When we heard of Ubisoft's plan to require an internet connection for all their future PC games, we hoped they'd abort it or scale it back in the face of the outrage and astonishment it caused. They haven't, and it's here. Details are below.
We've just received Assassin's Creed 2 and Settlers VII for review, and verified with Ubisoft that the DRM is the same as the boxed product. If you get disconnected while playing, you're booted out of the game. All your progress since the last checkpoint or savegame is lost, and your only options are to quit to Windows or wait until you're reconnected.
The game first starts the Ubisoft Game Launcher, which checks for updates. If you try to launch the game when you're not online, you hit an error message right away. So I tried a different test: start the game while online, play a little, then unplug my net cable. This is the same as what happens if your net connection drops momentarily, your router is rebooted, or the game loses its connection to Ubisoft's 'Master servers'. The game stopped, and I was dumped back to a menu screen - all my progress since it last autosaved was lost.
Ubi have asked that we not show screenshots of Assassin's Creed 2 on PC, so here's my best MS Paint illustration of what you'll see.
Even if everyone in the world had perfect internet connections that never dropped out, this would still mean that any time Ubisoft's 'Master servers' are down for any reason, everyone playing a current Ubisoft game is kicked out of it and loses their progress. Even massively multiplayer games aren't so draconian about the internet: you can't play when the server's down, but at least you don't lose anything for getting disconnected.
The only benefit we're being offered is the ability to store our savegames online. Personally, I'm in the rare position of getting to play PC games at work, and even for me this is a fringe benefit. How many normal gamers have two separate gaming machines on which they play the same single-player games? And how many of those don't know about DropBox, Live Mesh or any of the dozens of free services that can already sync your savegames perfectly well?
We've all seen again and again that you can't stop the piracy scene from cracking your game and distributing it, free of DRM. But you can stop the people who love your games from downloading it, and you do that by making the retail experience better - not worse.
Addendum: Some people are inferring that your savegames are only stored online - that's not the case. You can set the Ubisoft Game Launcher not to upload your saves, and even if you permit it, it seems the saves are made locally first and then uploaded when you exit the game. Whichever setting you choose, you still need to be online to launch or play the game.
We've spoke to Ubisoft directly about the points raised. You can read their responses here.