Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Almost Had A Good Opening

When I was discussing Assassin’s Creed: Unity’s four prologues, I mentioned that the first game was the only one with a good opening, and even that one was debatable. Since then, I have replayed the opening to Syndicate and also remembered that there is more prologue in the first AC than I remembered. Tackling that second one because it’s faster, I totally forgot how much heavier handed the modern day segments were in the first Assassin’s Creed, and that part of the prologue involved one of these modern day sections where they just dump conspiracy exposition on you before letting you get to the part where you parkour around Damascus. I was thinking that the only setup was the botched assassination against the head Templar, the return to Masyaf, and then the Masyaf tutorial, which is still getting a bit long in the tooth by the time you reach that tutorial, but nope, there’s more that I had completely forgotten about.

But I’d also been remembering Syndicate’s opening as being worse than it was, or maybe better, because it’s so damn close to finally getting it right. The game opens up and says “you are an Assassin, that guy is a Templar, stab his eyes out!” And the first mission is a tutorial-y setpiece that probably could’ve been a bit less heavy-handed, but it’s a set piece in which you are an Assassin and that guy is a Templar, which makes it way better than the usual bullshit that feels the need to explain how our protagonist learned about and joined the Assassins at all.

But then after that they feel the need for a “welcome to London” mission that’s the usual interminable Assassin’s Creed intro mission, where it forces you to go talk to Jayadeep Mir nee Henry Green and you have to chase an orphan and do a carriage battle and sync up one very specific viewpoint and otherwise have all the game’s systems explained to you before you’re allowed to just explore the open world. After they already had a big setpiece opening that explains most of the game’s systems to you! Does someone at Ubisoft really like their boring prologue tutorials? While they were planning out the opening, did some executive raise his hand at the end and ask “wait, but where’s the boring prologue tutorial in all this?” and then demand they add one in when it was explained that they didn’t have one? Everything the meeting with Jayadeep Mir accomplishes (including the introduction of the character Jayadeep Mir) could’ve been done just as well by sticking the players in a London openworld fresh out of the opening, stamping a story mission down on Jayadeep’s shop, and possibly locking some content behind completion of that mission (for example, depending on how the plotline with the street gang the Frye twins are using for muscle needs to be written, you might want to lock the gang war missions until after you’ve hit up Jayadeep and he’s explained how the Templars control the city).

The Syndicate opening was nearly good, and then they tripped at the finish line. And this has certainly impacted how I remember the game. Four years after having played the first hour-ish, once the story had devolved (as stories in my memory tend to once I’m four or five years past when I first consumed them) into a soup of vignettes, my brain had rearranged the very first opening scene of the game to the climax of the first proper chapter, and the horrible intro with Jayadeep Mir had taken over my recollection of the game’s introduction.

Probably I’m on the wrong end of this bell curve’s peak in terms of remembering Assassin’s Creed stories properly, because Assassin’s Creed games are games I play so I can listen to a podcast and I’m never more than half-paying attention to what’s actually going on, but other games I play in this way manage to stick with me better than AC games do. The Half-Life games have reached the vignette soup stage, but my brain isn’t editing Ravenholm into the game’s opening as a terrible gravity gun tutorial, and even the Half-Life 2 episodes are mostly just gone from my memory, but not much interfering with Half-Life 2 itself the way the Syndicate vignettes actually rearranged themselves in my mind. Undertale is well past the point where it should be vignette soup, but I still have a solid and reliable memory of how that game’s plot went.

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