Is Assassin’s Creed dead?
Before I jump into this question, let me explain what I mean by “dead”. I certainly do not mean “dead” in terms of sales figures. The Assassin’s Creed series has sold an astonishing 55 million units across all its games as of March 2013. Ubisoft is able to pump out sequel after sequel and spinoff after spinoff and expect decent returns on their investment. Hell, there’s even a movie on the way in a couple of years starring Michael Fassbender that has the potential to actually be one of the very few high quality video game films.
Obviously the series is not dead when it comes to finances. In fact, it is one of the strongest video game franchises in the world. The sales figures are very impressive, sure, but when I ask the question Is Assassin’s Creed dead? I am asking it from a creative point of view. Creatively, is there anything left in the tank? Or will Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag just continue the downward spiral?
Initially, the series was actually very original and unique. The first game in the franchise turned the stealth genre on its head and while it did not live up to the insane hype that preceded it, it offered an intriguing premise, unique gameplay, and an engaging new fictional video game universe to dive into. The original did a lot of things wrong, but it left the doors wide open for sequels to greatly expand upon and improve that basic formula into something great.
A couple of years later, we got Assassin’s Creed II. This is the ultimate game in the series and easily the best one released so far. Assassin’s Creed II offered a better protagonist, a story written with more care, and just so much more to do in the large open world created by Ubisoft. It also featured an insane plot twist at the end while also revealing a lot more about Desmond, the character that is continuously strapped into the Animus in order to relive the memories of his ancestors.
Thanks to the immense success of Assassin’s Creed II, Ubisoft decided to stick the series with an annual release schedule. As we’ve seen in the past, this kind of schedule can seriously kill creativity. Hell, Activision completely murdered both the Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero franchises thanks to this model.
That being said, there are some games that simply make sense when it comes to the annual release schedule. Most sports games fit well in that area, such EA’s line of football and soccer titles or the WWE games. Even Call of Duty is able to benefit from the annual release schedule thanks to Activision trading off between teams each year, effectively giving the two teams that work on Call of Duty two years to develop each game in the series, which is a decent amount of development time.
Unfortunately, the annual release schedule simply does not mesh well with Assassin’s Creed. The reason for this is that the series is driven so much by its plot that the end result of forcing a new game (not to mention all the spinoffs, books, and whatever else that expand the universe) every single year does nothing but make the plot convoluted. And when it’s not busy muddying the waters of the story, the annual release schedule also causes huge chunks of the games to be pointless filler, there only to retread on the same gameplay mechanics introduced and done to death in previous installments.
The first signs of franchise fatigue appeared in the followup to Assassin’s Creed II that came only one year later in the form of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. My friend that played the game told me that he had to take it out of the disc tray and make sure that he didn’t just pop in Assassin’s Creed II by accident, and who can blame him?
For all intents and purposes, Brotherhood is just a retread of the setting, story, and gameplay mechanics of Assassin’s Creed II. It does have a few interesting new ideas and that’s what saves it from mediocrity. Not to mention it adds an intriguing new multiplayer functionality to the series that plays off the basic premise quite brilliantly. That being said, the deja vu feeling whenever playing an Assassin’s Creed game first came out of Brotherhood.
Fast forward merely another year later and we were “treated” to Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, which is, to me, one of the laziest games ever produced. Yes, the setting is very different from II and Brotherhood, but overall, the gameplay is just way too much of the same. It doesn’t help that the new ideas they attempted to implement (such as tower defense elements) were way too polarizing amongst fans and that they sort of half-assed most of the new features anyway.
Assassin’s Creed III continued the downward trend of the series. I was personally very excited for Assassin’s Creed III as it was handled by the same development team that released the excellent Assassin’s Creed II. I thought the new protagonist (playing as Ezio for three games and for three years in a row was incredibly boring) would be just what the doctor ordered.
Instead Assassin’s Creed III turned out to be the most derivative of them all. The first five hours of the game are spent in mind numbingly boring tutorial missions that are hugely unnecessary for a franchise that is now on its sixth major installment since the year 2007 (and a seventh on the way in just one week’s time). When the story finally gets going, it starts off interesting and then by the end just peters out into one major disappointment after another.
Assassin’s Creed is slowly but surely being killed off by its creators. Assassin’s Creed IV is also shaping up to be a major disappointment. The game is changing the setting (again) to pirates this time, the story is becoming even MORE convoluted as a result, and the gameplay looks just like more of the same. New stuff? Sure. Old stuff? You bet’cha.
I am hoping that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag proves me wrong and puts the series in my good graces again, but I would be lying if I said expectations were high.