I may not have liked Assassin's Creed Unity very much, but I was still excited about its free expansion Dead Kings, which then went and failed on me twice in its first two missions.
Damn. I had been really excited to download this thing...
If something that is more than 7GB can be called a microcosm of anything, then, yes, sadly, Assassin's Creed Unity: Dead Kings is a microcosm of the bigger, beautiful but badly flawed Assassin's Creed Unity. It even seems to have its own signature glitch, which I'll show you a little further below.
Let me be positive for now, because that's how I started this DLC, full of optimism because, 1) I usually like Asssassin's Creed games a lot, 2) I assumed that the team making Dead Kings would have had the time to worry less about tech and more about creativity, and 3) the creative director of the DLC was the creative director of Ubisoft's terrific ZombiU. A spooky Assassin's Creed expansion? Cool!
Here's Dead Kings. I captured this right as I started playing. Drop-dead gorgeous, right?
We're out of Paris and in a whole new town.
Pretty big area...
Pretty big underground, too!
We've got a new kid sidekick named Leon...
We've got simple, smart tweaks in enemy intelligence with the introduction of a new underground faction that plays by different rules...
And we've got a new item, a lantern...
Check out the lantern and the new guillotine gun in action in the clip below, captured from my Xbox One. The lantern makes bats and bugs scatter and can help with some puzzles. The gun is, well, it's like the gun from Assassin's Creed Rogue or any grenade launcher in a war game. It's not very Assassin's Creedy, but so be it...
And, hey, they even took something that was a little annoying in the main ACU game and fixed it, which is what we want. We now get a variation of the main game's Nostradamus riddles that indicate a green zone where solutions to the riddles might be found:
New ideas? Check. Improvements to older things? Check. More of what was already good, such as the great graphics? Check.
All good, right?
This is from the game's second of six main missions, near its end. It required a checkpoint restart:
That wouldn't have been so annoying if the mission hadn't already glitched for me before with what I think we should call the Find Leon Glitch.
See, mission two of Dead Kings is a multi-step mission that has you investigating a windmill, finding a cave, rescuing a boy named Leon (who then runs away), solving a complex puzzle, finding a way back to the surface and then finding Leon again. It will take an hour or so to play through the first time, I think. The glitch above occurred during the solving-a-complex-puzzle part. The Find Leon Glitch, however, happened right at the end.
The first time I was nearing the end of the mission, I was prompted to find Leon (sorry for the low-res capture on some of these; the text was more clear on my TV):
Note that there's no marker pointing to Leon. That's a bug. I didn't know where to go. And without being able to find him, I couldn't move the game ahead.
I did a checkpoint restart. Still no marker. I searched all over. No sign of Leon.
I decided to start the whole mission over, replaying about an hour's worth, now in just 15-20 minutes, since I knew what I was doing. And?
See the green marker?
If you'd like to compare footage, here's me playing when the mission eventually glitched (I've included some fun puzzle-solving right before it, too)...
And here's the mission when it worked...
I headed over to the Assassin's Creed subreddit to see how they were faring. Some of them couldn't find Leon, either!
Of course this game glitched, you might say. ACU was busted, right? It had to be patched multiple times. The reason Dead Kings is even free is because Ubisoft had to apologise for all that.
The thing is, ACU ran pretty well for me when I reviewed it. It didn't glitch like this. My character was never left hanging in mid-air. My missions didn't fail to progress.
I'd normally look the other way with glitches in open-world games, especially if I could get past them pretty easily, except I'm not sure it's ok here. Dead Kings was pretty obviously delayed and Ubisoft has been hammered for its quality control, and, well... this is their quality control?
Maybe glitches like this are hard to catch early. What, however is the excuse for releasing DLC that doesn't just glitch but still even has the problem where its pop-up alerts cover other pop-up alerts? Like this... there's a riddle under that casefile entry notification:
Even worse, as far as I'm concerned, is that Assassin's Creed's problems these days aren't purely technical. The bigger problems, the ones I do worry about when I think about the future of the series, are the design problems. Bad systems design in ACU got us an unreliable, unintuitive stealth system that worked less smoothly than those in Ubisoft's recent Far Cry and Watch Dogs games. Maybe the Dead Kings people can't fix that, but what of their own new systems?
Here's the game's signature gun not working on terrified enemies after I kill their leader. I have no idea if this is intentional, unreliable or what:
The actual mission design in Dead Kings is decent and benefits from the hand-crafting of the game's underground. It's not as creative and surprising as the mission design in last October's refreshing Assassin's Creed Rogue, but it's better than much of the bland adventuring offered in ACU's.
The assassin we control, Arno, is still negligibly interesting as a hero, but I liked the idea of him running around with a boy sidekick and would have enjoyed more of that. I do recommend trying the DLC's six side missions that tell some little stories of their own. I liked the one that got me this outfit:
I'm just really bummed, though, that even in something as short and in need of making a good impression as Dead Kings is, it has such big design problems.
For example, I was able to cheesily just run through the game's final main mission. It's like this: run into zone full of bad guys, run past them, hit a checkpoint and they disappear. No combat or stealth needed!
And then I dropped a lot of smoke bombs while hacking away at the game's final boss.
That's just bad.
Dead Kings has some good ideas, but it's also got most of its parent game's problems. As Assassin's Creed DLC its 7GB just doesn't seem to be put to very good use. It does little to advance its base game's story (which AC Revelations' DLC did), doesn't do a lot with its new gameplay systems (which AC III's DLC did), and doesn't boldly present a new adventure worth experiencing on its own (ACIV's DLC did). Instead, it simply shows, sadly, that even an entirely different studio, Ubisoft Montepellier, somehow fell under whatever curse has plagued Assassin's Creed Unity.
Bring on Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China, I guess. That sidescroller is the series' next release. I'm still an Assassin's Creed optimist, much as that optimism's been tested.