It’s kind of crazy to see how many Assassin’s Creed titles have been released since the very first release back in 2007. The franchise is so popular that it’s moved to an annual release cycle and is now one of, if not the most important franchise that Ubisoft has. For myself, the major appeal of the series is how it is able to transport you to a certain era and bring to life the people and events of that time. It’s kind of like an interactive history lesson only you know, with murder and stuff. We’ve seen major events the Crusades in the 12th century, helped establish the Italian Renaissance in places like Venice and Florence, and witnessed the birth of the United States during the American Revolution to name just a specific few. Being able to interact with history on a scale like this is absolutely fascinating to me even if the actual game quality levels don’t always match.
Even as a major fan of this series, I’m still objective enough to see how the franchise has been on a sort of rollercoaster ride these past few years. After Ezio’s trio of games came and went, the franchise has struggled somewhat to regain it’s footing. The series has experienced highs and lows both with review scores and public reception. Ask anyone and they’ll give you a different reason for it but I think the most popular answer would be that the franchise went annual after Brotherhood.
The cracks in the foundation began with Assassin’s Creed III and the promise of a new engine, unique setting, and lead character ready to usher the franchise into a new era. We were introduced to Connor Kenway, a character who, in my opinion, just couldn’t live up to the big shoes left by the charismatic Ezio Auditore before him. The game launched with a large amount of bugs and glitches that also hurt the overall experience, and coupled with a lead character with no personality and a really poor final boss battle, the game just didn’t hold up to the high standards of games preceding it. Assassin’s Creed III stands as my least favorite in the series and in fact, the game actually shook my confidence in the franchise making me question if I actually wanted to proceed with the franchise.
Assassin’s Creed III proved to be divisive has review scores were all over the map along with how it was received by players. The massive bugs and glitches that plagued the game certainly didn’t help but the game had other flaws that couldn’t be ironed out by a patch. Still, it was the first sort of misfire for the franchise and I think that helped people look past this one. But just like a pendulum swinging back, the franchise was ready for a revival. Enter the Caribbean.
I kind of view Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag as a sort of apology to fans. Whether or not it is, the fact remains that the praise of this title was nearly universal. Black Flag gives us a brand new setting, a new lead character, and the fact that the game was more or less about being a pirate than outright assassin. Sure, Edward Kenway eventually helped the assassin’s cause, but he was never inducted into the brotherhood and cared more for his pirate career than sticking to a set of rules. It was also the game’s sense of freedom as you were given a pirate ship you could upgrade and could sail where ever you wanted to explore locations and islands. It made me feel powerful and the fact that I could harass other ships made me feel like a real pirate. Sure, the core gameplay on land retained the good and bad of past assassin games (damn eavesdrop and tail missions!), but the good definitely outshined the bad. To me though, the most important thing was that Black Flag made me care about the series again.
As Assassin’s Creed Unity released just a few months so, the pendulum again swung back the other way once more. Promising to be the first true next gen Assassins game along with a setting based in the highly requested French Revolution era, the game seemed poised to return the glory days of Assassin’s Creed II. Unfortunately and surprisingly, the game was received poorly by critics and many fans alike due to some questionable additions like chests that had to be opened through companion apps, microtransactions, and a host of launch bugs and glitches. Granted, the game has been patched four times and is in a much better state than it was in November, but I still wonder if it was ultimately too little, too late. Getting a game that flat out doesn’t work well on launch day is pretty unsettling and from what I’ve seen and read, people were upset.
Based on my own experiences, Unity seemed to be optimized better for the Xbox One as I didn’t run into nearly as many issues as were being reported at the time by PC and PS4 players. Still, releasing a game with as many technical issues as Unity seemed to have ruffled more than a few feathers and may have also potentially shook the fan base to the core. Personally, I really enjoyed Unity but I recognize that it had flaws. I think as being someone who loves history, the setting played a major role in my experience. I loved seeing places like the Notre Dame, and being able to interact with major players in the French Revolution such as Robespierre and Napoleon. Was it my favorite title from this year? No, not by a long shot, but for what it was, I had fun in Unity. Being able to sneak around Paris with friends was also another highlight.
On a different note, Assassin’s Creed Rogue quietly released alongside Unity for “last-gen” systems and seems to have been better received by critics. What’s interesting is that Rogue features gameplay that aligns heavily with Black Flag featuring open world sailing and a lead character that’s not really an Assassin. Perhaps being able to explore this world outside the bounds of being an Assassin provides a more unique experience these days.
So where do we go from here?
The “as to yet be announced officially” Assassin’s Creed Victory (still a codename?) is next in line as leaked reports were brought to the light of day through some outlets such as Kotaku a few months back much to the chagrin of Ubisoft. What I find compelling about this project is that it’s been in development for over three years at Ubisoft Quebec, making it the first game where the Montreal studio wasn’t in full control. Who knows, maybe fresh minds and fresh eyes are what this series needs most. Perhaps we’re due for an upswing again.
It’s quite understandable if you’re on the fence with this series going forward especially with the radical ups and downs in quality levels in recent years. Unity may not have left me as broken as Assassin’s Creed III did, but I’m still hopeful for the future of this franchise. After all, there’s not many other games out there that expertly weave history into an open world action title.