Not since 2009 has Ubisoft skipped a tentpole installment in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but in light of recent news, the publisher’s historical juggernaut will spend 2016 indulging in a little soul-searching.
That’s despite Syndicate representing a marked return to form, too, but lackluster sales coupled with the looming shadow of Unity – and all the technical issues therein — has led to Ubisoft pumping the brakes on production, allowing its crown jewel to “catch its breath” before making a return. But don’t expect Assassin’s Creed to immediately slink back into an annual cycle, after the company’s CEO Yves Guillemot cautioned that “the goal is not to automatically come back to an annual cycle, but to come back on a regular basis.”
And there you have it. Much like early rumors had indicated, Ubisoft has now carved out an extended development window for the next mainline Assassin’s Creed title; a means of future-proofing that many believed was a long time coming. So what comes next for the company’s clandestine IP? Taking a one-year break is all well and good, but it won’t count for much without a bona fide and fully functional Assassin’s Creed at the end of it.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Zarmena Khan and Michael Briers weigh in on the future of Ubisoft’s open world series.
Zarmena: I’ve played every major installment (and some spin-offs) in the Assassin’s Creed franchise since its inception, and what particularly made the series stand out to me back in the day was its romantic settings from yore, stories of debaucheries and deceit, and strong characters that came with a slice of history. Ubisoft arguably has excellent ideas on paper but the recent entries have evidently been held back by lackluster execution, untapped potential, failure to address areas of improvement and, lo and behold, strict development schedules. The developer taking its time to re-examine the franchise is certainly a welcome move and a step in the right direction.
As a fan of the series, on top of my wishlist is the desire to see Ubisoft reintroduce settings and characters that still have compelling stories to tell as opposed to introducing yet another setting and yet another character that players struggle to resonate with. From Assassin’s Creed II to Revelations, the series took advantage of a character that fans had grown to love, with Ezio being the only one that I felt was given the time necessary to actually become memorable. I’d like to think that there’s more to Altaïr, for example, beyond just the original game and some mediocre reappearances.
In addition to the above, it wouldn’t be a misstep to take the series back in time, reintroduce the present day story akin to Desmond’s, and let players loose in settings that could still make an impact à la Renaissance-era Italy. Among places that I feel have ample room for further exploration are Masyaf and the Holy Land (Jerusalem, Acre, Damascus) from the original Assassin’s Creed and Ottoman-era Turkey beyond Constantinople. In fact, Ubisoft can concoct a remarkable story of corruption, greed, and romance solely out of the rich Ottoman history using historical characters that are still remembered to this day and monuments that still stand strong.
Looking forward, it’d be interesting to see an Assassin’s Creed game set in India during the Mughal rule. From 1526 to the fall of the Empire, the developer has enough material to create noteworthy characters with and give them room to grow over several installments. There’s no shortage of heroes and villains or poets and writers from the era, which is great news for a series that was once defined by engrossing stories and locations.
All of the aforementioned, however, will only work well if Ubisoft doesn’t restrict creativity by slapping its development team with tight schedules. There’s no compulsion to release an Assassin’s Creed each year or every other year, for that matter. This is a series that absolutely needs creative freedom to thrive, and restricting that in any way is recipe for disaster. Among things that I’d like to see finally addressed are repetitive missions, side quests that don’t belong, wonky combat mechanics and frustrating controls. With all the right ingredients and all the right improvements, Ubisoft could make the return to form that it’s been touting for a while but has largely failed to actualize.
Michael: Unlike Zarmena, I’d consider myself to be a lapsed fan of the Assassin’s Creed series. The last entry that I saw through to the credits was Black Flag and even then, the lush world built around the story proved much more interesting than Edward Kenway’s swashbuckling arc.
From a distance, it’s difficult to muster excitement for Ubisoft’s historical epic, and though it’s a little crass to label each new installment as a palette swap, I can trace those admittedly harsh criticisms back to the awkward combat system that continues to pervade every mainline Assassin’s Creed title.
Those lowly sales figures for Syndicate, not to mention the damaging launch of Unity, may have reaffirmed Ubisoft’s decision to reshuffle the franchise’s release schedule, but I’m holding out hope that a complete overhaul is in store for the publisher’s prized asset.
Ubisoft’s famous network of studios may boast an employee count north of 9,000, but what good is a talented workforce when their noses are pressed to the grindstone year in, year out? Take a year off – hell, take two years off if need be – and rein in the focus of Assassin’s Creed to recapture what made those formative years so special. Think of the detailed, almost majestic level design featured in Assassin’s Creed II, and how the adorned sequel ensured that Renaissance Italy was as fun as it was historically intriguing. And now apply that balanced system to some of those time periods that Zar mentions – particularly 16th century India. It’s certainly a pitch that would pique my curiosity.
Then again, those first reports that broke news of Ubisoft’s production switcheroo alluded to an Ancient Egyptian setting for the next Assassin’s Creed. Codenamed Empire, there’s potential there to jump-start a new trilogy under the Assassin’s Creed umbrella, with each new chapter tying together a saga of blood, greed, lies and deceit. Imagine a trilogy similar to Chronicles, one that jumps between three distinct epochs in history, fueled with a AAA budget.
If Ubisoft dreams big and affords its development team with the necessary amount of time, there’s no telling where Assassin’s Creed will be in five years’ time. One thing’s for certain: Ubisoft’s historical tentpole is going nowhere, and the Assassin’s Creed of 2017 – presuming it is on course for next year – not only holds the potential to turn a dearth of new ideas into a fresh start, it also has the chance to steer Ubisoft’s juggernaut back on course and fulfill the publisher’s promise of a franchise overhaul. Regardless of whether you’ve been burned by Unity or find yourself falling in line with the lapsed fans, now is the time to stand up and take notice.