Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Assassin's Creed: Revelations

Post-Launch Review
Assassin's Creed: Revelations
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Released: November 2011


Assassin's Creed: Revelations is the fourth installment in the open-world historical adventure game series. Revelations again follows Italian master assassin Ezio Auditore, who travels to Masyaf and Constantinople in search of the legacy and secrets of Altair, founder of the modern assassin order. Joining up with the Constantinople assassin guild, Ezio must work his way through a Byzantine conspiracy in order to retrieve the keys to the Masyaf vault, discovering Altair's final story along the way.

Note: this review focuses mostly on the changes and new features rather than evaluating the game on its own, since it's a horrible jumping-on point for new players anyway.

At Launch

Review scores for Revelations averaged at about 80% across all systems. Reviewers tended to agree that the game provides a strong conclusion and sendoff for Altair and Ezio, while only incrementally inching forward in new gameplay developments. Some thought the new gameplay mechanics layered on top of all the existing ones made the game too complex and confusing. Most critics called Revelations more of the same Assassin's Creed, which is good, but they were disappointed there wasn't much new.

Post Launch

Three DLC packs are available: the Ancestors character pack, which adds 4 character skins to multiplayer; the Mediterranean Traveller map pack, which adds maps to multiplayer; and The Lost Archive, which adds new single-player missions focusing on Subject 16, as well as some new gear for Ezio.

The Good

I was pretty disappointed with the story of AC: Brotherhood. I didn't know what the point of this extension to Ezio's story was, and thought we didn't need anything else about Altair and Ezio, and could we just move on already - so when I first heard about Revelations I rolled my eyes and sighed.
Fortunately, Revelations adds some meaningful stuff and feels more like a natural continuation than something tacked-on (like Brotherhood). Oddly, though, despite playing as Ezio for almost the entire game, most of the key plot points are Altair's. There's an especially badass scene where Altair reveals just how much he's learned from the Apple of Eden, but I don't want to spoil that for you. Mostly Altair's missions involve his path to becoming the legendary master assassin and show us the influence he's had on the order's history.
Though, Ezio does get some nice character development to definitively conclude his story. For decades Ezio's been relatively hard-hearted, but near the end of his career we finally see him soften up a bit, and we also learn just how Ezio managed to pass his DNA down to Desmond.
Expanded Notoriety System
In Revelations, the notoriety system has been upgraded in a few really cool ways. First off, posters are gone, so it's harder to get rid of your notoriety - you can only reduce it by killing officials or bribing heralds. Second, you gain notoriety by renovating shops and buying gear, since someone's probably going to notice a sudden rash of property and weapon purchases. Third, when your notoriety is filled up, it doesn't just mean that guards will attack you on sight - it means that committing illegal acts will send a squad of guards to attack one of your assassin bases, because your lack of caution has notified officials of assassin activity in the area. All of this combines to make the notoriety system much more exciting, requiring more caution and tactical thought and strongly discouraging brazen, showy actions.
The Assassin's Creed series is definitely one of the best-looking of the generation, and Revelations is no exception. Yes, it has its problems (the major clipping issues I complained about in past games are still inexplicably present, and civilian models are often quite low-res), but the sheer detail and colour in the character models and environments is stunning. If you play the game, when the camera zooms in on Ezio, take a look at all the tiny intricate details of his costume... and then note that most named characters and buildings have similar levels of complexity and detail. 
Master Assassin Training
Once any of your assassin trainees reaches level 10, they become candidates for the rank of master assassin. Masters can be installed in your dens, permanently protecting them from Templar attacks, aka tower defence minigames. But to reach the rank of master, an assassin must go on a mission with their mentor... Ezio (you!). Each of these missions focuses on a matter important to a city district, typically dealing with a single person causing trouble. What's really refreshing is that your trainees sometimes make mistakes or poor judgment calls, and Ezio has to correct them. Regardless of what happens, many of these missions have two parts: the first introduces the conflict and the second resolves it. You get a little more depth and story than with typical one-shot quests, and it helps to make it feel like things are going on in the city besides your main mission.
Mediterranean Defence
If you've played Brotherhood, you'll remember that you could send your assassin recruits on missions around Europe. Revelations keeps that system but also adds a new element: city control. The assassins' influence over cities lessens constantly as the Templars push back, so you have to keep doing missions to gain and maintain control of the cities of the Mediterranean.
This actually gets really annoying in certain segments of gameplay where you can't access the mission commands - Templars inevitably attack your cities because you can't keep maintaining control when you can't send assassins on missions.
But if it's an annoying feature, why is it in the good section? Well, because it's optional! Controlling cities provides an additional source of income as well as training for your recruits, but it's not necessary at all. You could ignore it entirely. Since that's the case, it's nice to have the extra complexity there if you choose to use it.
New Gear
You get two major pieces of new gear in Revelations: the hookblade and bombs.
The hookblade replaces one of Ezio's hidden blades. It's essentially a normal blade but with a small hook on the end. This hook can be used to extend your reach while climbing, perform a couple of neat new combat tricks like tripping and swinging over guys, and of course flying down ziplines. Some critics complained that it felt lackluster and only amounted to a slight reach extension, but that's fine with me - I prefer movement refinements to layers and layers of extra moves to memorize.
You can find and craft three types of lethal bombs, four tactical bombs, and three distraction bombs. Each type of bomb is further enhanced by a choice of four shells and three gunpowders. The complexity allows you to experiment and select your preferred bomb loadout. The only weakness of bombs is that they overlap with some of your other abilities, and with each other - see the next section for more detail.

The Neutral

The Lost Archive
Oh hey, a DLC pack with new missions! Cool, right? Well...
The Lost Archive includes some new gear for Ezio, and a bonus assassin tomb where you can find and unlock the sword of Vlad Tepes, better known as Vlad the Impaler. It's a cool sword, and quite strong. You also get a couple of outfits, which are cosmetic character reskins that don't affect your stats.
The actual meat of the DLC is... a little lacking. Gameplay-wise, it mirrors Desmond's first-person puzzle-platformer sequence, only you learn about Subject 16 instead. However, all the monologue and story that makes Desmond's missions actually interesting is less present in 16's, so you have long stretches of solving puzzles that aren't really puzzles, just you jumping around and placing platforms until you can reach your destination. Kind of boring.
One thing it does have going for it, though, is a neat alternate ending system. By default, the missions form a loop which just keeps going around and around. However, if you find all the hidden cube thingies, you can 'break the loop' and unlock an alternate ending where 16 breaks free of the cycle. Good idea, but it would've been better if the gameplay were more interesting - I want to go back and get 100% completion but it's just so boring I don't want to spend the time.
A Little Bloated
This is a criticism I've heard levelled at the game, and I was disappointed to find out that it may be warranted. In addition to the dozen weapons already at your disposal, Revelations introduces a bomb crafting system which lets you combine ingredients to create a dozen or so different bomb types, and variations thereof. There's a slew of new movement options and abilities. The assassin recruitment and training mechanics are still there from Brotherhood, but Revelations also adds a tower defence minigame, special full missions with your trainees, and adds control and recapture mechanics to the mission menu.
Things could have been much simplified if Revelations had abandoned much of Ezio's existing gear and abilities to replace them with bombs, which fulfill many of the same roles and overlap with existing gear. Drop  a few of the ranged weapons - does Ezio really need throwing knives, a crossbow, poison darts, and a pistol? Armoured enemies are only insta-killed by gas bombs, not by shrapnel or explosives - so why do shrapnel and explosive bombs even exist?You can toss coins a short range to distract people, but you can accomplish the exact same effect at a distance with a gold coin bomb, so why not remove the toss?
Yes, Revelations does feel a bit bloated mechanics-wise, but it's not quite enough to really be a problem... except in certain circumstances.

The Bad

There are an awful lot of context-sensitive keys. In case you're not aware, the Assassin's Creed series maps head, weapon hand, free hand, and legs to four action buttons. The action each button performs is dependent on context. Most of the time this works, but occasionally it doesn't - and when it doesn't work, you'll want to smash something. As an example, a couple of missions require you to take no damage to earn 100% sync. When your right-click action refuses to change from run to block, that's really a problem (assuming you're playing on PC, I don't know what button it is on consoles).
In retrospect this seems minor, but it was incredibly frustrating at the time, so I thought I'd mention it.
When I first started up the game, I was asked to register it through UPlay. Okay, that's fine, put that code right in there. I was also given a code for the Lost Archive DLC, so I started looking around the UPlay menu for somewhere to enter that, and couldn't find it. It doesn't exist. What you actually have to do is launch the game and enter it there. Took me ten minutes to figure that out.
The Verdict
Recommendation: play it...
...but only if you've played the games that come before. The story of Revelations depends very strongly on knowing who Altair, Ezio, and Desmond are already, and how they got to where they are now. That said, Revelations offers some neat new gameplay elements on top of the excellent AC formula, at the risk of becoming slightly bloated (which has me excited for AC3's fresh start). Like its predecessors, it packs tons of detail into its environments, and tells you tons about the history of its primary city. More importantly, though, it provides great expansions and satisfying conclusions to the stories of Altair and Ezio, leaving the series fully free to explore new assassins and work on Desmond's story.

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