A reader looks back at the ups and downs of the Assassins Creed franchise and how the failures of Unity had such a positive effect.
Assassins Creed is a well-known gaming franchise. In the space of 11 years there has been 19 entries, all the way from the PlayStation 3 to the Nintendo DS. Weve been to Italy, France, and London; climbing up every building in view. We have synchronised the entirety of Egypt. Lets just say weve spent hours on these games. But with Odyssey shaking the series up for the better I thought Id take a look at how we got here in the first place.
With an annual franchise like Assassins Creed, part of the reason it had become stagnant by 2015 was down to this: how do you keep an open world action stealth game fresh each year? Do you make a better graphics engine? Improve the artificial intelligence or just reskin the game into a different setting? And how do you keep the fans happy with what they have when innovation is one of the deciding factors in good press?
These are all hard to answer and are questions the numerous different Assassins Creed developers have faced over the years. And all these questions have helped and hindered the franchise in differing ways. The most intriguing thing is that last years soft reboot, Origins, was the best Assassins Creed of this generation. It had a stunning and fully realised world, a great new and improved combat system and gear, health and skill elements, all taken to the next level. In short, it felt like what Assassins Cred had been working up to all these years, a final complete game that was a big success, financially and quality wise. But there was a catch: It didnt feel like an Assassins Creed game.
Set before any of the other entries, Origins was about the founding of the creed, but 90% of the game was without it. Even though they have finally nailed the formula, with upcoming entry Odyssey set to build on that with numerous great innovations, it lost its identity. Now I really want to make clear that this isnt me moaning or ranting, this is me simply saying theres a cost when it comes to quality as well as saying this identity crisis isnt necessarily a bad thing. It may be that this reboot and Odyssey are the start of a new era of games, without the classic Templar vs. Assassins template. This begs me to ask:
What is Assassins Creed?
Over the years, there has been many moments across media of identity crises or our perception of certain franchises. Take The Dark Knight (2008) for example. Not only had Nolan made a great origin story and reinvention in Batman Begins, he managed to change our perception of the entire superhero genre and to make a superhero film that is theoretically very possible compared to the real world. It was a masterpiece of a film that has earned its own iconic status. All because of evolving with the times.
The video game industry is one that is constantly evolving, and whilst Assassins Creed took the time off in 2016 to evaluate the franchise as a whole, that extra year helped shape a fresher and more satisfying entry, with a template to build upon. A new perception as to what Assassins Creed is.
But before all this, the series was very simple. A historical setting, action and stealth missions, and basic gameplay mechanics. I can understand why people bought them all the time, like people buy Call Of Duty annually – you know what you are getting. By April 2014 the franchise had sold over 73 million units and whilst Black Flag wasnt as selling as fast as Assassins Creed III at that point, the good news was just about to prove only temporary good news.
The Turning Point
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, Unity was the first Assassins Creed entry made for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and showcased beautiful graphics and one of the worst launches any developer could have wished for. The game that launched was a buggy nightmare and made sure that Ubisoft wouldnt recover any time soon. Ubisoft were slated by fans and critics alike for its terrible launch, especially from a BIG developer.
The game was fixed eventually, but the damage had been done and consumer trust had been lost. And the game itself was… alright. By the time the next entry, the highly underrated Syndicate, came out in 2015 sales suffered at launch.
After the year off, When Origins came out it was a massive success, financially and critically. It was so good that it doubled sales of Syndicate in the same 10-day period. The time taken off had proven effective, and the new formula introduced had made the franchise feel fresh again. Ubisoft are back in the good books.
On the Horizon
Having stopped Assassins Creeds downfall with a year off and a fresh entry, Ubisoft have gained consumers trust again and tweaked the Assassins Creed formula for the better. The series had always felt like it was almost perfect but Origins was the entry to make the game Id dreamed off: an open world stealth/action game with role-playing elements and combat to match.
And as I look forward to new entry Odyssey I am confident that whilst the franchise stumbled for a few seconds the response has changed it for the better. I cannot wait to play the next Assassins Creed again and thats all thanks to a fall, a breather, and one triumphant return. See you in Ancient Greece.
By reader Charlie Ridgewell
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