Ye Olde Dust Up
If you decide that stealth isn't your thing though, there's always straight up combat. It's still the same open-world combat you've come to expect from Assassin's Creed, with attacking and countering, but Ubisoft now wants to make sure the player is always pressing the attack. There's a new combo meter and the addition of the near-death state for enemies. At certain points in your combo, you can finish off an opponent and the near-death states allows you to leave a stunned opponent, move onto the next one, and then kill both targets at the same time. In fact, if you're good enough to near-death multiple enemies, you can execute up to four at once.
"The point of [combos] is trying to have the player maintain an offensive stance, as opposed to past Assassin's Creeds," said Phillips when asked about premise behind the combo system. "Assassin's Creed 1 tended to be about defense and countering, which was a very passive system. I loved it, but what we wanted to do with Syndicate, the shorter weapons, and the back alley close quarters elements, is to make sure that you're on the offensive at all times. Crowd control, bouncing between targets, stunning one, moving to another, then do a multi-kill and finish them all. With the combo system, we're able to move the player forward."
If you decide that combat is where you want to hang your hat, there's a whole line-up of combat-specific skills that make killing folks on the streets much easier. (Skills are divided between Combat, Stealth, and Ecosystem trees.) Unlocking the Slayer skill lets you automatically near-death an enemy once your combo reaches a multiple of 10, while the next unlock in that line lets you near-death a second enemy shortly after near-death-ing the first. One skill at the end of the combat tree actually regenerates health when you pull off a Multi-Kill. If you're going to be Jack the Ripper in public, Ubisoft figures you might as well benefit from it.
You can also call upon members of your gangs, the Rooks, to help you out. If you find Rooks hanging around, you can co-opt them. Once that's done, they'll follow you around the city. (They don't climb to the rooftops, but they somehow always know where you are.) If they're in the area, you can order them to attack targets, killing them or acting as a distraction for you. There's a separate skill tree for improving your gang, allowing you to draft members or simply improve the quality of the Rooks in areas already under your control.
As I said last year, it felt like Unity was the Assassin's Creed 1 for a new generation of console, with Ubisoft building a new Assassin's Creed from the ground up. It looked great and played well, but a few bugs and omissions brought down the experience from the high point that was Assassin's Creed: Black Flag.
Syndicate is the second step in that process. I can't say I've played enough to say this is Assassin's Creed II to Unity's Assassin's Creed, but I'm liking the improvements I'm seeing here. This is the game where Ubisoft shifts on areas where Unity went wrong and brings back some sorely missing options, like hiding bodies. The ability to switch between Jacob and Evie is a great high point for me; I prefer Evie to her brother from a style and personality standpoint and spent most of my playtime in her shoes. If Ubisoft takes anything forward from here, I think a choice in assassins is a great concept.
I think we're still a game or two away from New Assassin's Creed's Black Flag, but Syndicate is shaping up to be another great entry, something Ubisoft probably needs after the reception to Unity. Assassin's Creed Syndicate is coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on October 23, 2015, with a forthcoming PC release on November 19, 2015.
Join me on Monday when the second part of my Assassin's Creed Syndicate coverage focuses on what went into rebuilding Victorian era London for this game.