If I Was in Charge of… Assassin’s Creed

Assassin's Creed 4

Sit down, take some deep breaths, and calm yourself; I’m mere seconds away from probably causing an implosion within your brain. Another Assassin’s Creed is set to release, starring the swashbuckling privateer assassin shown above. Shocking, right? A precedent hasn’t been set for such behavior. I mean, I’ve almost forgotten about this cash cow franchise Ubisoft continues to push out over and over again. Although slowly descending into sarcasm, my point stands. Assassin’s Creed continues to be a powerhouse of a franchise, outselling nearly every other game, so what is the problem? What is Ubisoft doing incorrectly with one of the most signature set of games in the generation? What would I, a mere gamer, do with such a coveted golden goose? Funny you should ask.

I’m resisting the urge to just write “GIVE IT A BREAK, DAMMIT” in large, bold letters is hard, because the topic deserves more respect than that. Ever since Assassin’s Creed II‘s explosive critical and commercial success, each year has seen its own entry in the series. Assassin’s Creed II, Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Assassin’s Creed III, and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation all came forth from 2009 to 2012 respectively, with two releasing in 2009 and 2012. That’s just counting the console and Sony handheld spin-offs. In case you don’t want to crunch the numbers, that’s a lot of stabbing, running, and falling in such a short amount of time.

Sadly, a more boring Ezio.

Sadly, a more boring Ezio.

Short enough and expected enough to where it hasn’t been a surprise since Revelations‘ bastardized announcement. Routines set expectations, slightly hampering the notion of actually being excited with the rush of surprise, especially when each is so soon. Assassin’s Creed III is still floating around in some gamer’s minds due to the new King Washington DLC and the talk of the sequel will overlap. Isn’t that a little… odd?

Lacking much surprise leaks into the actual game. Each Assassin’s Creed has had minor improvements in certain areas, but they’re all fundamentally similar titles. I completely understand that sequels have multiple aspects in common; it’s kind of a thing they do. However, playing them every single year squanders a portion of the games and makes them feel a little too alike.

ACIII was a step up, but even shared some of the narrow parameters of the series' past.

ACIII was a step up, but even shared some of the narrow parameters of the series’ past.

Time between releases does more than people might think. Take the recent Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for example. While I admire the game, I can confidently say that it is basically more Sly Cooper. Is that massive strike against the game? No, because we haven’t even seen the anthropomorphic raccoon since 2005. Taking nearly an eight year break did wonders because, while ultimately formulaic, it was just comforting to see Sly and the gang back in action. Gamers don’t get that privilege of having the same thoughts about Assassin’s Creed.

Assassin’s Creed‘s less favorable traits don’t usually get snipped out with each release, which could be the most puzzling part. Each has made some sort of step forward, whether it be Brotherhood‘s streamlined approach to combat or ACIII‘s improved free running, but all of them possess similar issues. Strict mission design plagues each title, some more than others, and continues to be a sticking point for all entries. Although not my personal nitpick, players have had serious beef with the parkour controls, combat, the numerous glitches, and other less than glorious negatives constantly hurled at the franchise. Quick, annualized releases remind players of the issues and each becomes less forgivable after each year.

Even though the combat was a highlight in ACIII, it could be improved.

Even though the combat was a highlight in ACIII, it could be improved.

It pressures the development teams to focus on innovation, but the lack of time doesn’t allow such a luxury. Revelations is the best example, feeling like a drastic step backwards just to make something different, for better or worse. How many times can you just maintain the status quo without reaching a massive drop in buzz?

Gameplay aside, the story has been stretched out far beyond its comfortable limit. Not the personal story of each assassin, but the overarching story of Desmond, the apocalypse, and the ghost women. What started out as initially interesting got pushed and dragged out to the point of absurdity. Why do I care about these people anymore and how many more times can the same family be arbitrarily pushed into the Animus? Why has it taken more than five games to not even solve this epidemic? Assassin’s Creed III had some finality, but the rumors pointing to the new protagonist retroactively cancel out any sort of desperate attempt at closure.

You again....?

You again….?

If I was handed the keys to the series, I’d put it in stasis. Believe me, I’m acutely aware of how many units each entry ships and the general base quality of each. Leaving that money on the table might sound insane, but looking at the long haul over the quick buck might be the wiser choice. Rather than burn out quickly, maintaining a longer staying power could be the healthier, if harder, alternative.

—–

Quick derailment

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Part of this can be attributed the industry’s paralyzing fear of trying new things. Yes, Ubisoft gets mad props from me for the new take on Rayman, but the clingy attitude shown by publishers to milk the biggest consumer base dry as quickly as possible incentivizes them to stick to what works. Ubisoft isn’t the only guilty party, since just about every major publisher would rather fund a sequel over a new IP. Let me halt this derailment here, but, next to Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed continues to reign. It’s just a question of how long this can continue to happen.
—–

Quick derailment over

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The designers need to reevaluate what makes the series what it is and tweak it accordingly so it can evolve. What can they keep to maintain relevancy? What can be discarded? Besides a reboot, I don’t have the specific answer. It’s more that the talented designers need some more time away from the series to come to such conclusions. If the teams stepped back and got engrossed in another IP, the time away would give them new ideas along with letting the audience take a breather. It may be hard for Ubisoft to publish something else in place of AC, but great teams can make more than a few successful franchises.

Revelations was the biggest example of filler.

Revelations was the biggest example of filler.

Multiple routes and mission paths would benefit the series. Some folks might dispute the thought, but sneaking is usually an encouraged playstyle in the AC games. Stealth titles that leverage multiple paths or choices usually feel like better, more well-rounded experiences along with pumping out more replay value. Designing around multiple approaches would destroy the annoying mission fail states and allow for the player to discover and tailor the mission to their playstyle. Liberation had the biggest potential here since it offered multiple personas, but it was barely more than a frustrating, failed glimmer of what could come.

Rather than an article based solely on hatred and cynicism, writing this stemmed from my intense admiration for all things Assassin’s Creed. If I didn’t care, it wouldn’t be on my mind enough for me to slap my fingers on the keyboard to pump out such an intensely passionate article. After all, you don’t see me writing about Sonic, do you? If Ubisoft opts to keep the AC train going, I’m hopeful that the new generation will be enough of a kickstarter to keep the love afloat. Because if not, how sad would it be if the first true next generation entrant barely garnered more than a tepid response?

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