The Assassin’s Creed series can be credited as part of the evolution of modern action/adventure titles. Released in 2007, the first game’s stealth-action and parkour elements that made it stand out would eventually become staples in modern games. The series would further cement itself as a powerhouse in gaming with the following three games, referred to as the “Ezio Trilogy.”
Unfortunately, recent entries have signaled a decline in the series’ significance. Assassin’s Creed Unity was uninspiring and riddled with bugs. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, the latest title in the series, was a step forward but suffered the worst week one sales of any major Assassin’s Creed game. It’s clear the series needs a bolt of inspiration to capture the gaming public’s attention once again.
What can be done to fix Assassin’s Creed?
Tapping into Early Success
Longtime players of the Assassin’s Creed series tend to look at the “Ezio Trilogy” as a highlight of the series. Spanning Assassin’s Creed II, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Assassins Creed: Revelations, the ongoing story of one character spanning multiple decades and locations was well received.
Ezio Auditore da Firenze‘s personality and backstory were well written and helped drive players to complete his story. Historical figures and events fit seamlessly into the story and the Renaissance backdrop was used to excellent effect. Sadly, the other Assassin characters have not been as memorable as Ezio, whether it was the overly stoic Connor or the aggressive Jacob Frye, and their adventures have become increasingly tangential to the historical periods they inhabit. Having a protagonist whose journey is as epic and fleshed out as Ezio’s is a necessary step in reclaiming the series’ popularity.
The Frame Story Problem
One of the strengths of the Assassin’s Creed franchise is its unique narrative blend of historical fantasy and sci-fi. The primary plot focuses on the centuries-long conflict between the Assassins and the Templars. In the present day, the Templars run an organization called Abstergo Industries which uses a high-tech machine called the Animus that allows people to ‘relive’ historical events based on their genetic history.
Until the end of Assassin’s Creed III, the player took control of Desmond Miles in the present day and his ancestors across different periods. The connection between Desmond and each of the playable characters provided a unique dynamic. It helped pull players more into the intrigue of the everlasting battle between the Templars and Assassins.
A major complaint of the series since the conclusion of Assassin’s Creed III is the slowly dissipating importance of the present day timeline. With the conclusion of Desmond Miles’ story, there has been no main character in the present day that reappears across multiple games. Instead, the gameplay and narrative are almost exclusively focused on the historical eras. The last two titles, Unity and Syndicate, feature only cutscenes of the modern era and no playable missions.
By linking the modern timeline and historical eras more concretely, Ubisoft could really pull players into the ongoing plot of this series.
Missing the High Seas
Assassin’s Creed III suffered from a handful of criticism, but even haters seemed to agree that the naval missions were a highlight. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag took a cue from this and made sailing a major gameplay mechanic. The game takes place during the Golden Age of Piracy, where naval ships were the major transport type. Ships were used to traverse the expansive world, exploring the oceans and fighting against enemy vessels. Many attribute the success of the game to the engaging sailing gameplay. It was a blast to explore the seas, chart a course for various islands, and engage in explosive combat with other ships. The success of this element resulted in the sequel Assassin’s Creed: Rogue also focusing on ship travel.
The next two mainline titles, Unity and Syndicate, returned the historical backdrop to landlocked cities. This return certainly felt like something was missing. Syndicate added carriages as a mode of transport, but they didn’t control as fluidly. Steering them across city streets didn’t bring the same level of freedom. The naval gameplay is easy to miss since it disappeared.
Early leaks indicated that boat travel will be an integral part of the next Assassin’s Creed. This would be a welcome return to form in Assassin’s Creed Origins.
Overhaul Mission Design
Mission design is a common complaint about most multiple action/adventure games and Assassin’s Creed is no exception. Assassinations are the staple activity of the series, along with finding collectibles and performing side-missions. But too often these missions lack variety and give players a limited number of ways to complete objectives.
Eavesdropping missions are a major gripe amongst the current player base. These missions require you to follow a target from a distance, listen to them talk, and not to get caught. This mission type first appeared in the early Assassin’s Creed games and have not evolved much since. One minor mistake can lead to failure, and their slow pace makes it easy for them to become irritating.
Adding all-new mission types that incorporate unique mechanics will help push the series forward. Relying on new ideas instead of series-established mission types can breathe new life into the series.
Minimize Technical Issues
One of the many important areas of game development is polishing technical issues and removing any major bugs before release. The current game landscape can result in games being shipped without enough time to polish all of the little mistakes. Assassin’s Creed is no different and the last few titles have struggled with poor optimization and a multitude of bugs.
It’s hard to forget the horrifying “inside-out” head that a player stumbled across in Assassin’s Creed Unity. The PC port of Assassin’s Creed III also struggled with massive slowdowns in town areas. It’s difficult to ask developers to be perfect with their games with hard deadlines in today’s industry. That being said, Ubisoft could help the series by limiting the number of technical issues at launch. Players could spend more time immersed in gameplay and spend less time hunting bugs.
Ubisoft has taken a break from their yearly release cycle to put extra time into their next AC game. Hopefully, we’ll see technical errors minimized at launch.
What’s On the Horizon?
Ubisoft has a new Assassin’s Creed game currently in development and will be released sometime in 2018. Early reports indicate it will take place in Ancient Egypt and will be called Assassin’s Creed Origins.