Assassins Creed Revelations preview hands-on with the single-player story

Since it was first announced back in May, we’ve seen quite a bit of Assassin’s Creed Revelations; hands-off demos, a multiplayer beta and a handful of videos explaining some of the new gameplay elements, for example. Until last week, however, Ubisoft had held back on giving us the one thing we really wanted: a chance to sink our teeth into Revelations’ story. Thankfully, we’ve finally gotten that opportunity, playing through the game’s second, fourth and fifth chapters and getting an eyeful of what’s in store for Nov. 15 along the way.

We started the game at a point shortly after the events of the Gamescom demo, when Ezio, after encountering a strong, hostile Templar presence around the abandoned Assassin fortress of Masyaf, arrived in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). After chatting with a sharp young Turkish student named Suleiman (and briefly meeting his soon-to-be love interest, Sofia Sartor), he was greeted by Yusuf Tazim, head of Constantinople’s Assassins. So began the tutorial portion. Our first lesson? If we got close enough to Yusuf while following him, Ezio would go on autopilot and follow him through the streets as they talked. Not the most thrilling start, but it got a lot more interesting when the pair ran afoul of a group of Templar guards.

If you’ve been paying attention to Revelations’ development thus far, you may have noticed that the visuals have gotten a noticeable upgrade, and that there’s been a lot of talk about changes to the way Ezio Auditore moves and fights. Don’t let that fool you, though; navigating the streets of Constantinople, picking the pockets of its citizens and slicing up Templars will feel instantly familiar if you’ve played any of the previous games. There’ve been a few small changes to the controls – Ezio’s secret-revealing Eagle Sense has been remapped to the right thumbstick, for example, while Y/Triangle is now a secondary, ranged attack button – but apart from layering on a bunch of new additions, this feels comfortably like the same old Creed.

That’s true for fighting as well. While Ezio’s got a lot of new attacks and executions at his disposal (a lot of which seem to involve stabbing foes in the head), the rhythms of combat feel instantly familiar. With little effort, we were able to counter an enemy’s attack, then turn the momentum from killing him into a rapid series of one-hit executions. Polearms were a little more difficult to counter than we remembered, but by switching to Ezio’s bare hands, we were able to grab one, dispatch its owner and – as another Templar backed up to shoot us with a crossbow – aim it at the second attacker and impale him with a single throw.

As familiar as the combat was, though, there was one thing we weren’t expecting. Once we’d wiped out the first group of Templars, another stepped out of the woodwork to ambush us – only to attract the attention of a patrol of Ottoman guards, who quickly chased them off. As it turns out, the Templars (who are affiliated with the recently conquered Byzantines) are a pretty weak presence in Constantinople, and the ruling Ottoman guards will attack them on sight. As you can probably guess, you can use this to your advantage; if you’re being chased by Templars, shaking them is as easy as running past the nearest group of Ottomans (marked by a yellow dot on your map).

That isn’t to say the Ottomans are entirely friendly, and their elite troops – a bunch of masked goons known as the Janissaries – are best avoided outright. Similar to the Papal Guards from Brotherhood (but a whole lot tougher) the Janissaries have abundant health, are surprisingly resistant to counterattacks and executions, and are quick to pull guns during a fight. For the first time, Assassin’s Creed has a class of baddie that can’t be easily beaten by experienced players, at least not at first.

As Ezio’s tour of Constantinople continued, Yusuf brought us to our new headquarters: a sprawling, subterranean base underneath the colossal Galata Tower. Functionally, it’s more or less the same as the Tiber Island hideout in Brotherhood, but bigger, with a more cavernous interior and more areas to explore. It’s also where Ezio will keep his library, a collection of classic (and, in some cases, lost) books that replace the paintings that could be collected in ACII and Brotherhood.

However, it wasn’t where we were about to spend the majority of the demo, and so we were sent back out into the street to pickpocket civilians for enough money to buy a new piece of armor (a set of spaulders). As we wandered the neighborhood around Galata, it quickly became clear that Revelations is keeping plenty of familiar Creed tropes; we still had to scale Viewpoints to reveal chunks of the map (which now shows up as a topographical display in the HUD), and there are still plenty of shops and landmarks to buy, once you’ve amassed enough cash. Of course, before you can open them up for purchase, you’ll have to liberate their neighborhoods – but more on that in a minute.

After we’d been properly outfitted, we got a brief primer on how to use the new hookblade (which replaces Ezio’s second Hidden Blade) in the form of a quick run across the nearby rooftops. Manually activated by hitting B/Circle, the hookblade is good for mainly three things: first, it extends Ezio’s reach, enabling him to grab ledges or high handholds that would otherwise be just out of reach. Second, it can be extended just before you grab a lamp (or any dangling object) to swing straight across, instead of grabbing it and making a 90-degree swing, like Ezio normally does.

Third, it lets Ezio use ziplines, which are a ubiquitous fixture around the city. While descending, Ezio can opt for a slower, lower-profile descent that’s less likely to attract attention from guards, or you can hold down the right trigger to curl him into a ball and send him rocketing down to the end. Also, if any guards happen to be unlucky enough to be underneath Ezio while he’s zipping overhead, he can drop down for a quick assassination.

And yes, in case you’re curious, Ezio still has access to Leonardo da Vinci’s parachutes. (Ziplines are a faster way to get around, not a safe way to fall.) In fact, most of his old arsenal is back – the crossbow, the hidden gun, the poison darts – although it’s now selected from two weapon wheels (one for close-range weapons, one for long-range ones) instead of one. One thing we didn’t see back, however, was a single horse – and in fact, we were told that horses will be mostly absent from the game, as the narrow streets of Constantinople aren’t very accommodating to equines. It was something of a shock to realize, but it’s worth pointing out that we didn’t even notice they were absent until our session was almost over.

Finally, our time with Yusuf gave us a chance to try out another mechanic new to the series: tossing bombs around. Crafted at special kiosks with a wide variety of ingredients (which you can buy at shops or find laying around in chests), the available bombs range from noisemaking distractions to horrifyingly destructive shrapnel grenades, and they’re easy to aim, thanks to the clear throwing arc that shows you exactly where they’ll land.

As fun as the bombs were, we’d already seen plenty of them. What came next, however, was a big surprise. Toward the end of the mission, we took back an “Assassin den,” which function almost exactly like the Borgia Towers in Brotherhood. To take them over (thereby freeing up the neighborhood for you to buy all its shops), you’ll first need to identify their commander by going into Eagle Sense and holding a targeting reticule over certain glowing soldiers. Once he’s identified, killing him will enable you to climb the tower and light the “retreat beacon,” signaling all nearby soldiers that it’s time to get the hell out of Dodge. Congratulations: you’ll now have a secondary headquarters, and will be able to recruit another citizen to join the ranks of your Assassin army.

The twist is that this time, you’ll actually have to defend your dens from attack via a tower-defense (or “Den Defense,” as the game calls it) minigame. Here, you’ll be confined to a rooftop command post, and will need to defend the road leading to your den with archers and riflemen. These can be placed at the edges of rooftops or behind barricades, which you can set up in the street. You’ll also be able to direct volleys of cannon fire into the street, which comes in especially handy when the charging Ottoman or Templar hordes give way to huge siege engines, like the battering ram they wheeled out during our session.

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