Alexandre Breault, Ubisoft’s lead game designer for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, gave Dork Shelf a rundown of the game’s latest preview build at Microsoft’s X-11 holiday preview event last week. Taking place early in the single-player narrative, a beardy, burly Ezio Auditore is on his way to Masyaf, former stomping grounds of his predecessor Altair, which is now overrun by Templars.
We begin on a horse-drawn carriage, racing alongside a mountainous setting in the middle of a cloudy snowfall, towards the gate to Masyaf. He’s after the captain of the Templar contingent here, who’s in possession of the key to the stronghold. Some Templar guards throw a bomb in his direction, blasting the cart apart and sending him flying down the rocky hills. Ezio plunges into the freezing waters below, but groggily makes his way to the shore. His character model is visibly hurt, limping and grunting in the cold air with every step. It’s not enough to impede his progress, however, as he scales the walls of Masyaf while dispatching several guards in the process.
Eventually he reaches a small town area, with a few citizens making their way through the shops and alleys as comfortably as the weather allows. It’s a sparsely populated area unlike most of the Italian city-states in the last two Creed games; the new (old?) setting alone makes for a refreshing change of pace. Ezio picks up some supplies from an abandoned doctor’s station, restoring his health and posture. As Breault explains, throughout the game the player will have to defend territory previously won over (as with the Borgia Towers in AC: Brotherhood). These attacks will be initiated by the player just like any other side mission, instead of popping up randomly. “We didn’t want the player to be forced out of his mission in order to defend the district.”
A small messenger box next to a stable allows Breault to enter the bomb-crafting screen, showing materials and some impressive cross-section diagrams of various bombs. Surprisingly, the player can dismantle bombs currently in his inventory to use their constituent parts to make other varieties: in this case, Breault uses parts from trip wires to make impact shell bombs, which will be more useful in upcoming conflicts.
At one location of the town, two paths branch off with little indication of where to go next. Here Breault shows a new feature of the Eagle’s Vision: a ghost of the Templar Captain appears, revealing his movements from earlier in the day. Ezio follows. Along the way he perforates a single guard, then sets a proximity bomb on his body. Hiding in a nearby pile of hay, he watches as a group of patrolling guards approach their comrade’s body before it explodes, sending “pieces of Eden” flying everywhere.
We eventually run into a large group of Templar warriors to show off the modest, but noticeable evolution of the combat system. Perhaps befitting Ezio’s age, each swing of the enemy’s sword that he blocks with his own comes with a thunderous clang, causing the screen to blur with recoil for a split-second. He drops a caltrops bomb before legging it. Caltrops are small bits of metal tied together, resembling the “barbs” on a barbed wire fence, preventing guards from following Ezio unless they want a foot full of shrapnel. Ezio climbs a wall, prompting the camera to change to a third-person view of enemy guards nearby firing with reckless abandon, affording the player few options other than to move as fast as possible.
Even with over half a dozen enemies on the screen, the frame rate didn’t slow down once. The overall graphical detail has been cranked up significantly from Brotherhood, and is impressive considering the console versions of the last installment were prone to chugging frame rates. The visual design has also improved, evidenced by the ornate armour on both Ezio and the Templar soldiers.
At the top of the tower, Ezio has his target, the Templar Captain, at his mercy. One Hidden Blade later, and the captain has a few words of protest before he slumps awkwardly on his knees to an ignoble death. Ezio picks up the key from the body, which turns out to also be a special artifact that allows him to re-live the memories of Altair.
Next we’re transported to a memory sequence with Altair, speaking with his mentor Al Mualim before the events of the first Assassin’s Creed. The demo ends shortly after the cut-scene, leaving behind – as usual – more questions than answers. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is due for a simultaneous release on both PC and the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on November 15.