From the hilltops of Jerusalem through narrow European cities and across the Atlantic, the Assassin’s Creed franchise has portrayed many exciting historical periods. This next one starts with an adventure on the high seas.

The Assassin’s Creed Series, Part 2

Pirates of the Caribbean

Playing Little House On A Prairie and witnessing old people sign papers in Assassin’s Creed III might not have been all that exciting, but Ubisoft wasn’t done yet. Going forward from the optional „Ship Missions“, the 2013 game Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag went full on pirate simulator. Players assuming the role of Edward Kennway are able to freely sail around the Caribbean, including the cities of Havanna, Nassau and Kingston as wenn as various islands. Kennway’s story starts with him stealing the outfit from a disgraced Assassin and make his way to Havanna to earn some money. After pissing off the local Governor though, he’s detained on a prison ship en route back to Europe. With the help of another inmate, they manage to take over the ship and meet up with the local Brotherhood of Assassins. And while it takes the game around 2 to 3 hours to pick up pace and finally open up to all the wonders of pirating, when it does, it’s an incredible adventure. The story is immensely engaging and introduces fun and relatable characters, while Edward Kennway as a protagonist made me wish for him to stick around for another game or two. And maybe we’ll see that some day, because even though we know where and how his life will end (which is not at the end of the game, so that wasn’t a spoiler), there are so many possible stories to tell and adventures to have. And believe me, raiding ships, hunting, and taking on the massive naval forces of the English and the Spanish is thrilling at every moment.

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A year later, Ubisoft made a curious move with Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, which released exclusively for the previous generation of consoles (as well as PC), while AC: Unity, 2014’s main game only came to PS4, X1, and PC. Running in the same engine as Black Flag, Rogue not only serves as continuation of that game’s mechanics, being set in New York and the North-Atlantic sea. Set around a rogue Assassin who turns over to the Templars, its final missions also set the scene for another game in the series. It is a bloody short game though, somewhere around eight hours. But with a protagonist as annoying as Shay Patrick Cormac, they can feel like days. So Rogue has that going for it.

From one revolution…

Well, Black Flag won me over, how are you going to build on that in Unity, Ubisoft? How about we take the ships out and make the game world considerably smaller? I said build on, not burn to the ground! Ah well, at least the prospect of exploring of the worlds most beautiful cities during the French Revolution. Yes, Assassin’s Creed: Unity takes us to Versailles and Paris and into the mind of Arno Dorian. Born to an Assassin, taken in by a Templar after his father is killed by Rogue’s protagonist Shay, he joins the Assassins. And herein lies the problem. Though Arno himself might have a reason that’s in itself logical, revenge on the Templars (oh yeah, his stepfather was killed by his own Templar brothers) is as weak as it can get. Because the Assassins don’t need him for that. They’re fine, waiting out the revolution in there underground bunker. It’s the Templars fighting among themselves.

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This weak sauce story and character motivations combined with incredible technical problems resulted in probably the most hated entry in the series. So much so, that Ubisoft even gave away its when Season Pass for the game, including its surprisingly engaging Dead Kings DLC. The problems reached from the classic crashes, to missing faces, soft-locking missions and a frame-rate dropping to around 4FPS. Sure, improvements to the parkour system and a visually impressive city to explore make it a step forward for the series, but 20 GB worth of patches to get the game running at a stable version is inexcusable. And audiences thought so too, as its successor and most recent game struggled financially and lead to Ubisoft reexamining their development processes.

…to the next!

It’s 1886, the industrial revolution hit England and the Templars are taking full advantage of it. Child labour, street gangs, and political intrigue are at the centre stage of the Templar threat, when Jacob and Evie Frye arrive in London. In their attempts to stop Grand Master Crawford Starrick, they liberate London’s Boroughs from his grasp, crippling his enterprise in the process, while at the same time trying to locate the piece of Eden he’s after. The players assume the role of both twins, with the ability to freely switch between the two in free-roam, while story missions follow either one of the two for narrative reasons. And it works. Even though both their characters are a little cliché, one is brash and talks with his fists, the other is more focussed on stealth and thinks about ways through a situation. I’ll let you figure out who is who, but try to think like the laziest writer in the fucking universe.

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Again, new small improvements to all kinds of gameplay aspects only make the movement and combat more fluid, while the game is surprisingly well optimized for current hardware. The odd crash only came once or twice on PS4 but apart from that it is a very well made and of course graphically impressive game. But it’s a franchise in holding pattern, failing to deliver something truly new and unique as there have been no significant changes to the formula (and there is a „Assassin’s Creed“ formula by now) since the first game almost 10 years ago. Sure, there was sailing and with Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate we got the hookshot, the overall structure of the game has not changed. And I’ve been talking about how I think that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is probably the best Open-World RPG and certainly my favorite game of all time. And I say that at this point, because I’d wish that this series would look at the structure of games like that and maybe take a little step into that direction, making the game’s missions a little bit more open and our own decisions in the story meaningful in the long run.

Ubisoft has taken a year off and a new Assassin’s Creed game should be on the way for this year. Most likely set in ancient Egypt and again featuring multiple protagonists, we’ll have to see if it manages to take a leap of faith into the future for the franchise.

Beitragsbild: Kevin Wendlandt
Bilder: Ubisoft