After the troubled (to put it politely) launch of Unity, some gamers might be cautious about their enthusiasm for Syndicate. I was too, but the team leading development at Ubisoft Quebec decisively addressed the major gameplay problems from Unity. The lock-picking minigames are gone, the leveling system is rewarding, the combat is enjoyable, and the gross ties to exterior companion content are no more. Even co-op is absent, leaving a purely single-player experience. I can't say that Syndicate is glitch-free, but its technical anomalies (A.I. issues, stalled objectives, wonky collision) are in the same tier that fans have seen since the series' inception. That doesn't make them less annoying, but outside of an occasional cutscene or checkpoint, they don't mar the experience significantly.
The Assassin's Creed series has been running for eight years, and that kind of longevity doesn't happen without taking a few risks. To combat fatigue, each entry attempts to punctuate the familiar with new elements. Not all of these experiments pay off, but successful ideas might get folded into the core formula. Assassin's Creed Syndicate is the result of this process at its best; it removes outdated mechanics, refines the best concepts from other installments, and still makes its own contributions to the series' evolution. It can't be everything to every fan, but Syndicate is the most fun I've had with an Assassin's Creed title since Brotherhood.
For the first time since Ezio, I'd like to see the story of these heroes continue in future installments. Evie and Jacob Frye star as twin Assassins who attempt to retake London from the Templars in 1868. As the heads of a street gang called The Rooks, the twins hunt down the kingpin Starrick, eliminating his lieutenants along the way. The narrative is straightforward, but I enjoyed how it addresses the consequences of your actions; the void left by killing powerful people in a major cultural center can be just as dangerous as leaving them in control. During all of this, Evie and Jacob don't stray far from their archetypical personas. She is a calculating professional, and he is a brash rogue. Though their clashing natures often produce predictable interactions, they are both confident, capable, and entertaining.
You can play as either Frye as you explore the city, switching between them freely. Jacob and Evie have their own tailored story missions, but the bulk of the open-world activities can be completed as either one. Using two protagonists works surprisingly well, since they share important resources like money and experience. Anything useful you gain as one sibling can be used by the other. I conquered practically every corner of London as Evie, but switched to Jacob for fight clubs and races. Evie is the more likable of the pair; her measured demeanor and preference for stealth lines up better with my perception of an Assassin, especially compared to Jacob's more violent and impulse-driven philosophy. Despite their defined narrative roles, Jacob can still sneak and Evie can still fight, though their aptitudes are based on how you develop them.
The progression system has improved significantly since Unity, surprisingly borrowing from traditional RPG mechanics. Whether you're doing missions for the ridiculous parade of historical figures or pursuing the array of collectibles, your activities result in a steady flow money, materials, and experience, which you funnel back into your characters and gang. The process seems daunting initially, but it's not too complicated. You do the missions and activities that look interesting, earn experience, then spend your skill points on new abilities (which feel like upgrades, not just skills you should have had from the start). Buying skills also results in gaining levels, and higher levels mean you can equip more powerful gear. This satisfying gameplay loop surrounding your gradual ascent conveys a sense of growing power and influence, and ensures that no time you spend playing Syndicate is wasted.