In order to make amends for releasing what many consider to be a broken game, Ubisoft decided to make its first piece of major Assassin’s Creed Unity downloadable content free to all. It’s an appreciated offer, which has led to a lowered amount of raised pitchforks, but nothing the company does will seemingly ever be enough to wash the bad taste out of gamers’ mouths. That’s just the reality of this business.
The truth of the matter is that, although I experienced some bugs during my time with the game, I really enjoyed Unity. Actually, I ended up enjoying it more than I’d expected to because I’d become sick of the series’ reliance on eavesdropping missions and had expected to encounter a lot of those. Thankfully, though, that didn’t end up happening, as that tired design and its yawn-inducing tailing ended up being limited this time around.
Fast forward to today and we’re one day removed from the release of Dead Kings, the free DLC that I mentioned above. For those who haven’t been following the Assassin’s Creed Unity saga, Dead Kings is a canonical add-on that takes place after the events of the main game. In fact, it acts as the title’s thirteenth memory sequence, and follows Arno to a new part of France called St. Denis. There, he finds himself in the midst of a plot to steal an ancient artifact from an underlying tomb. Not just any plot, you see; it just so happens to be one that is being led by famed French general Napoleon Bonaparte.
Fearing the worst, and wanting to help a young orphan named Leon, Arno decides to spend his final days in France in search of the noted relic. Therein, he finds murder, mystery and an ancient power that is not safe for this world. I’ll stop there, though, because I don’t want to spoil anything from what is a pretty decent storyline. Not a great one by any means, mind you, but one that does its job relatively well.
All of the mainline action takes place over the course of six different missions, which add up to approximately three hours worth of gameplay, if not a bit less. I took my time with this expansion and did my best to get the lay of the land, so my play time is admittedly bloated. Still, even I had completed almost everything I’d wanted to play in approximately four hours.
For the majority of the two-to-three hours that you’ll spend ploughing through Dead Kings, you’ll find yourself either exploring the aboveground portion of Saint Denis or its underground tombs. All in all, though, it’s a mix of both familiar Assassin’s Creed Unity gameplay, new mechanics and some returning facets from Assassin’s Creed II.
If you recall, some of the secondary content found in Assassin’s Creed II was locked behind riddles. That’s also the case here, as one must solve unique riddles in order to find a special item that is hidden in a certain part of the city. Said puzzles also play a role in the campaign content, as several must be completed before one can progress into one of the later missions. Those ones aren’t too difficult, though, so there’s no need to worry if you suck at puzzle games like I do. Hell, the game even gives you an indication as to where you should look.
Now, for what’s new to the party; a tiny list that includes an oil-based lantern, a badass guillotine gun and a new type of enemy known as Raiders.
When you’re down in the depths of Saint Denis, you’ll be in need of light, and that’s where the lantern obviously comes in. However, it’s more important than that, because it’s also required to solve most of Dead Kings‘ numerous puzzles. On top of that, Arno also uses it to scare away harmful creatures, like swarms of biting cockroaches or thousands of flying bats. Such beasts block progression from time to time, meaning that you’ll be shit out of luck if you run out of oil.
The guillotine gun is the real star of the show, though, because it’s as badass as can be. Not only does it act as a powerful mortar, but it also works as an incredibly violent melee weapon, thanks to the sharp blade that adorns its end. Arno can unleash some pretty brutal attacks using it, but the downside is that there are very few opportunities wherein one can take advantage of the mortar itself. In the campaign, that is, because you can always go around town, shooting it at whichever set of guards you’d like.
Raiders are who you’ll be killing most often, and they’re not all that difficult to dispatch. The key is to take out their leader, because after that, the rest will run away in cowardly fashion. Each mini-group of these bastards — who are searching for treasure in the same tombs and catacombs you’ll be traversing — has its own leader, so expect to come across quite a few of them along the way. Just throw a smoke bomb, kill the assholes and be on your way. Of course, you could take the fleeing cowards out, too, in order to loot them for health and other items.
Rounding out this free, eight gigabyte download are side missions (outpost takeovers, book collection, collectible hunting and more), as well as a mediocre heist and a brand new co-op mission. The only issue that I had here, was that I could never find the co-op mission. I scoured the map, and each of its three regions, multiple times to no avail. It simply wasn’t there. Even selecting co-op matchmaking from the pause menu didn’t help, because it simply placed me in missions from the core game.
Other glitches were also evident, although none were game breaking or overly terrible. One appeared in the form of my melee hits landing without any noticeable oomph, while the only other noteworthy issue pertained to the platforming, which certainly wasn’t perfect and could have been fined tuned a bit better.
Despite the fact that patches have been released since launch, Assassin’s Creed Unity still suffers from frame rate issues. This became apparent during my time with Dead Kings, as the frames-per-second count would drop from time to time. I noticed it during smoke-covered battles against multiple foes, as well as during a few of my aboveground trips, but it was never debilitating.
Outside of the above, Dead Kings looks good in terms of its visual fidelity. The graphics are detailed and polished, and it can be a treat for the eyes. Saint Denis, itself, also looks different from Paris, because it’s darker and gloomier. That motif works well here, because it helps convey the mood of the piece. After all, it’s an add-on about scouring through dark and decrepit crypts, tombs and underlying passages.
The audio is also fine, but imperfect. Some of the voice acting could’ve been better, and the same is true of the writing, which isn’t spectacular. Everything works, but nothing stands out.
In the end, it’s easy to recommend Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s Dead Kings DLC, and not just because it’s free. Although it’s not something that you’ll remember for years to come, it’s serviceable and does a decent job of expanding the game’s universe. Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that its lack of a price tag has factored in here, because paying ten dollars for something like this would be a bit of a stretch. There’s just not enough to it, and it unfortunately doesn’t stand out as a result.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the DLC, which we were provided with.
Dead Kings won't win Assassin's Creed Unity any new fans, but it does a serviceable job of expanding the game's lore.