With the continuing coverage of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate throwing gamers into the hype that is to be expected with any AC title, it again seems like this iteration of the series will be the most developed and will have the most features, the best story, the best graphics and the usual things one anticipates when they think of sequels, especially when it comes to long-standing Ubisoft series Assassin’s Creed. Ever since the series became annualized, things have started to get bigger and better, and while that may be the case with this Victorian-era romp through England this October, if early previews and new coverage are to be trusted, it forces you to contemplate when this blockbuster franchise should take a bow out and finish with a bang.
Obviously, Assassin’s Creed as a franchise can’t go on forever, as much as Ubisoft would like to believe otherwise. With the conclusion of original series protagonist (sort of) Desmond Miles’ story after Assassin’s Creed III, at first it seemed like the series would have one last pirate-flavored hurrah in the form of Assassin’s Creed IV before Ubisoft turned its attention to Watch Dogs as the main focus of the company. But instead, the series has grown into something with an entirely larger scale, developing a new story about Abstergo’s rise to power and an unnamed, faceless employee (you, the player) attempting to take down the Templar order from the inside. It’s something far more complicated than it needs to be now, and although nobody really plays Assassin’s Creed for the story, it’s still strange to see a major developer try to keep things tied into one big narrative even after the conclusion of the actual “story” as an excuse to make a game in a new period of history, or in the case of the infamous ‘Ezio trilogy,’ to give players some more time with the more interesting characters in the AC roster.
While most of the newer games have quite a lot of interesting gameplay mechanics and can even tell some pretty fantastic stories within the context of the Animus, save for the failure that was Assassin’s Creed Unity, it still begs the question of how long one of the most venerated AAA franchises in video game history should go on for. People love the games, sure, but there needs to be a point where the writers aren’t forced to make up excuses about why you’re playing as an assassin in a certain time period and are just allowed to put everything into a spectacular series finale that ends the whole thing on a high note. Many game franchises have done this and it turned out for the better, fleshing out the plot they had and answering the most pertinent questions to leave players satisfied, but not necessarily wrapping things up in a nice little bow. The immensely popular Portal series knew when to stop, and instead of Valve making it a yearly or bi-yearly extravaganza they’ve finished their story and are letting it become a legend of gaming history. Likewise with things as small as Hotline Miami and even Uncharted 4, which is all but confirmed to be the last game in the main Uncharted series. It’s something some gamers may be sad about (I know I was disappointed when I heard there were to be no sequels to Hotline Miami after the second one) but there is no shame in ending a video game series, especially if it’s an experience gamers will remember for years to come. Keeping Assassin’s Creed as a yearly event may end up diluting the series as a whole, and if a conclusion eventually does come instead of the series just fading into obscurity, it will likely be corrupted by the effort players will have to put in to experience the entire tale.
There are a whopping nine games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise right now, not including the smaller spinoff titles like Liberation on the PS Vita or Freedom Cry from AC4, which is already a rather substantial amount to play through to get the whole big picture on the narrative, but again, story is besides the point. The gameplay has advanced and evolved from title to title and is now at the point where it has perfected everything the first game got wrong, but the problem here is stagnation. Very little has changed in the past few main entries in the franchise save for the addition and quick removal of ship combat, and I don’t think anything (save for perhaps airplanes) will ever gain the fan appreciation that pirate fights did, at least not on such a massive scale. Rogue functioned as a less interesting version of ACIV, Unity brought very little new to the table save for a new multiplayer mode, elimated the ship combat and had a story of weaker quality than that of previous entries. As a whole, the series has been on a rather gradual decline in the eyes of both fans and the gaming media. Syndicate looks primed to take the throne of open-world experiences right back, but even if it does manage to be a stellar title it may be in the series’ best interest to start wrapping things up.
As a fan of Assassin’s Creed since the very first game back in 2007, it pains even me to say this, but unless the games in the series to come can be held in phenomenally high standing, it can be assumed that popularity of the series will eventually die off, and even now it can be seen from previous sales data that even the excellent fourth main entry in the franchise didn’t sell as much as the third iteration, and it seems that every major development in the series since then has been plagued with lowering sales. Unity and Rogue combined only barely matched up to AC4, and even with the current hype surrounding Syndicate it’s incredibly likely that it won’t reach the heights it thinks it will. I love the games, but if things get increasingly convoluted and lazy with both the canon and the development of gameplay, things will be retroactively tainted in response and cast a negative light on the history of the series overall. The opinion of the series should be ‘it had some bad games sure, but for the most part it was an incredibly solid franchise’ instead of ‘it started off great but then it all went downhill after that pirate game.’
I say we have two more years of Assassin’s Creed, going along with the annualized entries Ubisoft has been rolling with since AC2. We get one more title in a famous period of history, something new and exciting that’s never been done in the series thus far, like the oft-requested feudal Japan or something that details the beginning of the war between Assassins and Templars within the first years of human history, expanding on the universe presented in past games and answering the questions that gamers have been looking forward to for years. There have been plenty of theories and speculation, but figuring out all the plot points with ancient humans or aliens or whatever the First Civilization ended up being would clear up a lot of questions for a lot of people. Then, have one final game in modern times with the originally faceless Abstergo member and his acquired skills through use of the Animus knocking down the Templar order once and for all in a large scale war spanning across wherever Abstergo has its claws dug into. A modern iteration has been something asked for by fans hundreds of times, and I think there would be no better way to cap the series off than to get rid of the Animus concept entirely for the final game and instead focus on telling a fantastic story about the last war between constantly fighting factions, perfecting all of the past elements that made the older games great and ending things with a bang.
After that, it’s over. The series is done. People will remember it for the great games and eventually forget about the PR disasters and the few lackluster titles. They’ll keep memories of their favorite characters in mind and the franchise will take a bow, having told a complete and epic tale over the course of ten years. Ubisoft and fans of the games will be disappointed in the loss of such a large part of gaming history, but it will be an honorable discharge. No fading into obscurity, no true criticism of the series as a whole, just the parts of it that might not have been as great as others. It will be remembered as much as we remember Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. They had their moments where things weren’t so great, but nearly everybody agrees on the overall quality of the games as a whole, and even 20 years later they’re still lauded as fantastic titles and sought after to this day.
Don’t overstretch your bounds, Ubisoft, and try something truly unique for once. Or put a little extra cash into the sequel for Watch Dogs; I still want a game where I play as Jordi.