ missions still makes up a part of the main missions, but its the side missions that are given a breath of fresh air. The world is broken up into districts that haven been taken over by the opposing gang, and there are a wide variety of missions to free up those districts. They range from kidnapping gang leaders to stopping child labor factories, and each mission type is tied to a character that will give you items as you increase your loyalty to them. Once a district has been liberated, you are given the best mission of them all: gang war. A bunch of your henchmen against a bunch of their henchmen in a fight to the death, playing out like the intro to Gangs of New York. There are also side missions that involve side characters, and even a playable World War 1 area with its own characters and missions. The one complaint I do have about all of this is that the gang members all look the same, going off the same four models for everyone on both sides. Despite that minor annoyance, the missions in this game are plentiful and a lot of fun.
AC Unity was the first game in the series to start getting into RPG mechanics, and the same thing can be found here. This game goes deeper into the RPG mechanics by offering a deeper and larger skill tree and more meaningful world upgrades. In terms of skill trees, the skills are split into three categories that cover stealth, action, and economy. One thing worth noting is that Jacob and Evie’s skill trees have the same skills (for the most part), but do not upgrade at the same time, meaning you can build Jacob one way and Evie another way. The game also offers world upgrades, which ranges from accruing money to weakening enemy stats. These upgrades are meaningful, but I found it annoying to constantly go back to the train to pick up money. The RPG mechanics feel like a true modernization for the series, and AC Syndicate improves upon those mechanics.
In conclusion, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the amalgamation of almost a decade’s worth of games. This is the final resting stop for Assassin’s Creed 2’s game design, and it is a good showcase of how far this series has come. On top of that, the game takes place in my personal favorite time setting up to this point, mixing the Industrial Revolution with The Gangs of New York. In the end, I am putting this game at the number three spot behind Assassin’s Creed 4 because this feels like the true and complete end of an era for the series.