In Dead Kings, Ubisoft has opted to take players from the decaying landscape of France’s streets deep underground to the catacombs. This setting brings flashbacks of those great puzzles from AC: Brotherhood, so it’s a worthy location for the game.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity was by far the most technically flawed game of 2014, with this first piece of DLC being given out to the masses for free as a make-good gesture from the publisher.
The expansion is set after the events of the main game. With vengeance quelled and no love interest by his side, Arno Dorian returns to the fore. His swagger and likability has taken a beating, as Arno’s first priority is to seek refuge in Egypt. His ticket out of France is to retrieve an artifact for the Marquis de Sade, and it’s here that Arno’s recklessness and short temper are most evident.
Ubisoft doesn’t do a good job of outlining this, though. Dead Kings materializes into three or four storylines and it’s hard to keep track of Arno’s allies and adversaries; it becomes far too complicated, far too quickly.
One constant is the feeling of a post-revolutionary atmosphere on the outskirts of the city. As with Unity, Ubisoft are spot-on in terms of the ambience and graphical detail of Saint-Denis – even if those out-of-place British accents have endured.
But Dead Kings still harbours some technical problems. The game occasionally stutters, the frame rate drops from time to time, and you may even come across a few glitches (thankfully, everyone manages to keep their faces).
The size of Saint-Denis is commendable, and traversing the dark rabbit warrens of the catacombs has an eerie feel. The level design is good and accommodates both stealth and guns-blazing approaches to combat. Negotiating the underground passages requires Arno to use a lantern – mostly to climb walls or clear the floors of deadly critters. The lantern is otherwise a useless device, as Eagle Vision does a better job of illuminating your surroundings without the glow a lantern gives to your enemies.
There’s a mountain of filler, as expected; collectables, the return of extremely vague riddles, and outposts (a throwback to AC: Brotherhood’s Borgia Towers) wherein eliminating captains liberates districts – there’s nothing new to do here. I wasn’t expecting more content, but I was expecting slightly more variety in Dead Kings.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that Dead Kings is Assassin’s Creed: Unity taken on an underground excursion. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that special about Saint-Denis, as it looks and feels like Paris, and there’s no sense that it’s closer or further away to recovering from the events of the Revolution.
It’s an excursion that picks up in pace considerably after players unlock possibly the most overpowered weapon in the franchise. The guillotine gun is a wicked firearm that can be handled as a short-range blunderbuss or a long-range mortar. It also makes for a decent melee weapon and is a highly enjoyable addition to Arno’s arsenal, as it opens up another play-style – completely eliminating the need for any subtlety.
The guillotine gun is also perfect for taking on the new enemy type, Raiders. These guys are huge brutes that thrive in large numbers, armed with throwing knives, swords and axes. Their AI isn’t smart, however, and they’re little more than regular baddies with extended health bars. Take out their leader and they lose all hope; this is where the aforementioned guillotine gun, berserk darts and poison gas come in very handy.
The catacombs may have been detailed and expansive but every time I ventured underground, I couldn’t wait to escape to the surface. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything eye-opening or overly challenging about the catacombs of Saint-Denis. With simple environmental puzzles and effortless chase sequences, this Unity expansion is rather bland.
Dead Kings was a chance for Ubisoft to recover lost ground from last year’s disappointment. Sadly, it hasn’t worked, and the aptly titled Dead Kings remains just that.
Buries last year's Assassin's Creed: Unity even further.