As expected, a few new details about Assassin's Creed: Unity have emerged since Ubisoft's E3 conference. We've updated our guide with Digital Foundry's early impressions of this first next-gen Assassin's Creed game, and there's a change of studio for the franchise going forward as well.
Leaked a little early and then officially fanfared at E3 earlier this month, Assassin's Creed: Unity is the next proper Assassin's Creed game to be developed by Ubisoft Montreal before development duties for the franchises are handed over baton-like to the Quebec office.
For the next Assassin's game, Montreal has opted to eschew the likes of Renaissance Italy and the seven seas in favour of a Paris poised for revolution. Think of earlier Assassin's titles, then, but with bad make-up, big hard and heads on sticks - that sort of thing - and you've got a pretty fair measure of the game.
The assassin and the setting
Evidence for this new setting has actually been around for a little while now. Close observers capable of sitting through the sprawling credits of a typical Ubisoft game might have spotted subtle references to both the French and US revolutions peppered across the closing background of 2010's Brotherhood. (If nothing else, it shows just how many games you can work on concurrently when you employ 2500 people for every one person making, say, No Man's Sky.)
Into this pre-revolution night steps Arno Dorian, Unity's protagonist. A Versailles peasant of mixed French-Austrian descent, Arno sets out to unravel and expose the true source of power behind the revolution while steadily working his way through the union ranks as he does so. For the world itself, Ubisoft's promising a gameplay area of unprecedented scale and scope, which means it will be pretty big considering what's come before in the series, with seamless transitions between the world itself and the opulent interiors that house the endangered aristocracy.
In addition to the single-player story, up to four musketeers can be controlled in a co-op campaign - a first for the series, and a mission system that's accessed via tavern-like social hubs within the game. Inside these taverns you will spy ghostly versions of your online friends and approaching them instigates a co-op play request. Should you find yourself all alone in the tavern, you can still work through the missions by yourself.
Ubisoft expects this co-op content to represent approximately one third of the game's overall content, and a video shown off at the publisher's E3 showcase earlier this month demonstrates just how co-op play works in practice. In the example shown, a pack of assassins silently weaves its way through the shadows of a palace, before sending the target toff tumbling down towards a sticky end.
As for the breadth of these co-op missions, we have very few details beyond some rough mission categories: simple assassinations, the prevention of executions and special protection directives. The developers have, however, stated their intention to draw from a wide roster of famous - not to mention infamous - characters of the era to populate their story, and King Louis XVI and the Marquis de Sade are two names that have been floated publicly.
Digital Foundry's first impressions
If you're wondering how much of a technical toll Unity's going to take on your PC, PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, Digital Foundry took a strictly hands-off look at the PC version of the game at the end of last month. Early impressions are positive, with a new cloth physics engine that allows Arno's cloak to billow around him impressively, and a host of new fleet-footed animations that allow him to dart between building ledges much more fluidly.
As for the non-playable characters of Paris, we've seen a boost to both the numbers on screen and their individual intelligence. While previous games in the series have accommodated hundreds of AI participants on screen at any one time, Unity introduces thousands of them, all of whom behave just a little more realistically. Whether the target render of 1080p can be achieved, and the 20-50fps locked down to something a little more stable while all this activity is going on, is something we'll have to wait to find out.
We know that the established stealth mechanics of the previous games are being retained for Unity, but Arno does have a few new tricks up his presumably frilly sleeve. As well as a more robust navigation system, new parkour-like moves will become available as you make progress through the game. There will be less dependency on haystacks, in other words, and much more freedom to reach your objective in a manner of your own choosing.
For the game's combat systems, the developers are taking fencing as an inspiration, although it's safe to assume they're thinking of something a little ickier than the points-based to-and-fro most of us conjure up when we think about the sport. The stated intention for Unity is to make you think and work harder for your kills than in previous games, dodging and parrying your way to a more satisfying victory.
Unity's new weapon
As for the familiar Hidden Blade, it returns with new functionality in the form of the Phantom Blade, a weapon capable of firing a deadly shot over considerable range with barely a whisper. With the introduction of skill trees for the first time, Arno will also have access to the Eagle Pulse ability, allowing him to detect the number of guards present at any given infiltration site.
It's likely Ubisoft wants the four-player co-op feature to enjoy its time in the spotlight for now, and so we're left with a lot of unanswered questions about Unity. We know the Abstergo Entertainment system is gone, but how exactly will the modern-day section of the story play out? How much overlap will there be with earlier games and familiar faces? How will the developers resolve the series' outstanding cliffhangers?
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We will no doubt learn the answers to at least some of these questions - not to mention details of the rumoured last-gen Assassin's Creed - between now and Assassin's Creed: Unity's 28th October release date. We'll update this article as and when those announcements are made.