Despite being one of the most broken games in the year of broken games Assassin’s Creed: Unity is actually one of the best in the series when it works. The back to basics cityscape, the new cooperative modes and the glorious revolutionary Paris setting make it a pleasing addition to the franchise.
Now having begged forgiveness from their fans for the mistakes at release, Ubisoft have released the first DLC for the game which sees anti-hero Arno leaving the crowded streets of Paris in favor of the relatively quaint St. Denise, known at the time as Franciade.
While awaiting passage to Cairo our less than likable protagonist finds himself recruited for one last task in France, to retrieve a mysterious treasure, the wealth of kings. Unfortunately for Arno, he is not the only one seeking this treasure, a former ally turned to evil is also on the hunt for the power wielded by this unknown treasure.
On his quest the Assassin reluctantly acquires a new ally, a local orphan who has been trailing the progress of Arno’s competition and believes our hero to be the savior that France needs.
Mysterious treasure, supernatural elements, child sidekick, yeah we’re playing Raiders of the Lost Ark here. In all seriousness though this story does feel like there is some homage to the Spielberg classic in there and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
As with most fully fledged Assassin’s Creed DLC stories, the amount of additional content is considerable. The new environment boasts three fairly sized regions to explore, all with the obligatory Assassin’s Creed’esque tasks to indulge in between missions. Interestingly though, despite the new large open-world, the majority of the six main story missions take us underground, essentially doubling the free-roam environment space.
This subterranean world feels otherworldly in a sense, the story guides us through a series of dimly lit, maze-like, narrow passages, something extremely unfamiliar to fans of the series. This shake up of environment does a lot to add value to the add-on as we get new game-play not found in the base game as opposed to more of the same.
This continues in some of the fight sequences in the less maneuverable environment. While the bad guy numbers are strong, Dead Kings offers a new more tactical way to deal with the groups when all out assault is the wrong course of action. Each group has a leader, assassinate him and the others quickly surrender for fear of suffering the same fate. This offers the player the chance to tactically pick off one or two foes rather than taking on an army on a battleground where exits are few.
Whether this is Ubisoft’s way of saying, “we know the combat can be tedious so here’s another approach”, or maybe just their way of adding new function to allow the DLC to stand out is anyone’s guess but it definitely suits the setting for this particular story.
Adding to the change in combat, there’s a new weapon and it’s a beauty. Resembling the love child of an axe and Adewale’s blunderbuss from Assassin’s Creed IV’s DLC Freedom Cry this weapon makes quick work of the majority of bad guys, though fatal to Arno when used in close quarters.
The main missions themselves are easily some of the more interesting that the series has seen in a while, offering all the hallmarks of a decent Creed game. A pleasant mixture of stealth, environmental puzzles, elaborate combat sequences, the required trail mission and exploration-based challenges all packed into the few hours of game-play that the DLC allows for, it’s actually quite impressive.
That said, Dead Kings tries a little too hard to throw as much in as possible and this has a negative effect on the overall experience. The story’s conclusion can leave you slightly underwhelmed given the intriguing premise and there’s never any real time for the characters to develop, bringing in one particular familiar face from the main story seems out of place, there’s no real justification or explanation for his actions throughout the story besides greed and lust for power.
Where this add-on also fails slightly is where it fits in to the overall story and how the different players will find the experience. Those players that have made it through the core game, albeit with the occasional glitch to endure, and leveled up their Assassin with the best equipment will make quick work of this add-on and find the challenge more than underwhelming. On the other hand those that haven’t will be stuck with a choice, play the add-on and enjoy the challenge but risk playing the story out of sequence or wait and end up in the same situation as the former group of players.
What made Freedom Cry such a great DLC for Black Flag was that while continuing the main story and still tying us to Edwards journey, it took us away from that environment as well. We were given a new Assassin with no advantages brought over from our previous adventure.
Overall Dead Kings will leave many with a sense of ambivalence, on the one hand we have a large new open-world to explore with some great new game-play additions and missions that hit the right note but on the other hand we have a story that doesn’t entirely know where it wants to go, it seems directionless at times and can be quite underwhelming.
This isn’t the saviour that will draw people back to the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but for those that haven’t lost their faith just yet this is well worth a play-through.