Assassin’s Creed Unity: How I almost missed out on a pretty fun game

The only thing I remember hearing about Assassin’s Creed Unity when it first launched was that it was a buggy mess best avoided. So I avoided it, at least for a year or two at which point it hit a super sale and was offered for $10 or $15. I polled my social circles and was told that Ubi had patched a lot of the issues and it was OK to play, so I bought it, then heard there were still framerate problems on consoles. That got solved (again, according to the hive mind) when Sony introduced Boost Mode for the PS4 Pro.

So with AC Freedom Cry in the books I turned my attention to Unity and oh my goodness does this game make a TERRIBLE first impression. The first thing you see is a menu offering you like 15 different “experiences” to choose from, all but one of them locked. It took me a minute to realize I was playing a game withing a game. Remember how in AC Rogue and AC Black Flag you were working for Abstergo to create historical entertainment products? Well in Unity you start off as a customer, using the Helix, which is the consumer model of the Animus. Your one unlocked experience takes you back to 1307 where you see the Templar Grandmaster Jacques de Molay entrusting a sword and book to one of his underlings before he is arrested and executed (you play the underling). The others experiences listed are just decoration, you don’t get to play all of them as far as I can tell. Tease!

At that point your experience is interrupted by “Bishop,” an assassin who has hacked into your Helix and who sends you off to France in 1776. Remember that last epilogue in AC Rogue where Shay kills an assassin who is looking for his son. There was no real explanation of that mission. Well when you get to France you’re playing the son in that same scene. He’s like 6 or 7 I guess. You’ve been lured away by a little girl who dares you to steal an apple so of course you do (this is the ‘stealth tutorial’) at which point you run away with the apple floating about 2 feet in front of your hand. Nice glitch. Then there’s a cut scene where the boy didn’t render at all so the little girl was talking to empty air.

It’s a short sequence that ends with your father being killed by Shay and you going to live with the little girl’s father as his ward. Flash forward to you as an adult and kind of a troublemaker. I won’t go into the whole story but pretty soon you end up falling in with the assassins (remember your father was one of them) and that’s the next story mission which also glitched out for me. I was supposed to follow an NPC but he was climbing a wall and fell and then he just stood there. Since he needed to open a door I hate to restart the mission to advance. So that’s 3 glitches in the first 2 missions/first 30 minutes or so of play.

At this point you’re just a French citizen with a flimsy rapier and some smoke bombs. You have no assassin skills to speak of. Unity gives both you and missions a star rating. At this point I was 1 star and the next story mission was 2 stars. When I went to do it the game warned me that it would be very difficult and that I should buy skills or improve my gear before attempting it. Problem was I had no currency to buy skills and the shops weren’t selling better gear.

So I decided to do a 1 star side mission that involved recovering 3 severed heads (!) for a woman who was supposed to be making death masks of the victims. I failed that mission HARD about 6 times. One of the heads was in a square surrounded by guards. I couldn’t figure out how to sneak past them and I couldn’t defeat them in combat. Between the glitches and the stupidly hard 1-star quest, I was super frustrated and on the cusp of doing the “Rage Quit flowing into Uninstall Angry Dance” when Angela suggested I look online to see if there were any tips. I did that and no one seemed to be having an issue with this mission BUT all the screenshots and videos I saw showed the player decked out in assassin’s robes. I was wearing a puffy shirt and old breeches.

So I said screw it and went back to 2-star story quest, ignoring the stern warning of the game about its difficulty. And it was a complete cakewalk. At the end of it I became an Assassin, or at least enough of one that I could buy a decent weapon and some armor, as well as unlock some skills. I went back to the severed heads mission and now it too was a cakewalk. I just killed everyone who opposed me out of spite for all those early de-synchs!

And at that point Unity opened up like a flower blooming. I’ve been really enjoying it since then. Yes it still is glitchy and I’ve had to ‘restart from checkpoint’ in a few missions. But when it isn’t being glitchy it is a beauty of a game. Paris is amazing just to roam around. There is so much happening on the streets and in shops. As my reputation grows I go from ignored to feared to cheered (there are little quick street-level events like saving someone being bullied or catching a cutpurse that seems to get the people liking you). The combat is different in a way I can’t quite articulate but once I got used to it I’m really enjoying it. The architecture is super fun to climb around.

The other night I was in my theater (yes my character runs a theater) when a pixelated ghost appeared and beckoned to me. It took me a moment to realize I was being invited into a co-op mission. Me being me I at first ignored it, then said “Oh ‘eck” and gave it a try. I found myself running through Paris with three other assassins. When everything was working it was really cool — I might go so far as to say breath-taking — though in other moments the lag would get so bad I’d be getting hit by enemies I couldn’t see (no dedicated servers). Overall it was cool though and I would do it again. I was by far the weakest member of the team, having just started, but I could circle the outskirts of battles and assassinate enemies so could still pull my weight.

I’ve been so busy exploring and doing side quests that I can’t really comment on the story yet, but overall I’ve gone from “Screw this game I’m going to uninstall it and I wish I had a disk so I could snap it in half.” to “Holy heck this is AMAZING.”

I share this just in case you decide to try AC Unity. Don’t judge it by it’s first hour or so, and don’t let the game decide what is and isn’t too hard for you. There’s a flawed gem to be found if you can get past those two issues.