Do we still need Assassin’s Creed? That’s a question I ask myself a lot these days. When I first reported on the leak last week, I wondered if anyone could POSSIBLY be surprised by the rumor: a new Assassin’s Creed game that would take place in a new time period and star a new assassin. About the only thing that was surprising about Assassin’s Creed: Unity when it was confirmed was the fact that it wasn’t a numbered sequel. Surely, it’s a major installment? Of course, the classification of sequels in the Assassin’s Creed series has always been a bit sketchy. Although Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Revelations serve as expansions of Ezio Auditore’s story in Assassin’s Creed 2, they look and feel like major installments to me. Better yet, they seem like the canvases Ubisoft painted all its ideas on for the inevitable Assassin’s Creed 3, a game that failed me as a gamer in every single way imaginable. That was the last Assassin’s Creed game I played. I dropped my controller as the credits rolled and declared that my favorite video game series of all-time had been irrevocably murdered by a 7-hour tutorial, a convoluted storyline, an unfulfilling ending to Desmond’s journey (with the aid of a deus ex machina, I might add), and the staleness of a concept that had been rehashed over and over.
Then Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag invaded our shores. No, I didn’t bother joining those scallywags, as they sailed their pirate ships in the Caribbean, for fear that I might see a drunken pirate with dreadlocks that sounded like Keith Richards. I’d be compelled to grab my PlayStation and toss it out my window.
I never wanted to meet another Kenway in my life. After playing through the lives of Haytham and Connor Kenway, I was sure that Edward the Pirate, no matter how many Blackbears you threw at him, would probably have the depth of a sea monkey.
I’m aware of how I sound. Like a fanboy. And it can’t be helped. The emotional responses fans have to the video games they love is a testament to the industry’s legitimization in the art world. That people could love characters like Ezio Auditore, Altair, and Edward Kenway makes the the industry’s transcendence from “brainless” recreation to serious art form all the more apparent.
(You could also play the video game industry’s current validating flagship: The Last of Us if you want to see video games taken seriously by people who might’ve shrugged them off a few years ago.)
When I started hearing all the buzz about Black Flag, I immediately shrugged it off. More naval battles. Great, Ubisoft had ballooned AC3‘s side missions into a full-length game. Oh, bigger world? I’d LOVE to go on more fetch missions for you, this time forced to swim from island to island. And that whole storyline business? Well, Desmond pulled a Neo and sacrificed himself to save the world from a solar flare. The whole reason this series even existed? COMPLETELY OVER.
Developers don’t like endings. That’s why we get prequels like Gears of War: Judgment, Halo: Reach, and Batman: Arkham Origins(okay, this last one is a bit harsh, considering it was a placeholder for Rocksteady’s next Batman game, but Warner Bros. Montreal will surely follow-up Arkham Knight with another mediocre prequel/sequel). And after the prequel train has left the station, there’s always the opportunity for a whole new trilogy to get fans all giddy again.
All three of these mighty franchises will have new developers by the end of the year. Even after the developers get bored and move on, there’s still demand for new installments in these series. Publishers don’t take that lightly. New trilogies are born.
Assassin’s Creed wanted to be over after Desmond exploded into golden light, leaving me with the bitter conclusion to a series I had followed since the early days of last-gen consoles.
But here was Edward Kenway ready to continue the fight in the past, brought to you by an Abstergo agent, which sounded a lot like the frame story of the series’ multiplayer to me. I didn’t bother playing this installment at all.
Then the rave reviews started coming. “Best Assassin’s Creed in years” people called it. Black Flag was compared to Assassin’s Creed 2, still the best game in the series, left and right. People couldn’t stop talking about the return of Assassin’s Creed as an innovative action-adventure game with a great narrative. Back to its roots. Black Flag had sneaked up on everyone and stabbed us in the throat with its awesomeness (although I’m sure that most people loved AC3 and I’m just a grump).
That was last October/November. Everyone that was going to love that game has already drank the kool-aid. Now, we’re getting bombarded with another game, fresh off the success of the last, that will do what for the series exactly? Capitalize on an experience we just had a couple months ago? Cash in on what will surely be another blockbuster?
There are several teams working on the Assassin’s Creed series at any given moment. Besides Unity, there is also a “Project Comet,” which might be the 2015 installment, and another game that might be a handheld installment or the inevitable 2016 helping. The team at Ubisoft Montreal working on Unity has apparently spent 3 years developing the game. That’s a year longer than the development process for AC3. Does that mean a better, higher quality experience for gamers?
You can’t ask a developer to be innovative if a new installment to their series comes out yearly. The best they can do is freshen up the gameplay mechanics from the last. Work out the kinks. Give it a touch up here. Expand on something players loved the last time around (naval battles). The best result you can expect from the Call of Duty/EA Sports approach is more of the same but a little better (hopefully).
Nothing warrants a new Assassin’s Creed game story-wise. Although there are inevitably more ancestors to visit before the series starts to finally deteriorate, the main story takes place in the present day (or some time close to that). The main character of said storyline is dead, but there’s still that pesky Juno doing evil god things somewhere in cyberspace, right? Well, Black Flag was happy to ignore that all together, sweeping a lot of the present day under the rug and focusing on the insular Abstergo, whose evil plot has never been all that understandable either. But mostly, Black Flag sent players to the past and kept them there — a much better balance to the time jumps than AC3‘s stupid temple puzzles and Revelation‘s first-person platformer.
The real reason I just spent an hour ranting about this series is because I’ve decided that I will play Unity (after I pick up a copy of Black Flag, of course) and I’m not super happy about it. I’m giving in because of two reasons: Black Flag’s success as a game and the fact that Unity is the first real current-gen installment of the series. How Ubisoft has applied the horsepower of the Xbox One and PS4 to their series remains to be seen, but it better be way cooler than giving players the ability to use a guillotine.
How will Ubisoft apply what they’ve learned from games like The Last of Us, the video game meca of storytelling, and Grand Theft Auto 5, the king of the sandbox? How will they use Black Flag to their advantage? A new set of consoles means they have to refresh their series in some way. It’s a new beginning.
One last thing: I can’t ignore the fact that my renewed interest in the series is due in part to the time gap between my experience with Assassin’s Creed 3 and the upcoming 2014 installment. I’ve had a two-year gap to contemplate on the past games, to love the best moments in the series and hate the worst. This series is a big part of gaming history, and it’s taken me two years to accept that not every game will be perfect. But every game should be made in service of the fans that welcome a yearly installment of your series, fresh or not.
Maybe a time gap is good? So I ask myself again: do we still need Assassin’s Creed? Absolutely. It’s back and better than ever. But do we need it again so soon?