Ubisoft - I Want My Assassin's Creed Back
I’d not played the original Assassin’s Creed as it had middling reviews and came out during silly season when there was much more and much better stuff to play. Early reports indicated its sequel was a vast improvement so I popped into my local supermarket on release day, and bought it to occupy me for my free evening. It occupied me for the whole weekend, and more, in the end. Ezio’s first adventure was the real start to the massive series that is Assassin's Creed, one which was rebooted last year after a two-year gap with Assassin’s Creed: Origins.
The reboot took the series on a new path, away from its roots and into an RPG-lite experience riffing off of CD Projekt Red’s glorious hardcore RPG, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. With the Ezio trilogy (Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood and Revelations) you lived the life of the masterful and entertaining assassin; later games saw you experience the American Revolution and sail on the Caribbean seas as a pirate. The French revolution was a technical misstep but one where you did meet Napoleon, and with Syndicate you came face-to-face with Churchill and played out wonderful set-piece assassinations with a hint of Hitman to them. Evie and Jacob were perhaps the most fun characters since Ezio, although Edward Kenway (Black Flag) might have something to say about that.
Basically, throughout the series you have enjoyed playing as colourful characters from all over the world, each learning what the Creed is about and with centrepiece assassinations along the way. With Origins, this was gone. The game was great and it did very well but it just wasn’t an Assassin’s game. Yes, in the narrative you have to play through main quests which involve killing people but there’s no theatre to it like in Syndicate, no choice on how to do it. Even if there appeared to be some options each assassination happened the same way, with you getting seen and having a full-on fight with all those around your target. On top of this you had to endure a selection of side quests ranging in quality to get to a level where you had any chance of taking down your target. The grind was very real.
We now know that this was only the start. In October 2018 we’ll see Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, the latest adventure set in Ancient Greece, and according to the code seen at E3, before Origins. This installment is being handled by Ubisoft Quebec, the same team who gave us Syndicate with its fun stars and with the focus on the assassination side of things. Yet this is also where the series completes its journey to full-blown RPG, with branching storylines and more.
All of this is fine. Origins was a very good game and if we think of it as Ubisoft’s first attempt at turning its biggest franchise into an RPG, then history tells us that the second go at it is where things will really hit their stride. So we can expect a brilliant, large-scale and high budget RPG experience to rival anything we’ve seen before, and at least keep us occupied until Cyberpunk 2077 finally sees a release. But why did Ubisoft need to take its action-adventure template, typically filled with energising avatars and focused on the central key killings, and turn it into something else? It’s like Yves and his senior lead team sat around in the office and thought to themselves, "I know, instead of making more of this fantastic series and making it bigger, and better at what it does well, we’ll turn it into something else entirely. It’s not like we’re one of the biggest publishers in the world with the resource and capability to create a new brand and make that the Witcher-like RPG experience we know people want. "
I recognise that it’s a developer’s choice what they do with their game. Games are an art form and therefore there’s no right or wrong other than what the creator(s) thinks is right or wrong. This is part of what makes games so great as everyone who plays them will have an opinion and often the game is divisive such that those opinions can vary greatly. I think Dark Souls is brilliant but others find it too hard and are unable to progress. The ending to The Last of Us was every shade of grey in the world and to some, brilliant, and others a cop-out. What Rocksteady chose to do at the end of Arkham City was balls-out brave to some and to others? A little flat.
So yes, its Ubisoft’s prerogative to turn Assassin’s Creed into an RPG. I just think their decision here is utterly stupid. They’ve taken their biggest franchise, loved by millions globally and totally changed the template. This means people like me who wanted a new Assassin’s Creed game don’t have one. They have instead, an admittedly superb RPG-lite and hopefully even better full RPG to come. If they could have called it something else though, and delivered a straight up sequel to Syndicate with the involved assassinations where you choose one of multiple methods to gain entry, find the target and then take them out, that would have been brilliant. Perhaps there will be some kind of spy thriller action-adventure where this mechanic is reimagined, bringing me the Assassin’s game I want, in a different form. I can only hope. In the meantime, as long as Odyssey has leaps of faith still I’ll probably manage to keep a lid on it. If not...