Assassin’s Creed is a videogame series by publisher Ubisoft. The player takes the role of various assassins all throughout history and explores historical settings, meets real people from those locations and kills most of them. It is a very enjoyable series.
This is the final part of a multi part series I’ll do on the technical and designphilosophical parts of the first five games. This is the final part, where I’ll be talking about the rest of the series in broad strokes, as it is not needed to retreat already explored topics. Click here to read Part 4.
In 2013, 2014 and 2015 Ubisoft released at least two Assassin’s Creed games. Most of them were ports and remasters and we already covered all of that in the previous parts. Now it’s time to look at the last three mainline games.
AC4 Black Flag was released in 2013 to critical and commercial success. The reason for that is simple: it is a pirate game and a good one as well. It was of course plagued with the usual AC problems but at least it was not that buggy, despite being unfinished. The Assassin missions were awful, though, but since people came for a pirate game and got a pirate game, most people didn’t care.
In 2014 Ubisoft released the game that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. AC Unity was so incredibly bad, it cured most people of Assassin’s Creed fever. Using a new engine, Ubisoft again released an unfinished game, with many game breaking bugs and glitches. It was nearly unplayable and needed 5 patches before it was finished. The problem is, the finshed game isn’t very good either.
Then Ubisoft released AC Syndicate in 2015 and that game, while well recieved critically, didn’t sell as well as Ubisoft hoped, because people were finally fed up with all the bullshit Ubisoft pulled. Thus Ubisoft decided to put the series on a break and re-launch it in 2017 with completely new gameplay elements. As for Syndicate, it is a great game that feels completed and didn’t need many patches to work properly. It uses the same Engine as Unity and is graphically not as impressive but the result is a much better game.
Let’s talk about those three in more detail. I feel like AC4 was actually supposed to be another part in the America/Kenway saga, as it tells the story of Connors grandfather Edward. I suspect after the negative reaciton to AC3, Ubisoft again decided to make a DLC or spinoff into a full game. By simply adding more pirate stuff instead of Assassin stuff they had an easy way out. The game still feels rather incomplete, with large landmasses being visible in the game and on the map but since you are unable to explore those, they re just… there. It doesn’t help that the present segments are bad and feel forced, either. Sure, most people were happy to forget about all of that since it is a legitimately good pirate game but if you don’t care about the pirate stuff you’ll find the game lacking pretty much everywhere else. The missions in the game basically all are: Follow guy, don’t be detected or listen to people talk while following them. And if they detect you, you are dead. The entire mission structure is boring as hell. And pretty much all missions are overly long and boring. It is quite clear that they added so many tailing missions to make the game longer than it has any right to be.
Unity is a bad game in general, though. It is VERY obvious that they tried to replicate as much of Ezios games as possible without understanding why those games were so great to begin with. You have a central european city, wannabe womanizer and pseudo charismatic lead, coming of age story, a bit of love thrown in there and all the gameplay tropes from Ezio as well. They even brought back throwing bombs from AC Revelations. The problem is none of it worked at launch and once it did work it had no impact. Arno is a boring slob, he isn’t as suave as Ezio nor is he as likeable and entertaining. He’s just there like a bad copy. Paris is nice to look at but overcrowded, which makes traversal a bitch. The buildings aren’t fun to climb because the new climbing system is partly automated which means you can’t do some moves you previously could. Missions are boring, there is no way to travel faster with a horse for example and the loading times are immense. They even cut the white room segments. There are a ton of sidequests and the new co-op missions which are actually quite fun even in single player but online is forced on you everywhere so that ruins it again. Problem is, just as the Story sections, most of the sidequests are boring and even the great ones like the murder mysteries are crap because the game is so cluttered with NPCs that you can barely get from point A to point B without being frustrated. If ACRogue is a “best of Assassin’s Creed”, then ACUnity is a “worst of”, really. The devs were so obsessed with Ezio they literally brought parts of his music back, put Arno in the same civilian clothes and even did a whole thing about bringing people into the order. But the entire game is just shallow, the gameplay is boring and the only thing to say about Paris is that it may feel complete for a change but it is littered with collectibles you don’t care about. The sad part is that the game actually has a few great new additions that drown in a sea of mediocre, like the fact that stealth missions no longer fail you if you are detected. Instead, the mission will change to a chase mission or, if you lose sight of your target, a locate mission. But that alone can’t make this boring mess any better.
ACSyndicate, however, did almost everything right. The developers of this game understood what makes the series fun and they put a lot of that fun into the game. It plays great, looks great, works as it should and has a lot of content. The new friendship system is great, the two protagonists are exceptionally well written, especially Evie, who, by all accounts, is the real star of the game and the entire package just works. Now, the music quality is debatable, as the game is filled with period authentic violin music but lacks the big great soundtracks of games past. Also, while London is nicely done and quite large, the outer parts of the city are just inaccessable. It does feel as complete as Paris did, though, so that’s great. Also, you can now travel by train, horse carrriage and even steamboat. The white rooms are back and characters are well written and interesting. All the good new things from Unity are back and the bad ones have been fixed. The new battle system is great fun and well animated, traversal is made easy thanks to the grappling hook and the world is not littered with useless crap. Instead districts are filled with side missions you can do to liberate them and while Unity had a system like that as well, this time it’s actually fun. London is a bit more empty than Paris, which also makes traversal much more entertaining. All in all, this is the direction Unity should have taken.
Now, what do we do with our fictional remasters? Well, not much, really. AC4 is a solid game, all we need to do is port it to the new Engine from Unity and Syndicate, polish it up, change the map so that inaccessable parts are clearly marked as inaccessable and put in the new stealth system from the newer games, where you don’t automatically die if a guy detects you. Boom, better game. Drop the Number because clearly we will no longer need it and put Aveline’s DLC into Liberation HD because why the hell is it even in this game?
To fix ACUnity we can’t do much. After all bugs were fixed and all negative criticism was adressed with the patches, the game was quite playable. The story and protagonist are still boring but at least it works now. My best advice would be remove at least a quarter to a third of all NPCs, remove the clutter on the map, remove a few chests and zoom the chest icons with the map. That would greatly help. The Co-Op missions are great so those should stay but without all the forced online stuff in single player. Cut a few of the boring sidequests and you might even have a solid, albeit mediocre game here.
ACSyndicate is great and doesn’t really need changes, so that’s nice.
Now, while writing those articles I realized that I went more into an overal criticism direction and less into a game design and philosophy direction. On the other hand, I elaborated countless times what philosophy Ubisoft takes with the series so I think the description still stands.
Up to this point,Ubisoft didn’t care about the series one bit, it was just a product to be sold and customers to be milked. And while I doubt that this will change in the future, the delay of two years instead of one will probably do the series good, so here is hope they at least learned something from all that mess.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the read^^