While it seemed like the series was DOA with the clunky, narratively disjointed, and just plain dull Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft was able to course-correct with the time-tested “just add pirates” formula. And now, only a couple of months after the release of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, publisher Ubisoft has begun asking fans what they’d like to see in future installments of the now seven-year-old franchise.
But what will it take to keep the series alive in the current gen? Well, besides maybe laying off with the ancient aliens nonsense (or Desmond), we came up with nine suggestions to reinvigorate Assassin’s Creed as the series heads into its next entry (and beyond).
9. Let’s Go to Japan, Already
While promoting the release of Assassin’s Creed III back in 2012, then creative director Alex Hutchinson called Egypt, Japan, and WWII “the three worst settings” for the series.
While Hutchinson didn’t really qualify his comments, I can think of a few reasons why the crash, noise, explosions and ruined structures of the second world war might prove challenging location for a game ostensibly about being a sneaky, parkour-prone killer, but it’s a little harder to pin down the animosity toward ancient Egypt and feudal Japan.
The latter is an oft-requested location for fans of the series given that there was literally a whole class of people whose lives were dedicated to intrigue, mystery, and clandestinely slicing up their foes. It’s hard to imagine a game putting players in the shoes of a roguish ninja in the middle of a bloody battles between the Shogun and the Emperor would be anything less than grand: you’ve got the clash of new technology and old, the opportunity for warring ninja factions, and enough conspiracies to make a Templar giddy.
Also, the name is right there: Ninja Assassin’s Creed (with a ronin-based followup called Ninja Assassin’s Creed: Baby Cart From Hell, naturally).
8. Take a Page From Watch_Dogs
In many ways, Assassin’s Creed was the successor to Prince of Persia, taking that series’ joyous free-running action and layering on stealth (and future-past space gods, but what can you do). Watch_Dogs, then, seems to be evolving the AC “observe and kill” gameplay via a paranoid techno thriller in Marc Ecko drag.
The thing is, unlike PoP, it doesn’t look like the Assassin’s Creed series is going anywhere anytime soon. And this is exciting, because Ubisoft is great about sharing gameplay and mechanics between teams – notice how hunting was a feature in AC III alongside Far Cry 3, while target marking from Splinter Cell: Conviction made its way into FC 3?
Which naturally follows that some of the futuristic elements in Watch_Dogs might be a natural fit in our hypothetical Assassin’s Creed V. Think about it: no longer having to perform one of the series’ increasingly dire eavesdropping missions by following a target; instead requiring our free-running assassin to make her or his way to a location and tap into a phone line or network.
Then again, dropping the series into the present (or near-future) would probably just devolve in the Templars and Assassins taking their war against one another to the true arena: the online message boards.
7. Death to Corridors!
You hop into the latest Assassin’s Creed, the world opens before you with the vast expanse of the high seas, dozens of tiny, explorable islands, and a mind-boggling number of opportunities for emergent gameplay. Then you head into a story mission that more or less involves trying to find the right series of branches to climb in a straight line in order to reach the next cutscene.
Yeah, no more of that, please.
I get it: the designers have created these meticulously-constructed environments, each tree, eave and alley carefully built for our pleasure. The downside is, it feels like anytime I’m pushed like a cow through a chute into one of these constricted corridor missions, it feels like a betrayal of the promise of the series. Why let me be a free-roaming, whirling dervish of stealthy murder if I can only do it in this one, wee narrow space.
Death to the corridors! Let my assassin roam and be crazy!
6. Let’s Never Have Another Eavesdropping Mission
In the expansive worlds of the Assassin’s Creed games, you can buy a fleet of ships, engage in high seas piracy, and help topple empires. But sometimes the designers simply want to slow things down and have you walk just close enough – BUT NOT TOO CLOSE – to a pair of jabronis delivering some stale back and forth about the location of some Macguffin or whatever.
Another relic from older games in the series (that the GTA games would do well to nix), the follow/eavesdropping mission needs to go. By their very construction, they present this great, big slo-mo button on the overall experience which adds very little narratively or mechanically.
As storytelling tools, they’re often inadequate, forcing the game’s writers to pad out low-information conversations as one or more characters moves haltingly through an environment (occasionally turning to see if they’re being followed or observed from above). Plus, they require you to both pay attention to the conversation while trying to find the right path that won’t cause you to accidentally overtake the targets and forcing you to retry the mission (and resulting in a repeat of the same, bland chit-chat).
Seriously, it’s Assassin’s Creed, not Follow and Assass-Listen’s Creed.
5. Assassin’s World
While it’s been rumored that Ubisoft has been working on an MMO since at least last year, details have been few and far between about internal studio Massive is up to. But here’s hoping it’s something involving stalking and murdering your fellow players in a massive AC-themed world.
The multiplayer for the last few games in the main series have been pretty great so far, offering stealth mayhem with dashes of asymmetrical play. Plus the introduction of co-op missions in Black Flag have illustrated the potential for evolving the online element of the franchise.
In truth, the constraints of your typical MMORPG might not quite fit Assassin’s Creed in its current form. Ubisoft would have to think a lot about how to flesh out being an assassin (or Templar) within the confines of a class-based system in order to allow for some variety and flexibility in the gameplay (and the kinds of players the game would attract).
I’m already pre-hyped for my hypothetical level 14 Templar Rogue who specializes in naval warfare and rejecting democratic thought.
4. My Assassin, My Way
The last point got me to thinking: “Isn’t it about time that I get to make my own assassin?”
I don’t mean simply being able to customize my character: there’s a lot to be said, given the life of the series, to offer the same kind of openness in how my assassin plays that the series offers in exploration. I guess what I have in mind is an RPG approach to the series, allowing players to pick classes/roles and really expand what you can do as an assassin.
What if, instead of an agile, master-of-hiding free-runner, you were a tank able to take massive damage or stun groups of enemies in order to make your escape? Or a character whose whole thing is crafting ever-more-complex weapons to use (or sell) instead of finding blueprints around the world?
Hell, the whole idea of being an assassin is embracing freedom and doing whatever you want. Well, I wanna be my own kind of assassin, dad, and if that means trading in parkour for a part-time job building guns, then so be it!
3. One Location, Clearly Defined
It feels like between the third and fourth games in the series, Ubisoft has begun thinking of Assassin’s Creed-land as a world defined by numerous locations with a handful of missions. Gone is the depth and breadth of the Renaissance Italian cities of Assassin’s Creed II, replaced by lean-to’s, shacks, squalid settlements, and trees – so many trees.
What if the series returned to the days of massive, complicated cities, littered with mysteries, puzzles and missions. What if you could enter most of the locations, if pockets of the city had different factions, different conflicts, and different mechanical priorities (one side of the city will require you to be stealthy, the other requires more direct combat), and a deep well of history for the ambitious player to explore.
The one-city approach I’m suggesting here feels even more attractive given how the designers on AC II were able to grow and show the development of their cities over the years – something that felt somewhat less present in III.
Plus, I miss really being an urban ninja. Death to trees!
2. One Game, Multiple Assassins
The series has made leaps through history in the past (typically with the same character) and III, for all of its failings, offered a nice switcheroo with the introduction of Haytham for the game’s first few hours.
I say more of this. Let’s see several assassins in the same period following the commands of the order from multiple perspectives. With the exception of Ezio, most of the assassins to date have been from the poorer end of the social strata – what if a multi-character game allowed us to see a particular period through the eyes of rich, poor, veteran, novice, male, and female assassins, offering a bit of breadth and scope to the otherwise narrow stories of the series.
Also, not for nothing, but why don’t we have a full game featuring asshole-Batman Templar, Haytham?
1. Get Weirder With the DLC
Even if the story was largely forgettable (and bad when it was memorable), Far Cry 3 was a hoot to play, even if we all kind of wished the islands offered a little more variety and weirdness. Well, Ubisoft was listening, releasing the standalone Blood Dragon, which took all of the mechanics from the base game and adding lasers, dragons, cyborgs, and Michael Biehn.
Now let’s see that applied to Assassin’s Creed. Again, III made some inroads on this front, offering the episodic Tyranny of King Washington DLC (putting our nation’s first president on an evil, baller throne), but we’d like to see some Blood Dragon-level weirdness from this series.
Could you imagine an expansion set in a Game of Thrones-style dark fantasy world? What if you had to hunt direwolves? Holy crap, I want that game right now.
Oh, and if Far Cry 3 gets Michael Biehn, Assassin’s Creed should get the American Ninja himself, Michael Dudikoff.
Previously by Charles Webb