Assassin's Creed Unity: Dead Kings is not as ambitious previous Assassin's Creed downloadable content. Assassin's Creed III's The Tyranny of King Washington told Connor's story in a different reality where George Washington established a new monarchy in the colonies. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag's Freedom Cry followed the adventure of Edward Kenway's former first mate, Adewale, as he attempted to free his people from slavery. In contrast to those expansion, Dead Kings is very much the coda of Unity protagonist Arno Dorian's story.
Arno is one of the more selfish Assassin's Creed protagonists. His entire journey in Unity involved self-interest: he wanted to get revenge for his adoptive father and protect Elise, his Templar love interest. In fact, at no point did Arno even really buy into anything larger than himself. The Assassin's Order was a means to an end - he honestly could've been a Templar - and he ends Unity as a lone wolf.
Dead Kings begins with a faithless Arno who just wants to get away and be left alone. Former colleague the Marquis de Sade ("friend" is a bit strong for Arno) wants Arno to steal a scroll as payment for getting him out of the country. He's done with France and all the fighting; instead he wants to hit up Egypt for some reason. Completing the Marquis' job lands our assassin in a bigger game with raiders plundering the crypts beneath the Basilica of St. Denis and the city Franciade. The entire region matches Arno's dark and gloomy tone, and the story involves a cynical man grudgingly trying to find his faith.
It doesn't completely come together; the Marquis de Sade and Napoleon briefly return from Unity, but the Marquis is just a bookend to the tale and Napoleon flits in and out of the story at random. The only other major character is the villain, Captain Rose, and a young boy named Leon who helps Arno navigate away from being the cynic he is. Leon has a few emotive moments - particularly one that recalls Arno's lost love - but for the most part he's an odd character; a child giving Arno his marching orders.
One thing that I've missed in the last few Assassin's Creed titles are the challenge dungeons, like the Romulus Lairs in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood of the Masyaf Keys locations in Revelations. Underneath Dead Kings' three-district city of Franciade, lies the underground, which is similar in construction to those previous levels. The catacombs contain rooms of complex platforming and relatively simple puzzles, though it lacks the timed aspect of the Romulus Lairs. If you're not a big fan of puzzles, Dead Kings won't be your thing.
The trade-off here is the open assassination missions of Unity - one of that game's greatest strengths - are completely missing. One thing Dead Kings illustrates is the benefit of the Romulus Lairs challenge sections within the context of a larger game. You need the contrast between the free-roaming in the city and the constrained hallways of the catacombs. In Dead Kings, there's not much of a reason to be up in the city itself. There's shops, treasure chests, and a few more Paris Stories and Enigmas to pad things out, but you don't really feel a need to be topside for any length of time. The meat of Dead Kings' gameplay, the underground, works well, but it could've benefitted greatly from being integrated into a larger game.
That's said, the gameplay isn't exactly the same as Assassin's Creed Unity. Ubisoft Montpellier didn't change up the basic idea much, but it did try to augment it with some new ideas. The primary addition is the lantern, a new tool needed to navigate the darkness of the underground. The lantern can be used to light the way and scare away the bats, bugs, and rats that block your way in the dark. It's also key in many of the puzzles you'll find. You have to recharge the lantern with occasional dips in oil jugs, but Ubisoft made sure to place them in regular intervals in the catacombs; it sounds worse in practice than it actually is in play.
Over the course of Dead Kings, Arno gains the Guillotine Gun, a mix of axe and Shay's grenade launcher from Assassin's Creed Rogue. It's a solid weapon for clearing crowds of foes, but nothing particularly innovative in the series' history. Oddly enough, combat is rather easy even without it if you've already finished Unity.
Speaking of crowds, the new Raider faction tends to attack in larger groups than Unity players are used to. To help with the potential enemy dogpiles, Ubisoft have added the concept of gang leaders. Focusing on these targets in a melee make your progress easier, because when you kill a gang leader, the rest of the gang takes off running. This actually feeds into the assassin idea quite well, because taking down a single target can clear a room of other foes. If Ubisoft wants ideas they should bring forward into later titles, the gang leader idea is a great one.
Dead Kings leaves Arno in a more hopeful place and somewhat clarifies his relationship to the Assassin's Order. It even hints at possibility of the Order in Egypt, something I've been looking forward to for a few years now; if Arno or the series is heading there after Victory, I'm down. I wish there was a bit more to Dead Kings, but five hours worth of gameplay for free is a hard price to balk at. It's not Freedom Cry, but it's worth playing if you've finished Unity.
Visually slots in right next to Unity. The people look real, but the game runs around 20-30fps with some stutter.
I can't say I remember much of the music from Dead Kings.
Unity's interface makes the translation over to Dead Kings largely intact.
Once you've burned through the main quest, there's a few items to collect in addition to more side-missions. Then it's best to return to Paris.
Dead Kings brings back the challenge rooms from Assassin's Creed Brotherhood and Revelations. That means a dark, dank underground setting full of platforming and puzzles. If puzzles aren't your thing, Arno's latest tale may not be for you. For everyone else, it's a solid, but unspectacular addition to Unity.