REVIEW: ASSASSIN’S CREED SYNDICATE

Even though Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has been out for awhile now and the story is only a quick Google away, those of you that haven’t already seen all the key plot points are safe with me. No campaign spoilers ahead.

 

Syndicate takes Assassin’s Creed to a new location and introduces two protagonists. It’s definitely one for firsts in the series. You play as Evie and Jacob Frye, Assassin twins set out to reclaim 1868 London from the Templars. From the rats running into the sewers to the Palace of Westminster, Syndicate captures the feel of dark industrial London perfectly. You run through the back alleys with beggars and pass by factories ridden with child labor, then climb a viewpoint at night and have to take a minute just to enjoy the beauty (the viewpoints at the Palace and on the Thames are especially well done).

 

 

When I played ACIII, I struggled to enjoy Connor as a character. His hopeless naivete and immaturity grew dull quickly. I was more intrigued by Haytham than anything our protagonist had to say. Thankfully, both Evie and Jacob Frye are extremely likable. Syndicate does a great job balancing not only a sibling rivalry, but the routes you must take and different strategies to truly conquer London. While Evie focuses on stealth and the intellectual game, Jacob relies more heavily on brute force and attempts strongarm London into supporting the Assassins. The option to switch between the twins for side missions is welcome and each skill point is available to be used for each twin on skill of your choice to build their perks. Essentially you follow two stories that mesh together in one setting, as each twin has their set of campaign missions. The twins contrast in both strategy and skill effect the structure of the game in a positive way. Jacob has a much greater number of campaign missions as he handles most assassinations, yet I feel Evie’s campaign makes her more relatable to the player. I greatly preferred Evie for side missions due to her stealth approach and especially her invisibility perk later in the game. Each twin has 3 exclusive high level abilities that reflect their combat strategy. Evie can become invisible while stationary and Jacob deals some serious combos.

 

 

 

The only downfall about picking each perk for the twins separately is the fact that you can’t switch between the two during campaign missions. I built Evie’s stealth up before anything health or combat related and paid for it dearly when I realized I couldn’t switch to Jacob whenever I pleased, which put me in a tight spot for combat portions of the mission. Having the lockpick skill for one twin and not the other can come back to haunt you at the worst moments. Most indoor portions of campaign missions have shortcuts or special rooms behind a locked door, so be prepared to miss out on chests and deal with more enemies until you acquire the skill for both Evie and Jacob.

 

Evie Frye focuses on finding pieces of Eden, battling Templars the true Assassin way. She was my favorite for side missions and basically any part that allowed me to choose which protagonist I wanted to play. I was a little disappointed with the campaign focus on Jacob. While it’s easy to love both the twins, Evie was by far my favorite and the farther you delve into the story of Syndicate the less she seems to play a key role.

 

Somewhere mid-story a World War I glitch pops up in the eastern Thames. Entering this glitch allows you to  play as Evie’s daughter, Lydia, working with Winston Churchill to fight Templar spies in WWI London. You have an entirely new borough and timeline to play. While this era is definitely interesting to run through and may have small ties to the game’s ending, it’s significance to the main story seemed stretched. I loved the way Syndicate portrays Churchill, but the lack of real connection to the main plot made it seem random in the game as a whole, almost like a bonus content area or DLC expansion. I liked Lydia what little you see of her, maybe she’ll pop up later in the series.

 

 

 

Back to the main campaign of Syndicate. Using his newly gathered gang, the Rooks, Jacob’s approach to taking back London is by eliminating the gang used by the Templars, the Blighters. London is divided into 7 boroughs, each with a Templar leader and divided into districts that require a certain activities to liberate.  

 

There are 4 different activities used loosen the Templar hold on each district, and each borough will have a fairly even combination of them:

 

A bounty hunt will require you to kidnap a target, shove them in an enclosed carriage, and deliver them to your London police ally, Frederick Abberline. Not only are you taking down districts, but building Abberline as an ally is rewarded with various firearms for each level of loyalty. I had a real love/hate relationship with bounty hunts. The easiest tactic I discovered was to pick off a few blighters, enough to give you a window to snag your target, then take my time getting them out of the area. I only knocked a target unconscious when I was blocked by another enemy from escaping the area and couldn’t afford to have my target run away. Leaving your target able to walk gets you past most Blighters and police a lot easier than carrying around a body.

 

Child liberation has you freeing children from a factory overseen by a number of Blighters. I could take or leave these activities, due to the indoor combat. The easiest way for me was to always start from the roof. Starting out on lower levels makes it much easier to lose your anonymity, but police often stumble in and start investigating ground level bodies which can ruin any chance you had of not having to fight your way through the entire workshop. The children are in groups of 3 that highlight in green in eagle vision. After freeing 3 to 5 groups of them, you have a cutscene of the Rooks taking over the area. This builds up loyalty with Clara O’dea, a child that rewards you with anything from a Thief Belt for Jacob to the Legendary Assassin Gauntlet. The worst aspect of child liberation is the music that plays while you’re in a factory- an eerie child chorus singing of their death maybe? No thanks.

 

 

Gang strongholds are pretty self explanatory and enjoyable. Evie is great at picking out the Blighters one by one, or use Jacob and go for a brawl. Either way the focus is just to take out a certain number of Blighters. I really enjoyed using hallucinogenic darts acquired from Alexander Graham Bell on strongholds. These darts are silent and make an enemy attack their own. If you’re able to hit the highest level Blighter or Templar, sit back and watch them take out your targets for you. Use throwing knives to kill the leader without being detected, and any witnesses run off scared. The opportunity for creative takeovers is endless.

 

Finally, you have Templar hunts. I saved the best for last here; These missions are what AC is all about. Go in, find your target, kill them, get out. You may have one or two targets with requirements to kill them in a specific way for full synchronization and extra xp. The full synchronization challenge is worth the extra effort. It’s fun and different each time. Both gang strongholds and Templar assassinations build loyalty with Henry Green, a fellow assassin working in London and rewarding his allies with various Kukri weapons.

 

Each borough has a Templar leader. Once you have conquered most districts in a certain borough of London, a cut scene will automatically begin that gives you a chance to assassinate this leader. Basically, they taunt you then run while a number of Blighters try to kill you. Some took a few tries, but if you can catch the leader and kill them it makes things a little easier for you. How? After you have taken hold of every district in an entire borough, a gang war opportunity will pop up on your map. Even if every district is under Rook control, you must play the gang war to truly own a borough. If you succeeded in assassinating the leader prior to a gang war then all you have to do is kill a number of blighters and you have won. Otherwise, the leader will be present with the blighter group and you’re more likely to have to give it a second try. After completing your mission in each district, taking out the leader, and finishing the remaining Blighter presence in a brawl, the borough is yours.

 

 

While building your allies, be sure to help out Robert Topping with his fight clubs. Not only are his loyalty level rewards new sword canes, my weapon of choice, but the fight club is a blast. I didn’t actually start this side activity until I was level 5 or 6, so the first few were basically exhibitions of Evie and Jacob’s finishing moves. Once you make it to The Strand you really have to be on point with the timing of your counter shots to make it through. Fight clubs begin with low level fighters and only 3 or 4 rounds, and end with high level brutes and 7 or 8 rounds. Be ready! Jacob seemed to play through a little easier than Evie in later clubs due to his combat over stealth focus.

 

Another ally with side activities is New Wynert. Build xer loyalty by carriage and train raids. After four or five raids I was so tired of driving carriages that I was strictly doing Ned’s activities when I was in dire need of funds. Your loyalty level rewards are rare minerals until at last a Kukri and Firearm. Abberline keeps you pretty well stocked on pistols and I preferred the sword cane to Kukri so I wasn’t out to be Ned’s friend. There are a few robberies and hijacks available on trains- but unless you happen to be in the vicinity of one, don’t try to catch up. If you happen to be close, take advantage of the opportunity when it comes. Chasing the train is a losing cause! As annoying as they can sometimes be, carriage hijacks do provide decent xp and money rewards.

 

Whenever you happen to be escorting cargo via horse drawn carriage, you’ll have Blighter or Templar carriages that chase and attack you. It is SO much easier to reach your checkpoint, then hop on top of the carriage and quick shot anyone still on your tail than it is to fight off enemies while navigating. Also it pays off to purchase the gang perk of being able to call a Rook carriage to your aid. Rook carriages will follow you during escorts or hijacks and really come in handy during a bounty hunt. Instead of being stuck with an unconscious or dead body looking for an enclosed carriage to dump them in, you can simply call your Rooks and have a carriage ready and escort to boot. Once you acquire the second Rook Riders upgrade, which increases the presence of the riders, carriages will often be closeby and available whenever you need. When you do have to fight while driving a carriage, shooting the horse instead of driver is a great tactic. Not only do you get to see the carriage flip and driver ragdoll, but you’re safe from another Blighter taking over the reins. You can spend skill points on extra speed and damage resistance while carriage driving and it is well worth it. I understand that hitting other carriages should slow you down a bit, but coming to a complete stop for brushing a small tree? Give me a break. You can also collect up to four (or Five) Rooks to follow you. I really didn’t take advantage of this ability more than a couple times, but I had fun for a half hour or so just walking around with my gang instructing them to fight any Blighter I could find.

 

 

As far as other playable memories, you can choose from Karl Marx, Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Dickens, and Queen Victoria herself. While I was quickly bored with Karl Marx’s memories, Charles Dickens missions provided not only an interesting take on the standard AC side quests, but quite a bit of humor as well. Pursue Spring Heeled Jack, take down a hypnotist, and do it all in the company of one liners that are worthy of laughs. Nice to see AC getting a better sense of humor! Syndicate also mixes it up a bit with unique assassination opportunities in select story missions. If you see one of these, do it. JUST DO IT. Not only is the cinematic for the kill way cooler than any normal assassination, but it often provides an easier way to finish the mission that requires less combat.

 

By the time I made it to The Strand and Westminster, the last two boroughs in conquering London, I was tired of bounty hunts and child liberation. The game did a good job of upping the difficulty though, and you could definitely see how a lower level assassin early in the game would have a terrible time of trying to complete boroughs out of order. Treasure maps for each borough are available from any shopkeeper, and are 100% worth your money. While you can hear the chime of a chest in your vicinity and pop up the eagle vision to zero in on its location, being able to view all chests on your map and make a run through the city collecting pounds and upgrade materials when you’re short on cash is extremely handy. The Thames offers cargo sabotage and theft as income. Sabotage is a blast. There’s not much high ground and you’re easily seen on board, but assassinating Blighters by throwing them into the river is too much fun.

 

 

As far as the colors for your outfits, in my opinion by far the coolest and most traditional “AC” look is only available as a reward for collecting 25 pressed flowers. At about 60% through the game, I had only found 15. You can buy different colors for around 800 pounds, so whether or not spending the time searching for pressed flowers is worth looking cool is up to you.

 

You’re bound to find a few Secrets of London as well. If you happen to come within 15m of these little music boxes scattered through the city, you can faintly hear its tune. At 5m away it will pop up on your mini map. Once collected, secrets shown in one of the carriages of your train hideout as translucent frames. With a few secrets in your pocket, Reuge’s Vault will pop up on your map in the western region of the Strand. There you discover a puzzle requiring all Secrets of London to solve. After a quick Google, I found that the reward for this puzzle is the Aegis outfit for Evie and decided to check a list of all music box locations. I believe when I started this hunt I had already found 4 or 5 secrets myself, and even with a detailed description of Secret locations it still took me a solid 2 hours to collect all 32 boxes. I then made my way back to Reuge’s vault, skipped 8 identical cutscenes of Evie inserting the puzzle pieces into their respective slots, and was awarded the Aegis outfit. After all that trouble I was expecting an amazing suit, and while you do get the “God Like” achievement, the suit itself only offers a 10% decrease in melee damage received and 10% increase in sword cane damage dealt. Being the suit Minerva wore and the time I put in earning it, I expected more. AC tries to make up for it with a 4000xp reward when you receive the Aegis. It probably would’ve taken less than 2 hours to work up 4000xp by carriage hijacks and cargo sabotaging, but the suit on top four skill points makes it tempting to search for.

 

 

Every campaign and side quest has the suggested level for playthrough, and it’s pretty accurate about difficulty. I just happen to come upon a few district challenges that were above my level and got through them, but definitely wouldn’t go out to conquer Westminster under level 9. If you keep abreast on the side missions and conquering the boroughs, you should easily meet the level requirements for each mission.

 

Once you start building up your gang perks, one of your income options is to sponsor football (it’s soccer you filthy Brits) games that supplement your train hideout income. Just like the investment in treasure maps, this is a solid purchase. Although it would’ve been fun to have a mini game soccer, stopping by the train to collect a few thousand pounds is always handy. Speaking of your train, something cool introduced in Syndicate that differs from most open world games is your hideout constantly moving around London. At first I was lost, searching for where my train hideout was on the map, but it’s usually easy to spot once you learn its route and there is  just something cool about having  it pop up in random places throughout the game. You can catch the train in real time, hop on or off, and it blends seamlessly with the city.

 

For the first time in my AC career I did my run through completely via keyboard. At first I was disappointed, fearing AC hadn’t done much if anything to improve free running while I lost fleeing targets due to being stuck climbing up and down a wall instead of slipping through the gap I was aiming for. I was quickly thrown into rage mode just because Evie wouldn’t hop down off ledges no matter what keys I pressed. It took me about a third of the game, but I finally got used to the new mechanic of having a freerun up/down in the way this AC expects you to move. Once I had the hang of things I started to notice that small adjustments made all the difference. Syndicate’s movement actually runs smoothly. Your grappling hook aims itself for the most part and even on the boats of the Thames there is a fluidity that is a step above previous ACs. This is largely due to the grappling hook. It will be impossible for AC not to include this tool in future games. Ezio’s hook improved scaling buildings a bit, but the grappling hook introduced in Syndicate is an actual game-changer. Not only does it save time and make escaping an enemy’s line of sight so much easier by being able to zip to the top of a building, but gliding across an open area to dangle above an enemy without being detected is a breeze. I probably had triple the number of air assassinations in this game than previous ACs all thanks to the grappling hook and hope I never have to go without one again.

 

 

While the Syndicate story seemed a bit one-sided later in the game and the ending was lacking to say the least, the majority of the dual narrative was refreshing and made me feel like we were back to the good ol’ days of Assassin’s Creed. The ongoing gang war can become stale, but London is a spectacular setting that allows AC to implement its strengths. The humor and new grapple gun along with obvious improvements in combat and stealth made taking over London the most fun I’ve had since Black Flag. I was pleased with Syndicate as a step up above the past few in the series, combining the old school AC aspects we love with new direction. Of course it isn’t perfect, but this game has me dusting off my Assassin’s Gauntlet and eagerly waiting to see what comes next for the series.

STORY6.5
GAMEPLAY8
VISUAL PRESENTATION9
AUDIO7
FUN9
VALUE6
7.4

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Doodles

It's Allie aka Doodles. I don't remember a time when I wasn't fighting for a controller and now I'll play any game I can find. Graduated to PC Master Race, but still drawn to bright colors and cute characters. Twitter: @allielilp Steam Profile: www.steamcommunity.com/id/doodlesllama/