This week sees the release of the newest entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and brings me to another tricky purchasing decision – do I buy the new Ass Cree game?
This is a post of questions and reflection, taking the time to think about one of the biggest names in gaming for the past decade. Yes, the new game looks beautiful and some of the changes tickle my fancy but… what has the series taught us so far about new assassin iterations?
Or to help those thinking of buying the new game, I could put it another way: has the Ass Cree series produced more good games than bad?
To explain better, let’s run through the history of the franchise. Several years ago, one game very nearly killed it for me: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. That was the series’ low point for me – so let’s take a look at how it got there and where it has gone since then.
I had loved the first game, Ass Cree the First, in spite of numerous flaws, because it captured a unique experience. The adventure with Altair – climbing around and planning your next major assassination – had a rewarding and enjoyable aspect that future games never quite reached.
The cities – Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus – were gorgeous and presented wonderfully with the “eagle” map unlock mechanic – that fantastic animation which swirls the camera around the top of the tallest of buildings. It was original and well executed (if fairly clunky to control and a little quick to complete).
From there, the series ventured to Italy and Ezio Auditore took over for a few games and expanded the horizons massively. Ass Cree 2 was still just about alright though, it had some pretty stupid bits and the horse riding was broken when I played – but overall I enjoyed ramping through Venice and Florence and the like.
The story and gorgeous locations to explore were good enough to keep me entertained for a while…. but I could see what was happening – all the extra “fluff” was detracting from the overall experience, with the additional gadgets, collectibles and mini-games just meaning less time planning and actually assassinating your way through history.
The series obviously wasn’t listening to me because the next game – Brotherhood – was the icing on the distraction cake. So many interruptions, pointless diversions and useless minigames getting in the way of planning and carrying out Italian murderage.
The game earned my “worst game of 2011” and the utter horror still makes me shiver – so much that I refuse to pick up the Ezio Collection and play Ass Cree 2 on the PS4… just because I know I would be giving hard earned money to that pile of dog turd.
Revolving in space
Following that horror, the series might have redeemed itself slightly but I was still seething, so didn’t care. The setting of Revelations was better and more colourful than Botherturd, however it still felt the need to cram tons more stupid gadgets into the already overstuffed game (then take said gadgets away in random missions so you die).
That, mixed with the glitches, dumbass dialogue and annoying cutscenes, just infuriated me into stopping. Ah well, at least Revelations came bundled with a copy of the original game, so I was happy replaying that.
Third Time Unlucky?
After the series had run around in circles on the continent, it decided to pack up and move to the Americas for a little while, bringing us Ass Cree 3. The move in location also brought changes to the game play – like climbing trees and exploring forests – while retaining many key mechanics.
The setting and New World settlements were interesting enough to explore, but I found that even with Benjamin Franklin and George Washington showing up, I still tuned out of the story by the halfway point. It just wasn’t quite interesting or engaging enough to hold my attention. Even the home development mechanic felt like another tedious iteration of pointless grind and unlocks that I quickly wore out my patience.
Hit the Seven Seas
The next main entry, Ass Cree 4: Black Flag, was a totally unexpected joy. The main mechanics had been completely reworked around an ocean-faring, pirate theme – and I really liked it… except it didn’t especially feel like an Assassin’s Creed game.
Yes, there were the same combat mechanics and yes, you could still climb to the top of things and look around but… you really weren’t in the same type of game as before. I got on board (pun totally intended) with the whole ship sailing and fighting mechanics and it was fun and rewarding to explore the Caribbean islands in the game.
I was enjoying the game so much that I played through the DLC as well – Freedom Cry – which didn’t last me as long as I had hoped but was more of the same fun. It was a good diversion but it could easily have been renamed as a separate franchise at that point and left the whole “Animus” thing to die but they really wanted it to live on so we got more.
Then the next two games were problematic for me and I never owned a copy of either.
Ass Cree Rogue was a “wrapping up” the Ass Cree 3 and 4 storylines, with a bash in North America to get some closure before moving back to Europe. It was again just not what I wanted at the time, and I wasn’t invested enough to see the conclusions to those storylines.
The game was the last on old hardware and might be an undiscovered gem – many reviews however say it’s mainly for those keen on the series’ lore and the gameplay is nothing more than Black Flag.
United We Fall
Unity was different but perhaps not better: a buggy mess with massive issues with the EA servers for a good week after launch. Fortunately again I opted not to buy this one, instead getting a play of a friend’s copy later.
While Paris looked great, I still saw horrible glitches with characters flying from nowhere into the sky, and the cooperative multiplayer assassination action only works if other players are (and can) get into the game successfully.
Glad I skipped these two in retrospect and I think Ubisoft might prefer we forgot them as well.
Hold the dog and bone
Syndicate had an appeal for me due to the London setting, however it actually turned out to be a fairly entertaining romp. The game focused on an area-control mechanic with a gang you developed through story missions and side quest unlocks.
The game also had dual protagonists – Evie and Jacob – who were interesting enough to see all the way through to the finale…. which was sadly crap.
After beating all of the increasingly-thuggish baddies of London, the climax is a bizarre and completely out-of-place cutscene with a floating deity above Tower Bridge. It was really weird but perhaps would make more sense if I’d paid attention to any of the Abstergo shite.
So here we are, another point in the franchise where they have decided to totally reboot the gameplay.
This time, rather than the Black Flag style of borrowing from Overboard!, it seems that the new inspiration comes from the Far Cry games. A new levelling system, camp takeovers, animal taming and re-defined combat system have all piqued my interest but can its predecessors tell us how this will play out?
Most likely server meltdowns and day one glitches – then a whole bunch of funny videos of hippopotamus and crocodile attacks – leading to a climactic showdown with a genie for no good reason at all.
In all seriousness, the animal attacks look fantastic and the thought of exploring and climbing pyramids gives me at least a historical semi-boner. The reboot has worked for the series in the past, and the new levelling system and abilities would appeal in any other series.
The series has come in around 50% good to 50% bad so far – with Ass Cree 1, 2 (just about), 4 and Syndicate being enjoyable games, and Brotherhood, Revelations, Ass Cree 3, Rogue and Unity falling into the lesser category. The new game could tip the balance, perhaps setting the series back on track once and for all.
With all the changes and added features though – are they distracting from simply being an assassin? Are these new mechanics going to get in the way of stabby fun joy?
Quite possibly. The gameplay videos shown so far indicate that actual assassinations are now less frequent, with higher-level enemies able to shrug off sneaky stab attacks and brutally counter. You can see an early sneak peek by IGN in the Youtube video below:
The environments are also expansive and camps appear to be where most action happens. While this will let you take a step back and plan your attacks, the strong temptation may be to it play safe and use environmental mechanics (animal cages and traps have been shown).
Hopefully there will be enough there to let you truly play it your own way (without being too confined by brutal levelling). Only a full playthrough will tell but I’m curious enough to try this one.
Assassin’s Creed Origins is out on 27 October on PS4, Xbox One and PC.