Assassin's Creed Syndicate's various add-on missions, given to those who preordered the game or who bought it on a specific platform, are wildly uneven in quality. The worst were even advertised in misleading fashion. The best should make Xbox One fans temporarily jealous of PS4 owners. Let's break this down:
We'll get the crummy stuff taken care of first. A three-mission pack marketed as the "Darwin and Dickens Conspiracy" is one of the least impressive mission sets ever released for the franchise. This grouping was advertised on the day that publisher Ubisoft officially announced Syndicate, promising players the opportunity to go on extra missions involving Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens, as long as they pre-ordered the game. The missions were hyped with the following trailer:
The problem is that the trailer is shamefully inaccurate. Most of the exciting scenes from the trailer — the exploding building, the tease of ghosts — are from missions that are in the base game of AC Syndicate are not part of the pre-order "Conspiracy" expansion.
The "Conspiracy" expansion starts with a Charles Darwin mission. It involves having to track down an orchid for the great scientist. While other missions in AC Syndicate have terrific secondary objectives, one of this quest's weak secondary goals is simply to return to Darwin in a carriage. You can play through this entire laugher in three minutes:
The next two missions are assigned by Dickens and involve a rich man who wants to test the love of his fiancee by faking his death. It's an allusion, it seems, to a classic Dickens story. In these two missions, you'll do a little bit of escorting, a little brawling, you'll dump a body into the Thames, and you'll have to kidnap the fiancee in a train station.
None of this is good, exciting or illuminating. These missions are inferior to the first Dickens and Darwin missions in the main part of Syndicate and are not at all something to worry about missing. Ubi tends to eventually release their pre-order bonus stuff for all players, but you've been warned.
If you did pre-order the game and are wondering how to access this stuff, check the requirements here:
... and look for the first white-and-grey D icon here:
Any "D" icons in yellow are part of the main game's Dickens and Darwin missions, but the trio of pre-order-hyped "Conspiracy" missions will be marked with these white "D"s.
If you bought Assassin's Creed Syndicate's season pass you've mostly paid for some cool-sounding stuff that isn't out yet, including the Jack The Ripper expansion which is scheduled for December. At launch, you can get one mission called A Long Night. Here's how to access it:
The mission is OK. You go to a bar to track a man down, follow some clues using your eagle vision and then race and fight your way back to your train.
One of the stranger add-ons at launch is a mission called Runaway Train. It isn't bundled with the season pass. It didn't get a trailer. It's a little thing, a short mission that has you saving your train headquarters from destruction. For North American gamers, at least, it's free, though you'll need to go looking in the online stores on the PS4 and Xbox One to find it. It doesn't just show up in the game. Once you get it, prepare for a quick five minute adventure mostly set atop your burning, broken train.
Runaway Train is different. Not great, not bad, but a nice change of pace. It's worth downloading just to do something in the game that's a little unusual:
Three stars for that one.
Time for some sunshine. The murder mysteries in the game are superb. They're presented in a 10-mission bundle called "The Dreadful Crimes." And...they're PS4 exclusive??? Say it ain't so, fine print!
"Bonus content exclusive until March 31, 2016."
Thank goodness for that fine print and for the gaming industry's loose interpretation of the word "exclusive". Otherwise, this would go from annoyance to scandal. The Dreadful Crimes mysteries are too good to exclude from anyone's copy — and that's an assessment based on having played just two of the 10 missions. They're very good.
Basically, the Dreadful Crimes are an expansion of the promising murder investigation system introduced in last year's Assassin's Creed Unity. As in Unity, you'd look for markers on your world map that indicated areas where there's a murdered body. Using your Eagle Vision, you'd look for, analyse, and log clues. You'd also find suspects, hear their stories, and choose which one to accuse.
The Unity mysteries felt too slight. Clues were easy to find and interactions with suspects were shallow. From the start, however, Syndicate's mysteries are deeper. The initial murder mystery involves a factory worker who might have been killed by a child laborer, though to solve the case you'll have to search several areas, go through multiple rounds of interrogations and carefully interpret clues. Evidence trails and in-game text help visualise the mystery, and the game empowers you to ask suspects about different topics. Here's a brief clip of an investigation, with Eagle Vision activated:
See that kid who's talking? The game calls him Artie. You might also know him by another name.
A nice touch.
Another of the game's early murder mysteries, the Case of The Conflicted Courtship, is smartly presented and worthy of a five-star rating in Ubisoft's in-game feedback system.
As good as it is, the Dreadful Crimes bundle continues the frustrating tradition of publishers locking good missions to one platform for an extended period of time, something we tend to be against at Kotaku. It's messed up that Xbox One owners haven't had access to some of Destiny's good three-player Strike missions due to timed exclusivity. And it's a shame that Dreadful Crimes, an iterative improvement of the most interesting new mission type in Unity, has been blocked from Xbox One owners for five months. At least they will be coming to Microsoft's platform, though. A lot of the PlayStation-centric extras in previous Assassin's Creed games never did.
Even if you have the game on PS4, the Dreadful Crimes missions are easy to mis. You'll likely need to download them from the store (this was the case with the digital copies of the game that we have and presumably with the disc versions, too). Load up the PSN store, find a listing for Syndicate and its add-ons. Grab the Dreadful Crimes, and, sure, the Runaway Train thing, too.
Download it. Then look for a magnifying glass icon on the game's world map, track it down and you'll be good to go.