Assassin’s Creed: Unity – Dead Kings is free and lasts for a long time. These and other sterling critical assessments available below.
“Infiltration is tense and complex; your best bet is often to flirt perilously close to detection to get in quick and knife the leader, scattering his troops. That’s quite a different approach and the mix up feels fresh and interesting.”
I was so psyched for Dead Kings y’all, you have no idea (although my excited breakdown of everything rad in the cinematic trailer ought to have given it away). I got so enthusiastic, I fired up Unity for the first time since I finished it, determined to chew up all the side content, so my Arno would be the best and brightest possible going into the new storyline.
This enthusiasm lasted about two hours before the dragging, grasping boredom of opening chests and trekking back and forth across the enormous map, struggling with the never-quite-delightful parkour the whole way, made me want to give up video games for a gentle life of growing raspberries on a yoga retreat farm for cynical women.
But actually, this desire to place Assassin’s Creed’s side content in the same category as things like plucking out my own eyelashes due to stress just made me even more excited for Dead Kings, because my positivity knows no bounds. No bounds. I thought: man, am I sick of doing this shitty side quests. I can’t wait to so some meaningful single player quests. Remember how good the story in Unity was? Yeah, more of that, yo.
Sadly, the story of Dead Kings wasn’t as compelling as Unity’s. After a promising start, with a friend granting Arno’s emo wish to leave France, it returns to the “assassin meets some random people, does whatever random people tell him to” mode of storytelling the franchise has been developing for years. One of these people is an adorable urchin, for which I immediately deducted half a point off.
Also, none of the exciting things I wanted to happen, uh, happened. I can’t take any points off my imaginary tally for that since Ubisoft does not have to make games that match my feverish predictions of approximately one week beforehand. But there’s no real development of the sci-fi meta-plot or even any progression for Arno’s personal story (besides Arno cheering up a bit because the children are the future, vomit). I do think we might have received a strong hint that the next game after Unity will finally go to Egypt, though.
Anyway, Arno doesn’t even wear his awesome emo outfit for very long; you re-establish contact with the helix data (I love sci-fi babble) shortly after the DLC starts and then, as far as I can tell, you can’t put the new outfit back on. If someone figures out how to unlock it, let me know. I don’t like it, but I feel I ought to have it, and I like playing dress ups.
But enough of my personal grievances (which I will personally write out by hand and send by pigeon to Ubisoft HQ, have no fear): let’s talk about the interesting part of Dead Kings, which is the slightly new spin on gameplay.
By far the majority of missions in Dead Kings take place either underground or in large restricted areas that border the edges of the map and lots of internal spaces. This is not ideal, as Unity’s camera can’t really cope with confined spaces, but it does make the game feel quite different. You often can’t put space between you and the baddies when you get in trouble, which means you’re stuck with the consequences of your action if it all goes shit-shaped.
“You often can’t put space between you and the baddies when you get in trouble, which means you’re stuck with the consequences of your action if it all goes shit-shaped.”
It is probably going to go shit-shaped quite a few times before you get the hang of it, because as well as trapping you in tiny spaces, Ubisoft has gone a bit mental with enemies. The new faction is distinguished by its numbers; by the fact that it throws rocks at you; and by the fact that it respawns all the time. To make up for this insanity, it comes with a unique feature: when you kill the leader of a group, they’ll all skedaddle.
This makes infiltration tense and complex; your best bet is often to flirt perilously close to detection to get in quick and knife the leader, scattering his troops. That’s quite a different approach and the mix up feels fresh and interesting.
If you don’t enjoy that, you’re in for a tough ride. Trying to skirt the edges of engagements and pick off baddies one by one is very, very hard, and when combat breaks out you’re in for a heck of a fracas. It’s good to see Ubisoft experimenting, and I’ll be very interested to see how this bit of spin is appreciated.
Apart from the infiltration and combat (the guillotine gun is fun), the other major content of the DLC is puzzles. There are a couple in the story missions which are generally solvable by trial and error if you can’t figure out the glyphs (although there’s a great one where you have to make a specific pattern based on religious knowledge that I bet some people will hate). There’s a whole new pile of symbol hunts (ugghhhh). And then there’s the lantern climbing puzzles – only actually, there’s only one of these. It’s great. It lasts about two minutes. Otherwise the lantern is used maybe half a dozen times and has no impact on the stealth systems. Alas.
Dead Kings does a little to rectify some of the things about Unity that I found really frustrating. The map is much smaller, making it easier to get a feel for the city, which also looks quite different to the rest of Paris and makes for a different navigational Also, the collectibles seem somewhat less intrusive. All the Initiates chests are level zero, so you can open them all as soon as you see them and make them go away from your map forever. Hooray!
“Dead Kings seems slightly less optimised than Unity post multiple patches. There’s some nasty, slow texture loading and the general loading times are really long.”
However, it also seems slightly less optimised than Unity (post multiple patches; it’s better than Unity on launch day). There’s some nasty, slow texture loading and the general loading times are really long.
I suppose, since Dead Kings is free, the usual “is this worth buying?” question is a bit silly. Let’s substitute for “is this a good apology for Unity being a bit rubbish on launch?” I think so. It’s a good three hours long, unless you’re a speedrunner, and if you were to play really stealthily and do all the side content I think it might be much, much more. Ubisoft would have been perfectly justified charging whatever a standard expansion goes for, and giving it away for free is a decent gesture.
Is it any good? Well. You know. It’s Assassin’s Creed. It’s Assassin’s Creed of 2015, which is Assassin’s Creed of 2014 without all the bits (coherent story, interesting NPCs) that I liked best, and still with all the bits that have attached themselves to the franchise since 2007 that one sort of wishes would fall off. Sort of like big fat leeches. They have drunk deeply of Patrice Désilets vision, and now Ubisoft should apply a torch and sizzle them right off.
I’m sorry, I spent a lot of time today shouting “for fuck’s sake, Arno!” when he jumped the wrong direction or got stuck on a tiny corner, and I’ve reached the end of my limited tether.