Ubisoft recently threw a massive Assassin’s Creed Syndicate event in the heart of London – the setting of latest epic assassin action-adventure. We sent two lucky fans and Microsoft MVPs, Jill Dembowski and Jeff Yenzer, to observe and report on their time with the game and the city itself. Here’s a fans-eye view of what you can expect from Syndicate’s Victorian London when you step into the stealthy shoes of twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye.
Dembowski: Everyone has those bucket list destinations – places you hope to one day visit. London, England has always been the top of my list, and I finally got my chance to go. But this wasn’t just a regular vacation; no, I was on a mission. Ubisoft was having a gathering of sorts to show off Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and they were kind enough to invite me along for the ride.
Having never been outside of the United States, my arrival in London simply felt like I had fallen into one of my old high school history books. After pinching myself several times, I was able to remember the purpose of my trip. I was going to be playing some of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate… in the actual city it takes place in!
Yenzer: Travel has always been something that I swore to myself that I would “get around to,” but rarely made happen. I was nearly 30 before I took more than a single airplane ride within a calendar year, and the reason behind even that was the promotion of my performance group, and not for myself. I tell you all this to provide context on how important this journey was to me, and how it will resonate with me for years to come. Being asked by Ubisoft to travel to England to represent the Microsoft MVP program and preview Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate was an honor and a privilege.
Dembowski: On our first evening in the city, the rest of the group and I were brought to St. Paul’s Cathedral for dinner. My eyes were wide, trying to take the whole building in at once; everything about this historic cathedral was rich with detail. I stood, staring at the ceiling for ages, before studying the altar and the stained glass behind it. After this, we moved on to the crypt, where a long table was set for us to dine among the dead.
Yenzer: After an informal tour of the building’s gorgeous interior, we descended to the catacombs for a gorgeous multi-course dinner, laid out for over 100 members of the development team and press (and us!). Post-dinner, I had a nice walk with some of my fellow travelers along the Thames in the shadow of Big Ben and the Eye of London, tried alcoholic slushies along the South Bank, and took a trip to the Banksy Tunnel (which is a must-see if you are to visit – if only for its kooky aesthetic and vibrant style).
Dembowski: The next day was game day. Typical of London, it was a gray and rainy day as we boarded the bus. We took in some fish and chips at a nearby pub, before crossing the cobbled streets to the venue. I crossed the threshold to what seemed to be an old machinery warehouse; there was an old, horse-drawn carriage (sans horse) in the corner. I listened intently to the developers who have been hard at work on Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, then they introduced a historian whose main focus was to give the studio some direction in making the game as historically accurate as possible.
Yenzer: Judith Flanders was the Historical Consultant that Ubisoft brought in to maintain authenticity with the period – and the Assassin’s Creed tradition of being as much a teaching mechanism as it is a great action game. Flanders was even able to track down a recording of a person from outside London in that time period, so that the team was able to instruct the voice actors on how to properly style their dialects to match Jacob and Evie.
This attention to detail is what got me interested in the franchise to begin with and it was wonderful talking to Flanders about everything from Syndicate being her first experience playing a video game, to her educated opinion on who perpetrated the Jack the Ripper murders (she likens it to a modern day over-dramatized media sensation, standing behind the theory that is was no one important… but rather, just a deranged individual that the newly defined news media ran with for attention and intrigue). From a purely historical standpoint, she would love to see the series tackle the Witch Trials in Salem and around Europe.
Dembowski: At last, after checking out the final trailer for the game, we were directed to the darkness of the warehouse basement – where the consoles were prepped, and ready for us to play. I dove in headfirst, taking control of Jacob Frye. I explored the streets of London; all of the old buildings that I had seen on the ride into the city were carefully recreated. I flipped to take control of Evie, Jacob’s twin sister. I was excited to see a female assassin incorporated so flawlessly into the game. Evie is strong, stealthy, and comes with her own set of unique skills. I lost myself in the game, just as I had lost myself in London when I arrived.
I quickly grew fond of Syndicate’s new sword-cane weapon. It may look like an ordinary cane to the public eye, but the sword within can be deadly when necessary. I also found great use for the new rope launcher; as much as I love climbing the tall buildings, the launcher really helps with quick getaways, or for moving undetected between buildings.
Yenzer: This game’s look at 1868 London is an expansive one, and the game is as massive as it is gorgeous. The designers set about making the city into a character all its own, with each borough even containing ambient music from the period that changes as your exploits become more public and people start writing “Murder Ballads” about you to sing out pub windows each night.
Landmarks are put together with a level of detail that I can now confidently say is second-to-none. There was always a feeling of “I wonder if I could climb that…” stemming from a session playing this series, but after walking around London so soon afterward, the desire to do so became a little eerie.
Dembowski: Before long, my time was up in Victorian England, and I had to return to the present day. I made my way out of the damp warehouse, back to the rainy London streets, with my view of the city slightly changed by what I played. I wished for a sword-cane in one hand and a rope launcher in the other.
After another bite to eat, we set off on a walking tour that focused on the dealings of Jack the Ripper. Having little knowledge on the subject myself, I was excited to learn some background information, since Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is slated to have some downloadable Jack the Ripper-themed content. Our tour guide was very animated and knowledgeable as he brought us around to the different “murder sites,” and he told us about the many theories and rumors that still exist surrounding Jack the Ripper today. The tour ended in a dimly lit alleyway, where our guide described the gruesome death of the killer’s fifth victim. I couldn’t believe I was standing near where such a thing happened.
Yenzer: Our final full day in London was marked with a tour of Buckingham Palace, a stop at Westminster to see the Cathedral (as well as Big Ben), and finally a walk within the Tower of London. Each was as magnificent as I had hoped, and truly gave me a sense of England’s vast history. The opulent rooms and dark tunnels were breathtaking… especially when I took the time to ponder how long they have been there, and how they have withstood the test of time.
Dembowski: When we drove past Big Ben, my thoughts flashed back to my time in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate when I looked at the top of the in-game tower, wishing I could find myself up there somehow. But a leap of faith, of course, isn’t quite so easy in real life. In the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels were closely guarded. While tourists are not allowed to take photographs of them, they aren’t something I’m likely to forget. A crown for coronation, a crown for “day wear,” the small crown of Queen Victoria… so much beauty and history on display!
Yenzer: After a final night at the pubs, we all set off the next morning, sad to leave – but so happy for the opportunity to visit such a wonderful city. This trip allowed me to scratch off one of my travel bucket list items far earlier than I ever thought possible.
Dembowski: Overall, my London trip was a dream come true. Not only was I able to cross London off my bucket list, but I was able to experience Assassin’s Creed Syndicate first-hand, in the city that it’s based on. I left London the next day, itching to play the game again – and already dreaming of my next visit to London.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is available for Xbox One now!