We close our discussion of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations with talking about its multiplayer component. I complained quite a bit about the uninspired single-player content of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, both the gameplay and the story. While I enjoyed the experience overall, I was a little bored by it at the same time. The multiplayer, on the other hand, while it hasn’t changed a whole lot since Brotherhood, is consistently tense and interesting, and there still isn’t much else out there like it.
The biggest change I noticed was the prominence of Deathmatch mode (I’m not sure if it was in Brotherhood – if it was, it certainly wasn’t the default mode like it is in Revelations). In comparison to the previous standard, Assassination, there’s no compass pointing to your target (though there is still a line of sight indicator) but to compensate, there aren’t AI characters using the player models, and the maps are much smaller and flatter, usually composed of two multiply-connected courtyards.
On the whole, I don’t think I like Deathmatch as much as Assassination. I found it frustrating trying to locate my target. The line of sight indicator is finnicky in that it’s highly dependent upon quirks of level-geometry. It’s also unfortunate that the indicator is far off in the corner of the screen. It requires a lot of constant eye-travel to constantly be going back and forth between seeing of the line-of-sight indicator is lit up and scanning the screen for the target model. I constantly had the feeling I was missing something either in the environment or on the indicator because I was focusing on the other one. It’s the same sort of issue as sticking the mini-map for an RTS in the corner, only in this case, since it’s just a binary indicator that we’re talking about, there’s no good reason to stick it so far from the centre of the screen.
Then there are the issues with actually picking out the target model. In Assassination, you see the model of your target regularly throughout the game – one in eight AI characters is wearing that skin. So when you finally get close to your target, your mind is primed to recognize his model. In Deathmatch, though, there’s only one of your target model, so you’re not seeing him very often, which makes him harder to recognize, especially from a distance. I had a particular issue with a pirate-y character who, from his portrait, appeared to be wearing a tricorn hat. Now, one of the AI models out in the environment was a woman with a similar colour-palette to our pirate, and in a tricorn hat. So when I got assigned the pirate as a target, my eye would constantly be drawn to the models of this women. What’s worse, it turns out the pirate model actually wears a bandana, not a tricorn hat. Needless to say, I had an absolutely awful time trying to locate my target. This was the worst-case scenario, and some models I had no trouble spotting, like the one wearing a full-length hooded cloak (and consequently possessing a unique silhouette), but more often than not, with just the line of sight indicator to work with, I felt like I was struggling more than I should to locate my target.
On the other hand, it feels like I performed a lot better at Deathmatch than I did at Assassination. The lack of AI doppelgangers mitigates the effectiveness of certain higher-level abilities, and the smaller map-size makes it harder to get away from a successful kill unobserved, and thus makes it harder to wrack up killstreaks. But I think a big part of why I did better at Deathmatch has to do with tempo. My instinct is to move slowly and play stealthily, and consequently, in the large maps of Assassination, I was consistently getting beaten to my target by other assassins. But in Deathmatch, I felt encouraged to be more aggressive. In the smaller maps I’d come across my target far more speedily, and so I’d waste less time in transit and miss out on fewer kills as a matter of course. And likewise, there’s fewer places for me to hide and the rival targeting me was always close at hand, so I felt pressure to move more quickly.
In contrast, I never quite got a handle on the effective tempo to play Assassination mode in. I found myself taking my time, and focusing on passing the reverse-Turing test that is core to the mode. I’d consistently have the fewest deaths and get the longest life award at the end of a match. (Granted, to some extent, this is a sign that I was sucking and thus not being assigned as a target, but I was still on the low end of the death-count even the case in the rounds I did well.) So I’m playing the game at a consistently lower tempo than the rest of the players. It’s tremendously satisfying to blend in and walk along with a group of AI characters some of whom share my character model, step away from the crowd, and then promptly get notified that my pursuer has killed the wrong target. But that’s time I could have spent getting at my own target, and I suppose that’s what I need to focus on in order to score higher.
Of course, part of my struggle had to do with getting matched with high-level, experienced players. Just like in Brotherhood, there’d be one or more max-level players in every game I joined. to the game’s credit, I never had to wait long to get into a game, but I still wish the matchmaking algorithm would try a little harder to match based on skill and player level. It’s tremendously frustrating to get caught by things like poison and Templar vision that I just don’t have access to any counters for.
As for the unlocks themselves, the one that seems particular notable to me are the killstreaks. Instead of given a power-up like in Call of Duty, they’re straight point-rewards, but you can choose the threshold it will trigger at, and whether all kills count towards it, or just stealthy ones. This encourages players to pick a playstyle – high or low profile – and stick with it. I’m definitely in favour of a system like this that encourages players to think about how they’re approaching the game.
The mechanics of the unlocks are a little weird. It’s a hybrid Black Ops style, where, as you level up, you unlock the ability to buy the ability in a store using earned currency, rather than having the ability unlock directly via leveling up. The upside is that players get the abilities that are tailored to their preferences faster. Also, since to get access to a new ability a player actually has to look at it in the store and pick it out, players have a better awareness of the abilities available to them. (Contrast this with the traditional system where unlocks get granted just at level-ups: you see the name of a new ability, but you don’t necessarily know what it does and maybe won’t even remember that you got it at all.) On the downside, because you have to spend in-game currency to get a new ability, the system discourages experimentation. If I’m happy with my current load-out, and I don’t really know how much that cool sounding ability two levels from now will cost, I’m not going to want to take a chance and spend currency on a new ability that I might not like now, even if I can afford it.
There’s also a quirk with the pace rewards are doled out. You get access to a custom class at level 5, but you don’t get access to enough abilities to actually fill out those class for several more levels. I feel like you should get access at least to all the stuff in the two pre-built classes of the bat, so that you can at least mix-and-match with those.
I feel like I haven’t spent enough time here talking about the core of what’s good in the multiplayer. The combination of stalking and being stalked, of intensely scanning the environment to assess threats and opportunities. There’s slow, tense moments followed by bursts of activity. There’s an arc and flow to matches that’s really atypical for a free-for-all sort of game. The focus is on moving through territory effectively, rather than trying to hold ones ground.