Assassin's Creed Syndicate, the latest installment in the Assassin's Creed franchise, features dual protagonists with their own storylines: twin siblings Jacob and Evie Frye.
We've broken up our preview into two parts. If you want details on the story and setting, keep reading. Check out part one for a full run-down of how Syndicate is making over the series' combat, stealth and navigation mechanics.
Born in Crawley, a rustic borough just under 30 miles from the city of London, Jacob and Evie were raised as assassins. At the start of Assassin's Creed Syndicate they are newcomers to London, and you'll discover the city alongside them, learning its dangers and advantages in tandem and mastering industrial technology. In the open world of Assassin's Creed Syndicate, players can choose between playing as Jacob or Evie at any time, though both will have their own specific story missions. Each sibling also has his or her own skill tree.
The game begins in 1868 London, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, close to the era's end. At this time, England has built the greatest empire humanity has ever known, spurred by its role as the epicenter of technological evolution. According to creative director Marc-Alexis Cote, developer Ubisoft Quebec chose this era because not only was it an age of marvels in which our world drastically changed for the better, it was an age in which it changed for the worse; the strife of London's people, the poverty and oppression in which the lower classes lived compared to the comfort and power of the rich, sets the perfect stage for another great battle between the assassins and Templars.
"Only 75 years separate [Syndicate] from the French Revolution of Assassin's Creed Unity," Cote said during a presentation on the game, "but for players it will feel like 1,000 years, because of the technological breakthroughs you'll see.
"We are leaving behind the medieval era," he said of the Assassin's Creed series. "I think it's a good pace breaker in the line since it allows us to bring a lot of maturity and a lot of freshness to the game play and to the storytelling that we're going to do."
Victorian London was always under construction, and so will be Syndicate's London. Players will see the first pieces of the London subway being built, unpaved streets and unfinished buildings. The streets are full of carriages only, with foot traffic regulated to the sidewalks. Developers have worked to painstakingly create Syndicate's London with the look and behavior of real 1868 London.
As famous English author Charles Dickens wrote: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Players will come to know what this means in Assassin's Creed Syndicate. Many significant revelations have wildly altered the world by 1868. Darwin has published his theory of evolution, which loosens Christianity's grip on people and politics. Modern medicine is born, allowing those who could afford the treatment to extend their lives. The British pound sterling is the currency the world revolves around, with London itself representing the pinnacle of what humanity can achieve.
Speaking of Dickens and Darwin, according to Cote, both will be present in Assassin's Creed Syndicate. The franchise will continue its tradition of weaving famous historical figures into its narratives with the timeless writer and theorist. Cote promised that more familiar figures will be revealed for the game throughout the summer.
"Charles Dickens, I think is someone that our English audience will be very familiar with, as familiar as our French audiences with Napoleon, for example because you were forced to read them probably in school," he said. "Charles Darwin well, it goes without saying that his theory has really changed a lot of ways we see our place in humanity's history."
The above, the world of the wealthy and privileged, is not the world you'll be a part of in Assassin's Creed Syndicate. As impoverished twins Jacob and Evie Frye, players will get to know the opposite side of society's coin, the seedy underbelly of London. During the Industrial Revolution, people moved out of the countryside into London in droves looking for work. They went to work as young as 4 years old and many kept 12-hour workdays; the average lifespan of workers was 30 years old and the infant mortality rate was so high, some didn't bother to name their children. Around 95 percent of the population couldn't vote -- six out of seven men didn't have the right and women were left out entirely -- leaving their fate in the hands of the upper-class five percent.
London in 1868 was a prosperous era of realized dreams, but at the same time it was an age of unrest, resentment, and sorrow. This gave birth to the rise of organized crime -- the life Syndicate's assassins will lead. And by grounding the game in a modern setting, according to Cote, it has allowed developers to explore themes in ways more ancient era could not allow.
"For me, [bringing the game to a modern era] allows us to do different things, to touch on different themes as well, and to have new tools for the player," Cote said. "The rope launcher is definitely something that feels more technological for our players. I think this sentiment and using everything that we do, just the vehicles as well, having those. All the density of this traffic, the variety... It's quite funny. The more I read about this period, the more it felt like it really laid the groundwork for our society today. A lot of the concepts, we're still stuck with today, comes from this exact era. This is something that our players will be able to see."
Syndicate's London is already promising in terms of its diverse cast. A gameplay demo shown during a preview event introduced Clara, a little girl in braids working in the tavern where Jacob and Evie host their home base. Clara serves as their informant, feeding them rumors and other information on the Frye's enemies from other bar patrons. The demo also introduced Henry Green, a Indian immigrant to London and the leader of the city's assassins. He doled out a mission to the Frye twins, and as the pair stomped away he very quickly stopped young Clara from drinking the beer the pair left on the table.
Another element new to Assassin's Creed is the prominence of female opponents. Late 1800s London had its fair share of female crime lords, and Syndicate does not shy away from this fact. You'll be fighting against both male and female NPCs as you clean out the Templars, some of them carrying out their superiors' grunt work, and some of them those same superiors. The demo shown introduced Bloody Nora, a borough leader, a nasty woman with short-cropped black hair who seems to have it out for the Fryes.
But despite the gang wars happening in London, Cote noted that the era was actually one of peace. There was no world war or civil war going on, and for all intents and purposes, life during that time was generally free of combat. The gang wars were a result of unrest in this time of peace, but they were nothing compared the power struggle between other countries.
"When you look at most of the settings that we've explored, there's a lot of war going on," Cote said. "One of the things that's been clear to me since the beginning is that we wanted to recapture the essence of Assassin's Creed II and the Renaissance. A lot of people have asked me the question, how are you going to do an Assassin's Creed in a setting in which there is no war? Well, I think one of the best Assassin's Creeds was done during a time with no war, which is another era of transformation for humanity. The reason we chose the year 1868 is because of the amount of historical characters that are so relevant to our world today that we can showcase in the game."
Jacob is described as a "charismatic brawler," always prepared for a quick and dirty fight. While roaming the city he completes his assassin look with a fancy top hat; only when he's heading into a mission does the hat come off, and the iconic beaked hood comes up.
Melee combat is the focus of Assassin's Creed Syndicate, and Jacob has been given the appropriate tools to participate. In one hand he wields a kukri, a curved blade from Nepal, and a set of bone-crushing brass knuckles. Clamped to his other arm is the traditional assassin's gauntlet with its hidden blade, but this time around it has two additions: hallucinogenic darts and the rope launcher, the franchise's game-changing new weapon. At Jacob's disposal are also a six-shooter revolver and throwing knives, the latter of which can now be used to create diversions -- like cutting down hanging objects -- and not just for kills.
Jacob and Evie's sibling dynamic is a stark contrast to Assassin's Creed Unity's romantic leads, adopted-siblings-turned-lovers Arno and Elise. Cote said that developers chose to make the main characters siblings rather than lovers because a romantic plot would have clouded the story they wanted to tell.
"I wanted to stay away from the romance because it sucks everything out, it becomes all about the romance between those two characters," Cote said. "While that can be fun, I think the rivalry and complicity you can have with a brother and sister is something a lot of people will be able to better identify with.
"We've had our two actors [playing Jacob and Evie] spend a lot of time together so they can develop this brother and sister chemistry, and I actually think they've gone overboard with it," Cote added. "It's really transferred into the game, and it's a lot of fun.
"Jacob and Evie allows us to explore [the story] from different sides, they have these two personalities that bounce off each other," he added. "I think it'll freshen up the storytelling as well."
Currently, Ubisoft has only shared details on Jacob. More information on Evie will be revealed this summer.
Evie also marks a major turning point for the Assassin's Creed franchise. Up to this point in the series, there has been no playable female assassin in a major title. Spin-off titles have featured two playable ladies: Assassin's Creed III: Liberation for PlayStation Vita starred Aveline de Granpre, and the recently released Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China included concubine-turned-assassin Shao Jun.
Cote said that Evie inclusion was planned from the start of development; the team always knew they wanted scrappy brother-and-sister twins at the forefront of their game. But setting the game in Industrial Revolution London also meant creating a more diverse world. Men and women from all walks of life participated in the evolution of London, and it was not uncommon for the ringleaders and prominent figures within its criminal underground to be women. Assassin's Creed Syndicate will see not only a female assassin but also female crime lords like Bloody Nora, the Templar pulling the strings in one of London's boroughs.
Cote also added that discussions from last year sparked by a comment about women being "too hard to animate" had absolutely no bearing on Syndicate's cast. Syndicate had already been in production with Evie in place for almost two years. He also added that key areas of the development team are led by smart women; during my time in the studio, I met lead programmer for engine and tools Valerie Methot, audio director Lydia Andrew and Andrée-Anne Boisvert, an associate producer who also drove the demo I saw. Cote stated that their contributions made choosing a female protagonist a natural one; Syndicate wouldn't be happening without their work.
"We've got a lot of women working with us on this game in leadership positions," he said. "It came naturally, creating a world that is more diverse. It's something I want our players to be able to really feel and identify with more. It's been our intention since the beginning."
For more details on Assassin's Creed Syndicate, read up on everything GameSpot knows so far.