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Assassin's Creed Syndicate and eating the crust first when playing games

I eat the crust first. I can't say when I picked up the habit, but today no sandwich can cross my plate without being de-crusted bite by bite. The habit is silly and gross and I can't quit. I eat a hamburger by nibbling around the perimeter until all that remains is the juicy, scrumptious crustless bite.

I don't like crust, though I suppose I don't hate it either. Crust, purely by comparison, makes the rest of the meal better. It's the chore I complete in total before I allow myself to enjoy the good stuff.

The habit isn't limited to sandwiches. I prefer to run first thing in the morning; I clean before football on Sundays; I dread driving far for activities, because I know I'll have to drive all the way back — if I could, I'd do all of the driving up front. I don't begrudge these activities, I just see them for the obligatory work they are.

My crust-eating ways impacts how I spend free time, too. In the fall, I have to and get to play a lot of video games. In recent years, though, the season has been like gorging on gaming's crust. When you play an open-world game and you're encouraged to level up by completing side quests; that's crust. When you begin a platformer, and suffer through a couple hours of too-easy tutorial levels; crust. When you compete in a multiplayer shooter and you are at a disadvantage until you unlock better weapons; that's the stalest of crust.

Assassin's Creed Unity is crust disguised as video game

The most egregious offender is Assassin's Creed, a franchise that originated as a singular fun hook — quietly assassinating high-profile targets — but has since been tossed into larger and larger trash bags full of crust, culminating last year with Assassin's Creed Unity, a video game that may have been the first in history to be composed by a majority of stale filler.

This, a capture of Unity's countless side activities, is crust run rampant.

Assassin's Creed map

Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Unity's follow up released this past week, has not necessarily trimmed the extraneous quests, but has made them more digestible. It's the first Assassin's Creed in years in which most side missions are enjoyable. But as I said, crust doesn't have to taste bad. The problem is one of obligation: like a parent, Syndicate sees that crust on your plate and lets you know damned well you should eat it.

The pleasure of open-world games like Assassin's Creed is using a variety of skills to climb about the beautiful cities in the fastest, most thrilling ways possible; to fight with the finest weapons available; and to create the biggest crew of AI-controlled co-conspirators. To do this, in theory, you play through the campaign. But Syndicate's world, if you play on foot and don't teleport from one main location to the next, is littered with thousands of distractions, each of which provide the money, resources, and experience points to upgrade. On top of that, there are helix thingamabobs, pressed flowers, bottles of beer, and posters to collect, the purpose of which I still don't know — the game hasn't really told me!

How do I ignore all these bonuses begging to be collected?

But I have to collect everything and perform every task, because if I don't grab that helix whatchamacallit now, I will have to search for it later. It's only a minute out of the way! And I might as well knock out the nearest side quest and the one alongside that and the one after that, because they're near the next mission anyway, and they help unlock abilities that make the entire game more enjoyable.

I do this with every Assassin's Creed, because what I know now is this truth: the Assassin's Creed games aren't that much fun until your character has become a goddess of death. To get there takes a grind, or to put it another way, a stomach full of crust. Like I said, Syndicate has made these missions better, but there are so many, and they're so similar, that even the best "non-required" missions become dull after a few hours.

I know, I'm doing it wrong! I hear your dear reader, already halfway through your furious email. I should skip to the missions! I should not succumb to the temptation! Fact remains that the game is designed to tempt; Assassin's Creed Syndicate is a giant world full of obligatory work, and finishing the outside edges of the game will make its ooey-gooey center all the better. But a dozen hours in, I'm almost full of this game from filler alone.

Of course, I'll keep playing: I'm just getting to the good part.