Assassin's Creed: Unity Review

  12:40:00 pm, by Damon   , 1794 words  
Viewed 3653 times since 02/09/15
Categories: Games

Hey, guys. For the next review in my bi-monthly review series, I’m covering Assassin’s Creed: Unity.

Released on November 11th, 2014 by Ubisoft, this game is the seventh major instalment in the Assassin’s Creed series, and it centres arounds Assassin Arno Victor Dorian’s efforts to uncover the plot behind the French Revolution and learn the truth and seek revenge alongside Templar love interest Elise de LaSerre about the death of her father and his adoptive father, the Templar Grandmaster.

I'll just be to-the-point, and I won't excessively fluff this. I am a die-hard fan of the Assassin's Creed series, and it's one of the only game series that could genuinely challenge my passion for The Elder Scrolls. However, this game is simply not up to scratch for the Assassin's Creed series.

The writing and the opening to the story is weak. It's essentially a cliche revenge-romance action film, straight from the opening when Arno is playing with Elise as a kid, all the way up to their ageing up and their kiss at Templar initiation, which he breaks into shortly before Grandmaster De La Serre's death. As the story progresses, I don't feel like there's depth or quality to the writing. Unlike Ezio's three-game story, I am not drawn into Arno's life, and I can't find the motivation to push the story forward, because it's just not there.

I'm all for suspending reality, because it has to happen for a game like this, but how does the Assassin Order tolerate the fact that Arno's a rouge Assassin with his own agenda straight from the beginning and only release him from the order near the end? It's evident from his attitude and handling of his jobs that there's no way at all that he believes in the ideals of the Order. He's in it for himself and Elise, and he's been exploiting the Assassin resources for the young couple's agenda of learning of their father's killer.

But, I'll not touch on the story any further. I may hate the story, but I won't blatantly spoil it for the people who are like me and want to play a game without any idea of what the story is.

Moving onto the gameplay itself, a lot of it has great potential, but it remains so unpolished that it's at times unplayable. Starting with combat, it felt like a crapshoot on whether or not I could even parry an enemy blow, and once I did, I had nothing to do with it. There are no counter-kills, throwdowns, and so forth (that I could find and employ anywaay), so you have to attempt to parry and then mash the attack button like an old arcade game. There's no finese to the attacking, despite it being based on fencing.

I remember in Assassin's Creed III, everything was so dialed down that I could deflect an attack and with a keystroke to choose a follow-up action, I could perform a kill move with the weapon I'm holding (most often my bare hands or hidden blade, since up-close combat is my preferred form in every game), I could disarm the opponent and wield their weapon if unarmed or leave it on the ground, I could use the selected tool slot as a weapon (using the off-hand to put a gun into my enemy's abdomen or use the hunting snare as a garrote by throwing it over his neck after deflecting the attack and popping him to sidestep him and get it around him, and other creative attacks).

In Unity, combat is effectively restricted to the sword or long melee weapon for combat, with no hand-to-hand or hidden blade use unless you do the initial high or low-profile assassination move against a guard, there aren't any meaningful ways to use combat, and it's turned into a button-mash to perform combat. Guns never really found much use with me, since everyone has a health meter, and there's no guarantee the shot will be a kill if you could get one off. The phantom blade is used almost exclusively for assassinations in this title, for which it's required during major kills, which is fine, I suppose, but I wish I could use it elsewhere and have a more diverse selection of weapons to use in general combat.

Story and combat are weak, but moving on to things I did like about the game, I was impressed with the detail to the world most of the time, though there were a few buildings that weren't stuck together right and I was looking into the inside of an unmodeled building because they didn't set the heights right and that hole was never covered by the building I was standing on. It's a large one, being a few thousand meters in each direction, and that's fun, though it makes me not love my need to explore, because it ends up taking several minutes to get anywhere. In short, it's a wonderful place to explore, with a lot of people in the grounds, lots of recreated historic locations, and plenty of nooks and cranines to get into. I love being able to go free-run with the ability to jump into so many modeled buildings just to explore or evade a fight that's gone to hell for me.

Another thing I like parts of is the roleplaying elements added to the game, such as the ability to select different pieces and different qualities of outfit that can enhance various aspects of your gameplay, whether that be as a stealthier Assassin or an armoured fighter. There are about 6-ish different styles of clothing, each having boot, pant, chest, hood, and wrist options, so you can mix and match to create different outfits balancing stealth and combat to your liking (with the unpolished combat, I tend to go for armoured myself, though it's still unhelpful when I'm being messed up by guards).

I don't like, however, the way that you use these things. You access weapons and outfits off of a menu in-game, rather than returning to a safehouse to change into a different outfit or get a new weapon. To do so, you just have to stand on a flat surface, whether that's the street a roof, and you just go to that menu and instantly change outfits, colours, and weapons. It feels like cheating knowing I can enter the field lightly armoured and set up for stealth, be told my new objective is to engage a series of targets, and then magically become heavily armoured with a large axe while standing on the rooftop overlooking that series of targets.

Another thing I like in theory, but ended up not liking, is the skill upgrades. You know from the beginning what's useful, and there's really no way not to end up having every skill and upgrade except for a small handful, because the gameplay actively encourages a specific set of skills, and there are so few per category that there's no feeling that there's actually a choice in the matter. They might as well have just given you all those abilities at set times in the story like the other games have, because it's not been implemented as a roleplaying thing in any meaningful way.

Free-running's been improved, and I like the Up-Down buttons after getting used to it, and it certainly makes travelling a bit easier, though I'm disappointed that I am so bad at the game that I can't do cool dives off things like in the trailer... Except for this one time where I was on the prison hanging off the wall, and I did a back-eject to try and kill myself, and I ended up miraculously catching a ledge several hundred feet below me. I'm all for suspending reality and accepting that some odd jumps and catches happen in the AC series, but the fact of the matter is that was so barely a catch that although it was really damn cool, it shouldn't have happened.

The cover system I like, and I really feel like an Assassin when I'm sneaking around my targets and using smoke and flash bombs, rather than brazenly walking up to the enemies like in the older games. It just needs a few additional releases in the series to polish it out a bit, since there's not much to it, aside from in-cover assassinations and moving between covers, which is annoying because it feels too "sticky" at times. Over all, however, this is probably one of my favourite additions to the series.

I won't touch on how the release went and how buggy the platforms' releases were, since millions of articles have done so elsewhere, but after over six gigabytes of patching (which took a long time on my slow internet), I was able to play the game with only minor annoyances like him oddly stepping or jerking somewhere, and other things that don't hinder the game too badly. It's still a disappointment that a triple-A company released a game in so unfinished a state, and I'm not pleased with Ubisoft's latest release trends, but that's something for its own post, and I won't derail this review by going over business practices. I probably would write about that at all, since there are a plethora of similar gripes on other sites.

I could continue nitpicking about the game itself, but my post has gotten long enough as it is, and while I feel like I could make a part-two for this post, I won't bother. I'll just sum it up: From the horrible state of the game's release, thanks to the stripped features and poorly implemented replacements, and thanks to the generally poor state of the story and the seriously overlooked bugs, errors, and general unpolished state of the game even after gigabytes(!) of updates, this is certainly the weakest link in the Assassin's Creed franchise.

I can only hope the next entry in the series is in overall better shape all around, because despite the inevitable conclusion that the first game for a new console would have problems since it's a new system, there's still enough problems that the game is a step-back for the franchise. I've gotten 3/4 of the way through this game, but I never finished it, opting to watch my brother struggle to the end to see how the ending was, and I've since returned to the Ezio and Colonial titles to get my fix for Assassin's Creed and the fluid combat, movement, and writing that I've come to expect from the Assassin's Creed titles.

If I had to give Assassin's Creed: Unity a rating, on a scale of one to ten, it's a 5.5. There's just too much that needs done and too much that was half-assed in development.

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Lore Lapses, Part VII: The Mother of Potema

  06:39:00 pm, by   , 75 words  
Viewed 2116 times since 02/08/15
Categories: Analysis

The mother of Potema the Wolf Queen doesn't make sense.

It's short and sweet this week. As Potema's lore page says, "Biography of the Wolf Queen gives the name of Potema's mother as Qizara, while the historical fiction The Wolf Queen labels her Quintilla." There's no apparent reason for the discrepancy, but maybe we'll get some enlightenment one day.

Thanks to "Archivist Jimeee" for posing a good question to Abnur Tharn in this week's Q&A!

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy Review (Damon's still alive!)

  08:51:00 pm, by Damon   , 702 words  
Viewed 5255 times since 01/31/15
Categories: Games

It's been a while since I've written a blog post, so I've whipped up a fast one. It's not as detailed and elaborate as some others, but right now, I can't find the motivation to do more for it. I've been playing a lot of games recently, and I could theoretically write over a dozen new game reviews. In order to get back into the habit of blogging, I'll probably make a review at least twice a month, starting with this one and the month of February... Yes, you guys, it's the 31st of January still. I know. ;D

The first game I'll do is an older one: Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy.

What do I say about it? On the one hand, the story didn't impress me as much as I'd have hoped. The bulk of the story is progressed through a grand total of five-ish missions, each of which are accomplished after doing 4 of 5 miscellaneous missions that don't push the story at all. Outside of these five missions, you do nothing in regards to gathering or learning about the intelligence that pushes to these missions. You're just told to do them, and it's disappointing, considering as Luke Skywalker and Kyle Katarn's star protege you're put into the heart of all the important Cult of Ragnos missions.

Those cons with the story aside, the gameplay is wonderful for the release period. Once you key in your Force powers to your preferred hot-key arrangement, you are a fluid, deadly Jedi apprentice and Knight. Combat is quick and deadly with the lightsabers realistically severing limbs and doing massive damage to enemies, and there are a nice variety of guns and miscellaneous items like mines and grenades that can be employed by you, although in truth your Force abilities and lightsaber is more than adequate for all missions except for one (where you are deprived of your lightsaber after being taken hostage), so there wasn't a lot of gunplay on my part, although it was nice to have the option available to me. Force powers are nice and varied, with several light, dark, and neutral powers that can be trained in and upgraded to tailor your Jedi to your own playstyle.

The miscellaneous missions, while useless to the story itself, are fun and varied, ranging from things as simple as fighting your way through bandits on Mos Eisley to disarming bombs, or even ranging out to exciting racing/jousting on Speeder bikes as you race through valleys and canyons or taking part in a "wild west" style takeover of a commandeered train.

Visually, the game has aged quite well, and there are numerous subtle atmospheric touches that enhance the combat experience within the beautifully designed levels, including steam from rain falling on your ignited lightsaber and burn marks created on walls and the floor if your lightsaber strikes a surface or body in combat or just while running and moving around.

While the story the game tells is weak in terms of dialogue and development, the gameplay, the fun variety that comes with the miscellaneous missions, and the variety of customisation options related to your Force powers and lightsaber provide enough to the game for me to give it a recommendation, if for nothing else than the most exciting Jedi combat I've experienced in a Star Wars game, aside from during The Force Unleashed (let us never again speak of that horrible entry into the Star Wars franchise, which is only good for combat).

Now, for the games I'll potentially write reviews for, these are the ones I'm considering, though by listing these, I'm not guaranteeing that they will be included or that this will be the order they are done in. The current list is Assassin's Creed: Unity, Hearts of Iron III, Crusader Kings II, Civilization V, Grand Theft Auto V, MXGP, Watch_Dogs, perhaps a nostalgia post/review about Star Wars: Battlefront II, and Dragon Age: Origins -- which is the last, and maybe the least likely to be done, because my friend who recommended it assures me that the dozen hours I spent getting to where I'm at is only "barely into it", so more playing is necessary to write a fair review of it.

Lore Lapses, Part VI: Ebonarm

  01:39:00 pm, by   , 149 words  
Viewed 3441 times since 01/31/15
Categories: Analysis

Ebonarm does not make sense.

I just finished a long-overdue update to the Necromancy lore page. Many thanks to Legoless, Hargrimm, and others for your help. I'm looking at starting a new project this weekend, so for now, I'll just incorporate my previous rant about Ebonarm into this series.

Long story short, we haven't heard of Ebonarm since TES II: Daggerfall. In The Elder Scrolls Online, in the one context where Ebonarm should've definitely been mentioned, he was omitted. He was likely abandoned without notice in the days of TES III: Morrowind, and ESO simply made it more apparent that he has been written out of official TES lore.

There are more crackpot theories out there regarding what this means, and maybe we'll get some better resolution to this some day, but for now, that does not make sense! If Ebonarm does not make sense, you must acquit!

Lore Lapses, Part V: The UESP

  03:07:00 pm, by   , 539 words  
Viewed 6212 times since 01/24/15
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Okay, I'm putting aside my planned rant to just acknowledge the delightful new entry in the ESO Loremaster's Archive, Moon Bishop Hunal Answers Your Questions. Our very own Legoless, "Doyen of the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits", got a question answered on the nature of the dro-m'Athra, the Khajiit's take on the Daedra. For those who don't know and don't like links, the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits is the UESP's guild in ESO.

This is actually the second time this has happened. I hadn't noticed until today that "Enodoc Dumnonii, Savant of the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits", appeared in High King Emeric's Q&A a couple weeks ago.

Since we've been treating the Loremaster's Archive as essentially the same as in-game texts, it poses an interesting lore question: just what would the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits be like in Tamriel? We've apparently already decided against treating the interrogators mentioned in these Q&A's as canonical figures; see here. But if the devs wanted to build upon the idea of the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits, I sincerely doubt anyone here would be opposed.

But regardless, here's the headcanon I am adopting for the UESP:

The United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits, or UESP, was formed pursuant to the Guild Act of 2E 321, with Julianos as their patron. The never-ending goal of the guild is to build a comprehensive and accurate chronicle of Tamriel and beyond, for the edification and good of all. Its membership rely on each other to seek out, find, and share the secrets of the world around them, one discovery and book at a time. This knowledge is generally shared freely, and members pay no dues. Rather, the guild primarily relies on providing advertisements for various merchants for its funding. They also receive donations from many patrons, notably rulers, authors, and booksellers, who often rely on UESP members for information, trade, and shipping needs.

The guild is headed by a Guildmaster, or Doyen, in each of the provinces where it operates. Its ranks includes Officers, Scholars, Explorers, Recruits, as well as Savants, special operatives of great renown. Though the guild has been plagued by thieves, spies, and other villains who wish to destroy or manipulate it, they have risen to every challenge undeterred, and have continued their grand endeavor for centuries.

Now, I didn't say the UESP doesn't make sense at the start, because actually, the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits as described would make a whole lotta sense, in my opinion. You see, the Second Era was supposed to be a dark age in Tamriel. But thanks to ESO's retcon, a lot of the known TES texts apparently have their origins in the Second Era, rather than the Third Era. This premise is counter-intuitive - unless, maybe, a group formed in the Second Era which dedicated itself to supporting scholarship across the continent?

But, we're ironically prohibited from concocting our own backstory at this time. Though Zenimax has arguably given us an opening to create our own little place in Tamriel, and we could partially explain an apparent irregularity by doing so, it's just not good scholarship to fabricate facts on our own. Still, for that lack of imagination, I guess this lapse is on us.