In the first article of this column, I claimed that games were not necessarily limited just because they were sequels. However, not all sequels are necessarily good games. In order to make a great sequel you need to expand upon the original as well as taking the series in new and exciting directions that make sense. Series such as FIFA or Call of Duty do not do this; instead opting for annual release cycles that produces basically the same game every year.
The idea that you can never have too much of a good thing does not hold up; you need to shake things up every once in a while. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series. This too, has fallen prey to the dreaded annual release. With each new entry being only slightly different to the previous, the series is becoming uninspired and boring. From the 2007 original to the recently released Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, the premise for the games has remained basically the same. Through a combination of stealth, open world and RPG mechanics, the games focus on the ongoing conflict between two ancient societies: the Assassins and the Templar Order. Through a device known as the animus, the player can experience the memories of Assassins of the past to discover secrets of history and gain the upper hand. This is the idea behind every game; players enter the animus and experiences the memories of a member of the Assassins that lived centuries in the past, thus getting the chance to experience a specific historical period.
Despite the series’ monotony, there’s never been a terrible Assassin’s Creed game. Even flawed entries such as Assassin’s Creed III and can’t really be considered “bad”. However, we’ve gotten a new Assassin’s Creed game every year now since 2009 and quite frankly the strain is showing. In order to improve the quality of the games, Ubisoft need to take time to develop their games, releasing them not annually, but every 3-5 years. Its fine for sequels to share the DNA of other games in a series, but Assassin’s Creed has taken this to an extreme. Not only does each game have the same basic structure, but also fundamental issues such as sticky controls or pointlessly large game worlds continue to be ignored by Ubisoft.
The best games in the series have introduced new mechanics which make the entire experience feel new and fresh. Take 2009’s Assassin’s Creed II for example; The Italian Renaissance was a vastly more vibrant setting than that of the original and the inclusion of famous historical figures such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli really drive home the level of immersion. Also, in starting the game as a naïve young adult and growing over the course of the game into a Master Assassin, the protagonist of Ezio was charming, funny, and ultimately an improvement. Whereas in the original, there was little personal motivation for Altaïr to assassinate his targets, in Assassin’s Creed II, Ezio is seen to experience a deep personal loss early on which plays a massive part in later events.
2013’s Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag also stands out. Sailing across the vast expanses of the Caribbean, visiting gorgeous tropical islands and plundering and pillaging as you see fit, were all experience unknown to the series prior. Additionally, Edward Kenway, the pirate protagonist, was a breath of fresh air. Over the course of the game, Edward is transformed from cutthroat pirate into skilled Assassin and loving father. In my opinion, Black Flag has the most satisfying conclusion to any game in the series and serves as a stark reminder that Assassin’s Creed doesn’t always have to play it safe.
Ultimately, Ubisoft need a break. Given that each Assassin’s Creed game roughly has about two years of development time and are as functional as they are already, can you imagine what another two years might do to the quality? With Assassin’s Creed Syndicate being deemed the first modern Assassin’s Creed, I would love to see the series take a break and then come back with an entry that embraces 20th century history. A game that is set around the events of the Russian Revolution of 1917 would be very well received for instance. This period in history is one that truly fits the struggle of the underdog Assassins, in the form of the Russian peasantry, pitted against the totalitarian Templars, in the form of both the communists and the royals. Also the potential for historical figures you could meet such as Trotsky, Tsar Nicholas II and Stalin alone is enough to get excited about.
Ultimately, Ubisoft need a break.
Also, ever since Assassin’s Creed sequels have been a thing, people have been wanting a World War 2 based entry, so a 20th century Assassin’s Creed which starts with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and then covers both subsequent World Wars may return the series to its former glory. Perhaps, building on Syndicate’s two protagonists, the game could follow multiple protagonists, across various countries as the world is exposed to the most destructive and tragic conflicts ever.
I’ve never had a bad experience with an Assassin’s Creed game, just some underwhelming ones. The more recent games in the series feel like they have been put out there just to meet deadlines. I can understand Call of Duty sequels being released every year. They’re testosterone fueled, flashy, six-hour action movies with the same multiplayer experience tacked on for good measure. But historical epics like Assassin’s Creed deserve more time to be crafted and polished. Hopefully that’s what we’ll get in the future. I’m sure if Ubisoft actually try, we’re bound to get something good.
Featured Image Credit: BagoGames on Flickr