Opinion: How far has Assassin's Creed come and how can it improve?

Let's sharpen our blades and cut to the core of the Assassin's Creed series.

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When the very first Assassin’s Creed game was released in 2007, I doubt anyone, even its developer Ubisoft, realized just how much the franchise would expand in the years to come. Since the first game’s release, the Assassin’s Creed series has produced six major console and PC titles with another slated for release this fall. That’s not counting spin-off games such as Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, the Freedom Cry DLC for ACIV: Black Flag, which was later released as a standalone game, or the large myriad of other handheld and mobile games. Despite its obvious popularity, concerns of franchise fatigue and a lack of gameplay innovation have dogged the Assassin’s Creed series for quite some time, but what can Ubisoft do to reignite the spark of interest for fatigued critics without pushing core fans away? Let’s take a look at past games and see where the series made the right moves… or took a wrong turn.

Outdated out of the box

The first Assassin’s Creed game is likely remembered with some degree of fondness by more devoted Assassin’s Creed fans but I don’t think said fondness would hold up if they were to go back and play it today. At its time, the original Assassin’s Creed brought a lot of innovation to the table with a large open world; exploration that spanned multiple planes of elevation thanks to the game’s unique climbing/parkour system; counter-based combat that allowed players to take on multiple assailants with ease, and an engaging story that mixed real historic events with a fictional secret war between two powerful factions. However, other elements of the game weren’t quite as innovative

The first Assassin’s Creed game utilized a mechanic which was fairly popular at the time amongst developers but which I, as a gamer, was never a big fan of. During the game’s opening moments, players could experience the game as it was intended, with protagonist Altair equipped with all of his weapons and tools and utilizing all of his Assassin skills. Then, about twenty minutes in, the game took most of that power away. Using a plot device in which Altair had to “redeem his worth” to the Assassin’s Guild, players were forced to slowly reacquire most of Altair’s armaments. This forced them to play at a disadvantage for most of the game and never really gave them any meaningful rewards to look forward to.

Even this wouldn’t have been so bad if there weren’t important skills attached to most of the gear. I’m not sure how losing a piece of armor would suddenly rob a trained combatant of the ability to perform a counter, but such were the limits by which the game’s character progression was confined. This slow, staggered drip of rewards that weren’t really rewards wasn’t the game’s only shortcoming. Bland, boring side content, predictable enemy A.I., the inability to swim due to technical limitations, and an over-reliance on collectibles-hunting overshadowed much of the innovation that Assassin’s Creed brought to the table. Fortunately, Ubisoft made a stronger showing in subsequent entries.

Picking up steam

Assassin’s Creed II, released two years later in 2009, was a major improvement over the first game and is regarded by many fans as the best of all of the core Assassin’s Creed titles. Featuring a new historic setting, a new protagonist, new and improved gameplay mechanics (finally I can swim!), and a continuation of the enigmatic Templars vs. Assassins story, Assassin’s Creed II managed to set a new and much higher benchmark for the series, both in terms of gameplay and story. Considering how popular Assassin’s Creed II ended up being, it’s little wonder that Ubisoft decided to stick with the Renaissance Italy setting and protagonist Ezio Auditore for two more games.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010) and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (2011) didn’t really expand too much on core mechanics like combat or navigation (both of which were starting to show their age) but they did bring their own innovations such as the Recruitment system (first introduced in Brotherhood) which allows players to command a squad of NPC Assassins. An “Assassin’s Den Defense” mini-game was introduced in Revelations, in which players direct varying squads of Assassins against Templar forces from on high. Lastly, there was the inclusion of competitive multiplayer (included in both games) that featured its own story of players training as Templar recruits.

While the Recruitment system and multiplayer were both met with praise from fans, the poorly-implemented Assassin’s Den Defense mini-game combined with a lack of meaningful innovation in other gameplay areas (oh boy, more collectible hunting and frustrating chase/stealth sequences, yay….) left many who played Revelations feeling more fatigued and bored than excited. Ubisoft knew it had to really shake things up and that meant leaving Renaissance Italy behind and venturing into newer, more iconic frontiers.
Indians, Redcoats, and Pirates

The New World

Ramping the excitement back up was exactly what Ubisoft managed to do when it announced Assassin’s Creed III; an all new Assassin’s Creed adventure set during the tumultuous period of the American Revolutionary War. With Native American protagonist Conner Kenway at the helm, Assassin’s Creed III rushed into 2012 with a revamped offense-oriented combat system (to help quell complaints of the slower, more reactionary system of past games), a large world featuring both woodland and urban environments, the addition of cooperative multiplayer, and a story that featured many iconic American heroes such as Benjamin Franklin, Sam Adams, and George Washington.

Sadly, Assassin’s Creed III also charged in with a fair amount of bugs and glitches and Connor’s more stoic, pensive demeanor combined with Ubisoft’s habit of “Forrest Gumping” him into virtually every major event of the war didn’t gel well with fans who had gotten used to Ezio’s charm and swagger. Despite its many innovations and iconic American Revolution setting, Assassin’s Creed III is often branded as the weakest entries in the franchise. The PlayStation Vita spin-off game, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, didn’t fare much better despite being set in its own original setting of French and Indian War-era New Orleans and featuring a playable female Assassin. While Assassin’s Creed III’s problems stemmed from a dearth of bugs and a boring protagonist, Liberation’s faults revolved around poor attempts at gameplay variety and an overall lack of polish.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, released in 2013, managed to wipe away some of the tarnish left over from Assassin’s Creed III mainly by building upon one of the more well-received elements from its predecessor; ship exploration and combat. Casting players into the role of Pirate-turned-Assassin Edward Kenway (Connor Kenway’s grandfather) during the Golden Age of Piracy, Black Flag featured the most expansive and open world of any Assassin’s Creed game to date, mainly because most of it was ocean water. Edward’s devil-may-care swashbuckling demeanor helped to draw Ezio fans back into the fold and new elements such as fleet-building, underwater exploration, revamped multiplayer, and a story rife with pirate legends such as Blackbeard and Charles Vane gave Black Flag an even stronger showing.

However, Black Flag also highlighted, in uncomfortable detail, the areas in which the series still remained stubbornly rooted in the past. Mandatory stealth sequences (a core staple of the series ever since the first game) popped up fairly frequently, but were poorly implemented, and they ended up being frustrating rather than engaging . Once the main story campaign was complete, there was little else to do other than go out and find the game’s staggering amount of collectibles, some of which did nothing else other than pad the player’s total game completion score. While Black Flag was the biggest effort by Ubisoft to push the series forward, it also offered the most glaring look at how backwards-thinking many of its gameplay elements remained.

To Unity and beyond

With the upcoming release of Assassin’s Creed Unity, Ubisoft is once again attempting to push the envelope with a new story set during the French Revolution and the introduction cooperative gameplay. We’ll see if the game falls back into its old ways of mandatory stealth sequences and collectable-hunting that feels more monotonous now than fun. But I’m willing to hope the developer has heard the cries of its fans. I’m also curious to hear more about the rumored last-gen Assassin’s Creed game, codenamed Comet, that is also in the works and whether Ubisoft is planning to make some sort of last-gen/current-gen interconnected experience.

Ubisoft has already made a few significant stumbles by first confirming there would be no female Assassin options for Unity’s cooperative mode and then trying to justify the decision with a flimsy “it would take up too much additional time and resources” excuse. Still, I’m willing to give Unity a shot as long as it attempts to shake up not only the cooperative story multiplayer but also the more traditional standalone multiplayer experience. Hopefully the standard multiplayer won’t suffer from the same lack of diversity as the story multiplayer. I also wouldn’t be adverse to seeing a gameplay experience that focused more on traversal and combat and less on stealth and mindless collecting (unless said stealth was implemented in a non-frustrating manner and said collecting contributed something meaningful to the game’s narrative and wasn’t overdone).

Ubisoft has a chance to redeem the stagnating image of the Assassin’s Creed franchise with Unity. I tend to be an optimistic fellow and I’ve enjoyed every core Assassin’s Creed game to some degree (Assassin’s Creed III was my favorite, surprisingly enough) but I’ve also felt the franchise fatigue set in more and more ever since Brotherhood. I doubt Ubisoft wants to give up on the Assassin’s Creed franchise anytime soon (it is quite a lucrative franchise after all) but the developer certainly has an uphill battle to fight if it hopes to not only bolster fan interest but, more importantly, keep it bolstered.

Freelancer

From The Chatty

  • reply
    July 18, 2014 7:56 AM

    Nathaniel Hohl posted a new article, Opinion: How far has Assassin's Creed come and how can it improve?.

    Let's sharpen our blades and cut to the core of the Assassin's Creed series.

    • reply
      July 18, 2014 11:45 AM

      I'm a huge fan of the AC series, but I have to agree with you - they are getting a little long in the tooth.

      The thing I agree with the most is that there is too much collectibles-hunting in these games, and it gets old, fast.

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      July 18, 2014 12:46 PM

      I think this is a fair assessment of the series' faults, but you don't offer much in the way of "how can it improve?" Also, you are averse to a thing, not adverse.

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      July 18, 2014 1:07 PM

      Next one needs to be set in either feudal Japan, or a "Blade Runner" style location.

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        July 18, 2014 1:23 PM

        I was actually hoping, in the beginning anyway, that it would all lead up to a game where you played as desmond for the entire game in the future.

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          July 18, 2014 1:25 PM

          Ya, that's what I thought would happen too.

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          July 18, 2014 1:40 PM

          I would love to know what the original plan was before the guy who created the series and designed the story told Ubisoft to fuck off for fucking up his trilogy and quit.

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            July 18, 2014 5:41 PM

            Oh shit, is that what happened? That sucks.

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            July 18, 2014 5:46 PM

            Is there any context for this? I'm interested to know.

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              July 18, 2014 6:04 PM

              They parted on not so wonderful terms during Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, then Désilets joined THQ where he built a new team and was helming two new projects including 1666: Amsterdam. His original contract with THQ pretty much gave him total creative freedom over the project and it was supposed to be his next big thing.

              When THQ folded, Ubisoft bought THQ Montreal and they refused to give Désilets the creative freedom THQ had granted him and subsequently fired Désilets again. I'm guessing Ubisoft Montreal wanted some bullshit like rolling 1666 into an Assassin's Creed or whatever, so Désilets gave them the finger. Ubisoft ended up retaining all the IP for 1666 which is currently shelved and, unsurprisingly, claimed that Désilets decided to depart. Désilets shot back that he was fired without cause and he was suing for misrepresentation, severance, etc. along with the rights to 1666, which he originally had a clause in his contract stating the rights would be granted to him if the projected was canned.

              I don't think anyone has heard about what happened after that.

              Kind of a shame given Patrice Désilets is the guy who brought us Sands of Time and Assassin's Creed.

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          July 18, 2014 3:37 PM

          That's what I was hoping too. :(

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          July 18, 2014 5:38 PM

          I think too many people bitches and moaned about Desmond sections and Ubisoft caved.

          It's a shame. They could have built something great.

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          July 18, 2014 5:38 PM

          I was hoping for this too.

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        July 18, 2014 6:25 PM

        ww1 would be cool, sneaking through trenches stabbin' fools.

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          July 18, 2014 7:20 PM

          WW1 would be awful. There would be nothing to climb, only miles of mud and barbed wire to crawl over and under, and if you ran out alone then you'd be shot dead in an instant except under cover of darkness. Almost anything would be better than WW1.

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            July 18, 2014 7:28 PM

            I don't particularly enjoy the climing part of ass creed, mostly because the controller scheme is terrible.

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              July 18, 2014 7:42 PM

              That's fair, but it's stealth mechanics are worse. You'd want something like Thief or Splinter Cell (the old ones) mechanics in a WW1 environment. Not AssCreed.

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                July 18, 2014 10:04 PM

                I think theres an actual dedicated stealth button in Unity

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        July 18, 2014 10:30 PM

        Combine the two, feudal revival in cyberpunk Tokyo. Katanas made of light and cyborg geisha assasins.

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        July 21, 2014 8:58 AM

        FEUDAL JAPAN!!!! Yes that is exactly my desire for a future AC setting. There is a lot of opportunity with the corruption of some of the feudal lords and then the main character could be a samurai or even better a ronin looking for justice for his slain master.

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      July 18, 2014 1:24 PM

      Love the series. Played all the console games and a few of the spinoffs on mobile too.

      What AC needs is meaningful upgrades and/or skill trees that alow you to customize the way you play. Changing weapons is pretty much just changing animations. And the difference between the best sword and a mediocre sword in the game completely escapes me. Why do I need the best sword/knife/axe/gun etc? They all kind of just worked the same no matter what.

      Co-op should be cool. I actually played some Black Flag MP last night with a friend and coordinating kills in Wolfpack to get bonuses was a lot of fun. I imagine storymode co-op in Unity will work similarly.

      Changing up the combat would be a good idea too. Not sure exactly how but maybe play more with the original intent of "this button is my right hand, this one my left hand" etc... Maybe that could lead to some new combat system that would be more rewarding than (counter, counter, counter, counter...).



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        July 18, 2014 2:28 PM

        I'd like to see more varied and nuanced missions. Almost every mission in the series is (1) kill or tackle X; (2) follow X without being detected ; (3) reach X location. At the least, I'd like to see missions that give you choices in dialogue trees for some light roleplaying. Further additions can be made depending on the setting. For instance, to take AssPirates to the next level they could have added a real economy within which to trade, and the ability to grow crops and produce goods at your home settlement with which to supplement your piracy. They could have added a territorial faction system wherein the respective domains of the Spanish, French, and English would be variable depending on certain automated systems and the player's actions. They could have let you assemble an actual fleet that sailed with you and to which you could give tactical commands while fighting other large fleets. On and on we could go. I realize these are all very ambitious systems that would have demanded a lot of work and that they wouldn't have translated in any obvious way to the next location (Paris), but it's that kind of variety and depth that they need to introduce if they really want to keep the series fresh.

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      July 18, 2014 2:33 PM

      New animations.
      Bring back the huge jumping puzzles from AC2.
      More exploration.
      A leveling/talent system for either abilities and/or weapons.
      Refine the combat so its not just a huge counter fest.

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        July 18, 2014 2:35 PM

        They've promised pretty much all of this for Unity. We'll see if they can deliver (I hope so!).

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          July 18, 2014 3:12 PM

          Did they say they're making huge jumping puzzles in Unity?

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            July 18, 2014 3:57 PM

            I guess they didn't say that specifically. They have talked about underground catacombs connecting various things and how you'll be able to just go into bigass buildings (like Notre Dame) seamlessly and parkour around.

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        July 18, 2014 3:30 PM

        The jumping puzzle up through the Duoma (if I'm remembering the name correctly), was a pretty memorable video game experience. Loved that part.

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        July 18, 2014 3:39 PM

        yeah the crypt jumping sequences were cool as hell

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      July 18, 2014 3:28 PM

      Here's how I would improve the franchise:

      1. Ditch the animus and the future story entirely. For one, nobody cares about the future story. For two, the animus structure just makes the games too rigid. How can you justify an "open" world, while also limiting every action the player takes to the "memories" of the protagonist? It doesn't make any sense. Furthermore, it sucks to instantly fail a mandatory stealth mission because you are spotted. Let the player decide how the story goes.

      2. Make combat that is actually interesting. The 4th or 5th time that I stood in one place, and right clicked when the big blinking icon told me to so that I could instantly and automatically counterattack with a canned animation, it just didn't have the same sparkle. After doing that 999 more times, because the combat had absolutely zero depth, I was bored out of my mind.

      3. Give me some non-lethal alternatives to combat. I absolutely hated being forced to mass murder hundreds of innocent guards in order to steal some loot. It really makes the protagonist feel like an unlikeable asshole when literally the only interaction that can be performed on any living creature is "kill."

      4. Make a game world that is actually interesting. Instead of 100 square kilometers of copy+pasted buildings and trees (all with ridiculously convenient ropes strung between buildings), how about a smaller world where, you know, some actual effort has been put in other than "herp derp derp assassins climb buildings and hide in bushes"

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        July 18, 2014 3:35 PM

        I disagree. I think the Animus is an excellent frame narrative. I think they could probably...make it more interesting, but it gives them some solid justification for the mission constraints they impose on the player.

        That said, I think the changes they are making to Unity may alleviate some of the weaknesses the Animus structure comes with. Missions will be more fluid and part of the open world rather than punctuated and clippy.

        Granted, that also means they have less flexibility from a time perspective (as they can't as easily jump from one time period to another). Of course, they could always do some kind of hybrid system to take care of that.

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          July 18, 2014 3:59 PM

          Since when was imposing constraints considered good gameplay design? Videogames have always been at their best when constraints are ditched in favor of letting the player solve a problem with a myriad of tools while interacting with a simulated world that reacts in cool and unexpected ways. Far Cry gets this. By comparison, Ass Creed plays like one big scripted QuickTime event. As long as the player is pushing the "move forward" and "kill" buttons in the pre-prescribed sequence, the game basically plays itself. Nothing interesting or unexpected ever happens.

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            July 18, 2014 10:24 PM

            the idea that constraints are intrinsically bad is extremely misguided

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          July 18, 2014 4:07 PM

          I don't like the animus part, I feel like it needlessly drags me out of the story(i'm aware it's a key part but still bleh) just let me be a badass assassin in a historical setting

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        July 18, 2014 4:07 PM

        The animus is quite a clever game mechanic. Deviating from history hurts your health. Getting hit hurts your health. Yet health is how well synced you are with what really happened. So if you did something without getting hurt then you were like a true bad ass your character was. The animus is an excellent delivery mechanism of the different story periods and characters and stays under the same franchise. Makes continuity much easier to narrate. A character like Desmond is the protagonist who doesn't know anything so the other characters can explain the world to him.

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        July 18, 2014 5:36 PM

        I like the Animus and the future story. I don't want to see those things go away.

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        July 18, 2014 7:38 PM

        i love the story, even the future parts. I also like the combat, and i think the worlds have always been top notch. i basically disagree with every one of your points :(

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        July 18, 2014 9:58 PM

        I personally find Precursor storyline super interesting and hope they do more with it.

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        July 18, 2014 10:21 PM

        1) While I agree that the future story is usually pretty terrible, I think they just need to spice that up, not necessarily kill it. AC3 had Miles go on a couple missions, which was kinda interesting. They could do more of that.

        3) It's called Assassin's Creed. You're an Assassin. You kill people. For money. That's.. the definition of an "assassin". See: "a murderer, especially one who kills a politically prominent person for fanatical or monetary reasons. " http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/assassin?s=t A non-lethal option is okay, but you are an assassin. The game doesn't hide that.

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          July 18, 2014 10:25 PM

          also they have tried stealth missions and such and unsurprisingly like almost every game they are pretty weak

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      July 18, 2014 4:04 PM

      Well Coop is the biggest thing I wanted since Brotherhood.

      Multi-player game based on the ship combat of Black Flag with players acting as crew would be bad ass.

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      July 18, 2014 5:33 PM

      I've only played the first two and tried to play the third multiple times. The unskipable cut-scenes are basically what ruined it for me. If I wanted to watch a movie I'd go to a movie theater.

      Also the fighting is the same thing every time, wait for guy to come at you, click mouse, repeat.

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      July 19, 2014 8:28 AM

      "...a few significant stumbles by first confirming there would be no transgendered wheelchair bound black Assassin opti..."

      It's not having different and interesting protagonist that is a problem, it's the , ironically, guillotine like public executions for not satisfying everyone's fantasies about what the world should look like. That's the problem.

      Ironically, it's usually one white man that is shitting his pants over this stuff that gets the ball rolling.

      Here's some advice. Pack your self-righteous ego in a condom and hide in your ass so they don't find it when they tear you to pieces because someone hears you say something deemed offensive by the new addition of newspeak.