With this year’s release of Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft tells us two tales in one city.   First, there is the actual story of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate involving twins Jacob and Evie Frye in 19th Century London during the Industrial Revolution.  Second, is the more subtle tale of Ubisoft’s letter to fans that they heard us and responded.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has both steps forward and steps back.  Ubisoft removed cooperative and competitive multiplayer from the game.  I am certain for some this departure may be a step back, but I choose to view this as walking the franchise back to a stable fixed point from which to work going forward.  Ubisoft’s decision to focus on single player demonstrates a dedication to the franchise I was uncertain of after playing last year’s Unity and Rogue.

There have been more than a few niggling problems with Assassin’s Creed over the years.  Three of the largest to me have been addressed in Syndicate: combat AI, player pathfinding and story mechanics.

The combat AI has always been a problem in Assassin’s Creed.  Enemies would encircle you and then attack you one at a time, patiently waiting in line to die.  We saw in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor that you can have multiple enemies attack you and coordinate in order to stop you, the player.  It’s clear Ubisoft worked on this, and while it isn’t perfect, I feel more tense in situations involving more than 4 baddies.

Player pathfinding has always been my biggest complaint when it comes to Assassin’s Creed.  I begin to climb a building, I get up high, go to jump to a tree or another building, and wait, no, not that, no, don’t jump that way, noooooooooooo, (splat) blerg, I died.  The assassin would jump away from targets or buildings or do something I know I did not provide the input to do and I would be dead.  A huge improvement over previous iterations, Syndicate has honed the “free run up” and “free run down” as well as jumping from building to building.  In some ways, they did swing the proverbial pendulum a bit too far towards you really need to confirm with the game that you want to jump, but I much prefer that than risking desynchronization based on an errant jump.

Finally, the story mechanics are punched up.  In almost all Assassin’s Creed games, there are two pieces to the story: the past (where you play as a famous Assassin) and the present day conflict of Assassins and Templars.  In those past installments, the present day pieces have been hit or miss.  In Syndicate, they’ve dialed back the present day story.  My hope is that they do not eliminate this aspect of the universe, but rather, find a new and better storyline they can tap into in order to make the story plausible and relevant.

With all these improvements, Ubisoft shows us they are listening to critics and fans.  I realized this is especially true when I found out there are no eavesdropping missions.  Those were some of the worst.  Also, a huge plus for Syndicate was having Austin Wintory composing the soundtrack.  He is one of my favorite video game composers and his work here is fantastic.

Ubisoft did a great job with the concept of playing two characters at the same time.  Jacob and Evie Frye are two distinct individuals.  Jacob has dry wit and a penchant for violence and Evie is level-headed and cerebral.  In the game, the twins share weapons, gear, money and experience points, but can implement that last collectable however you choose.  The game encourages you to treat them differently, giving you skills only one of the two can learn.  Personally, I wish they would have experimented more with this, but I hope to see the skill trees fleshed out more next year.  So, I went with their suggestions and made Evie more stealthy and deadly from the shadows with her sweet cane sword.  Jacob, I went more brutal and close range using a kukri as my main weapon.

While I am mostly happy with the changes, Syndicate is hardly a perfect game.  Problems still exist in the mission variety and there are still too many collectibles, but when the improvements from previous iterations shine as much as they do, it’s hard to focus on these small fries.  It’s been a while since I’ve felt the pull to play an Assassin’s Creed game the way I have been this past week.

Overall, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is an excellent addition to the franchise.  Ubisoft clearly listened to its fans and made major improvements to the game.  They nail the ambiance of the city – late-19th Century London – as well as provide hours upon hours of gameplay, should you wish to partake.  If you have been holding off on Assassin’s Creed waiting for one that feels more like an improved return akin to Assassin’s Creed 2 (still my favorite), Syndicate is a solid choice.