Assassin’s Creed III (AC3) was received with good reviews from critics, but the game did not fare as well with the general public. A wide array of glitches were revealed as the game was exposed to more players. Characters’ mouths not moving as they spoke in cutscenes, guards hovering above the city frozen in time, random citizens walking in front of the camera during cut scenes and other experience-breaking bugs were found throughout the various environments and cities in the game’s story mode. The story itself deviated from the Assassin vs. Templar conflict established from the previous titles to focus more on a Savior with Cyber Aliens affair (Desmond’s story). Those who skipped the games between Assassin’s Creed 2 and AC3 were pretty lost, but completely Desmond’s story is understandable if one had played Brotherhood and Revelations. AC2 had created a likeable character in Ezio and improved the gameplay in almost every aspect. It was the most polished AC game to date, but the Ezio story carried on for far too long in Brotherhood and Revelations. The games integrated strange gameplay mechanics from completely unrelated game genres, confusing players and lowering review scores. The annualization of AC had taken its toll.
Well they could have. Just four months after AC3’s release, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was announced. Set to release less than a year after AC3, Black Flag promises a larger world, more exploration, more naval combat, more everything (Ubisoft released a gameplay trailer earlier this year, check it out here). Not much has been said about the main character, Edward Kenway, other than his relationship to Connor from AC3 and the fact that he is an assassin and an “occasional pirate”. AC2 was great not only because of its gameplay improvements, but also that it created a character that was easily relatable with a simple, justified motivation. Even during the dark portions of the game, Ezio never lost his charm and swagger. Later iterations have become more serious and dark, with characters that seem arrogant and distant. It is becoming more difficult to care about characters that are either unrelatable, rash, overly emotional or a combination. Assassin’s Creed is still about its story, but the game quality has suffered from yearly entries.
Assassin’s Creed is not Call of Duty. It may be Ubisoft’s largest franchise, but it cannot operate on the same scale and frequency as Call of Duty. While players enjoy the AC multiplayer mode, it is not what moves units. Creating story modes that have rich backstories interwoven with world history, along with fun gameplay that builds upon proven concepts is not simple. It takes time. The annualized model, however offset it is with multiple teams and split workloads, does no favors for the end product. If AC continues to be annualized, perhaps the games should become more linear, more focused, with an illusion of freedom, all in the name of storytelling and stability. The game does not need to be completely scripted like some titles, but it is becoming harder and harder to see why AC games are open world except for the free running.
Black Flag shows promise, but it is hard to be excited. Every AC game showed promise and few delivered. It is hard to wish for a game to sell poorly, but as the game quality drops, it is hard to see the sales remain steady simply for the brand name. Assassin’s Creed as a brand is quite similar to the first AC game that debuted back in 2007. It is not perfect, it borrows quite a lot from other mediums, but more importantly it is full of potential. It is asking quite a bit from a publisher to withhold millions in revenue for the good of a franchise, but it may be a sacrifice worth making.