A few days ago, Producer Jade Raymond squashed the hopes of people who still desperately cling to an Assassinâ€™s Creed game set in Feudal-era Japan (donâ€™t worry, I am one of them). Â The possible location for the next game is now down to two: London, set at the end of the Industrial Age; and Russia, during the life of Nikolai Orelov, fallen-Assassin Daniel Crossâ€™ Ezio-like ancestor. Of the two, London seems most intriguing, especially since the very setting calls for a new approach to the old AC method of locate, stalk, and kill, which, at this point, the series desperately needs.
Being one of the most successful video game franchises, gives you two things: first, it gives you credibility. Every game in the franchise had solves one problem but introduces another (ACIII had better fighting mechanics, but people complained about the lead character), but people still bought the games because it is still Assassinâ€™s Creed, and the over-arching theme of Assassins versus Templars is still there. And thatâ€™s mainly why people keep coming back: all lead Assassins are connected not only by Desmond Milesâ€™ bloodline, but by shared experiences that brought them into the arms of the Order. To be honest, I feel that some fans have stayed loyal because of the story, and not because the gameplay has improved.
The second (and this becomes a real problem), is that success forces you to stay on one tried and tested formula, and innovate elements sparingly, sometimes like an afterthought. For example, in Brotherhood, I liked the whole recruiting Assassins thing, but felt that it can be improved further by allowing more control over your recruitâ€™s actions. Come Revelations, you have this interesting spin where you train specific recruits to become master assassins, but otherwise, the recruit system stays the same. Then thereâ€™s the Homestead of ACIII. The crafting system is a bit shoddy and cumbersome, but it has potential to be improved into a better system where you have a functional home-base that can supply/manage your troops in real time. Come ACIV however, only the crafting system remained, and while you have an island-port as your home-base, developing it offers little to no incentive at all.
Then, of course, you have the actual gameplay itself, with its stalking, and assassinating, and running away from guards. Each iteration has only minimally improved this mechanic: I did enjoy ACIIâ€™s roof-top shenanigans, but I love ACIIIâ€™s free-running (I still canâ€™t understand why Ezio canâ€™t leap over chimneyâ€™s that doesnâ€™t even reach his knee). ACIV has the best balance between the two, but I really wonder why there are a lot of roof-top snipers in an age that isnâ€™t supposed to have them. Â I mean, I understand making travelling through the roof-tops a bit more challenging, but not when you have a squad of guards every few buildings or so. Assassinâ€™s use the roof to travel for a reason.
The next-generation consoles present a new hope and an opportunity for Ubisoft to push the franchise forward in ways that were not possible before. In fact, I am hoping they will introduce a lead character that uses cunning over free-running skills. Free-running is fun, but real assassins use disguises to get near a target as well as escape capture. AC: Liberation introduced this game mechanic and I was disappointed that it wasnâ€™t used in ACIV. The fighting mechanics might also need a total revamp, and not just â€œmake the enemies harderâ€ kind of revamp, but a total overhaul of the system. The Ninja Gaiden series, for example, forces you to actually time your movements, thereby needing some degree of skill and not just button-mashing. Another thing that I hope to see is real-time character development. Adding RPG elements to an adventure game is risky, but when pulled off properly, will be breath of fresh air. It doesnâ€™t even have to be complicated like Final Fantasy, a simply system like the one in GTA V would suffice. All warriors improve over time and experience, and a game that spans several years of a characterâ€™s life, should also reflect on his skill level.
Next would be the time and location. Assassinâ€™s Creed plays with history, mixing actual events with fictional drama. Â But that too should be carefully chosen, and not only because they wanted to â€œdo something different/creativeâ€. Take as an example, ACIII: I personally liked the character and the story, and I appreciate how they tried to move away from Ezio Auditoreâ€™s adventures. But letâ€™s face it, the American Revolution setting didnâ€™t have the same impact as Renaissance Italy did because while the story itself is interwoven with the events of the Revolution, it seems more of an afterthought than the fruit of Connor Kenwayâ€™s labors. If anything, the story feels forced into the setting, the end result being is that it sometimes feels more like a mess than it actually is. ACIII is a good game, with bold ambitions that it ultimately fails to achieve because it tried to be too many things at once.
Another thing I hope they would consider is changing the experience from a sand-box setting into something a bit more streamlined and story-driven. 2013 saw several story-driven games like the Tomb Raider reboot and The Last of Us get rave reviews. While it may ruffle a few feathers, why canâ€™t they make at least one AC game with this type of gameplay? It doesnâ€™t even have to be a main series entry, but a spin-off, detailing a specific adventure in the life of an Assassin. Another idea is to make a game without the Animus as a factor, to make it less about exploring and synchronizing memory sequences and more about a character, his experiences and his growth. Look at Splinter Cell: Blacklist (another Ubisoft game), it is very story-driven but gives the player the freedom to choose his next mission, as well as the way he completes those missions (most of them, anyway). Â People sometimes mistake streamlining for restrictive gameplay, but thatâ€™s not necessarily the case. Too much freedom in a game can make you lose focus on what you are supposed to do. Besides, as a fan, I hold the belief that the Assassins are more than just what was shown in the games. Not all Assassins were explorers like Edward Kenway or his frontier-running grandson Connor. For every larger than life figure like Ezio, there must have been other, low-key Assassins who may not have been as athletic, nor as charismatic but had ways to do their â€œjobsâ€ well.
Sure, it might not be as exciting as free-running all-over the place, assassinating the random guard or two, and finding artifacts that will unlock suits of armor that ultimately isnâ€™t really worth the trouble (with notable exceptions like the Armor of Altair, the Brutus Armor, and the Mayan outfit….the Ishak Pasha Armor looks really cool, but functions the same as the easy to get Master Assassin armor), but a properly made level could be just as exciting. The levels in The Last of Us arenâ€™t as big as even AC I, but I would have to admit that they are loads better in keeping the suspense going.
[blockquote right=”pull-right”]The Assassinâ€™s Creed series is starting to become a victim of its own success by being too ambitious without taking big risks.[/blockquote]
If it wants to avoid the fates of titles like Final Fantasy and NBA Live, the developers should start exploring new gameplay mechanics, new approaches to gameplay, as well as a cohesive and well-thought out storyline and focus on how to deliver it well. Make no mistake about it, they can make the next game pretty much like the old one and it will still sell. But with a lot of good games with better story-telling and game mechanics being made out there, Ubisoft is hard-pressed to convince consumers that this memory sequence is still worth looking into.
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