Assassin’s Creed – Bringing back research and investigation to the series

In one of the blog posts I wrote last year I jotted down some ideas on how to improve the enemy AI and at the same time introduce elements of research, investigation and assassin personalisation.

As I was re-reading the post I realised that I could have definitely explained better what I have in mind so I decided to rewrite the blog post and to take advantage of this to add some more elements that I wanted to include in the original post.

We all agree that back in the days of AC1 the game was very repetitive but – at least I still do – we still talk and remember the game as being special, in a league of its own. And it happens often to read comments by fans of the series who say, “that is when I felt like an assassin” when they remember the good old days of Altair.

The latest entry of the Assassin’s Creed series, Syndicate, very rarely made me feel like an assassin, I felt more like a superhero who knows everything and can kill everyone in a heartbeat.

Besides, I found the below issues pretty annoying as I progressed further:

1. Lack of variety

I counted no more than eight different type of enemies in the game and with the only exception of the sniper who can kill you from distance, all enemies act in the same way and can also be killed in the same way.

2. The AI level is just a number

Jacob/Evie can kill a Level 10 enemy even if their level is 1. Also, it’s funny how enemies dressed in exactly the same way and equipped with the same weapon can have different levels.

3. You know the level of the enemy with Eagle Vision

I understand Eagle Vision is a very powerful feature of the game but seriously, understanding the level of an enemy by just using Eagle Vision is way too easy.

4. Evie = stealth, Jacob = combat? Not really.

When I unlocked Evie’s invisibility skill by mistake, I switched to Jacob to complete the remaining side missions yet sticking to a stealthy approach and I noticed very little difference between the two.

5. The skill tree to upgrade your assassin

In the game you earn experience points that you can use to unlock certain skills regardless of the way you approach the game. For example you may complete a number of main/side missions in stealth mode without ever engaging in combat yet you then spend the earned skill points on the “multi-finisher” combat skill. In other words, why should an assassin spend hours completing missions in stealth mode to then upgrade a combat attribute?

6. The game doesn’t ask for a second playthrough

Play it, complete it, forget about it. That’s the reaction of many to Syndicate, including myself. When I did try to replay already-completed missions by applying self-imposed rules, I realised that it was still the same as my first playthrough. With what I”m proposing below, I believe a player will enjoy an almost complete different experience on his second and third playthrough.

The Solution

In my opinion, one of the reasons why we “felt like an assassin” in AC1 is research and investigation: we had to collect data, we had to plan, we had to investigate and only after going through all of that we were ready to finally assassinate the target.

I would bring that back in the form of three steps where all the information collected will be saved in a log:

  • Enemy research
  • Enemy investigation
  • Area investigation

Enemy research

The open world should ideally include more than just eight different type of enemies with no information available about them at the start of the game. This means that as the game progresses, your task will be to actually find all these different types of enemies.

Before moving forward, let’s analyse three of them to understand what information you need to collect:

I will of course explain the enemy’s level, custom armour and custom head protection later on, for now let’s take it one step at a time, starting on how you can actually find the different type of enemies in the game:

By roaming the map
Just like Watch Dogs 2, I expect the open world to be available as soon as the game starts and this would give us the possibility to research a number of enemies

During missions and side missions
Starting a side mission is a clever way to research a lot of enemies grouped in the same area. It is dangerous, especially if a lot of high-levelled enemies are patroling the area, but not impossible.

By using the Pet Eagle
If rumours about the next game are true, you will have an eagle under your control. If you unlock the enemy research skill of your eagle, you will be able to use it to quickly research enemies

There is no need to be face to face with your enemy in order to complete a research but you have to be close enough to understand the type. Maybe you could also use a tool similar to Edward’s naval eyeglass to keep at a distance, for sure is that when you have a visual you can use Eagle Vision (or a button as it was the case in ACIII’s “Encyclopedia of the Common Man”) to add the enemy to your log.

And if we are to check the log after researching the above three enemies, we will find this information:

This is because research will only tell you the type; to discover the level, custom armour and custom head protection you have to investigate the enemy.

Enemy investigation

Watch Dogs 1 included crime detection events where as you’re roaming the map a notification pops up on the screen to alert you about a detected crime. I would introduce a similar system in Assassin’s Creed which would alert you when a researched enemy can be investigated.

Your job – if you decide to investigate the enemy – is to tail him until he reaches a restricted area where your task is to reach a specific spot inside the area without being detected in order to closely investigate the enemy. Needless to say, unlike researching, you have to be very close to the enemy to understand the level and other attributes.

At the end of investigation, the information in the log will be complete:

I will explain later on how the level of the assassin comes into play, for now, understand that if your assassin’s level is 3, the “Agile Ottoman” is the only enemy you can kill because he’s the only one with a level that is lower or equal to yours.

Area investigation

So far we saw what is required to research and investigate enemies but why should you do this? It is needed because before you assassinate a target or maybe steal an object you have to investigate the area to understand the best possible path to reach your target.

Let’s see an example (I suggest you click the image to see it enlarged):

I will not go in detail about any research you have to do to actually find the area, that’s outside the scope of this blog post although going back to AC1 maybe even to just find the area you would need to look for clues such as “your target is inside an area with a very big red, white and blue flag with a golden anchor in the middle”.

Let’s instead keep our focus on the enemies and here I”m assuming that every person in the picture is an enemy guarding the area.

Our target is the red “X” and from this viewpoint we can see that the left-hand path of the restricted area is guarded by five guards(marked in blue), the middle path is guarded by seven(marked in orange), including a sniper at the top of the hut and the right-hand path is guarded by only two guards(marked in violet).

Below is a lighter representation of the above zone, a picture similar to what will go in your log the more you investigate the area. I kept the blue, orange and violet colours to understand the three different paths we can take to reach the target:

Remember how earlier on we assumed the current assassin level is set to 3? Based on the information collected we know that:

1. The violet, right-hand side is the easiest path since it’s only guarded by two level 1 enemies but I would still need to enter the orange, middle path at some stage to reach the target

2. The orange, middle path is heavily guarded and it will be exteremely tough to reach the target if I decide to take on five enemies whose level is higher than mine

3. The blue, left-hand path seems to be the most logical path to take, also because I can reach my target without entering the orange path but unfortunately there is an enemy I”m yet to research so I don’t know his level.

Based on the area investigation, your options are:

1. Take the left path and take a risk, hoping that the level of the unknown enemy is lower than yours
2. Find another path, although we have seen that such an option, in this case, is not possible
3. Take the left path, kill the first four guards and then sneak past the unknown enemy to reach your target
4. Take the left path, kill the first four guards, stay undetected to research the unknown enemy, leave the area to investigate him and come back when the level is known

At this stage you may ask: If as per option #3 you can sneak past the unknown enemy of the blue path, why not sneak past all the enemies of the orange path?

It should of course be possible, in fact it’s a type of assassin you can decide to be, a “Splinter Cell” if you like, but you will need a lot of patience and time to actually reach your target without being detected. Incidentally, this type of assassin can complete missions without knowing anything about his enemies.

Let’s now look a different scenario:

This time, the number of unknown enemies in the blue path are three so your options are:

1. Take the left path and take a risk, hoping that the level of the three unknown enemies is lower than yours
2. Find another path, although we have seen that such an option, in this case, is not possible
3. Take the left path, kill the first two guards and then sneak past the rest
4. Take the left path, kill the first two guards, stay undetected to research the first unknown enemy, leave the area to investigate him, come back when the level is known and repeat two more times until you have investigated all enemies
5. Take the left path, kill the first two guards, find three good spots to research all three unknown enemies, leave the area to investigate them and come back when their level is known

At this stage you may ask what is the difference between option 4 and 5? If you opt for option 4, you only need to research one enemy before leaving the area to start investigating and here I fully understand that everything would become way too repetitive if you decide to take cover, research, leave, investigate, return and then do the same two more times.

Option 5 eliminates such a repetitive loop as it would allow you to research only once but it’s risky. As I said earlier there is no need to be very close to an enemy to research him so this option is less risky than option 3 but you still need to be at an acceptable distance and if you get spotted and killed at some stage during research, even if it is after successfully researching the first two enemies, all collected information will be lost and you would have to start from scratch.

In all fairness, there is a sixth option you could opt for: the Pet Eagle if the enemy research skill is unlocked. If this skill is not unlocked, the eagle can still be useful as you would use it to get a good look at the three unknown enemies, take notes of how they look like(yes, I mean the old traditional pen and paper system) and instead of researching them by entering the restricted area, you would then research them by going in the open world hoping to meet them during free roaming.

And also let’s not forget the possibility of deciding to leave the area and to only come back after adding more enemy information to the log.

The Assassin’s Level

By now you know that before entering a restricted area you have to research and investigate enemies in order to understand if you’re strong enough to complete your objective.

Unlike Syndicate, the assassin does not have just one level, but multiple attributes each having their own level.

Some attribute examples are:

This determines how much noise you will make when approaching a target either on the ground or from above. If this level is lower than your target’s level, the target will hear you when you try to perform an (air) assassination.

Throwing knife damage
If the level of this attribute is equal or higher than the enemy level, one knife is enough to kill him

Throwing knife precision
This determines the size of the marker that appears on the screen when you want to throw a knife.

Throwing knife range
Just because the throwing knife damage attribute is higher than the enemy’s level it doesn’t mean that I can kill him from anywhere. If this level is not very high then I have to be relatively close kill my target.

This determines whether the assassin can kill from a hiding spot: haystack, ledge, corner, well, etc. If this level is lower than your target’s level, the target will notice you when you try to assassinate him from a hiding spot.

Determines the weapons you are able to carry and use. If this level is 2 you will not be able to use a weapon requiring level 3 and you won’t be able to engage in combat with >L3 targets.

Let’s analyse a particular type of assassin:

Noise Throwing knife damage Throwing knife precision Throwing knife range Agility Combat Eagle Vision Health
3 3 3 6 2 2 Low Low

Based on this information, we know that I trained my assassin for stealth and that:

1. I can (air) assassinate an enemy whose level is 1, 2 or 3 because the enemy will not hear me.

2. I can kill an enemy whose level is 1 to 6 with a throwing knife but the knife marker will be small so I have to be very careful when aiming for a headshot. Also, I have to be relatively close to him or else my throwing knife will not travel long enough to kill.

Let’s now analyse a different type of assassin:

Noise Throwing knife damage Throwing knife precision Throwing knife range Agility Combat Eagle Vision Health
0 0 0 0 4 7 Low Low

Based on this information, we know that I trained my assassin to be a combat machine and that:

1. I can kill in combat an enemy whose level is lower than 8

2. I cannot (air) assassinate enemies but if I am able sneak and reach a hiding spot, like a haystack, I will be able to kill enemies whose level is lower than 5

All of this means that when you investigate an area, the enemy level is not the only aspect you have to take in consideration before choosing the path but also elements such as where you can take cover, where you can hide in haystacks, where you can blend with the crowd by sitting down, etc.

For example, if we are to go back to the previous image from Black Flag describing an example of area investigation and assuming that I trained my assassin to be “stealthy”, hence using throwing knives to perform assassinations, I know that the left path has some barrels and boxes I can hide behind to assassinate the three guards grouped together, meaning that there is no need for my throwing knife range attribute to be very high as long as my throwing knife damage attribute level is equal or higher than the enemy level.

I also know that the left path has no haystacks where I can hide so I have to be extremely careful not to engage in combat because my combat level is very low.

Cause and Effect

Over at the Reddit sub some weeks ago we discussed the “cause and effect” design to be available in the next game. This can be adopted for the system I’m describing in a way that as the game progresses, an assassin attribute level equal or higher than an enemy level may not be enough to kill your target.

For example, if you kill a lot of enemies with throwing knives headshots, at some stage, they will add or improve their head protection and to kill them with a throwing knife you have to actually upgrade the throwing knives by finding ingredients and crafting the material.

Going back to the “Janissary” enemy type, at some stage he will start wearing a great helm to protect his head and straight away your log will be updated to make you aware of this change and to also let you know what ingredients you need in order to craft a throwing knife upgrade capable of crushing the material of the great helm.

This means that to kill a Level 5 “Janissary” with a custom head protection with a throwing knife, not only you have to reach a “Throwing knife damage” attribute level of 5 but you also need to find the right ingredients and craft the required throwing knife upgrade.

Border line scenarios

What if your assassin’s “Throwing knife damage” attribute level is 8 and the level of the enemy you want to kill with a throwing knife is set to 9?

Or else, what if your assassin’s “Combat” attribute level is 5 and the level of the enemy you want to kill is 7?

It is clear that certain attributes will still allow you to kill your target even if your level is not high enough. To take the throwing knife example, there should be some sort of algorithm which would allow you to accomplish your task with, let’s say, 2x headshot throwing knives.

I mean, it makes no sense at all to throw 50 headshot throwing knives and the level 9 enemy keeps walking around as if nothing happened just because your throwing knife damage is set to 8.

For combat, maybe a system similar to Styx: Master of Shadows could be adopted, where if your combat level is lower than the enemy’s, you would need to parry his attacks multiple times before being in a position to kill him.

All of this does not apply to attributes such as noise, if your noise level is set to 3 and you try to (air) assassinate a level >4 enemy, he will hear you and move to avoid the hidden blade.

Upgrading the Assassin’s attributes

I’m looking at a very simple way to improve each and every attribute of your assassin.

It is clear that to move from level 1 to level 2, you will have to complete a relative easy training mission but to move from level 5 to 6, 6 to 7, etc. things will get tougher.

For example to upgrade throwing knife precision you would have a training mission where you have to hit a ball that is swinging from one tree to the other. Another training mission to upgrade the same feature would be four of your own people grouped together and you have to hit only one of them. Or maybe one of your people jumping from one building to the other and you have to hit him during the leap.

By completing (side) missions

You will earn experience points the more missions you complete that can be used to improve your attributes.

A background algorithm
Besides training, agility is one of those attributes that can be calculated automatically. If you kill 50 enemies from a hiding spot, the background process will add points to your agility level automatically.

Wouldn’t such a system become way too repetitive the more you progress?

Maybe, which is why I would add informers and spies that you can add to your brotherhood.

An informer’s job is to investigate enemies and a spy’s job is to investigate areas.

Informers and spies can be added to your brotherhood by completing side missions and the tougher the side mission is, the more experienced the recruit will be.

Experience is very important as it will determine how long a recruit will take to complete the assigned task.

Going back to the area investigation example with the three unknown enemies, after research is complete, you may decide to investigate one of the three enemies yourself and assign two informers to take care of the remaining two. All of this adds an element of teamwork in the game, similar to the recruits available to Ezio and Connor in Brotherhood, Revelations and ACIII.

Regardless of the approach adopted by the player, one informer has to be added to the brotherhood as he will be the one to investigate enemies for armour and head protection upgrades.

And if I want it easy?

I understand such a system is not for everyone as you would spend most of the time researching and investigating with little or no action involved.

If you want to quickly update the log with enemy information, you can roam the map to find and open chests to have enough coins to buy what I’m sarcastically calling the “book of books”, a book having all information you need on all enemies in the game.

In respect to upgrading your assassin, when you start a training mission you will get a screen where one of the options is to skip training in exchange of coins. In a blink of an eye you will be able to upgrade all attributes of your assassin.


Why did I say that a second and a third playthrough will be as equally fun as the first? Simple because for your first playthrough you would personalise your assassin according to how you prefer to play the game, for example focusing on noise and throwing knives, for the second playthrough you may focus on agility, to complete as many missions as possible by using hiding spots and for your third playthrough you may opt for a combat machine.

On your first playthrough you may decide to use your informers and spies to gather information. On your second playthrough you may decide to be an Altair and do everything without any help. And on your third playthrough you may decide to always use the Pet Eagle.

Combinations are almost endless and it’s not the game telling you how you should approach missions and what tools to use, it’s up to you to decide how.

Assassin’s Creed – Bringing back research and investigation to the series

The Assassin’s Creed series is changing but hopefully it’s not all doom and gloom – ideas on how to improve the open world

By now I’m sure all of you heard the recent comments made by Ubisoft’s chief creative officer Serge Hascoet in which he described the next entry in the Assassin’s Creed series as a game that will focus on the open world rather than on scripted stories.

This left me with a mix of emotions, from excitement, to skepticism to concern.

Initially I was very excited by the news because as much as I love the series, it’s been clear since Unity that things had to change, the formula that made this series so fun and interesting – main campaign + side missions + collectibles – started to become a little bit repetitive and, allow me to say, boring.

And as if this wasn’t enough, the story – especially the Modern Day – became almost non existent after Desmond’s death.

My excitement changed to skepticism after reading the reaction of many who are bitterly disappointed as they believe that this will mean the end of the series as we know it, at least in respect to the narrative.

In the meantime I started Watch Dogs 2 and even though Serge Hascoet said AC will be the first game to implement this new formula, I did feel that WD2 already implemented something similar in a way that after a few minutes San Francisco is open to you and you are free to do whatever you want, even ignoring completely the so-called main campaign.

This worried me a little.

Although the open world in WD2 is fun, it seems that the story just isn’t there and that’s when concern kicked in as I don’t want AC to become just a “fun game”, after all, that’s what Syndicate was all about, a fun game with the AC formula and a very poor story that I played and immediately forgot after achieving the 100% sync and Platinum trophy.

That is, I very rarely talk about something that happened in the game and when I do it’s almost always about the Kenway Mansion mission(more on this later on).

Rewind to Assassin’s Creed 1 and I see how almost a decade after its release I still talk about the enigmatic and cryptic writings left by Subject 16 with his own blood, about how the story evolved in later games and that’s because that’s what made me love the series; the story, the mystery, the cliffhangers.

By this I’m not saying that Ubisoft should stick to the old formula or that something extremely bad is coming to the series, I actually believe we should look forward with optimism as we could get the best of both worlds if changes are implemented correctly.

To start with, I would of course keep the main campaign as we know it, a number of sequences with a very solid story that ideally spans across a number of cities.

What I would eliminate is the way side missions have been presented to us in the series, like for example in Syndicate where the Child Liberation, Bounty Hunt, Templar Hunt and Gang Stronghold activities are always the same, albeit in different areas of London.

Or how in Assassin’s Creed III, complete strangers gave you courier or delivery tasks to complete.

I would instead introduce a lot more variety, a number of “mini stories” and many different ways of how players can gather experience, money, and allies, yet, making sure that all these side activities are directly linked with the main campaign.

And most importantly, you find such activities not by checking your icon-flooded map but either by talking to people or by discovering the open world yourself.

Incidentally I’m looking at a game that is even more focused on the main story, so when you open your map all you will see is the main campaign icon and icons such as where the HQ and undergrounds are. The rest? It should be available in a log.

Just like in WD2, the open world will be open to you after the first few minutes of the game – maybe after an introduction by the mentor who briefly explains who are the assassins, who are the templars, the brotherhood, the creed and of course, the ultimate objective (of the game) – and then it’s up to you to decide how you will find the experience, the money and the allies to complete the main campaign.

When I talk about allies I don’t mean just recruits to assist you in the same way they did for example in ACIII but also people you can assign tasks to, such as the informers and spies I wrote about in my first article.

Below is a complete list of activities I would introduce – some of them touch on what I wrote in my previous articles:

Also in my first article I wrote about introducing attributes and levels to the gameplay. These can be either improved by completing missions or else by training. Now here I’m not necessarily saying that training is obligatory if you are to advance in the main campaign but definitely, it would help.

Tour the City
This is also linked to my first article where I explained that enemies need to be researched before taken down. A tour of the city would allow you to discover all the different types of enemies and gather the required knowledge to understand how to defeat them. It’s not recommended to advance in the main campaign without any knowledge on your enemies.

Visit the library at the Assassin’s HQ
This is probably the only activity not directly linked with the main campaign but I would add a library with a number of books on all the previous assassins of the series for those players who either want to refresh their memory or players who are 100% new to the series. One of the most beautiful moments in Syndicate, for me, was when Evie and Henry infiltrated the Kenway Mansion to continue the search for the Piece of Eden in the “Playing It by Ear” mission. It was a very nice trip down memory lane and I feel that recent games failed to link with the first few games in the series. The library would make this possible.

Help NPCs
The way you could recruit assassins in previous games, like AC:Revelations offered some sort of variety but the whole thing did feel a little bit rushed. Also, recruits didn’t play a fundamental role in your quest, I go back to ACIII and all the tasks that recruits could do. In the end I always used the “assassinate” task, always ignoring the rest, simply because I never thought they would be useful.

This time around I would give more weight to your recruits and to also give each and every one of them a background, a story, similar to how it was implemented in ACIII with your district contacts and the conversations in the tavern but on a much larger scale.

My idea is to have what I’m referring to as a “mini story” to recruit someone. Imagine a lady stopping you as you’re riding your horse, telling you that her husband has been kidnapped. She would explain why he was kidnapped, by whom, in poor words it will give you a reason to free him.

And your task is not just to locate an icon placed on the map to free her husband, you have to perform a number of tasks.

  • Understand where he was taken and this could be done by analysing clues like we did in Unity’s Murder Mysteries.
  • Understand if you’re strong enough to infiltrate the area where the husband is kept and to find out the type of enemies guarding the area. If you’re not, you might have to improve your attributes.
  • Free the husband and after completing the mission he will offer to join your team after telling you more about his story.

This would give us the possibility to interact with NPCs in a proper way, not just watching them walking around or playing cricket, which is nice, mind you, but not enough.

Also, missions could have different difficulty levels where easy missions(like the one above) reward you with an inexperienced ally and hard missions would reward you with a very experienced ally. Hard missions would be even more difficult to find, such as finding a diary or a letter in a specific area of the map that will only be visible to you if you get closer. In the end, finding a very experienced ally means that you have to go through all of this:

  • Find the diary/letter
  • Understand the clues in the diary/letter to understand who the person is
  • Reach the native city of this person to analyse clues and talk to people
  • Research the area where this person is hidden
  • Learn that you need a key to reach this person so find the guard carrying the key
  • Steal the key
  • Understand if you’re strong enough to infiltrate the area where this person is kept
  • Free the person

To conclude on this, another way to find people are the undergrounds I covered in my last article where the people inside the underground could tell you about someone who went missing and where to find her/him.

Invest in a business
During ACIII I remember how once I stopped at the Boston docks observing a fishmonger wondering that it would be nice if we could actually invest in his business in order to generate revenue. In previous games this was done by simply upgrading buildings and watching the revenue grow. I would take this a little bit further in a way that players will have multiple business to invest into and depending on the business type a number of missions will be available.

For instance, investing in the fish business will open a number of activities, mainly naval, such as:

  • Go fishing – we sort of did it before with Edward and Shay in taking down sea creatures such as sharks or whales
  • Protect your business from a competitor
  • Print advertising
  • Upgrade your ship in case you decide to embark in protected areas

On the other hand, if you invest in the lumber business you will have to provide wood, a cart, the tools, etc. to your workers. Similarly, you would have to go hunting if you invest in the tailor business. ACIII’s Encyclopedia of the Common Man is a nice way to understand all the businesses one could invest into.

Treasure hunt
In my last article I wrote about the introduction of undergrounds scattered around the city and how you could have interesting conversations with the people inside. One type of conversation could be, again, about a hidden treasure and its location. It would then be up to you to understand where it’s hidden to dig it up. And why not, your hunt could span across multiple cities, rewarding you with a very strong weapon/armour if found.

And here as well, along the way you may find someone who is also searching for the treasure, this person will tell you more about the weapon or armour you are after and when found you have to decide whether to sell it and share the revenue, keep it or let the other person keep it.

Similar concept to previous games but again, stories should have a little bit more detail. In Black Flag, one of the first Assassin contracts says that “a corrupted officer is stealing money to fund Templar operations”, you accept it, you kill your target and you get the reward. Knowing more about the officer, knowing more about the people he is stealing from and knowing more about these templar operations would give such a small side mission a reason to accept it.

Liberate Outposts
This is very similar to how it’s implemented in Far Cry but I would link it to the player’s notoriety. Opting for a stealth approach during the game will keep your notoriety down and you will have little or no problem at all moving from one place to the other. If, however, you opt for a more conspicuous approach, your notoriety will start going up and your enemies would block you in a number of areas in the city. You either fight them off or else take over their outpost in that particular area in order to make sure that they won’t block you in the future.

I’m sure more ideas will pop into my head but the conclusion is that, yes, let’s focus on player stories, let’s make the world more believable, let’s have the main campaign change on the decisions I take(investing in a fish business vs a lumber business) but the mystery, the enigmatic and cryptic messages, well, those should stay because that’s what made me love the series.

The Assassin’s Creed series is changing but hopefully it’s not all doom and gloom – ideas on how to improve the open world

Assassin’s Creed – The importance of having a community and that family feel between its members

In my previous article, “Work in the dark to serve the light, how to properly blend with the crowd”, I touched upon the subject of the human aspect of the game when I wrote about having a full-blown community as part of the game, a community that could be attacked by Templars in order to give you a reason to take good care of it.

It was actually an old game in the series, ACIII, that made me realise the lack of family feel in recent games. It has never been one of my favourites because when I tried to play it a couple of years ago it was so buggy that I gave up a number of times before deciding not to complete it.

But this summer I gave it one very last chance and I loved it; I loved the game, I loved Connor and I loved the homestead side missions and the family feel between its members. I always remember with a grin the conversation between Ellen and Prudence when they talk about men or Norris’ attempts to court Myriam.

Now I feel that recent games, especially Syndicate, left a lot to be desired in this area. The Rooks, led by Jacob and Evie, felt more like robots waiting for instructions and I was also disappointed with the relationship with associates like Robert Topping, Frederick Abberline, Clara O’Dea, etc. They gave you a set of “missions” to accomplish and when complete, in a cinematic that lasted only a few seconds, they showed their gratitude with a gift and then vanished.

It could be because I’ve always been fascinated by teamwork in videogames but I would love to see a full-blown community in the next game, a community which is not just a train where everyone sits down without any interaction at all but a community that can grow, where people interact with each other, maybe a community which gives you tasks to complete so as to have a valuable reason to do that particular task.

Going back to ACIII, there were a number of side missions where you would approach someone, he would simply say, “Thank you”, and a number of icons appear on the map. You have no idea why you’re doing that particular courier mission and sometimes you have no idea what you’re delivering, it’s just … a side mission.

What am I suggesting? In a way, a concept very similar to Revelations and of course ACIII:

a. One big hideout, ACIII’s homestead style, the one I’m referring to as the “main hideout” in this article
b. A number of smaller hideouts scattered around the city(or cities)

If you haven’t read my previous article, one of the reasons to have these places is to work in the dark rather than exposing yourself when purchasing armour/weapons.

The main hideout would be that upgradable place where weapons are crafted and repaired, armour is tailored and repaired, the place where a doctor can heal you, etc.

Earlier I said that your hideouts can be attacked by templars. They can, but not your main hideout, clearly because of its size and the progress you would lose if you fail to defend it. Again, it’s actually very similar to the concept in Revelations where Templars could attack your Dens but they never attacked the main hideout.

Now you may ask: Assuming the assassin is new to the city, why would you need your own hideout and why should you be the one to take care of it if the master assassin of the city has been there for years and we are to assume he and his team already have a hideout?

That’s what I call the “Henry Green” problem by the way, the so-called “leader of the Assassins in the city of London” who became just a third wheel when the twins arrived in the city.

My idea is that there is already a hideout at the start of the game, you don’t have to find it on the map, it belongs to the Assassins and initially it’s only used for training and hiding purposes.

One day you suggest:

You: “Mentor, you say we have to work in the dark but we’re exposing ourselves out there when we buy weapons from shops or repair our armour at the local blacksmith”
Mentor: “What do you suggest?”
You: “Let’s build our OWN weapons! Let’s craft our own armour and let’s have our doctors for when we suffer injuries.”
Mentor: “Yes son, but we don’t have anyone to do this job. And we don’t have where to host these people!”
You: “Let me take care of everything, let me find a place and the people to run it.”
Mentor: “Ok, but be careful out there”

See what I mean? This is not like the Fonz in Happy Days where everyone leaves the table when he steps into Al’s place. That’s what Henry Green did when the twins came to town, he had to leave the party to become a third wheel. This time you’re “asking permission” to someone who has been in the city for a much longer time, someone who knows the city better than you.

At this stage you may ask, why the need for smaller hideouts if you have the big one?

Well here comes a very provocative suggestion: remove fast travelling all together.

One of Kotaku’s writers loves to avoid fast travelling and I believe it could make sense and not just to give a reason to have small hideouts in the game.

My idea is that a number of pre-defined undergrounds, ACIII-style, would be scattered around the map, ex:

I say underground in order to stick to the “work in the dark” rule. A public place like Arno’s cafe in Unity would be too suspicious.

Initially, these are guarded by templars so to make them yours you have to take on a side mission. Once taken over, inside the underground you can place:

1. A doctor to heal you
2. A blacksmith to repair your weapons
3. A tailor to repair your armour

Another side mission would allow you to find doctors, blacksmiths and tailors. The system could work in a similar fashion to ACIII and the members of the homestead where you first “liberate” the member who would then reach your main hideout and in your main hideout you could instruct where each and every doctor, blacksmith and tailor should be placed.

Clearly, you are free to take over an underground and only place a doctor inside, there would be no rule saying that an underground is only active when all three members are inside.

Something else: you’ll use the doctor/blacksmith/tailor regularly so let’s add an interesting aspect to the underground, that family feel I mentioned in the introduction. The healing/repair process will take more than just a second to complete so during those 25-45 seconds, whoever is doing the task will speak to you and reveal/say something such as:

1. A treasure location on the map, similar to Rogue’s templar maps where we are given a map and then it’s up to us to find the treasure chest
2. A lovely location on the map, maybe an iconic place worth visiting, in the case of Syndicate he could have told you, “Oh by the way, have you visited Covent Garden in the Strand?”
3. Pure gossip, like the previously-mentioned chat between Ellen and Prudence
4. Old database entries in a conversation format, history of Altair, Ezio, Connor, Edward, the player will choose what assassin to hear more about

Incidentally, this could be helpful to keep chests in the game yet have them hidden in its truest sense, hence making them more interesting to find, rather than just an icon on the map.

With fast travelling removed from the game, these undergrounds will play a very important role whenever you will need to heal/repair. For example after completing a main mission you would need to heal and repair your stuff so having an underground nearby is a must. If not, you will have to travel a long distance on your horse to either find the closest underground or of course reach the main hideout.

Now mind you, for a system like this to work, it’s vital to have a beautiful city, not particularly large and easy to travel with your horse. Or else a beautifully designed scenario like Red Dead Redemption where I spent hours riding my horse for no reason. In AC this was rarely possible, I think of AC3 and all the times my horse stopped because of a cliff and I had to continue on foot or Brotherhood and the narrow streets of Rome.

Going back to what I said earlier, undergrounds can be attacked by templars.

If you fail to defend it you will lose it forever, simply because templars will then guard it very heavily. You will clearly have a reasonable time limit to reach your underground when attacked and maybe there could be a similar system, again, adopted in Revelations, where if you place an experienced assassin to guard the underground, then this can never be attacked.

To conclude, the fact that assassins very rarely work in the dark as it should be bothers me a lot. Having one big hideout and a number of underground systems scattered around the map would partially solve this problem. And, combined with my previous two articles, these places, especially the main hideout, would be perfect to train your assassin, train your recruits, forge new weapons and tailor new armour and also, to take on a number of side missions that you would be taken by the assassin for a reason.

It’s also fair to say – in order not to forget those who like the current system – that fast travelling could be retained, hence giving an option to the player. If you want a more realistic experience, especially in respect to the open world, you would take over as many undergrounds as possible and avoid fast travelling all together. If, however, you prefer the “old” system, you could completely ignore the underground system and simply fast travel to the main hideout to perform whatever task needs to be done.

Assassin’s Creed – The importance of having a community and that family feel between its members

Assassin’s Creed Unity / PS4: The Party Palace Heist Co-Op Mission Solo

The rules are:

1. You cannot be spotted, if the annoying “Reward” meter is displayed it means you failed
2. You can use only the phantom blade and the firearm
3. So smoke bombs, berserk blades, etc. are not allowed
4. You have to kill as many enemies as possible, even those who don’t block your path to the chest
5. If possible, avoid killing enemies by using the “last known position”
6. You have to clear the path and have no-enemy access to at least two chests
7. You cannot use the disguise skill
8. You cannot use the assassin’s cache skill to refill your inventory but you can use the shop located in the area

Assassin’s Creed Unity / PS4: The Party Palace Heist Co-Op Mission Solo

Assassin’s Creed Unity / PS4: Smuggler’s Paradise Heist Co-Op Mission Solo

The rules are:

1. You cannot be spotted, if the annoying “Reward” meter is displayed it means you failed
2. You can use only the phantom blade and the firearm
3. So smoke bombs, berserk blades, etc. are not allowed
4. You have to kill as many enemies as possible, even those who don’t block your path to the chest
5. If possible, avoid killing enemies by using the “last known position”
6. You have to clear the path and have no-enemy access to at least two chests
7. You cannot use the disguise skill
8. You cannot use the assassin’s cache skill to refill your inventory but you can use the shop located in the area

Assassin’s Creed Unity / PS4: Smuggler’s Paradise Heist Co-Op Mission Solo

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 – – 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(

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.


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.

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