The people who know me the most can tell you that I am not particularly a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series. In fact, I am sort of an Assassin’s Creed hater. I find it odd that I cannot seem to enjoy this series since it seems to check all of the marks on my gamer hype list. Assassins are pretty bad ass! Stealth games are right up my alley. Large, gorgeous open worlds are a blast to explore. I am a sucker for collect-a-thons. So why can I not get into this series? Is it the annual release fatigue? Is it the technical issues? While I’m going to try to explain why Assassin’s Creed tends to force me to shut my console off quickly, I will also tell you why I keep giving the series a try each year (almost).
The loathing started with the original Assassin’s Creed title for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. Ubisoft was fresh off of the PS2 era where they delivered the stellar Price of Persia reboot trilogy that I absolutely adored. When I heard Ubisoft was crafting the spiritual successor in the new generation, obviously I was interested and excited right from the start. Assassin’s Creed was unveiled at E3 2006 and gamers were floored at how amazing the game looked and how different it was. The game was ready to change the face of action adventure titles and the hype was unreal.
Once the game shipped in November of 2007, many gamers, including myself, were severely let down. Altair’s assassination exploits within the crusade era didn’t bode well with many critics and gamers, but the game sold well enough to continue the franchise. While Assassin’s Creed looked amazing and had an interesting modern day time travel twist, the game was far too repetitive and bland, also feeling like a tech demo more than a full fledged AAA game. The first hour of Assassin’s Creed wowed me and I loved the missions involving actual assassinations, but as soon as I realized I had to repeat the same mission types over and over again, I soon gave up and moved on. Actual assassination missions were pretty fun and interesting, but all of the filler in between such as tailing a guy, hiding in crowds while eavesdropping on conversations, and uninteresting combat were to blame.
Next comes Assassin’s Creed II, which was released in 2009 and introduced a new time period and protagonist named Ezio. Ubisoft promised that this time around the game would feel more fully featured and include more variety in the gameplay. Luckily, Ubisoft knocked this one out of the park and the game ended up being everything fans wanted out of the original. However, something still seemed quite off about the whole experience. The story failed to grasp my attention, the mission structure was still sort of repetitive, and gaining the attention of the authorities was far too touchy, leading in many annoying pursuits that dragged me away from progressing further into the game. Eventually, I gave up once again and moved on.
The following year brought gamers Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which continued the story of Ezio and introduced a unique competitive multiplayer component. Personally, I skipped this title because it looked like Ubisoft gave us more of the same content except for the added multiplayer and the ability to hire assassin cronies to aid the player. Many say that Brotherhood is the best in the series, but if I failed to stay interested in Ezio’s first outing, I doubt this game would change anything At this point in the series, Assassin’s Creed has shifted to an annual series with a new game releasing each Holiday season.
In 2011, Ubisoft brought us yet another Ezio Assassin’s Creed adventure titled Assassin’s Creed: Revelation. The major difference here is that the story included the return of Altair from the original game into Ezio’s struggle, delivering a bit of fanfare for longtime followers of the series. Ubisoft also decided to integrate tower defense elements into the campaign which didn’t sit too well with a lot of gamers. Again, I skipped this title since most considered it the worst in the series and it continued to look like the same ol’ song and dance, plus games that toss in tower defense gameplay always drives me nuts (I’m looking at you, Sunset Overdrive). This is the point in the series’ legacy where I start to become annoyed with Assassin’s Creed and felt the whole thing needed to take a break and reboot, but Ubisoft showed no signs of slowing.
Once again, Ubisoft announced yet another Assassin’s Creed title in early 2012, but this time they seemed to have listened to the groans of hardcore gamers and decided to actually try something new with the series. Assassin’s Creed III took place in the American revolutionary war era with a new Native American protagonist named Connor. The game looked phenomenal and seemed set to revitalize the series for gamers who started to grow tired of it. I found myself on-board the Assassin’s Creed hype train once again and highly anticipated the title. When the game hit store shelves, critics took a liking to it but fans quickly turned against the game for its extremely slow start, uninteresting title character and bland mission design.
For the first time since the original Assassin’s Creed, I was wowed with the third game in the series. Many complained about how long it actually took to meet Connor and engage in his story, but I thought the opening was extremely cool and unique. Players would not actually take control of the protagonist until after about 4-5 hours of playing as the main villain instead, which I thought worked very well. I was hooked on the game up until the point where we were introduced to Connor, and then I quickly lost interest again. Connor was a much less interesting character and the mission design seemed to have dropped in quality as I progressed. At least in this game players had the ability to rate missions after they completed them so Ubisoft could analyze which missions players enjoyed and which ones they didn’t. That data has to come in handy at some point, right? All of the complaints I had about the annoying repetitive mission filler and annoying patrol A.I. still resided in the game too and I ended up dropping it like a bad habit.
We all saw it coming when Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was announced in 2013, but the interesting part was that the game was also coming to next generation consoles as a Playstation 4 and Xbox One enhanced port. Black Flag wasn’t drastically different on the next generation consoles aside from crisper graphics and smoother framerate, but fans found that this game was surprisingly much more enjoyable than Connor’s boring adventure. In his title, players controlled a pirate named Edward who killed an assassin in order to steal his identity and reap the rewards. I once again picked up Assassin’s Creed IV in hopes to finally play the game I’ve always wanted Assassin’s Creed to be, but once again I was let down with practically the same complaints I applied to every other game in the series. The sailing elements were interesting, but i still hated that mission structure and filler between actual assassinations. I have to admit though, the way Edward becomes as assassin was much more interesting to me than most of the previous characters.
Fast forward to 2014 and now we received not one, but TWO new Assassin’s Creed titles that released in the fall. One is Assassin’s Creed Unity, a brand new cooperative experience tailored just for new generation consoles. The other title is Assassin’s Creed Rouge, which looks more like an expansion pack to Black Flag than anything and is exclusive to previous generation consoles (but later appeared on PC). While I skipped Rogue, I did attempt to play Unity and was impressed with the graphics engine but turned off by the boring filler missions yet AGAIN and became frustrated with some of the worst technical issues in the series. Not to mention that Unity was littered with so much to do that the game became overwhelming without enticing players to complete its plethora of side content, ultimately making me toss it aside yet again for another year. Unity is generally considered the weakest entry in the series, making Revelations seem like a better game in comparison.
Like Activision and the Call of Duty series, I was wondering if 2014 would be the year where gamers have finally had enough with this series. Ubisoft seems to be milking this series dry and I still cannot fathom how the Assassin’s Creed still makes enough money to warrant more titles each year. The funny thing is that I still keep coming back and trying again, hoping to latch on to one of these games and actually enjoying; as if I will finally see why gamers buy these games every single year. Unfortunately, the Assassin’s Creed train kept on rollin’.
As annoyed as I am with Assassin’s Creed, I seriously hope Ubisoft can one day deliver a game in this series that rocks my socks off. I try so hard to like these games that I’ve even resorted to re-purchasing Black Flag on the Xbox One and giving it another go. On paper, Assassin’s Creed is totally a game I would enjoy, but the wonky mechanics mixed with the clunky mission structure and poor stealth elements always chase me away. Ubisoft needs to completely restructure how missions and combat are played out if they’re going to pad the entire game with these elements in-between the enjoyable assassination pieces. The main character HAS to be likable too and the main villain needs to really get under players’ skin in order to give us the motivation to continue on and put an end to this person’s evil ways.
The 2015 edition of Assassin’s Creed, subtitled Syndicate which takes place in Victorian London, released just a few weeks ago and I am indeed giving the game a fair shot. Will I like Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and it’s attempt to throw gamers into a more unique time period? Will the modern day material still confuse me? Who knows, but I will keep my fingers crossed. Keep an ear out on The Gaming Outsider podcast to hear my impressions with yet another attempt to enjoy an Assassin’s Creed title.