It feels as though we’re just days away from the next major Assassin’s Creed announcement. After a much needed hiatus, Ubisoft is gearing up to reinstate its flagship series with rumours suggesting a much earlier time period, casting players as an assassin during the reign of pharaohs in Egypt.
For fans who have stuck with the franchise since it debuted in 2007, it’s been a rollercoaster ride to say the least. At some point, Assassin’s Creed clearly lost its way, resulting in Ubisoft taking a step back from the series to re-evaluate. Hopefully, whether it turns out to be Assassin’s Creed Empire or Assassin’s Creed Origins, their latest efforts can put this once amazing series back on track.
In the meantime, let’s look at how Ubisoft screwed things up in the first place…
[Spoiler warning: this article discusses the series’ overarching plot with particular references made to the ending of Assassin’s Creed III]
1. Becoming A Yearly Franchise
In a way, the rest of the points made in the list all come back to one root problem: Ubisoft’s insistence on making Assassin’s Creed a yearly franchise. It took two years for the publisher’s Montreal studio to create a sequel in 2009, ironing out most of the original’s flaws while working in layers of additional features and systems. These changes quickly shrank from landmark new ideas to much more incremental changes as we blitzed our way through the Ezio saga in a space of three years.
While Assassin’s Creed III looked to press the reset button with a new character, fatigue had already begun to kick in. Alongside yearly sequels that would continue up until 2015’s fairly decent Syndicate, Ubisoft had also been pumping out sequels and spin-offs. While it’s nice to see games expand into their own universes, for Assassin’s Creed it felt way too rushed and quickly lost some of its passion.
Of course, Ubisoft weren’t the only ones at it. Without fail we see a Call of Duty from Activision, a FIFA from EA, and a WWE from 2K every year. The thing is, none of these series has sought to build on a central narrative in the same way Assassin’s Creed did. Modern Warfare had a trilogy, sure, but the story Infinity Ward was trying to tell was much smaller in scale and spread across half a decade, taking turns with stories told by other studios.
While the series had a clear direction in the first few instalments, by the time Assassin’s Creed III launched in 2012, Ubisoft’s writing team were scrambling to link ideas together, which brings us to our next criticism.
2. Dumbing Down Combat
For me, this one hurts the most. While some severely disliked the blow-and-parry rhythm of the original combat system, I loved it. There was a tangibility to those early Assassin’s Creed games that just isn’t there anymore, cycling between various melee weapons while also grabbing, kicking, and wrestling your opponents. You could even brawl with innocent bystanders, headbutting them off buildings and causing all kinds of shenanigans. Following the changes made in Assassin’s Creed III, being able to target non-enemies was strictly off the cards.
Instead, what players got was an incredibly watered down, simplified version of what came before. Battles lacked any sense of versatility or immersion as players simply waited for on-screen prompts before delivering the killing blow. The old system may have been a bit sloppy, but at the same time it felt alive. Since then the combat in Assassin’s Creed has been frustratingly bland at best.
3. Killing Off Desmond
Desmond Miles was never really the series’ posterboy, but was always painted as a character that would become its eventual leading man. It was through Desmond’s time strapped into the Animus that we even got to meet Altair, Ezio, and Connor in the first place. Between the exploits of each assassin and the history lesson that came in tow, he grew stronger and through the “Bleeding Effect”, Desmond went from being a bartender to a trained killer.
Thing is, he never actually got to employ those talents. Aside from the occasional bit of clumsy parkour, we never took control of this would-be hero in the modern day open world we had always envisioned. Instead Ubisoft killed him off and seemingly left the series’ overarching plot for dead.
4. Assassin’s Creed III’s Cliffhanger Ending
It wasn’t just killing off Desmond, that entire closing segment to Assassin’s Creed III was just plain awful. After racking up countless hours exploring the first four games in the series, Ubisoft dealt a low blow with its half-arsed plot surrounding the First Civilization – aka The Isu, aka The Precursors, aka Those Who Came Before. Unless you had been meticulously researching the extended lore, much of what happened in the finale made no sense whatsoever.
To recap, after galumphing around the world with his companions in tow, Desmond beats his Templar rivals to reaching The Grand Temple. All the while, there’s a clock ticking, a doomsday clock to be precise, counting down to some kind of cataclysmic event. Desmond is presented with two options: allow most of the world to burn and become its deity-like leader or sacrifice himself to shield keep humanity safe.
Naturally, he opts for the latter. It turns out to be a lose-lose situation however, triggering the release of Juno (a vengeful Precursor) from her chains to wreak havoc on humanity.
It’s not the kind of battle I’d envisioned when sat through those few games. And even if there were an impending clash between humanity and a race of demigods, surely Desmond would be leading the charge? As far as game plot go, it’s one of the most confusing and disappointing, made worse by Ubisoft’s reluctance to pick up the ball and carry on running with it. Instead their combined network of studios have continued to faff about instead of addressing this cliffhanger ending it left in 2012.
5. History Lessons
From Da Vinci and Washington to Blackbeard and Churchill, the Assassin’s Creed timeline is littered with historic figures who happen to be in the right place at the right time. It’s been interesting to see how Ubisoft weaves these characters into the lore, often aligning them with the Assassins or the Templars. However, in order to justify their presence, players have often been dragged through one history lesson after the next.
While it’s nice to have some context and actual learn things from a video game, Ubisoft’s approach quickly grew stale, often at the expense of its own original story and characters. Names of historic events, locations, and persons of interest get thrown about casually with little to no introduction beyond the pages and pages of encyclopedia entries found in-game.
Even with the series’ fall from grace, we’re still very hopeful for what Ubisoft can do with its return from hiatus. Let us know in the comments below what you want to see from Ubisoft’s next adventure into the world of Assassin’s Creed.