In a recent interview with EDGE magazine, Lionel Raynaud, Vice president of creative at Ubisoft had this to say:
We are able to offer people a new Assassin’s Creed every year because they want Assassin’s Creed every year. As long as this is true we would be very stupid to not satisfy this need, but it puts a lot of pressure on us to create something that will never disappoint. It needs to keep the series core values and we need to really make sure that we have a good, high level understanding of what it is to be an Assassin. We have to make sure we always deliver a better feel and overall experience every time while still bringing something that they haven’t seen before that’s consistent with being an Assassin in the world we’ve created.
Now, before I begin there’s two things I need to clear up. Firstly, the fact that I’m not going to tear the excerpt to shreds – there are plenty of places on the internet to find that discussion – and secondly, that anybody reading this should read the full article first. The truth is that what I have to say here is talking about something specific he said, and not what he is generally saying. What he in fact is talking about is the care Ubisoft has for those who have yet to ‘upgrade’ to PS4 or Xbox One, how that affects development overall, and how to provide the best possible experience for all concerned while not stifling those who did buy the new systems. It’s nice to see that kind of consideration put forth, but with that said…
There’s clearly some noticeable delusions at play here. Saying that the pressure over at Ubisoft to bring a new Assassin’s Creed title out annually is placed upon them by the consumer is not the case from where I’m standing. Sure, we buy it because the series has found a way into our hearts and minds, but we’re not exactly blitzing each new release in a matter of days and then kicking down Ubisoft’s doors for the next one. In fact, the rumblings across the internet generally fall on the side of “OK, slow down guys, this is beginning to get tired.”, and this is a sentiment I agree with.
From my personal experience with the series, I have bought it because it’s there and because it’s good but never have I demanded it in quicker succession, or even particularly wanted it to be. If it’s there yearly, I’ll buy it, however, if asked about the condition of what is being provided I would say openly that the improvement in recent years has been clearly incremental on a two year development cycle, and that I don’t understand how that could made better by deducting a year. Please don’t think that I am saying everything has sucked since the end of the Ezio trilogy, that’s simply not the case. I have very much enjoyed these games and they have improved on the core values front… except the Assassin thing. For instance, the experience I got from Black Flag is the same as I got from AC3 only better. Larger, more engaging, more to do, better lead, better story. I was dreading the ship navigation and combat taking a more central focus in Edward’s adventure as I couldn’t stand the same thing in Connor’s. However, when Black Flag came out, it was good! Or I should say better as I know some people didn’t actually like it.
While the game became more fun and, in my eyes, improved in many areas, the essence of Assassin-ness had been drained from it all. Playing AC3, it didn’t feel very Assassin-like to run through a settlement toward your target and bury a tomahawk in his face, but this was more often than not the approach the game was enticing me to take. As for Black Flag, I felt myself being more engaged with the fact that Edward was a pirate rather than the fact that he had become an Assassin. Something that the story kind of enforced with his derision of the very idea until it’s culmination, at which point the story kind of rushes ahead in a way that says “Aaaaaand, that’s Edward!”.
From what I can see so far of Unity, which is admittedly very little, it looks like a highly viable return to the days of Ezio and Altair’s stalking ways, aided largely by the architecture of the time period that III and IV lacked, which is great. I’m not a nostalgia-freak who just wants things to stay the same forever, I just see the potential for change while maintaining the stalking element Assassin’s Creed represents to me. I honestly don’t feel like an Assassin when I don’t trail my target with subtlety or watch, just for argument’s sake, for an execution from a perch, biding my time and waiting for the most opportune moment to strike. Something I can’t honestly say I have felt in the recent installments.
I love the franchise, I particularly love the fact that it’s historically accurate when it needs to be and hyperbolic with history and it’s many big names when it doesn’t. All in an attempt to entice tangential learning in gamers about where we came from, how we got from there to here and how exciting many of these eras were, while telling a great story. But the truth is that, while that remains a staple in the AC series since Revelations, I stopped thinking of it as an ‘Assassin’ game shortly after Ezio hung up his outfit and put his hidden blades in storage. So when I hear Raynaud say “We need to make sure that we have a good, high level understanding of what it is to be an Assassin.” I can’t help but think, “Do you guys actually remember?”. Connor, Aveline, Edward and Adewale, I don’t think that any of these characters are bad, they just didn’t make me think ‘Assassin’. It was either Pirate guy, Slave guy, Tomahawk in the face guy, or Not Slave girl.
The new shortened development cycle isn’t a bad thing per se but I hope Ubisoft is keeping in consideration that less can be more. This isn’t a FIFA or Madden roster update, and it’s definitely not a Call of Duty Same-Game-More-Perks situation. It’s a genuinely intriguing idea that gained it’s success through ingenuity and knowledge, not repetition or increased frequency. For that reason, I have a lot more time and patience with it, where elsewhere I wouldn’t.