Developed by Ubisoft Montreal. Published by Ubisoft. Releases on November 11th. Available on PS4, Xbox One, PC. Travel accommodations provided by Ubisoft.
To date, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series has taken players all around history, ranging from the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy to the height of Renaissance Italy. While the series began in comparatively humble beginnings back with the Third Crusade, its settings and gameplay spaces have been getting increasingly elaborate as time passes. And following the leap into the current generation console cycle this latest iteration is no different and certainly bigger and more complex than ever. This time around, the developers at Ubisoft are taking the struggle of Assassins and Templars to perhaps its most iconic time and place yet – Paris during the French Revolution.
Recreating a city like Paris is no small task and Assassin’s Creed Unity is giving players more access to the interiors of buildings as well, not just jumping around on the outside. Paris is widely known for its landmarks, and players will get to interact with a number of them in game – some of which are even recreated at a 1:1 scale. While the Eiffel Tower won’t be built for another century after events during the game, many of the older landmarks like Notre Dame do feature heavily.
On top of all of this, Ubisoft is layering their own subtle anachronisms into the mix. These historical difference might be for specific gameplay or story reasons, or simply because our modern perceptions are already a little warped. A simple example of this is that some of the clothing styles are borrowed from a decade or two ahead of time. Because what your average person imagines when thinking of that time period is perhaps something closer to the Napoleonic Wars. Finding the careful balance is only one of the hurdles the developers needed to overcome.
Recently, we got the chance to tour and see some of these landmarks in real life and talk to the developers who were tasked with recreating them in game.
Personally, I found the Bastille, both its history and presence in game, to to be utterly fascinating.
Unlike a number of the other impressive landmarks in the game, the Bastille isn’t around any more. All that remains of the fortress are some foundation stones that you can only see by going deep into the Parisian metro system. Obviously, this makes recreating the Bastille just a little bit harder than the other landmarks and monuments.
However, the Bastille, and in particular the storming of the fort, has been immortalized time and time again since it’s largely seen as the kicking off point for the French Revolution. The Storming of the Bastille even features prominently in one of the trailers for Assassin’s Creed Unity. During that time, the fort was being used as a prison, though interestingly there were only seven prisoners present. These seven prisoners included four there for forgery, two mentally ill and noble locked up on request from his family for his sexual deviancy. While the event has been propagandized as a blow against a tyrannical government and freeing these wrongly imprisoned folks, what the revolutionaries were really after were the guns and gunpowder being stored there.
After the seizing of the fort, here’s where history and Assassin’s Creed Unity will part ways. Historically the fortress was quickly torn down and destroyed. Many of the stones were used to create other structures in Paris, like the Pont de la Concorde bridge, and other stones were carved into the likeness of the Bastille as memorabilia. In game however, despite occurring across several years, the Bastille will remain throughout the game.
Touring the ossuaries below Paris is perhaps one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had. Your mind quickly switches off from being able to register the sheer quantity of bones entombed there as being from millions of people. Yes, millions. There are reportedly 6 million buried there. Towards the end of the 18th century, Paris was having issues with its cemeteries being overcrowded. The solution that floated to the surface was to permanently lay to rest the bones of the dead in the abandoned limestone mines below the city.
This is another area where the folks at Ubisoft are lightly bending history. The undergrounds serve as an important route of transit in the game, and as seen in the screenshots they often draw on the distinctive style and bone arrangement seen in the Catacombs. The transformation of these catacombs to be a mausoleum of sorts, including the bone stacking, would not begin until 1810 however.
Hotel de Ville
Hotel de Ville, City Hall, was initially laid down in 1357. It was torn down and rebuilt a few centuries later into the structure that current stands and features in the game. Hotel de Ville and its accompanying square Place de Grève were the site of a number of important events during the French Revolution. Place de Grève was already well known as a site of executions even before the revolution.
Following the storming of the Bastille, the mob came to Hotel de Ville and killed Jacques de Flesselles the provost of the merchants, a position roughly equivalent to mayor.
Another historic figure related to Hotel de Ville, Maximilien Robespierre who was rather famously shot in the jaw before being executed, will be one of the historical characters in the game itself. Though the story will be interweaving the politics of the Templars and Assassins into the revolution.
These days the Louvre Palace is better known as an art museum where you can go see a staggeringly large amount of other great works of art. Originally a fortress – some of the original structure can still be seen below the current building – the fortress was transitioned into a palace over 20 years in the 1300s. Perhaps more important during the French Revolution is that the Louvre and its connection to the Tuileries Palace and the royal leaders at the time. Tuileries Palace would later be burned down in 1871.
A game centered on French Revolution couldn’t well ignore Louis XVI, who will play a role in the game. Arno, the lead assassin in Assassin’s Creed Unity will witness Louis XVI’s execution.
While the other landmarks in Paris are certainly impressive, it’s no surprise that Notre Dame is Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s centerpiece. Some of the other other buildings have been compressed to make Paris fit into a tighter game space, but Notre Dame is being created in game nearly to scale. This makes for some impressive views when looking out across Paris from the top of the towers.
The famous cathedral started construction in 1163 and was completed in 1345. The Notre Dame in game didn’t take quite as long, but it still represented 14 months of research and production, or 5,000 hours, to recreate the interior and exterior. Interestingly, this trip was the first time that the level artist in charge of creating Notre Dame in game was seeing the cathedral in real life.
Some other interesting trivia, the cathedral itself is public domain, but much the the interior, like the stain glass windows, is not. So the developers had to come up with their own designs for these windows. They also included colored glass though at the time the windows would have been simple clear glass. Other structural elements are further anachronisms making the building more recognizable to modern viewers, and the interior is strung with wire and censors in order to make it a more navigable area for players.
And many more.
Paris is a city rich with history, so there are many other landmarks that made it into the game. Even with some of the scaling done, Paris is still the largest city ever done in an Assassin’s Creed game, and when you include all the interior space and undergrounds the total game area brings it up to being around three times the space of any other game.
All told, Paris and the French Revolution looks to be Assassin’s Creed‘s most interesting setting yet. I really enjoyed seeing how the developers at Ubisoft slightly warp history to make for a better game experience. If you want to know more about the game, you can read about our hands on time with it here. Assassin’s Creed Unity will be available Nov 11th on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.