Ubisoft's first full next generation entry in the Assassin's Creed franchise, Assassin's Creed: Unity has officially released on PC, PS4, and Xbox One (read our full Assassin's Creed: Unity review). Returning series fans will remember that Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag bridged the divide between last-gen (PS3 and Xbox 360) and new-gen (PS4 and Xbox One) - making Unity the first Assassin's Creed title to be built from the ground-up for Sony and Microsoft's new consoles. Understandably, Black Flag ran smoother and looked better on new-gen hardware but, for Assassin's Creed: Unity, Ubisoft has taken their flagship brand back to the drawing board - injecting a number of new features to help ensure that the series continues upward momentum in the foreseeable future.
In addition to the biggest and most detailed sandbox in Assassin's Creed history, not to mention the highly anticipated inclusion of co-operative multiplayer missions, Unity also includes one feature that has many gamers rolling their eyes - microtransactions. Previously, the developers detailed how microtransactions work in the game but, now that Unity is actually out, we have a much clearer picture of what gamers can get for their added money.
To be fair to the developers, microtransactions are not required in Unity - and any item that can be purchased through additional funds can also be unlocked in-game by way of traditional currency exchange or completing challenges. Still, microtransactions, like DLC before it, can be a very slippery slope - since developers could make highly sought-after weapons and armor slightly more expensive than normal to incentivize players into throwing in extra money. Of course, Ubisoft isn't ruling out the option for especially flush gamers to spend a lot more money - including a $99.99 microtransaction pricing tier on the purchase page.
Check out the image below to see the full pricing breakdown for Assassin's Creed: Unity's "Helix Credits" (courtesy of Polygon):
In case it's not clear:
- A $19.99 purchase = 1,400 Helix Credits
- A $49.99 purchase = 9,000 Helix Credits
- A $99.99 purchase = 20,000 Helix Credits
Once a player purchases Helix Credits, the currency can be used to "hack" a variety of desired items - including new armor, weaponry, or map hints, among others.
Again, none of the hackable items are exclusive to microtransactions but the exchange rate is somewhat steep at launch - and it's unclear whether a significant portion of gamers will actually splurge on Helix Credits. For example, "The Paris Stories" hack (which reveals a select branch of map locations) costs 150 Helix Credits (roughly $2.00) and the heavy-hitting Sword of Eden costs 180 Helix Credits (roughly $2.50).
After all, traditionally, players don't spend a lot of time mixing up their arsenal throughout the campaign, purchasing the best guns/swords early on and rarely looking back, which makes it hard to know just how much tangible incentive there is to actually invest in a wider array of loadout options.
Ubisoft has indicated that they're attempting to differentiate the available arsenal in Unity - so that players will actually benefit from applying new tools in different scenarios. To that end, Assassin's Creed: Unity features more customization and weaponry than any prior chapter in the series; yet, we'll have to wait to see whether gamers actually feel compelled to experiment with such a vast set of killing tools (or, once again, stick to a few well-balanced staples).
In this particular case, it doesn't appear as though the inclusion of microtransactions will have major effect on the Assassin's Creed: Unity experience - serving only to give gamers an added (shorter) option for unlocking customizations and weaponry they desire. Core in-game prices for the better weapons are mostly on par with prior entries - and franchise fans will remember that Black Flag already included the ability to unlock a small batch of customizations and map locations via DLC add-ons.
However, this doesn't mean that, should players respond to the inclusion of microtransactions, the publisher won't create added value to the feature down the line - increasing costs on sought-after hacks to push gamers into investing more in post-launch purchases. It's a delicate balance, given that Ubisoft won't want to impede the experience of returning gamers who might be put-off by intrusive or restrictive microtransaction features.
Still, even though core gamers are often weary of microtransactions, the pay-to-play feature has been a major source of revenue in the mobile market - and there's no reason to think that blockbuster developers won't continue to try ways of injecting additional profit streams into their games.
Assassin's Creed: Unity is available now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick.