Review of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

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Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate was released by Ubisoft on 23 October 2015.  After the disappointing release last year and the year before (Unity and Black Flag respectively) I was on the fence about this year’s installment in the franchise.  After learning that there was no multiplayer, my interest dramatically increased. So I bite the bullet and got the game.  I’m  playing on the Xboxone.

First impression?  Technical improvements over the buggy release of Unity and the glitches of Black Flag.  Combat is smoother and more fluid.  The twin protagonist’s of Evie and Jacob Frye is a unique mechanic that for the first time allows the player to control a female protagonist in a AAA release in the Assassin’s Creed universe.

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Yet it is here where Ubisoft failed the Frye twins, the franchise, and most importantly the players.  The twins are a nice gimmick but they are cardboard characters with no substance.  Ubisoft made many wonderful technical improvements but at the expense of storytelling. 

True stealth and combat have always been essential elements of most of the installments in the series, with notable exceptions being Black Flag and Unity.  However, story has always been at the heart of every great Assassin’s Creed game.  Altair set the bar and the Ezio trilogy raised the bar with phenomenal storytelling. 

Ubisoft needs to hire writers with a story to tell, both modern and Animus.  There needs to be a reason for the events taking place in modern day and the absence of a story for events in the past just results in the player running around committing mass murder for achievement points.

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I’m enjoying my time in Syndicate but I’m highly irritated with the lack of a story.  I want to know what motivates and drives the Frye twins.  Dickens and Darwin have you run off and do things without any reason in particular, this is especially true of Dickens.  Victorian England was replete with interesting characters so why did Ubisoft feel the need to event fictional characters instead of historical ones?

Overall, it’s a solid middling entry worthy of three stars out of five.  It’s fun but utterly lacking in story.  I will finish it but it might be after other games. 

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What do video games inspire you to do?

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Have video games inspired you to undertake other activities outside of gaming?  It might be podcasting or figuring out how to make in game food in real life?  For me, it is reading and writing but only specific games invoke those impulses in me.

Reading

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Star Wars: The Old Republic is one of those games that drives me to bury my nose in a book.  It isn’t that SWTOR is so boring that it drives me to read, rather the storytelling is so good that I want to continue once I log off for the day.  I loved the books that were published with the release of the game and am sad that there are no more planned novels to be released.  But that’s alright, I have plenty of other books to read to keep me busy for a lifetime.

Neverwinter

Neverwinter is also another one of those games that compels me to read.  For the first time ever, I’ve read novels set in the Neverwinter universe and I’ve loved them.  There is something magical about novels that I haven’t put my finger on yet.

Writing

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The Elder Scrolls Online inspires me to write unlike any other game I’ve ever played.  Everywhere you look there are scenes and settings that make you want to log off and start writing.  I don’t just mean role play writing or stories but real writing from the characters and ideas that float around in my head.  I’ve found that when I get writers block I just have to log in to ESO and soon enough my fingers are itching to write once again.

So what has gaming inspired you to do?

Freedom of Speech

First off, this is a topic I am so passionate about it will be posted on my non-gaming blog as well.  I woke up this morning and read a post from Belghast from my Twitter gaming feed.  So far nothing unusual there but the first half of his post made me grind my teeth which is unusual.  In response to a blog piece written by someone he follows, he re-tweeted the blog twice and there was some long involved Twitter chatter about it yesterday. 

All well and good, nothing abnormal so far but then apparently the chatter devolved when another person chimed in to state that the author of the original blog piece was “pretty”.  Apparently, this became objectification of women as sexual objects and the man (presumably) was lectured, instructed, on why this was inappropriate.  I freely admit I didn’t read the conversation because quite frankly, I am so incredibly tired of this victim thread/conversation types.

I’m a woman and by God I am sick of this crap from women!  A man pays you a compliment and instantly you are a sexual object?  Whatever happened to taking the compliment gracefully and moving on?  If the behavior is so offensive, then you could have just muted or blocked the offending user instead, as I understand it from Belghast’s blog this morning, the poor bloke got called out on social media for being male. 

Yes, it can be uncomfortable as any person when someone else pays you a compliment that is unexpected, unsolicited, and out of left field.  But that doesn’t mean you’ve become a sexual object by any means.  It used to be a simple act of common courtesy to pay compliments to others.  Now it has become grounds for harassment, “objectionification”, and more.

Free speech isn’t just speech that makes you comfortable.  Free speech means everyone is free to engage is speech regardless of the feelings of others.  You have the choice to engage those whose speech you disagree with either verbally, written, or by ignoring said speaker.  You do not have the right to shut down the speech of others because it makes you uncomfortable. 

Whatever happened to civil dialogue between those that disagree?  Whatever happened to difference of opinion that where freely expressed?  Whatever happened to the knowledge that differing ideas are what founded this country and once made Her great?

Oh yeah, political correctness and hurt feelings run amuck happened.  If you don’t like the speech of another, then there are better options than playing the victim card.  Learn from the differences, engage the other person to see if you can find common ground, ignore them, or just walk away for a while.  But please, for the sake of sanity and common dignity don’t play the victim card and deny someone else the right to their freedom of expression.

Daybreak Games Restructuring

Unlike many on my Twitter feed, I am not surprised and far from upset at the announced personnel changes at the newly acquired and renamed Daybreak Games.  I’m not so heartless that I don’t feel for the people who went into work this morning employed and left work today without a job.  I wish them all the best and hope they find positions they excel in and love sooner rather than later.  I’ve been laid-off, I know how unexpected and scary it is.  I’ve been through a corporate acquisition where the new bosses seem to be blindly making decisions with no regard for people loved and cared about by many.

That being said, I think shaking things up over at the former SOE is a good thing and will result in positive changes for the community and the games.  New ideas and change needs to be blown through the catalog of titles over at Daybreak.  Some games need to go, others need resources poured into them to make them more than the niche game they currently have become. 

There is no fathomable reason that truly solid games like Everquest and Everquest II did not succeed far more wildly than they did.  SOE failed, repeatedly and often, over the years to spend time, money, and resources on their continued development.  Bugs that have existed since launch should have been squashed by now.  A graphics update for a game that is over fifteen years old, and still supported with an active community, is unforgiveable. 

Instead, SOE felt free to spend time and resources flitting from game to game, developing half-finished crap and expecting gamers to be satisfied.  SOE repeatedly, under the leadership of Dave Georgeson and Linda Carlson (among others), said one thing publically and did the exact opposite later.  SOE and now Daybreak have too many games in their catalog, too few resources, and no true vision or commitment.

Look I like who Linda Carlson is on Twitter but she wasn’t the best Community Manager I’ve ever encountered.  At events, she was far more accessible to drinkers and those willing to buy a round in a bar.  I’m no teetotaler but I as a gamer shouldn’t have to buy the public CM of your gaming division a round to get a chance to speak with you.  And while that may not have been your experience, it was definitely the experience I walked away from SOELive with.  Dave Georgeson has devoted much of his career to the Everquest franchise but completely ignored long time Everquest fans and players who objected to the cartoon graphics of Everquest Next.   John Smedley is still at Daybreak but he too ignores Everquest players and concerns for the new “hotness” game in development.

We pay for two yearly All Access subscriptions to Daybreak which is a terrific value.  That being said, as Everquest II players we are tired of having long standing bugs not being squashed, outrageous prices for digital only expansions every year, cash shop changes that make no sense or contradict public statement made earlier, and those are just a few examples. 

I am hoping that Daybreak gets the financial house in order and speaks to players with a consistent and honest voice at events, on social media, in game, and on the forums. 

ESO: Patch 1.6 First Impressions

Patch 1.6 just hit the PTS so I realize it isn’t ready for prime time, let alone release, but overall what were my first impressions?  Mixed at best, some things very well implemented and others not so much.

Provisioning Revamp

All of the sudden there are a plethora of food and beverages never before seen in Tamriel, Mint Chai or Banana Surprise anyone?  The food and drink system has completely been revamped and replaced with food and drinks you’d easily find in any first world country.  It makes zero sense and is completely lore and immersion breaking.  Food and drink is now faction specific but if released in it’s current state you will be selling a lot of provisioning items that are stored in inventory.

Justice System

Those barrels and baskets you’ve looted in every Elder Scrolls game for lock picks, food items, random gold?  They are all now considered theft.  Every items I moused over this morning was theft and this is a huge departure from other Elder Scrolls game. 

Certain NPCs and all guards now have a weird glow outlining them when moused over, presumably to be a visual clue for your current outlaw status.  I did witness one guard chasing and killing a wanted player.  Towns and cities will soon be littered with living NPC’s standing over their dead corpses if the PTS is any judge.  Obviously this is immersion breaking as well.

Also there was no introduction to the Justice System that I ran across this morning.

Collections

I am going to be upfront, I was the most excited about the Collections tab.  It would get the pets, treasure maps from Collector’s Edition, and trophies/trinkets out of my inventory.  So, I am incredibly sad to report that this isn’t true.

Pets are out of my inventory true enough, but that is all.  Still there are all those treasure maps and the quest reward trinkets/trophies.  Your inventory woes have not been addressed, alleviated, or reduced.

Removing five pets from my inventory isn’t even a drop in the bucket compared to those treasure maps and trinkets hogging space.  I am incredibly disappointed with the collections implementation as it currently stands.

Appearance Armor

When this was mentioned in the live stream last week my heart sang with joy.  I’ve dreamed of appearance armor since beta.  Try as I might to equip armor in the appearance/costume slot this morning nothing worked.

So if it is only certain armor that gets to be slotted in the appearance slot then how am I getting to play my way?  What if I really like a robe that is low level but some developer never flagged it as being appearance appropriate?  Having an appearance/costume slot that is limiting is pointless and frustrating.

Mounts

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Mounts are now shared across the account with stats being shared among mounts.  Yes, I’m cheap and only have the one mount but now it doesn’t matter since stats are shared.  You can still buy the other mounts at a stable but the cheapest mount I saw was 42k but I also didn’t check every stable this morning. 

In no way am I disappointed in mounts or the implementation.

Overall

First impression of the patch was a very mixed bag for me.  Hopefully, there will be improvements based on feedback.  The PTS went live yesterday and I know it is early in the testing but some of these things (TREASURE MAPS & TRINKETS) should have been thought of and implemented by developers since they have been a sore point for almost a year now.  Appearance armor needs work and by god, whatever development team though lore breaking provisioning was a grand idea needs to be replaced!

XboxOne: Assassin’s Creed Unity Dead Kings

Disappointment is an understatement to put it mildly.  The only DLC to be released for this installment in the AC series and it is buggy.  It is inconceivable that after the fiasco that was the release of AC Unity, Ubisoft failed to go over the code for the DLC with a fine tooth comb multiple times.

I finished the main game early this morning and was looking forward to completing the DLC today.  Then I ran into not one, but two game breaking bugs.  Luckily I found a work around for the first game breaking bug.  The second game breaking bug is just so damn frustrating that I’m not interested in trying to work around the bug. 

Allegedly, there is yet another patch in development for Unity.  No details on what the patch will contain or when it will be released.  As usual, Ubisoft is dead silent on the bugs in Dead Kings and their social media feed is focused on multiplayer for Unity AC Rogue on last gen consoles.

I might, time and life permitting, go back and finish Dead Kings but it isn’t very likely.  I have lost faith with Ubisoft, it’s ability to find and correct bugs, upfront and honest communication with customers, and their willingness, or rather lack thereof, to adapt and change based on consumer feedback.

Xbox: Assassin’s Creed Unity

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Veteran’s Day saw the release of Assassin’s Creed Unity here in the States.  The long awaited next-gen and PC game installment in the franchise.  Does the game fall down or does it hit the ball out of the park?

Honest answer?  Neither unfortunately.  It does some things extraordinarily well and then it turns around and fails just as spectacularly at others.   FYI, we play on the XboxOne.

Let’s get the abysmal failures out of the way first. 

  1. Frame Rate: the game can flat out freeze for seconds at a time or it can quickly become slide show theatre for a few seconds.  These don’t last very long or occur very frequently but the fact they occur at all is a problem.
  2. Sound Cuts Out: this is annoying beyond words.  Walking along and boom Paris goes silent, or mid sentence all sound cuts off.  Again happens for seconds and then everything returns to normal but once again, not something that should occur period.
  3. Story:  Massive, unforgivable story holes that if you’ve never played the franchise before would leave you confused and unclear what Arno was doing or why.  Also, since when did the Brotherhood Oath change?  There are just massive issues with the way the Brotherhood was written.  And since when did an Assassin become so well known that he is casually greeted walking down the street by strangers, commoners and noble alike?  The Templar vs. Assassin tension is flat out missing.
  4. External Integration: AC Initiates is a complete mess as of this writing.  It fails to show whole games not being played and has lost levels compared to when AC IV was the new game.  AC Initiates also does not have new content ready to go for Unity despite the game being released which is just poor implementation.  Uplay is spotty in it’s connectivity and usefulness.  It too is missing games previously played.  The Companion App is wonderful, that is if it hasn’t lost your Nomad Brotherhood entirely.  The App works perfectly for me and is useless for hubby because his Nomads have proven their French heritage and gone on strike.
  5. Micro Transactions: Really?  Just Really?  Pay to Win transactions for a game that doesn’t have true multiplayer and would be even worse if true multiplayer existed.
  6. Co-Op: Failure to include split screen co-op or co-op similar to Diablo III is unforgivable.
  7. Rebecca and Shawn:  They’ve been there for every game since AC II and now they are suddenly missing?  No seriously, where are they and why are these strange people talking to me about Abstergo?  Am I an Assassin or am I just some tourist in an amusement park ride?

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Here are the things that AC Unity has gotten incredibly right.

  1. Story: There is a story once again, almost worthy of the glorious story telling of the three AC II installments.  Yes, there are glaring holes and gaps in the story but by god there is a story.  I can run around Paris and meet people and help them out once again.  I helped Mme. Tussaud yesterday.  I actually like Arno, compared to my disdain for Edward Kenway. 
  2. Companion App: Kudos to Ubisoft for offering the companion app on more than just a couple of devices and kudos for the app itself.  The rendering of Paris and real time updates are incredible.  The ability to read the database outside of the game at my leisure is something I truly appreciate.
  3. Paris: The city is huge.  There are less viewpoints in this game but you can see much, much further on each and every viewpoint.  The streets are crowded, the crowds react to you and the environment, and the tension between the factions is evident.
  4. Co-Op: It isn’t reliant on you having a friends list populated by friends also playing the game.  It utilizes the matchmaking system to let solo’rs play the co-op missions.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I undoubtedly will at some point.
  5. Paris Throughout History: Helix rifts are a new type of game play that allow the player brief glimpses of alternate history of Paris throughout the ages.  Some of these are stunningly gorgeous.
  6. No SAILING: no seriously, no sailing is a huge thing for me.  AC IV was unplayable for me because of all the damn sailing required.  AC Rogue might have a great story but it has sailing, so if we get it I’ll watch the story unfold as hubby plays.
  7. Micro Transactions:  Kudos for Ubisoft for recognizing that fools and their money are soon parted.  We won’t be buying any of the micro transaction currency but hey if Ubisoft can make money from stupid people, go for it.

For me, the game is completely enjoyable.  I loose track of time.  None of the failures of the game have detracted from my enjoyment.  Sound and frame rate issues are hiccups but haven’t caused me to cuss or hurl my controller in frustration.

Overall, Ubisoft did well but not amazing.  They need to hire more QA staff and not release games until they are ready rather than sticking to the “every fall” time table.  Unity and the external companions could have benefitted greatly from another quarter or two of polishing.  Instead, Ubisoft rushed the game to market and risked customer goodwill.  They’ve earned some of my trust back with the story once again being present.  They need to vastly improve their customer communication about fixes and problems.  They are all over Twitter when it suits them but when there are problems they fall silent.  Silence in today’s market place will kill a game far quicker than bugs.