Video Games

Assassin’s Creed: The Evolution From Bad to Good and Back Again

Assassin’s Creed: The Evolution From Bad to Good and Back Again

Annual franchises. You either appreciate being able to venture into familiar worlds with familiar characters and gameplay styles every year, or you find the ostensibly stronger interest in churning out more profit-providing produce via the conveyer belt too grating to withstand. But they exist, and they work, and Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise is a lucrative money-making machine that demonstrates the effectiveness of releasing games on an annual basis when the fanbase is there to lap it up.   But annual releases breed their own kinds of problems. When you release a new title after three, four, or even more years, you have more of a chance of producing something fresh. Take Grand Theft Auto, for example. Each new title sees huge new playgrounds to explore, new gameplay mechanics to get affiliated with, new characters and story lines to sink your teeth into, and so forth. It’s fresh and unfamiliar, and it never feels like you’ve seen it all before. Annual franchises, in comparison, have less time to work with to create something that doesn’t feel diluted and like the original game has simply been re-worked and posted under a different name. Sometimes that’s not the case, but with Assassin’s Creed, it can and has been.   It’s not been all bad news for the franchise, however. Since 2007, a total of five titles on the main systems have been released, with a sixth merely weeks away from launch. There have been ups and there have been downs, and in this post, I’m going to briefly discuss the things I liked and disliked the most about each release. Assassin’s Creed 2007 is when the franchise was born with Assassin’s Creed. It’s also, without a shadow of a doubt, my least favorite entry of the entire series.   The game promised so much yet seemed to deliver so little, with an intriguing storyline hindered by frustratingly repetitive mission structures, gameplay mechanics that became tiresome the longer you played with them, and a city that was simply not that interesting to explore, with annoying restrictions deployed to limit your movements. In fact, Assassin’s Creed disappointed me so devastatingly that I never thought I would ever make a return for future titles. It’s fortunate that I did, but it set the bar astoundingly low.   Despite my negativity towards the title, however, I cannot fault the game (much, anyway) for its efforts at providing a compelling narrative that would set the framework for many years to come. With its intriguing blend of time periods and sci-fi elements, Altair’s adventures were hardly ever lacking in creativity or excitement. It’s a shame the main story thread became weakened over time, but it at least started off on a strong foot.   Coming right off the back of discussing my least favorite title in the franchise, it’s time to talk about the one I like the most.   Assassin’s Creed 2 was not only a monumental improvement on its predecessor in almost every discernible way, from the main character to the story, to the gameplay and the environment, but it felt like the kind of game I was expecting Assassin’s Creed to be back in 2007–fun, exciting, and not at all struggling under the weight of repetition. The franchise has enjoyed success since then, but it has yet to reach the heights it rose up to with this game.   I’ve already strongly expressed my appreciation for this game, but I really cannot state it enough: this is the pinnacle of Assassin’s Creed. I’ve continuously felt that the subsequent efforts have tried to repeat the same success AC2 engendered, yet they always seem to miss something whose absence taints the formula. I have a suspicion that said missing element is related to the fact that the leap in quality from the first game to the second is something that the franchise’s now annual release schedule makes incredibly difficult to achieve, no matter how many developers there are working on each title. (There are an incredible eight studios working on Black Flag.)   It’s because of the hope that one day the franchise could replicate the success it enjoyed with AC2 that I continuously wish the series would re-evaluate its release schedule and perhaps only release new titles on a bi-annual basis. Of course, that’s not likely to happen at any point in the near future given the financial viability of the franchise’s current plan. But with new titles being pushed out so quickly, I highly doubt we’ll ever see something even close to Assassin’s Creed 2 in the future, and that makes me sad. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood Brotherhood’s release in 2010 marked the beginning of Assassin’s Creed’s annual release schedule, with the game releasing merely a year after AC2. Fortunately, however, coming off the back of the critical appraisal received with AC2 meant that Brotherhood really was not a lacking effort. It felt good to be back controlling Ezio again, and the opportunity to explore a new game world and continue advancing through the series’ main narrative was rewarding and satisfying.   After loving AC2, I was more than happy to be given the chance to experience the next step in Ezio’s journey so soon after the last, even if I was unaware at the time of the price that would ultimately come from that.   Brotherhood was also the first title in the franchise to introduce online multiplayer, much to the chagrin of those intent on having the series exist as a purely single-player experience.   Featuring the same gameplay system of hiding in plain sight both to evade and maintain pursuit, Assassin’s Creed’s version of competitive multiplayer was not as lackluster an effort as many had predicted. In fact, it was actually rather fun, albeit lacking in depth. But it relied on people playing the game as designed, not unnecessarily sprinting across rooftops, and because that seemed like what everybody wanted to do, Brotherhood’s (and future efforts’) attempts at creating a miniaturized version of the single-player formula was marred with issues. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations And now we get to the point where the series’ insistence on new titles being released every year started to become an issue.   Taken as a collective whole, Revelations really didn’t impress me in the way that Brotherhood did. Because it, again, was released so soon after the previous title, it felt too familiar to be appreciated. At this point, Ezio was a character whose story already seemed exhausted, and while I can kind of appreciate what they were trying to do by re-introducing Altair into the mix, to me it never seemed more than a gimmick. (“Hey, we’ve brought our two protagonists together because why not!”)   On top of that, the game’s central storyline seemed considerably weaker than the previous entries. I actually found myself being dragged to the finish line not out of interest in seeing how things concluded but out of a desire to not leave something unfinished–something which I had never done with any Assassin’s Creed game before, including the first. Considering how the story had always been what I found the most impressive about the franchise, to see it reduced to a tedious bore was immeasurably disappointing.   As I previously said (many times), the way that the franchise now operates ultimately means that it’s more difficult to really feel like the next entrant in the series is far away enough from the previous to be considered fresh. With Revelations, it really didn’t feel all that unfamiliar, and it was that that made the game feel like such a huge letdown after the heights of the previous two titles. Assassin’s Creed 3 And now we reach the most recent entry in the franchise, Assassin’s Creed 3, and one that usually receives its fair share of vilification wherever you look and unfortunately deserves most of it.   If there is one thing I have to commend AC3 on, it’s its willingness to move away from the repetition that Revelations demonstrated. It brought in a new protagonist, an entirely new setting and time period, and completely new gameplay mechanics to alter the formula already established by previous franchise entries.   That being said, however, its efforts at ushering in a new era for Assassin’s Creed were mostly a buggy, mediocre, severely lacking affair, all being experienced through the eyes of an unlikeable and wooden protagonist. I can appreciate what they were trying to do with Assassin’s Creed 3, but in trying to go to new areas, they definitely left consistency at the door.   In some ways, Assassin’s Creed 3 was the victim of its own hype. It led us to believe it was going to revolutionize the franchise and take us to areas we never thought possible with the series. And yet it never really delivered what it was promising. It definitely wasn’t a complete disaster, and after Revelations I appreciated the effort, but instead of feeling like the step forward the franchise needed, it was more akin to several steps back. It is in fact that last sentence that, in some ways, summarizes the last few years of Assassin’s Creed’s life. The franchise started out poorly and unevenly, but it managed to expand beyond its confined horizons and forge something truly exciting out of it. But once the profits began pouring it and the annual releases became a reality, the dilution began. The central storyline is no longer as compelling as it once was, the gameplay no longer as exciting, and although a part of me still hopes Black Flag will learn from AC3’s mistakes, I cannot deny I have my doubts. After all, as the old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”  ...

Batman Arkham Origins – Are People Becoming Tired of The Bat?

Batman Arkham Origins – Are People Becoming Tired of The Bat?

The recent release of Batman: Arkham Origins has been met with somewhat of a lukewarm reception compared to the other entries in the franchise. Some may point the finger at the numerous bugs present in the game; others find the story lacking. Is the Batman, or at least the Arkham brand, losing its appeal? Arkham Asylum and City garnered high praise for almost every element of the respected experiences, with the extremely tight core gameplay of both titles being the focal point of much of the laudation. The fluent combat offered both accessibility and depth in a wonderfully crafted system. So much so that it’s now became something of a benchmark in modern video games that involve hand-to-hand combat. On top of that, the stories of both games made sure to include the A-list of Batman villains that fans of both screen and comic would recognize. Developers Rocksteady ‘got’ Batman; they understood how to make a solid game set in the Batman universe. This is perhaps why Origins hasn’t been met with quite as much critical success. Rocksteady are no longer at the helm, and thus the Arkham line has been placed into the care of one of Warner Brothers’ in-house developers. With Rocksteady gone, the franchise is in that awkward transitional state, which is not an uncommon situation for a video game franchise to be in these days, but is this the reason why Origins is not enjoying as much success as its predecessors? In terms of bugs, they tend to pop up in most major releases these days, as unfortunate as that may be, but it’s the severity of said bugs that defines the criticism aimed at the games. Origins seems to have fallen victim to a number of issues that either heavily hinder the player’s experience or break the game entirely. This has, of course, lead to a number of disgruntled players, and has even spawned some angry videos from big Youtubers, which really is not what anyone would want for their game nowadays. However, even when putting the bugs aside, a growing number of people have started to express their disappointment in the game’s story and villain roster. At this point in time the Arkham games have featured the most popular and, in the Joker’s case, iconic villains of the Batman universe. Unfortunately Origins finds itself in the difficult position of including some of the more obscure villains. Subsequently this leaves the more casual Batman fan a little bemused as to who these characters are. It’s a problem that is firmly in the ballpark of the player, as full-on fans of Batman will no doubt love seeing the lesser-known villains brought to life, whereas the more casual fans will most likely be looking to Google to provide the answers, but it creates somewhat of a divide.   All that being said, however, the main complaint voiced towards Origins seems to be regarding the lack of progression from Arkham City, the previous entry in the franchise. The areas of evolution from Asylum to City are easy to identify: the combat was improved upon and made deeper; the world was bigger and fleshed out; there were more gadgets and puzzles; and the story was much larger in scale. Origins, in comparison, seems to be a step to the side rather than forward. But given the franchise’s transitional state, perhaps this was to be expected? Or perhaps people have just become somewhat jaded with the franchise. With the Arkham line ostensibly becoming an annual franchise, with semi-frequent spin-offs on hand-held systems, the chances of ‘franchise fatigue’ setting in are increasing with each release. It’s a perfectly natural process; after all, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. The future of the Akrham brand will no doubt be solid, because as a brand Batman is still lucrative, but perhaps it’s time to lower the expectations we’ve had after the likes of Asylum and City.    ...

Morality Systems Need to be Less Black & White

Morality Systems Need to be Less Black & White

This generation has seen decision-making and morality systems play major parts in a lot of games. The likes of Mass Effect and Fallout 3 have all featured them in some shape or form. While both games are ‘good’ examples of morality systems, they all tend to suffer from the same issue–and it’s an issue that affects almost every single game with a system of this nature.   ‘Black and white’ decisions are the bane of morality systems. The choices are normally between doing an utterly selfless deed that is absolutely morally correct, or doing something that is straight up 100% evil; there is rarely middle ground. The problem with this is that these decisions then become a little detached from the dramatic effect that most of these games are aiming for. There are a few cases in which morality systems have been fleshed out, but these are in short supply. It’s time for more developers to flesh out their morality and decision-making systems in their games, because not all good outcomes are a result of typically ‘good’ deeds (see Games of Thrones; Jaime Lannister particularly, for a popular reference point). The same applies to bad outcomes. Good intentions have a tendency to lead to bad results at times, and this is rarely reflected in video games. Morality systems aren’t exactly new, yet they seem to be progressing at an extremely slow rate. Improving the choices and the impact they have upon the game world is something that needs to be addressed. Forcing players into a tough choice in order to achieve a ‘good’ outcome adds a large amount of drama to a game’s story and overall experience. The current trend of morality effecting a character’s look and dialogue options is outdated, and it’s simply time to move on. As the next generation of consoles comes ever closer, I hope to see morality systems improve alongside new technology. The concept of morality has seeped through into various other genres so that it’s no longer confined to RPGs. It’s time for more games to encourage the player to make hard choices–choices that aren’t simply good or evil. Challenge the player’s morals, make their choices feel more tangible, and ditch the paragon of good and the embodiment of evil. Give morality and choice legitimacy and depth and the game’s experience will only benefit from it.    ...

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