The gaming industry has come to expect big things with every new Assassin’s Creed cinematic trailer, but in the case of Assassin’s Creed Unity, it wasn’t the music or action that had fans cheering, but the confirmation that the game would allow four players to assassinate together. The cooperative mode has long been a demand of fans, but after playing it for ourselves, the systems and mechanics at play could offer an even deeper experience than some might think – provided it all runs smoothly.
The developers at Ubisoft were quick to explain that they were just as interested in bringing a cooperative experience to the AC series as fans, but the addition presented some serious questions. The need to redesign all of the game’s systems to fully support online play was a start, but redesigning the game from the ground up was needed for singleplayer as well. The real question was how to integrate co-op into the larger Unity experience and story.
That challenge began with shaping the singleplayer to benefit just as much from co-op as it would from any other form of gameplay. Creative Director Alex Amancio explained to us at a recent preview event that for Unity, the progression of Arno Dorian from an Assassin to Master Assassin is the heart of the experience. And honing his skill alongside his brothers is a fundamental part of his development.
From a high level, it isn’t hard to see how two Assassins tackling a Unity mission will follow the same structure as going it alone. And in our time playing alongside a Ubisoft team member, the experience went mostly how regular players would expect. Laying down cover with smoke bombs, distracting guards, or simply selecting targets and striking in unison scratched the itch that caused players to demand the game mode be supported in the first place.
But what stuck out the most from our time with the mode was the potential that seemed present for players genuinely focused on making the most of the experience. And much of that potential comes from the new gear elements and customization that has been added to Arno’s standard arsenal.
For the first time, players will be able to genuinely customize their equipment, clothing, armor and weapons to specialize in one area of combat over another. Whether it’s a hood that allows players to disappear into a crowd faster, boots that lessen damage from a fall, or armor that slows in favor of durability, players now have the chance to essentially craft their class to attack a mission in unison.
The developers explains that each piece of equipment is designed to be a trade-off, meaning players will have to choose whether to attract and absorb damage, or evade it for fear of being crippled in a single blow. Unfortunately, our time with the game did not afford the opportunity to see different loadouts in action, but the fundamentals for RPG-esque specialization is there.
Those concerned that stepping into a cooperative mission alongside a horde of other Arno Dorians would break the story experience can also rest easy, as Amancio explained how the developers approached the problem – while still preserving a consistent Arno-focused narrative:
“Arno is the anchor. We only keep… you see your friends’ unique gear. You want to be able to say ‘where did you get the cool hood,’ or whatever. But then we just replace their faces, we have a database of generic Assassin faces. From your perspective, it’s a Brotherhood mission that Arno is on. Just from everyone’s perspective, they were Arno, and the others were just other Assassins. The only reason we keep the gear is because we think it’s important to be able to point out a sword and say: ‘Dude, that is an awesome sword – where did you get that?’ And say it’s this or that mission.”
Even casual gamers will recognize the signs of MMO or RPG-focused games in Amancio’s comments, and the comparison is a telling one. It remains to be seen just how the content and equipment will be spread throughout the game, but provided it isn’t concealed behind pay walls or retailer exclusives, players may spend more time competing with their friends than they do taking part in the French Revolution.
It has to be mentioned that our particular mission was plagued by a number of technical glitches, ranging from becoming stuck in level geometry (to be expected from a pre-release build), to characters and animations between our own game and that of our co-op partner being clearly out of sync. It’s a compliment to say that the problems didn’t overrule our interest in spending more time with the mode, but we would hope that these issues aren’t to be expected once the game is released to a wider audience.
Ubisoft Montreal hasn’t sought to reinvent the wheel for co-op alone, instead using the mode to exhibit the same improvements or refinements to be found in the singleplayer game. The fact that making such a distinction between the two seems to be a false separation is the cooperative element’s most interesting feature. Just how many players will embrace it as another path to progression – and if it can deliver on its RPG potential – is something we’re curious to see.
Stay tuned for more details on Assassin’s Creed Unity in the coming days, and feel free to ask us any questions you may have in the comments below.
Assassin’s Creed Unity releases October 28, 2014 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
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