Assassin’s Creed Unity Preview

Workin’ on it.

While the Penny Arcade Expo typically caters to fans, offering up tons of panels, hands-on opportunities, and community-focused activities, press sometimes manage to get lucky and try a hotly anticipated video game somewhere off the convention floor. That was the case yesterday for my meeting with Ubisoft focusing on the next two games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The publisher’s hotel suite held several large TVs and more importantly my first chance to go hands-on with both Assassin’s Creed Rogue and Assassin’s Creed Unity.

Read my preview of Assassin’s Creed Rogue here, but know that the two games could not be more different with regard to a few typical factors that drive the franchise including narrative and gameplay. For one, Rogue puts you in the role of a Templar while Unity gives everyone their own assassin Arno to explore Paris and spark the little fires that will eventually bring about a revolution. Perhaps more importantly, Assassin’s Creed Unity abandons the naval gameplay that still rests at the core of Rogue to focus on four-player cooperative multiplayer.

Right away, Ubisoft told me that we’ll be able to heavily customize our character in Unity and set him apart from anyone we band together with though gamers familiar with Watch Dogs will grasp this system right away. The publisher wants to focus on giving everyone ownership over both the character they see on screen and the story that will unfold around them in single player and in multiplayer. Where Aiden Pearce could only change his outfit so much, assassins in Unity can change quite a variety of aesthetic and gameplay gear.

I could change Arno’s iconic assassin hood, the armor he wore on his chest, the belt holding his weaponry, all the way down to his boots, but Ubisoft will also let you choose from a wide assortment of weaponry too. These items have distinct stats but I won’t blame you if your choice is based on looks. You can also change your tactical abilities and select strategic stealth, combat, or defensive boosts in order to provide yourself and anyone accompanying you with the best chance at mission success.

After we finished exploring these menus, I got to check out a huge crowd, burning mannequins and harassing guards outside of the Notre Dame. This incredibly impressive structure took Ubisoft quite a while to build and that has a lot to do with the beautiful, living interior. Most of the landmarks in Paris will offer you the ability to head in-doors for more stealth and exploration, though the publisher stresses that the massive game world will be littered with hidden rooms and buildings with something interesting just inside an open-window or upstairs from the ground-floor entrance.

I climbed up one side of the Notre Dame before realizing just how suitably tall the in-game model is and decided to head back so we could start our cooperative mission. In this case, myself and Assassin’s Creed Unity producer Leslie (sorry I didn’t catch your last name!) needed to explore a network of sewers in order to eliminate a high-value target. I got a hang of the newly updated controls before heading into the waterway that would lead us to the objective.

Fans will remember the original Assassin’s Creed utilized the right trigger and the A or X buttons for upward traversal and Assassin’s Creed Unity returns to that with a few distinct improvements. Overall, I thought that these climbing mechanics seemed smoother than in past games, but now you can hold the B or Circle buttons to descend even faster than you climb. This will aid in navigating some of the wider squares and streets that separate buildings in Paris. These updates are complimented by a dedicated stealth option on the left trigger that forces your assassin into a crouch position. Players can also tap the A or X buttons near cover to take position and wait for their teammates.

As we snuck deeper into the sewer system, Leslie and I communicated to coordinate kills, let each other know where enemies were waiting with pulses of the franchise staple eagle vision, and generally had each other’s backs. I asked the publisher if cooperative missions will allow us to matchmake with others online, but they didn’t have definitive details on the system at this point and it seems like Assassin’s Creed Unity will really lend itself to banding together with friends above strangers.

That’ll be driven by challenging coop missions and the way players can run all over Paris together. I’ve always loved Ubisoft’s assassins and how they dance across rooftops, leap from step to step over crowded streets, and generally turn ancient cities into playgrounds. I’m interested to see how the story twists and turns through the revolution, though we’ll only have to wait a few months until the game’s release to know more. Assassin’s Creed Unity and Assassin’s Creed Rogue will be out on November 11th, 2014. Assassin’s Creed Unity will be available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.