Assassin’s Creed – Work in the dark to serve the light, how to properly blend with the crowd

More or less we all remember during AC:Brotherhood the initiation into the Assassin Order for new assassins. The ceremony came in three parts: the speaking of the Creed, the branding of the initiate’s left ring finger, and a Leap of Faith.

Part of the speech included the words “We work in the dark to serve the light. We are Assassins.” but let’s face it, it’s very rare that we play a game where the assassin is true to the Creed.

As I don’t like to reinvent the wheel, I will just paste a quote from the Ubisoft forums:

“We *see* a lot of monastic assassins dedicated to the creed, but we always seem to *be* that one person who disobeys it all. Altair ran against the Creed so hard that his only way to come back in and stay there was to rewrite the rulebook, Ezio just stomped all over it before briefly coming to heel and then flying off shouting “bastardo” and napalming the world’s biggest port, Connor was too busy trying to influence a revolution to be respectful of the Creed (and besides that, he had no Brotherhood), Aveline rebelled against the assassins and her own family (but on balance, good call), Edward kept one foot out of the whole business and played it like punk rock, Arno caught feelings and alcoholism, and Jacob and Evie ignored the prohibition against working in London and broke it all open in the most public way possible. And then there was Shay, and you know how that went. About the only assassins who we saw trying to stay lowkey were Adewale and Lydia.

Now clearly, one of the reasons why the game is almost never loyal to the Creed is the fun factor. Races are fun, fight clubs are fun, hijacking cargoes is fun and … ah yes, robes are cool.

But that ain’t really working in the dark is it?

So how can the game be epic, fun and interesting yet be loyal to the creed?

Multiple outfits

Back in the days of Altair he wasn’t the only one going around cities dressed up in such a particular outfit so it made sense for guards not to notice him when he was doing “business” in public.

But in the other games in the series such as with Arno in Unity, things started to get a little bit … awkward. He was the only one in a crowd of 200 people wearing a hood and it was obvious who he was and what he was.

You wouldn't know who Altair is if he wasn't standing in the middle of the group
You wouldn’t know who Altair is if he wasn’t standing in the middle of the group
So conspicuous - Only one person is wearing a hood
So conspicuous – Only one person is wearing a hood

I admit it, if you’re on the move you’re not THAT conspicuous but when blending? You are, and make no mistake, I love the blending opportunities available to you such as sitting on a bench or folding your arms and dropping your head to stand out less. But I find it funny that a guard seeing something like this doesn’t realise that the one in the middle is the assassin that has been causing havoc a few second earlier:

Just stand against a wall and you won't be noticed
Just stand against a wall and you won’t be noticed

Now according to the Wikia, Arno could customize his robes to appear plainer and thereby increase the amount of time it took for guards to notice him.

This is interesting, I admit I never realised it worked like that, most probably because I very rarely customised Arno in respect to his outfit. But this is more or less what I’m looking at when the assassin is in a public area: a different outfit.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “No! They removed the hood in Syndicate and I almost died, you’re now suggesting to remove the trademark robe, no way!”

Well, not really.

To start with, there would be no need to change things if the game reflected one of the early Brotherhood trailers – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzNs4-kRLaE – where the message an assassin sends is “Here I am, come get me”, but you either want to be a superhero or else you want to respect the Creed and blend with the crowd properly.

And if it has to be the latter, I believe the assassin should blend with the crowd in its truest sense, by having two different outfits, the regular one used in (side/main) missions and a more civilian-like outfit for when you have to investigate areas or simply collect information requiring no or little combat at all such as tailing or eavesdropping on a conversation.

Now remember, with whatever solution I come up with I always try not to force it on the player. So later on I will explain how to approach a number of missions either with what I’m suggesting or else by completely ignoring my idea.

It’s also fair to say that the assassin would still be able to carry some weaponary when dressed in the civilian outfit which you will decide before the mission begins. Again, I will explain differnet scenarios later on in the article.

Now you may ask, if you’re dressed more or less like all other civilians, why would you need to blend with the crowd?

As I said I love crowd blending, I would hate to see it removed and in fact, there’s no reason to do it. If you’re investigating a restricted area, if you’re tailing someone, if you’re eavesdropping on a conversation, you could be spotted. This is when crowd blending would come in handy and it would now make sense to sit down on a bench to blend, having someone come racing past you without even noticing that you are there.

Regular outfit: White robe? Hood? Must be him!
Regular outfit: White robe? Hood? Must be him!
Civilian-like outfit: Who is the assassin?
Civilian-like outfit: Who is the assassin?

In one of my scenarios later on I will discuss tailing. Many of us hated tailing missions, so much that developers made changes to how it works before Unity(http://blog.ubi.com/assassins-creed-unity-9-things-need-know/).

But you’re still restricted and sometimes it just doesn’t make sense, like how on minute 3:40 of this video, two guards walk inches past Edward yet they ignore him simply because he’s surrounded by courtesans.

Now imagine a tailing mission where for example you have to steal a key that the target is always keeping in his pocket. One of your informers would study the target so as to tell you exactly the path the target will take. You would be in a position – before the actual tailing takes place – to research the zone yourself, understand the restricted areas in the zone, the blending opportunities in the zone and it would make sense when equipped with your civilian outfit to sit down on a bench close to where the target will pass and not raise any alarm.

Build a community

ACIII did a very good job with the Homestead, it gave you that sort of Robin Hood and the Sherwood Forest feel if you know what I mean, an isolated place nobody knows about with no guards at all.

Now think about it: how many times do we visit a shop in an AC game?

An isolated community means that many tasks that we usually do in public such as buying weapons, upgrading the armour and getting healed by a doctor are now done inside the community.

Your first task is to actually find an isolated place on the map where to build your community. The second step is to recruit people in the same way Connor did with the Homestead.

I don’t want to go into much detail about the community as I may write an article on it, for now, understand that there’s a price to pay for “working in the dark” inside your community. Weapons, armour, pouches and medicine are not as easily available as they are in shops, you have to craft them.

In fact things could get very interesting here because I’m not suggesting that shops should be removed completely from the game. But if a player decides to purchase items from a shop, the shop owner will alert your enemies who will start keeping tabs on you and if you do this action on a regular basis they would eventually find and attack your community.

You would be able to defend your territory following an attack but in the end you would have to find another hideout as well as recruiting all the members who were killed in the battle.

In other words, avoid shops as much as you can.

The alert system could also work in respect to the type of outfit you’re wearing. The civilian outfit will alert them slightly, but if you step inside a shop with your assassin outfit, then the alert system will increase at a very rapid pace.

Things could get even more interesting if the game offers side missions to lower your notoriety. I’m not looking at removing posters, or bribing someone or reprinting posters. It should be a little bit more tougher than that. It would also be nice if you understand you are being “monitored” by having templars chasing you in the same way assassins chased you in Rogue.

Also, the concept of the “informer” I mentioned in my previous article could be used in this case where the informer could be the one to help you understand how close the templars are to discovering your hideout and he would also be the one to assign side missions to lower your notoriety.

Body disposal

Having just played AC3 recently, at one stage I ended up with more than 20 guards lying on the floor dead. Fellow guards passing by were alerted and panicked a little but it didn’t take them long to go back to their usual patroling routine.

In Unity it’s more shocking – they shrug their shoulders and go on with their business.

Carnage!
Carnage!

A dead body lying around has “I’m here, I killed” written all over it so what I’m suggesting is to dispose of a body as quickly as you can.

Doing it alone may not be the best solution because it slows you down when you’re carrying the body and you could be spotted.

A better, quicker solution, would be to call your recruits. Back in the days of AC2 Brotherhood, AC3 and Revelations, we had up to six recruits who could help us during missions. One of their options could be “body dispose”, you tag the body, you call the recruits and they will take care of hiding the body.

And speaking of body disposal, why not deploy ACIII’s “Covert Escort” solution, in a way that you can steal a guard’s uniform and use it for blending purposes?

Putting it into practice

Scenario #1 – Pickpocketing

Also over at the Ubisoft forums, a user posted a video that made me cringe at how bad the mission design is, especially the optional objective:

It all starts on minute 5, it’s one of those typical steal something from Mr. X missions. Notice how on minute 5m10s two guards in the area spot Jacob even if he did nothing suspicious so he turns and walks away from the area.

Yet, there are 15+ civilians in the area close to Mr. X and his colleagues and they are all happily going on with their business.

It comes natural to ask how on earth is it possible for a trained assassin to struggle so much to infiltrate an area, yet your average NPC is there, inches from Mr. X and without raising any alarm.

With the current system, you could use a smoke bomb, you could kill all those in the area including Mr. X and steal his documents once dead but with so many civilians around, again, that ain’t really working in the dark is it?

With what I’m suggesting you could proceed as follows:

  • Fast travel to your hideout and equip your assassin with the civilian outfit
  • Decide what weapons to carry with you, in this case I would carry absolutely nothing
  • Reach the area, since you’re now one of the many civilians around, they won’t be alerted when you get close to Mr. X
  • Use a recruit to distract Mr. X – example of distraction dialogue: “Hello sir, I’m searching for a job, can you help?”
  • Steal the plans

It’s clever, it’s working in the dark, it’s doing it undetected and it’s realistic.

Back to the old system. Let’s say you use a smoke bomb, you steal the plans and you run away. Granted, they didn’t see you but even the stupid AI of Assassin’s Creed should know that the plans he was carrying are gone. Yet when you reach the Templar hideout marked on whatever map you stole, it seems as if nobody alerted them that the plans have gone missing and that their secret hideout is now known to the Assassins.

Again, as I said earlier, with whatever solution I come up with I always try not to force it on the player. So you are absolutely free to approach this mission in the same way done in the video, what I referred to as the “old system”. Going back to what I wrote earlier, guards will be alerted, they will start keeping tabs on you, but even in this case, you are free to completely ignore the community and play the game as if the community and the different outfits don’t exist.

This of course applies to all the other scenarios I’ll write about.

Scenario #2 – Tail and kill

Here is a mission where you have to first tail, then kill what I will keep calling a Mr. X:

Again, you’re not working in the dark here, I mean it’s not very clever to tail someone in your beautiful, shiny white robe so as to be easily spotted, is it?

Besides, you have to be careful not to get very close to Mr. X or you will be spotted even though you’re not inside a restricted area. Also, killing the two guards accompanying Mr. X undetected is very difficult, in fact a civilian witnessed the whole thing here, the problem is that he just dropped whatever he was carrying and then went on with his business.

Yet, notice how when the target is “vulnerable”, a number of NPCs are in the area meaning that your average NPC is able to approach the target better than you are, a well-trained assassin.

With what I’m suggesting you could proceed as follows:

  • Fast travel to your hideout and equip your assassin with the civilian outfit
  • Decide what weapons to carry with you, this time the target has to be killed, so the hidden blade is a must and two poison darts which can be easily hidden even in your civilian outfit
  • Use the two poison darts – from distance and when hidden in a bush – to get rid of the two guards escorting him. Even if a civilian sees them die, he has no idea who did it
  • When Mr. X is vulnerable, hide in the haystack
  • Use two of your recruits to take care of the two guards close to the tall grass
  • Haystack assassinate your target and take his clothes
  • And, needless to say, hide the body in the haystack

You may ask, how would I know that two guards would escort Mr. X and therefore that I would need poison darts or throwing knives? That would clearly be part of your investigation before the actual mission begins. As a result of your investigation you would know exactly what you have to do, and other valuable information on the mission, such as, in this case, that two guards will escort your target.

By the way, I picked this mission because ironically enough, the end result is to steal Mr. X’s clothes in order to be in incognito at a later stage in the game.

Scenario #3 – Eavesdrop

This is a mission where you have to eavesdrop on the conversation:

Now believe me, I don’t want to sound too harsh but why on earth do you need to move from bush to bush, from haystack to haystack when a number of NPCs are in the area and can also eavesdrop on the conversation?

I know, it’s fun, but it’s not realistic. So why not have the best of both worlds?

With what I’m suggesting you could proceed as follows:

  • Fast travel to your hideout and equip your assassin with the civilian outfit
  • Decide what weapons to carry with you, here you know that you will have to kill some guards so the hidden blade is a must
  • Approach the first part by simply tailing Mr. X, pretending to be a farmer if the system is to be more realistic
  • When you reach the part that starts on 1m20s, ideally a restricted area with no civilians at all, then yes, jump into the haystack, kill the guard, move from bush to bush killing more guards as you progress and complete your mission

It’s still fun but now it’s realistic. You’re tailing Mr. X like a civilian and when you blend with other civilians – like when you pretend to be a farmer – it will make sense because it’s no longer five NPCs in civilian outfits with a white-robed superhero in the middle.

Scenario #4 – Restricted areas

The first three scenarios were more or less all related to investigation: Pickpocketing, tailing and eavesdrop. But sooner or later, action has to start, you will have to infiltrate a restricted area and there you are more than free to do it using the regular assassin outfit.

But now it makes sense.

Being a restricted area there is a big probability that you will be spotted so your hood will help in keeping a more or less incognito state. Also, you need to carry as much weaponary as possible in order to be able to accomplish your mission in a number of different ways.

But, and maybe I’m just being pedantic here, keeping a low profile should also be applied when you want to go from A to B. That is, you still have to reach the restricted area and if we are to keep the game on a realistic level, moving from your hideout to the restricted area in the regular assassin outfit could be suspicious, especially the more you get closer to the area.

This is where your recruits will again come in handy. You would reach the restricted area in your civilian outfit and you would either find your regular outfit hidden in a bush placed there by one of your recruits or you would physically meet one of your recruits with the outfit ready for you on the edge of the restricted area.

One small comment to conclude on this, there will be situations like the “Starving Times” mission in Unity where the restricted area is placed close to a public area. In this case it’s up to the player to decide how to equip the assassin, a solution could be to use the civilian outfit and take along more that just the hidden blade. Guards will be alerted more easily of your presence but not as easily as when you’re in the regular assassin outfit.

To summarize

I understand that the assassin in his beautiful superhero-like outfit is cool and all but it’s also true that sometimes it does look ridiculous and funny. What I’m suggesting is not to remove the outfit all together, it’s a solution that will let the player decide how realistic the game will be.

If you don’t need the hood, if you don’t need your armour, if you don’t need any weapons, keep them at home. Ultimately, we’ve seen it before: Evie and Jacob in “Dance with the Devil”, Connor in “The Foam and the Flames”, Ezio(Revelations) in “The Prince’s Banquet”, etc.

So what is the reason why the assassin leaves his outfit at home for certain missions yet decides to use it in other missions where it’s not needed? My solution allows the player to decide; if you want a realistic approach to the game then the civilian outfit should be used, else, nothing stops you from keeping the assassin outfit on all the time.

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Assassin’s Creed – Work in the dark to serve the light, how to properly blend with the crowd

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