If we were writing this review for an English literature class, we'd argue that Franciade is a metaphor for Assassin's Creed Unity as a whole. The expansive sandbox setting, which serves as hero Arno Dorian's stomping ground during add-on Dead Kings, is dark and dreary, contrasting the oversaturated architecture of Paris with something a little more miserable – a bit like the game itself.
The plot picks up after the events of the core campaign, and sees the predictably glum protagonist bargaining for his exit from France. This ushers the assassin into an epilogue involving overconfident infants, catacombs, and some of the worst puzzles that we've seen in some time. The extended ending does come to a more satisfying conclusion than the story that it's furthering, but you'll have to work through a muddled sequence of events before you get there.
No one comes to Ubisoft's pseudo-historical series for the plot, though – it's all about the gameplay, right? Well, you'll find the usual blend of borderline broken platforming and clunky combat present and correct in this expansion. While you'll spend a fair amount of time treading the roof tiles of Saint-Denis' rustic housing estates, it's the underground catacombs that will mostly keep you company. It's here, among the remains of dead dignitaries, that you'll go in search of an artifact that will supposedly save your home nation.
It's also underground that the game introduces its chief new mechanical component: the lantern. The oil operated lighting aid is clumsily mapped to L3, and is used to clear conundrums and run through routes blocked off by creepy-crawlies. In truth, it's all a bit gimmicky, and while it does bring a reliable light source to the poorly lit subterranean setting, you almost get the sense that the developer realised that it was a bad idea during development, as it's swiftly abandoned outside of several boring brazier-based puzzles.
Fortunately, the Guillotine Gun fares a little better than the lamp, adding an enjoyable combat option to Arno's arsenal. Operating much like an axe in hand-to-hand skirmishes, the implement is slow but deadly. It's much more useful when used as a ranged weapon, however, as it works much like a grenade launcher, allowing you to drop mortar bombs into the middle of condensed crowds, before separating them in a swift, satisfying blast. Who doesn't like ragdoll animations, huh?
You'll find yourself up against bigger groups of enemies in this expansion, too, as Raiders number in their hundreds when you're beneath Franciade. These are weak individually, but they will work together when you're spotted in order to bring you down. As a result, you'll need to take out their armoured leader in order to get the upper-hand, at which point the lackeys will run to safety and leave you alone. It's a good idea on paper, and it should encourage stealth, but we found it easier to run into combat, drop a smoke bomb, and then throw a flurry of blows at the distracted chief.
And sadly this is just one example of Unity's flawed core souring the overall experience. While framerate problems aren't exactly prevalent in this add-on pack, we still ran into instances where we'd get trapped in the game's geometry or the sound would partially cut out. Moreover, the cramped Indiana Jones-esque corridors of the catacombs make a poor fit for the property's sticky platforming, meaning that you'll find yourself frequently clinging to the wrong walls as you try to traverse.
To be fair, there's a significant amount of content in the add-on, ranging from new costumes right the way through to fresh chests. However, we couldn't help but chortle when we encountered a series of Far Cry-style Outpost side-missions; as if Ubisoft's open world design philosophy wasn't already heavily homogenised, the publisher's still found space to further the crossover between brands. It's stuff like this that will make you roll your eyes during the expansion's six or so hour running time.
Assassin's Creed Unity: Dead Kings may comprise part of Ubisoft's apology for the dire state of the primary Parisian escapade at launch, but you don't need to play it just because it's free. The bleak backdrop of Franciade sums up this miserable outing, as you engage in dreary underground missions built around the most rudimentary of brazier-based puzzles. We like the addition of the Raiders and the Guillotine Gun, but they're the only jewels in this expansion's smelted crown. Forget about the French revolution – this franchise needs an uprising of its own.