The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Assassin’s Creed
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Assassin’s Creed
Inconsistency. It’s a word that readily comes to mind when people think of Assassin’s Creed. From the high of Assassin’s Creed 2 to the low of Assassin’s Creed 3, the franchise often fails to convince from year to year. Now, the concern of many gamers have become very vocal after the widespread, and very public problems Assassin’s Creed Unity encountered and with a new entry, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate well on its way many are sceptical about the future of the once great series. Despite the amount of negative criticism the series has drawn over recent years I don’t think the cause is hopeless and still hope what was once my favourite series of games can regain that title. As a result I’m going to take a look at the series, what has worked, what hasn’t worked as well and what can and should be put right.
Everything is Permitted
When I played the original Assassin’s Creed I was pleasantly surprised by a game that was much better than I was expecting. While not everyone’s favourite game it clearly demonstrated the potential for future games. Its parkour mechanics, intriguing plot and setting of the Crusades set it apart from other games around the time. It felt different, something fresh, something new. I loved the evolution of Altair from a brash and overconfident man to a wise and thoughtful individual. I liked the weird sci-fi mystery of the present day storyline and how the two linked together. The sequel improved on this formula in every way making for a more complete game. What became most apparent from these early years of the franchise was that there was huge potential. The ability to create a world, based on any historical setting you could imagine was and still is incredibly exciting and remains the biggest draw of the series. I’m always intrigued by the announcement (or more usually leaked location) of a new setting in the series. As a bit of a history nerd taking part in famous events and meeting famous people of historical periods is fascinating to me. Although the franchise could go further in its diversity, we’ve already seen an amazing variety from the American Frontier to Renaissance Italy and from Jerusalem to Havana. This aspect should always be a mainstay in the series especially when Ubisoft is so talented at creating these spectacular vistas.
The story like the gameplay varies in its success from game to game. However, it cannot be denied that the series treated us to an incredible character in Ezio Auditore. Guiding the young Italian from teenager to master assassin across three games was incredibly rewarding and he remains quite possibly my favourite gaming protagonist of all time. Ezio’s story in particular was a fascinating tale of revenge that had me hooked and offered some great villains in Rodrigo and Cesare Borgia. Although future protagonists haven’t always been such a hit there have been some great storytelling such as in Assassin’s Creed Rogue which showed us a different side to the Assassin/Templar feud and gave us a character in Shay with much more depth to him. The present day story, to put it bluntly, isn’t for everyone. But personally I loved the weird twists and cliffhangers that became a staple of the series. Once again there is a great potential here for more stories and something different from what we’ve already seen
For many years the gameplay of Assassin’s Creed has been stagnant with very little change. Sure we’re offered new weapons and the side content changes in its format but for the most part things haven’t changed all that much. This, for some, is the series’ biggest problem. The controls are always slightly off and even with Assassins Creed Unity and a revamp it seems there are still problems. Nearly everyone has witnessed their character accidentally jump off a building or run up a wall at some point in the series. New introductions like a dedicated stealth mechanic are similarly reported to be unrefined and clunky. Perhaps one of my biggest problems with the gameplay is a lack of compelling side content. I, and other gamers I’m sure, don’t appreciate collectibles just for the sake of collectibles. I’d like a tangible reward for collecting lots of feathers or animus fragments. Yes, there is usually some compensation but it normally isn’t worth it, like an audio file or a new cape especially when collecting these items takes up so much of your time. Optional side missions should always have some story or hook to them in my opinion and too much of Assassin’s Creed’s side content is meaningless. Ubisoft need only look to a recent example in The Witcher III: Wild Hunt to see how it should be done with those missions branching into others with a story to them. Its frustrating if Ubisoft put so much effort into creating a beautiful recreation of a city if it’s filled with uninteresting activities.
Yes, the story is both good and bad. Unfortunately, we’ve seen more misses than hits. Connor Kenway was blasted for being boring and unlikable but the problem wasn’t with the character itself, it was his portrayal in the game. He claimed to be about freedom but his story boiled down to getting revenge against the men who burned down his village, while his actions were often unpredictable and the supporting cast weren’t given enough personality or screen-time to become as likeable as people like Leonardo da Vinci. Although being a pirate and sailing the high seas was a ton of fun Edward Kenway’s story made little sense and often disappointed. Ubisoft need to create compelling characters with depth to them if they want players to remain interested. The plot of the game needs to impress rather than loosely tie set pieces together. This year, we will finally be able to play as a female assassin in one of the main titles but questions might be raised as to why Jacob is the focus and not Evie in Assassins Creed Syndicate.
This next point might not be popular but the present day storyline should return in a substantial manner. Ubisoft took the majority’s reaction to Desmond Miles as meaning they weren’t interested in the present day story at all (which some aren’t). However, if Ubisoft introduces a new character who is interesting and furthers the story then people will get on board with it. Instead of letting us become a fully fledged modern-day assassin, we’ve been taken backwards to the original game and forced to hack computers and read emails. The main focus will, and should, be the main story but why not let us carry out a heist, rescue an ally or take down a target in the present day. For all its problems this is something Assassin’s Creed 3 actually got right with diversions to Brazil and Abstergo, its problem was that it just wasn’t fun enough. Connect the past and present day stories in a cool way and most importantly, progress the story. What is going on with Juno? What are the Assassins actually doing at this point?
A Year in the Making
One of the comment’s I see most on news relating to the franchise is to take it off a yearly release cycle. To be clear, these games aren’t made in a year, rather there is always more than one in development at any given time and it usually takes 2-3 years to make the game. Nevertheless, less frequent releases aren’t necessarily the answer. After all, Assassin’s Creed Unity had the most development time of any AC game since Assassin’s Creed 2 and still didn’t pan out. Having said that the yearly release cycle presents its own challenges. One is that the public can and possibly will get tired of your games particularly if they don’t evolve and innovate. The other problem is, how do you learn from the previous game’s mistakes if many parts of the new game are already well into production? If each Assassin’s Creed game was fantastic year on year this wouldn’t be an issue but that unfortunately isn’t the case.
Nothing is true
Assassin’s Creed Unity had many bugs, glitches and performance problems upon release, and some may claim still does. I will also make a confession: I haven’t played it. Partly because I don’t own a new-gen console yet and partly because of the outrage around its release which as a long time Assassin’s Creed fan I followed closely. Bugs are nothing new to the franchise, they’ve always been there, with Assassin’s Creed Revelations and Assassin’s Creed 3 being notable examples but Unity was something else entirely. To be fair, Unity wasn’t the only game to suffer issues last year on launch and some might say (including Ubisoft themselves) they were being ambitious, perhaps too ambitious. This does not hide the irrevocable fact that the game wasn’t ready. What is perhaps most telling is its delay of 1-2 weeks, an admission perhaps by the developer that they needed more time and the publisher perhaps refusing to budge too much from its original release window. Even more telling is the review embargo which ceased around 12 hours after the game’s release, an unusual practice for a big triple-A game like Assassins Creed.
During their live reveal of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, the developers spoke quite candidly and transparently about the disappointment they felt at Unity’s review scores and reception and seemed to confess some guilt upon their part for being overambitious. At first I was surprised by such a confession but upon reflection I wonder if the timing is off. Yes, Ubisoft have apologized for Unity after release before but this new statement comes at a time of promoting a new game which irks me. Waiting till now to say such a thing comes across as trying to push more units of Syndicate which if true is poor taste. The creative director of the new title has stated in an interview that the game will be given more time for testing thank Unity but if this works out remains to be seen.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has a lot of pressure on it right now and may be a turning point for better or worse. Will the series’ sales take a large hit after Unity? Can Ubisoft truly create a game worthy of Assassins Creed 2? While I want to remain optimistic (the new characters of Jacob and Evie look to have some personality and the game does look impressive) I, like many gamers, will be taking a wait and see approach after seeing what happened last year. It remains to be seen if Ubisoft can deliver the goods…
What do you think of the franchise? Are you looking forward to Assassins Creed Syndicate?
Let me know by commenting below
Thanks for reading.