Is Assassin's Creed Syndicate Another Step in the Series' Decline?

Today was the big reveal of Assassin's Creed Syndicate, which is met with a shrug acknowledging the release of an annual game series. When did the series fall into stagnation, and does it have a chance of breaking out?


Despite some missteps, including the disastrous launch of Assassin's Creed Unity last year, I still consider myself an Assassin's Creed fan. At least, a fan of the game's spirit. I love running around city streets and scaling buildings detailed depictions of historical sites at the point of great change and turmoil. I also enjoy plotting out assassinations and experiencing an alternate view of history with a shadow war playing out behind the scenes of historic events. Lastly, I'm saddened by the idea that the series peaked with the Assassin's Creed 2 trilogy.

It's also a little unsettling to meet today's reveal of Assassin's Creed Syndicate with little more than a yawn and a shrug. The setting seems good enough: you play as the twin brother and sister duo Jacob and Evie Frye, who set out to take over London's gangs at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Assassins will have new technology at their disposal, such as a six-shooter, a kukri knife, and a Batman style zip-line that will quickly get players up onto and across rooftops. There's also a driving mechanic that gives the game a Victorian Era Grand Theft Carriage feel as you crush people under hoof and wheel.

Even the characters are more diverse, with a brother that specializes in brass-knuckled fisticuffs and (as reply to those that demanded a female protagonist) a sister that relies on a stealthier approach. Together, they use their piercing charm to take out Templar leaders, unify the criminal gangs under their command, and form an army for... working class rights? Let's just focus on the chance to run down the crime ridden streets of Victorian London, in places where even the police dare not set foot. And, at the very least, having most of the characters speak with a British accent will actually make sense this time.

So, why isn't the announcement of Syndicate more exciting? I believe it's because annual Assassin's Creed releases have finally become too much, especially since we saw two of them last year between Unity and Rogue. The Assassin's Creed approach might actually be worse than the Call of Duty games, since those releases rotate between multiple sub-series that tell entirely unrelated stories. Assassin's Creed games all take place in the same universe, where the Assassins generally use improved versions of the same tools, to fight a never ending war against the Templar. It reaches a point where, even as a fan, it's easy to get burned out and tired of it all--despite how Ubisoft claims fans want nothing less than annual releases.

But the truth is, it doesn't matter who is wearing the hood now, or how well they can wield a sword, pistol, hidden blade, or myriad of other weapons. It doesn't even matter that Assassin's Creed is taking a play out of the Hitman playbook by allowing environmental traps. It's that the closer the timeline gets to the modern age, the campier it all seems to get. Connor kind of proved the point by making a cameo at every major event of the American Revolutionary War in Assassin's Creed 3, including the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Now Assassins are out to unite the gangs of London, because watching their leaders get beaten down is somehow more unifying than getting paid money.

But there's a bigger issue at play: Assassin's Creed gameplay has somehow managed to get successively worse since Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, with the possible exception of Black Flag, and it's sad to watch it decline a little more year after year, usually because it repeatedly makes the same mistakes. The series has a bad habit of adding incremental changes, but sacrificing too much for the sake of making the series "more fun," which includes trying to fix a combat system that always seems to be at odds with stealth gameplay. Then there are the crazy lines of sight that allow enemies to spot you from blocks away while you're leaping across a small gap between buildings.

Perhaps this is the year it all comes together. Having Jacob go around punching everyone in the face in fast-paced combat while Evie sticks to the shadows seems like a reasonable compromise, but it's getting harder to care one way or the other. Even the idea of breaking England, or at least London, out of Templar control barely invokes more than a mild shrug. The modern day storyline is spinning its wheels, while trips to the past are fast losing their appeal. Assassin's Creed has always been sort of a test bed for cutting edge technology that simulates crowds and iconic structures in great detail. But the wow factor quickly wears off, which can be said for the series as a whole.

Being an Assassin isn't as exciting as it used to be, considering how you can become a new one every year. Assassins used to be amazing. Now they're lucky if they can survive their own histories. I don't think that extra characters and brass knuckles will be enough to renew my interest, but we'll see if Syndicate has a few more tricks tucked away in its bracer as we get closer to its release this fall.

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From The Chatty
  • reply
    May 12, 2015 2:00 PM

    Steven Wong posted a new article, Is Assassin's Creed Syndicate Another Step in the Series' Decline?

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      May 12, 2015 2:17 PM

      This series needs to go to feudal Japan or into a Blade-Runner style sci-fi setting ASAP.
      This would let them keep the core game mechanics, but add some new toys & different atmosphere.

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        May 12, 2015 2:25 PM

        That would be totally cool. There really should be more AC's in Asia.

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        May 12, 2015 6:01 PM

        Feudal Japan/Blade Runner hybrid

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        May 13, 2015 7:47 AM

        How fucking hard would it be to select your target in Japan though?

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      May 12, 2015 2:22 PM

      I think they should have stuck with Altair and Ezio. They represented the only story and were the only 2 characters I ever gave a shit about. Once they wrapped up their stories I checked out of the series.

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      May 12, 2015 2:34 PM

      I haven't even looked at the Syndicate stuff, but they basically lost me with 3. I loved 2 and Brotherhood and even Revelations was okay for what it was, but after 3 I'm just not interested anymore.

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        May 12, 2015 2:36 PM

        IV (Black Flag) was fucking fantastic, so if you have any love for the series you're missing out.

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          May 12, 2015 3:00 PM

          I've got it on PS3 as a Christmas Gift. It's better than 3, but any goodwill it earns was dashed immediately by Unity.

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            May 12, 2015 4:12 PM

            This may just be an even year, odd year game series.

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            May 13, 2015 5:40 AM

            Goodwill? You're not pledging allegiance to the entire series. They're just individual games. Read each review separately and play that one if it sounds good or skip it if it sounds bad.

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              May 13, 2015 8:09 AM

              They're not just individual games. I may well be in the minority, but I actually appreciated their overall plot and dramatic structure, and the ending to three threw all that in the garbage.

              They were clearly building to a modern world game with Desmond facing a current threat, and what we got instead was bullshit.

              If Ubi isn't going to treat their fiction with any respect I'm not that interested in giving them my money.

              Besides, 3 reviewed well and it was a piece of shit.

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            May 13, 2015 8:57 AM

            What? The quality of one game is adversely effected by a different one?

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              May 13, 2015 10:34 AM

              When the games share engines and narrative, yes, they certainly can be.

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      May 12, 2015 2:40 PM

      1st time I heard about AC IV, I hated it. Then came a sale $10 and I bought it and thought it was actually great. I thought Unity was such a bad miss step that buying another AC won't be easy. FYI never bought it and never going to either.
      "love running around city streets and scaling buildings detailed depictions of historical sites at the point of great change and turmoil"
      That's why I play GTA 5 because I just like to drive around, yes I have a drivers license and a car.

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      May 12, 2015 5:08 PM

      The games aren't bad - they're just a bit samey. What Ubi needs to do is look at their offering. GTAIV was pretty mehish, but GTAV! Amazing. They need to offer something new and deep; and by new I don't mean lots of grindy side missions. The ships of AssCreed IV were good, but they're not going to be seen on the Thames I fear. An Arkham Asylum brawler and Trains and Carriages lack the same excitement. They need something... new.

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      May 12, 2015 5:31 PM

      they should start nameing these like FIFA games, ASSCREED'15, ASSCREED'16

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      May 12, 2015 7:40 PM

      Maybe your enemy will be Jack The Ripper or Professor Moriarty! They won't be, of course.

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      May 13, 2015 5:30 AM

      I saw this vid and I fell asleep. This is horrible stuff here folks.

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      May 13, 2015 5:36 AM

      "Assassin's Creed gameplay has somehow managed to get successively worse since Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, with the possible exception of Black Flag"

      POSSIBLE exception? JFC.

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        May 13, 2015 6:02 AM

        Yeah, Black Flag was amazing.

        It really feels like you guys are just bitter sometimes :)

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        May 13, 2015 8:10 AM

        It was better than three, but a lot of the systems still felt jankier than they did in Brotherhood.

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      May 13, 2015 6:32 AM

      I find they are catering more to what the public wants (Victorian London! Feudal Japan! PIRATES!) with the last bunch of games, and that's been happening since the creative forces behind the first two games—Patrice Désilet and Jade Raymond—are no longer involved with the series.

      It's not a steady decline though. Black Flag and Rogue are obviously high points in between some lesser games.

      I do think they are putting less effort into the original mythology. And the games have gotten easier and easier with each iteration. I remember playing AC2 for the first time even and it felt so arcade-y compared to the sometimes brutally hard AC1.

      I'll admit that Unity hasn't grabbed me at all (yet). I've had it since day one, and have yet to put much time into it (while since then I've replayed Black Flag, and I'm currently replaying Watch Dogs). I loved Black Flag so much I'd probably replay it a third time if I found a cheap, new copy for the PS4 (to updated from XBOX 360).

      I'll be buying Syndicate, no question, but I at least stopped buying the collector's editions!; Black Flag was the last one.

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      May 13, 2015 6:38 AM

      We should continuously bump this thread in the chatty to meet the banner ads.

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