One thing I’ve always admired about the Assassin’s Creed franchise and its creators is their willingness to try new things and take the franchise in different directions. Whether it’s the game’s setting, main character or online component, Ubisoft continues to try new ways to help shake up and refresh the series.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles is a brand-new spin-off that takes the franchise from the 3D, gargantuan open-world fans have become accustomed to, to a 2.5D, action-adventure platformer. The first iteration in this mini-series is Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China and it stars Shao Jun, who we first met in the animated short film, Assassin’s Creed: Embers.
Chronicles: China is set during 1526 around the fall of the Ming Dynasty. The last living member of the Chinese Brotherhood, Shao Jun, returns to delivers justice on behalf of her fallen brothers and sisters. Stronger than ever, thanks to her encounters with Ezio Auditore Da Firenze, she comes back to China for vengeance.
The most striking elements of this game is its emphasis on stealth gameplay, its brilliant art style and its ability to inspire anyone who is a perfectionist. Each level of Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is laid out before the player with a primary and second objective. The latter requires complete exploring of the surrounding environments, and often times provided a deeper sense of satisfaction when everything has been completed.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China‘s control scheme is sophisticated, yet easy to grasp. With the slew of abilities and movements at Shao Jun’s disposal, being mindful of your arsenal becomes essential as you move onto more difficult levels.
I found myself constantly wanting to stay out of combat, which based on the rewards system in Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China, was absolutely on purpose. This wasn’t because the combat system fell short or wasn’t engaging, it was because stealth gameplay received larger rewards.
Level design encourages and supports stealth gameplay like hiding in an dark room, behind curtains, large pillars or in plants. Your movements are dictated by the movements of surrounding guards. Each of them has their out line of sight and guarding post. Some enemies move in a pattern back and forth, while others remain stationary.
Players must time their movements carefully and use Shao Jun’s abilities to their advantage. Her abilities range from whistling, to throwing knives, to tossing stun grenades and firecrackers. The latter can be used to distract enemies, moving their line of sight away from the player, while stun grenades can be used to, well, stun enemies.
In previous Assassin’s Creed AAA games, I always found myself wanting to engage in combat, but since the rewards and emphasis have been placed on stealth gameplay, killing an enemy wasn’t as appealing. For those who are interested in engaging in combat, there is a nice system in place. Shao can perform a light or heavy attack, in addition to parrying an enemy’s attack. She can dodge incoming arrows and assassinate enemies from all the usual spots: above, below and in hiding.
As you progress through the game, levels become more complicated with more capable enemies. Shao Jun’s skills become more advanced with items like her rope dart allowing her to maneuver along ceilings and above enemies. Overall, the gameplay of Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is enthralling, entertaining and excellent.
One of the greatest interests I had going into Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China was the art style and its direction. Much like Child of Light and Valiant Hearts, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles shows off beautiful, wondrous visuals throughout the entire campaign. Each level opens up new possibilities and truly captivates.
What was wondrous about Chronicles: China was also torturous: the world of China that lied beyond the one I was playing through. Seeing buildings or nature on the horizon invoked my exploratory nature as a player, though I knew I could never indulge. What makes Assassin’s Creed so special is its level of freedom and exploration, and even though freedom is inherently lost in a platforming game, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China was a delightful, beautiful tease of the world unseen and unexplored.
I thought Chronicles would be a chance for the series to really show off its narrative prowess, since it was no longer based in the open-world. With the narrative becoming a more central theme in Chronicles: China, I felt there was unfulfilled potential and a missed opportunity to express Assassin’s Creed as a story-driven game, not just an extravagant one.
Cutscenes contain voice-over performances, but there are no actual animations, just moving from picture to picture. I enjoyed this form of presentation though I can’t help but think there were some missed opportunities for further character development, had there been moving cutscenes.
I alluded to this earlier, but Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China just made me want a full, AAA release of an Assassin’s Creed game set in China. Hopefully Ubisoft puts this in the works sometime down the road because there is an ocean of untapped cultural, architecture and historical potential that have yet to be explored.
Fans always want to know where the next AAA Assassin’s Creed game will take place and many times, locations that possess great potential still haven’t been explored. I see the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles series as Ubisoft’s way of trying to please all of the requests for an Assassin’s Creed game set in locations like China, Russia and India. The reality is Ubisoft can’t release two or three AAA Assassin’s Creed releases for a variety of reasons. I hope this isn’t the only time we’ll see an Assassin’s Creed game set in these regions because there’s a world of potential.
There will always be the fringe group who loves to ridicule the Assassin’s Creed franchise for having too many releases or doing “the same thing” over and over. The naysayers will always say nay, but Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is a fascinating, gorgeous new lens to view this magnificent universe through.
- Stunning art direction
- Enthralling gameplay
- Immersive world
- Missed narrative opportunity
A PS4 copy of Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China was provided by Ubisoft for the purposes of this review.