Despite grumblings of franchise fatigue, Ubisoft has stuck with its venerable Assassin’s Creed franchise through points both high (Assassin’s Creed II, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag) and low (Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed Unity), releasing at least one new game in the series each year. With next month’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, the studio is focusing all of its efforts on developing a solid single-player story campaign, not even bothering to make a separate multiplayer component. Syndicate will be the first game in the series since 2009’s Assassin’s Creed II that will not feature multiplayer of any kind, something which most fans are probably grateful for. However, Ubisoft will likely bring multiplayer back at some point in the future, maybe even as early as next year. But should multiplayer in Assassin’s Creed make a return?
Of Cats And Mice
The very first iteration of Assassin’s Creed multiplayer, which launched as part of 2010’s pseudo-sequel Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, was actually a rather clever and original take on the standard competitive format. Players picked from a number of different pre-set “personas” (characters with unique backgrounds, weapons, and kill animations) before entering an enclosed map which was populated with carbon copies of both their own personas and those of their opponents’. Utilizing a handy radar device and their own wits, players had to figure out which of the persona duplicates was in fact a real player, approach them, and assassinate them.
Since, in most modes, you had a specific target to hunt as well as another character who you knew was hunting you, this gave the multiplayer a very tense and exhilarating “cat and mouse” dynamic which tasked players with watching their own backs all while trying to plant a knife in their intended victim’s. It was a welcome breath of fresh air for competitive players which Ubisoft then built upon for the multiplayer component’s return in Assassin’s Creed Revelations. With Assassin’s Creed III (and later Assassin’s Creed IV), Ubisoft iterated once again, bringing co-op vs. A.I. fans into the fold via the well-received Wolfpack mode.
However, as is the case with most other games, the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer experience wasn’t perfect, and Ubisoft’s desire to play things safe quickly outpaced whatever innovation the multiplayer once had.
More of the Same
Aside from a change in setting and minor updates and tweaks to the gameplay and available game modes, the multiplayer experiences in Brotherhood and Revelations were virtually identical, same with the multiplayer components in Assassin’s Creed III and Black Flag. The multiplayer progression system, which relied mainly on awarding players with new powers and cosmetic items like character decorations and profile icons, also didn’t really evolve much between entries, which meant only the most dedicated ever really bothered to reach the highest ranks. While the subtle backstories Ubisoft tried to attach to each multiplayer component were intriguing at first, the fact that players needed to complete archaic and oftentimes luck-based challenges to see the entirety of the story again drove more casual players away.
Ubisoft tried to shift gears with Assassin’s Creed Unity, abandoning the competitive elements entirely and instead focusing on co-op gameplay, but we all know how well that went. Even after all of the game’s graphical and networking issues had been resolved, Unity’s over-emphasis on extremely difficult encounters (as opposed to the Wolfpack mode from earlier entries which could be completed solo if need be) quickly sapped any hope of long-term viability the co-op mode may have had.
Given this quick decline in appeal, it’s little wonder that Ubisoft decided to abandon multiplayer entirely for Syndicate. However, there are ways Ubisoft could recapture that initial spark of appeal which managed to draw so many players in back when Brotherhood was released.
Everything is Permitted
The specifics of what Ubisoft could do to revamp Assassin’s Creed’s multiplayer could take up an entire article of its own, so I’m just going to sum it up with one word: choice. The more freedom of choice Ubisoft gave to multiplayer participants, the better chance it would have of making any post-Syndicate multiplayer experience a hit.
Give us both competitive and cooperative modes, and better yet, give us multiple ways of playing both formats. Sure, ACIII’s Wolfpack was fun when it was first introduced, but it grew stale quickly, especially when it showed up in Black Flag virtually unchanged. Letting us play as both Assassins and Templars would also be a welcome addition, especially if we got to personalize the various personas on a deeper level than simply picking their outfits and weapons (letting us create our own unique multiplayer characters would not be a bad idea either).
Ubisoft would also have to work on implementing social features beyond the fleetingly exciting yet done-to-death community events which only bring the game’s playerbase together for a brief period of time. Social spaces where players could hang out, plan their next match, and maybe even partake in fun side activities like bar games or parkour challenges certainly sound more appealing than a simple menu layout, don’t they? The technical capabilities which would allow multiple players to explore an entire city are likely not in Ubisoft’s wheelhouse just yet, but hey, a guy can dream can’t he?
A Brotherhood Reunited
One of the core themes of the Assassin’s Creed series is that of camaraderie, a secretive brotherhood of heroes banding together to fight a powerful organization of tyrants. The single-player portions of each Assassin’s Creed game may focus on the exploits of a single character (or two in Syndicate’s case), but it’s in the multiplayer where Ubisoft can really embrace the IP’s secondary focus on a storyline which affects thousands of individuals across many different eras of history. It is for this reason alone that I hope Ubisoft hasn’t put away its Assassin’s Creed multiplayer ambitions for good, and that we see a glorious return to form at some point after Syndicate’s release. It may take a while to get the multiplayer just right, but that definitely doesn’t mean Ubisoft should stop trying.
Nathaniel Hohl posted a new article, Opinion: Assassin's Creed Needs Multiplayer Return
I loved AC multiplayer until you got in a game with some ass-hat that would just run the whole time, or camp a rooftop. This was so infuriating and against the whole principle of being an unseen assassin.
However when you played with a group who understood the proper mechanics, it was an incredibly fun and intense multiplayer experience.
Please, never mention Assassins Creed and Multiplayer in the same sentence ever again.