We hold these truths to be self-evident
I still remember the excitement that rushed over me when I first heard about a stealth game set during the crusades. Then there was that iconic image of a hooded assassin perched high atop a minaret, which promised much. Five years and four sequels later though, the Assassin’s Creed (AC) franchise has yet to attain the critical acclaim others like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Uncharted, etc. have procured.
Holding the series back are graphical glitches, boring combat, weird plot twists and an over saturation of games. However, I honestly believe that with a few tweaks the Assassin’s Creed franchise could produce one of the best games ever made.
So, in no particular order, here’s how I think they could do so...
Cut all the bumf
No one gives a time travelling turd about Desmond. Why Ubisoft haven’t figured this out yet is beyond me. Get rid of him. Everything to do with him: his cronies, Abstergo, the first civilization and the fecking solar flare. It’s utterly superfluous and needlessly convolutes the experience.
The sole reason anyone picks up an Assassin’s Creed game is to parkour heedlessly around massive, beautiful cities of the past. Well, that and the occasional wanton violence. So why must we be subjected to a whiny protagonist in present?
To be fair, Assassin’s Creed Revelations did take Desmond to some interesting places… metaphorically speaking. However, more than anything else, Desmond serves to pull players out of the experience and, to be brutally honest, he’s just not fun to play as.
So bugger the Animus, Abstergo, the present and the pompous aliens entirely. Choose one time period and stick with it. History is so varied and fascinating in and of itself, and immersing players in different time periods is a special thing indeed. Imagine running around feudal Japan, Victorian London, revolutionary France, 19th century Australia or Mongol besieged China. The opportunities are endless and so, therefore, is Assassin’s Creed potential.
If you must insist on a link to the present, then break the fourth wall and have the player as a silent first-person protagonist strapped in the Animus.
By saving the time that would otherwise be wasted on Desmond, developmental resources could be diverted to other crucial areas; like ironing out the glitches (which the games have in spades) and properly hammering out the settings, characters and combat.
So we’re rid of Desmond, then. Feels good doesn’t it. Yet, there’s still some sprucing up to be done.
Clichéd as he was with his James Bond wit and sexual prowess over the ladies of renaissance Europe, Ezio certainly was a lot of fun to portray. The Mohawk hero of ACIII, Ratonhnhake:ton… (Or Connor, if you prefer) on the other hand, has about as much personality and depth as a morris dancer explaining his stamp-collection. If we're expected to inhabit a character for 40 plus hours of our precious ever-dwindling lives, one-dimensional bores are not enough. Compel us.
Then there are the unrealistically evil antagonists. Is this supposed to be a mature videogame or a fairy tale? Upon booting up an AC game, a message points out the fact that it was created by a multi-ethnic team of differing faiths, beliefs and so on. Then surely, such a team would realise that evil is never clear-cut or, if you will, that black and white.
Yes, this is a videogame and not a Shakespearean epic, but please, don’t treat gamers like nine year olds. Give our foes real motivations, rather than the diabolical desire to rule the world.
Don’t be shy
ACIII certainly was a popular game and according to my (in no way thorough) investigations, sold around 7 million copies worldwide, which basically renders all this writing irrelevant anyway.
With an audience of such massive size, I’m surprised ACIII neglected to add any sort of poignancy to its story. For such an epic tale set in the 18th century to basically disregard slavery is cowardly and, quite frankly, disrespectful.
I’m not saying ACIII should have gone over the top with slavery, and indeed covering it in any way is likely to cause tremendous controversy - particularly in North America. However ACIII is supposed to a mature historical tale and its inclusion would have proved thought provoking and set the game apart. Represent history as it was, there’s no need to sugar coat it. There’s an 18 certificate slapped on the front for a reason.
A Fighting Chance
The combat of Assassin’s Creed has never been what you would call a challenge. It was easy, but gory and fun. However in ACIII (which claimed to streamline it all) fighting became nothing more than mere button mashing to victory. Streamlining is great and all, but I wasn’t aware that uninspiring was a synonym.
As I’ve already said, Assassin’s Creed should be all about the parkour, however we’ve also got swords, axes, tomahawks and all manner of blunt object to butcher our enemies. Why then is combat so boring and completely unchallenging? In any videogame fighting should be exciting and fun, not a pointless quick time events or a bone crushing chore.