This year, the Assassin's Creed franchise is heading in two different directions with the flagship Assassin's Creed Unity and the last-gen Assassin's Creed Rogue. Unity is where primary Assassin's Creed studio Ubisoft Montreal is focusing its efforts to create a bigger, better franchise. After six games made within the confines of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Unity is chance to see what Ubisoft can do with more power.
I've already covered some of these improvements in my post-E3 preview. There's the robust recreation of Paris, France, including the interiors of many of the city's most famous landmarks. This includes huge crowds and further attempts to breathe more life into the city. There's the all-new Parkour Down mechanic, allowing you to get down from high places without taking the Leap of Faith or ledge-hanging. There's even the new Stealth Mode, Ubisoft's implementation of the Crouch button a number of fans have asked for over the years: the press of a button toggles you into a low visibility mode.
The biggest change seems to be happening on the multiplayer side of things, where Ubisoft has dropped competitive multiplayer for an all-new four-player coop mode. In this mode, every player sees themselves as Assassin's Creed Unity protagonist Arno Dorian, while their multiplayer compatriots are non-descript Brotherhood members. I've never been a big multiplayer fan, but if there's a style of online play I do enjoy, it's coop.
Today, Ubisoft released another trailer (shown above) showing off the game's coop mode, with a particular highlight on how each player can differ in playstyle. This is the part of Assassin's Creed Unity that I think a number of people have missed. Unity features full assassin customization, allowing players to choose their skills, weapons, armor, and outfits across single-player and multiplayer.
"As you complete missions, you'll earn skill points, which you'll be able to spend upgrading your skills," said Senior Producer Vincent Pontbriand on the UbiBlog back in June.
These skills improve your combat, stealth, and navigation abilities, while the weapons and gear further diversify your character. In the trailer, you see a stealthy character wielding a spear, while another assassin in a red overcoat favors full-frontal confrontations with a heavy axe. These aren't set characters, they're just the result of individual paths in the character creator. Ubisoft gives players a glimpse at the character creator's potential on this website, but otherwise they haven't been playing up this aspect for the game.
There's also a preview video (seen below) from our sister site, Eurogamer, showing off some of the customization options, skills, and character modifiers present in Assassin's Creed Unity.
This customization is something that I feel has been missing from Assassin's Creed as a franchise. The previous entries have not been wanting for weapons and gear to unlock and costumes to acquire. The costumes are the only real type of personal customization available, while weapons and gear tend to be upgrades. Outside of special unlockables, the rest of Assassin's Creed's progression is vertical in nature: you upgrade your weapons or armor so you can do more damage or take more damage. There were no RPG-style options, so you couldn't make your Ezio, your Connor, or your Edward. With Unity, I can make my own Arno - the character creator hints that I may be able to make his skin tone closer to mine, for example - and customize him to my playstyle. It's a change that brings me closer to the game, like Bioware's Mass Effect and Dragon Age.
We still have to see how skills, gear, and weapons are gated, as there's always the chance that they could be locked behind microtransactions instead of gameplay. Doing so in a significant way would undermine the benefits of adding the system in the first place. There's also a matter of making the stats and skills system straightforward and meaningful. Being able to change stats is good, having useless or confusing stats is not. This is new territory for Ubisoft Montreal, so there's a possibility they could stumble and fall.
I'm sure we'll find out more about Unity and its new additions as we step closer to its November 11, 2014 launch date on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.