Assassin's Creed Unity is finally available, and the audience seems pretty split on whether that's a good thing. For what it's worth,Tom's Guide adored the game, but didn't get a chance to take a deep dive into the multiplayer until after the public servers went live on Nov. 11. The multiplayer experience in Assassin's Creed Unity is generally ancillary to the main experience, but it can still be a blast if you know how to tackle it.
Multiplayer has been an important part of the Assassin's Creed formula ever since Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood in 2011, but it's always been competitive and relatively stand-alone. In Unity, the multiplayer experience is cooperative, ties into the overall plot and gives you immediate rewards that you can use for the single-player campaign.
Assassin's Creed Unity also employs a number of online features that are not directly related to multiplayer but are necessary for squeezing every last piece of content out of the game. Between co-op missions, the Unity companion app and the Initiates program, the online content in Unity could keep you occupied for a long time to come — if you can get it to work.
The bread and butter of Unity's multiplayer are the cooperative missions. You can grab a few friends and just jaunt around Paris, if you so desire, but you can't undertake any single-player missions together; you can only hunt for a few scattered collectibles. If you want something meaty, you'll have to engage in co-op Missions and Heists.
Cooperative missions are exactly what they sound like: You can team up with up to four friends and go through a side quest, complete with cutscenes, new characters and a variety of objectives. Missions are the usual Assassin's Creed fare — tail this person, assassinate that one, find a useful object in a fortified location — but they take place over much larger areas and throw way more enemies at you.
Heists are slightly different. Rather than coveted Sync Points (which help upgrade your character), heists earn you lots of money, and nothing but. The objective for you and your cohorts is to infiltrate a heavily guarded facility, acquire an object and get back out. The twist is that the more you blow your cover, the less money you'll receive at the end. The missions can be tense and fun, but the rewards never feel quite commensurate with the effort, especially since money is easy to come by elsewhere.
In my experience, the missions are neither outstanding nor terrible. They're regular old Assassin's Creed missions, just on a bigger scale. My qualm with them is that unless you play them under very specific circumstances, they're not much fun.
The trouble with cooperative games is that, unlike their competitive (even team-based) brethren, communication is key. If you go off and do your own thing, you don't just endanger yourself; you endanger the whole mission.
I first jumped into the cooperative missions in public lobbies, and played with anyone who came my way. This proved to be a mistake. For the most part, players would jump in, and jump out 2 seconds later. In the span of a 15-minute mission, I had at least five other players join and quit, leaving me to tackle a mission meant for multiple people all by myself. It wasn't easy.
It's hard to say whether these players left because of Unity's server problems (which, to be clear, does not excuse Ubisoft's having server problems in the first place) or because they were bored with the mission parameters. What's clear, however, is that Unity is a brand-new game, and this is likely as populous as the servers are going to get. If playing with strangers is impossible now, it may not get much better later.
Unite With Friends
There is one very easy way to make Assassin's Creed Unity's cooperative missions about 10 times more fun, and that's to play with friends. Unity's multiplayer tools are robust, and let you start a Social Club so that you and your friends can adventure together on a whim. Their avatars will even show up in your safe houses when you're not playing together.
Communicating with friends turns missions from citywide brawls into tightly coordinated stealth maneuvers. While I couldn't go a single mission without someone (usually me) wandering right into an eagle-eyed guard's path in a game with strangers, a friend or two and a microphone was all it took to set things right. For Heist missions, where stealth is tied to your reward, this is even more vital.
Assassin's Creed Unity's multiplayer is chaotic with strangers, fun with friends, very similar to the rest of the game and not wholly necessary if you can't or don't want to do it. It's telling that perhaps the best thing about it is that it grants you useful rewards for the single-player campaign. Divert yourself for a little while, and then get back to the meat and potatoes of the experience.
Companion App and Initiates
The Assassin's Creed Unity app is available for free on both iOS and Android, so if you have the game and a smartphone or tablet, it's worth a download. In theory, it offers a number of simple glyph puzzles that, when solved, give you access to special rewards in the main game.
In practice, though, it doesn't work for many players. One of the key features of the app (like the Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag app before it) is the ability to recruit assassins into the Nomad Brotherhood and send them out on various missions for fun and profit. In fact, you have to do this at least once to even get past the tutorial. I have been unable to do so, as my Nomad Brotherhood menu is grayed out and inaccessible.
Ubisoft says that it is working on fixes for this and similar problems, but until then, the app is useless to me. I can still access the database, Arno's gear and heat maps to show how other players tackled tough missions, but they're not terribly useful.
The Initiates program is similarly a mess right now. By linking your games with Ubisoft's Uplay servers, you can keep track of your Assassin's Creed progress and reap the rewards, no matter which platform you play on. Each mission you accomplish in any Assassin's Creed game gives you experience, and your experience level gives you access to certain rewards in Unity, such as costumes from prior series' protagonists.
The only trouble is that, like the companion app, it does not work. For one brief, glorious night, Initiates synced all of my data from previous games (each one played to completion), and I traipsed all around Paris, collecting my rewards. Then, my level reset to 1, and Initiates now claims that I have never before played an Assassin's Creed game in my life.
Again, Ubisoft claims that it is working to solve these problems, but by the time it gets its servers straightened out, players may have already finished Unity's main campaign, or gotten close enough. It's disappointing, since last year's app added a lot to Black Flag.
Assassin's Creed Unity's multiplayer and online features don't detract anything from the game, but they don't add much, either. That's a shame, because if they had launched in pristine condition, they could have added a lot. For now, keep an eye on Ubisoft's live blog for updates on when players can expect their $60 AAA game to run like a $60 AAA game.