In the past, whenever I try to go back and play previous Assassin’s Creed games, I find myself disappointed. Usually, the improvements in newer games, both in mechanics and technology, make older games feel dated and clunky.
However, after my poor response to Valhalla, I decided to seize a small silver lining and replay the older titles that I’d enjoyed. My original thought was to replay Odyssey (2018). However, with how much I’d enjoyed Syndicate (2015), I decided to try going back to it. Be aware, there are likely spoilers in this post, but if you haven’t played it in 5 years, I don’t think you’ll mind spoilers.
The wonderful, and honestly, rather sad reality is that I’m loving it! There are a few issues (see below), but I don’t really feel there’s much to delineate which is the new game and which is the old. If you gave both Syndicate and Valhalla to someone who had never heard of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, I think they’d be hard pressed to tell you which game is newer.
Realistically, What’s Not Great?
Let’s get the negatives out of the way, first. There are definitely some things that I’m happy Ubisoft has improved over the years. The list below is in my personal order of severity. A reminder (or FYI, to those who haven’t read my other game posts), I play on an original PS4 console. All of my opinions are based on that.
We all know it wouldn’t be a video game without glitches. But you would think that after 5 years, it would be perfect. I’ve come across 2 at this point, one more serious than the other.
The minor glitch is that for some reason, my ability to use Eagle Vision simply stopped working. A game restart fixed it, and it hasn’t happened again, but I have no idea what caused it in the first place.
The more concerning issue is that the Deadly Crimes add on will just randomly restart. A quick Google search shows that this has been an issue for years, that, apparently (though sadly unsurprisingly) Ubisoft has ignored.
Free Running (AKA Parkour)
With the newer games, I’ve gotten used to free running up and down using the same controls. In Syndicate, however, there is a different button for each direction. I’ve been playing for somewhere in the 20-hour range now, and it’s still screwing me up. It just doesn’t feel natural.
In a similar vein, getting on and off of, and transitioning between building elements (ledges, chimneys, etc.) can be difficult. Turning corners is almost impossible. It’s like whatever defines those areas as grabbable has gaps in places, or is misaligned.
There are WAY TOO DAMN MANY collectibles in Syndicate. 680 of them, to be precise. And many are in awkward to reach areas that aren’t visited as part of the story arc. If you aren’t a completionist, then it doesn’t matter. If you are, that’s a ridiculous amount of extra time spent to collect everything. At least I don’t have to find a key each time to open them.
I hadn’t realized how much I’ve come to rely on the bird’s eye view (literally) in the last three games. Trying to find underground entrances, or even, sometimes, just getting the lay of the land, is 10x harder without the darn bird.
…And No Mount
Another missing animal is your personal mount. It’s really nice in Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla to be able to press a button and have a faster mode of conveyance than running. In Syndicate, you can, eventually purchase a gang upgrade that brings a carriage of Rooks to you, and then you can drive the carriage. Unfortunately, that isn’t available for the whole game, and isn’t always useful, or truly useable (think narrow London streets).
Speaking of fighting, the combat mechanics are somewhat clunky in Syndicate. There are elements I love (see below). But, the number of times you have to hit an enemy to kill them, while more realistic than newer games, is a bit tiresome. I’ve racked up 50+ hit combos while fighting a group of enemies. And, while cool, that’s still 50+ button presses that my hands aren’t always super pleased with.
I waver between preferring running controls in newer games and in Syndicate. In Syndicate, you have to hold R2 (the right trigger button) while moving the joystick in order to run. Otherwise you walk, and rather slowly at that. However, in Valhalla — and I think Odyssey and maybe Origins (2017) — the amount you move the joystick determines how fast you move. Small joystick movement is walking, full joystick movement is running.
On the one hand, you can’t accidentally run in Syndicate, which means no worry about giving yourself away at an inopportune time. On the other, it can make the controls clunkier, especially when you’re also trying to fight or free run.
But, What’s Awesome?
OK, I’ve covered what I dislike, but there are quite a few things that are great in Syndicate. Dare I say, better than the newer games? These aren’t in any particular order.
The textures and models seem infinitely better than Valhalla. It feels as though more time and care went into their development. The building textures, for example, have more depth, more layers of dirt, grime, and paint. The character models are fabulously realistic, and the clothing textures make me wish I could sew well enough to make recreations. Really, feast your eyes on this beauty. Remember this game is over 5 years old!
There are a couple of rough areas, like foliage, and, for some reason, at just the right light angle, Evie has a skeleton shadow!!!
The gear options aren’t too different from Valhalla, actually, but I have a small preference for Syndicate’s. I like that I can purchase, craft, and upgrade gear anywhere, as opposed to having to visit the blacksmith. I also prefer the single upgrade in Syndicate as opposed to having to track down craft materials to continue upgrading my gear in Valhalla. I’ll give the win to Odyssey, though. I love how many different pieces of gear there are.
The Main Character(s)
I prefer Evie and Jacob as characters over Eivor, and even over Kassandra (great as she is). It’s personal preference, and likely has a lot to do with their outfits, to be honest. Their humor is more to my taste as well. Their dry wit is a delight. Although, Kassandra is a close second with her sexual innuendo laden dialogue choices.
As a side note, Evie is another female lead that Ubisoft didn’t really market. I’d forgotten just how much “forced” Evie time there is in the game. For those who don’t know, Syndicate lets you choose between the two characters for some missions and free play, then forces you to play as a specific character for some of the missions. In the entirety of the game (including DLCs) you play as Evie for 23 missions and Jacob for 25. In just the main game, the stats are more skewed, with Evie only getting 12 missions to Jacob’s 24, but that’s still 1/3 of the main storyline. And she, like Eivor and Kassandra, is virtually ignored in marketing.
In my opinion, Evie is the better character (and Google shows that plenty of people agree with me). Plus, she has better costumes, better moves (One of her “top level” skill upgrades is to become invisible!!!!), and her cane sword is FANTASTIC. Yeah, I know Jacob can use the cane sword, too, but it really doesn’t feel like it suits him.
I think (I honestly don’t remember Origins super well) that Syndicate was the last game to feature the old style of Eagle Vision where you can leave it on and walk around to spot clues, people, etc. I miss that Eagle Vision. It was so useful.
Evie’s Chameleon Ability
Once you level up all of the main abilities you have access to Evie’s Chameleon ability, where she’s able to virtually disappear when she holds still while crouched. Do I even need to explain how useful — and cool — that is?
Syndicate makes it nearly impossible to fall, which I definitely miss. If you try to jump from a point that will injure you, most of the time, your character will just stumble, like “whoops, can’t do that.” I have managed to jump a couple of times, but I think I may have accidently hit the buttons to do an Eagle Dive. But, considering how many times I fell to great injury in Valhalla, I really appreciate this feature. Ubisoft, bring it back!!
Fight Club (And Fighting in General)
Yes, I know the first rule of fight club, but oh well. Syndicate’s fight club is a ton of fun. I loved it when I first discovered it upon my initial playthrough, and I still love it. You get to just DESTROY NPCs, and it’s great. A fabulous form of stress relief. To me, it stands as a clear inspiration for Odyssey’s conquest battles, which I also adore. Fight club is also the best place to get multi-kills. YouTube user Red KoJack has a video with every possible Evie multi-kill.
With fighting in general, I like the button notifiers above enemy heads. I can get hyper focused on the single enemy I’m fighting and ignore the rest. The pop-up button press alerts and flashing bars indicating an attack are useful for my situational awareness. I believe you can turn those off for people who don’t like them.
Free Running Down
While the controls for free running aren’t great, the actual moving down the buildings is fantastic. Evie and Jacob make it down 5+ story buildings in 2 or 3 jumps. Granted, they aren’t moving up and down rocks, they’re traversing buildings. But, surely Ubisoft could put in strategic rock ledges to allow for the same thing. It’s not like they’re super concerned with reality.
Related to free running, is the much easier method of entering windows. You can just press L1 (the left button above the trigger) to enter, rather than trying to maneuver your character to just the right location to enter the damn window as it continues up, down, or around the building.
The Syndicate story is fabulous. I love the setting (Victorian era England is one of my top 5 favorite periods in history). Meeting, and working with, Queen Victoria was soothing balm to my disappointment of not interacting with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in Unity, and is still a lovely addition now.
In side story arcs, you get to work with Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Alexander Graham Bell, Karl Marx, Florence Nightingale, and Maharaja Duleep Singh. The secondary main story arc is liberating the boroughs of London from the control of the Templar-backed Blighter gang, and offers a load of fun quests.
On top of all of that complexity and depth, you also have some characters for whom you can perform tasks (fights, cargo heists, freeing children, etc.) to increase their loyalty and earn extra rewards.
Wrap It Up!
In general, I just enjoy Syndicate better than Valhalla. I plan to play Odyssey after I finish Syndicate again, and we’ll see how it fares, because I have awesome memories of it, as well.
So yes, Syndicate, much awesome. Much fun. Still a great game. I’m delighted that it occurred to me to play it again.