Video Game Essay Example: How Do You Make an Assassin’s Creed Game?
Hi I’m Papashauns, but you can just call me dad; and over the past few weeks I have been feverishly replaying the Assassin’s Creed series. What brought this on? You might ask. Well 2019 has been less of a year where the 8th generation consoles get to send themselves off with some avant garde art pieces, nope that’s next year, instead we are treated with more of a prolonged throwback, where I’m indulging myself into classic series and franchises that I probably would not have looked at during any other year, much less this summer. And with that being realized I decided what best to do than take a deeper look at one of my favorite series and question.
How Do You Make an Assassin’s Creed Game?
This question is really hard to answer. Throughout each Assassin’s Creed game they devolve from being designed around the, “Assassin’s Creed” to more the setting the game takes place in, and with this new approach came complications just look at Odyssey, the game shares almost no connection to the series and would probably fair off better as a new ip, and Ubisoft seemingly realized that with the announcement of Gods & Monsters, a more stylistic and thematic approach to the Greek Myth that Odyssey merely flirted with. And with that came a rift, between the fans and the developers, as I said before the series took a turn from the creed and more to the setting that surrounds the creed and that didn’t happen for no reason, most likely due to the third entry providing no reason to continue a more linear storyline, becoming less of a journey through time and more of history lesson.
Unfortunately I don’t think there is an option for both. While the personalities of the characters for each entry have declined that time wasn’t wasted, it was instead put into the world building. These settings show a drastic change in character as they become, living, embodiments of the time, showcasing history better than any book, movie, show or school could ever hope to.
So as I was playing, I never once questioned if the developers were lazy, moreover whether or not the developers had ample time for each section, because if there was one part of these games that were lacking they always seem to try and make it up before the player notices, creating an odd and confusing structure for most of the game. But I want to make a disclaimer, I do not think that the games need to be designed around the creed to be good games, there are games in the series that despite abandoning the Creed or neglecting it entirely are still great games, but can sometimes feel hampered by the series title Assassins Creed, some of these games just don’t deserve it.
And so I will be taking a look at two games that iterate upon the series the most, and two that have come to define the traditional Assassin’s Creed design, then I will take a look at the games that are stuck in the middle, seemingly unable to decide what they are, Hopefully by the end I will find the answer I am looking for.
Iterative Games - Assassin’s Creed IV
Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag; For my first game I will detail the first time that Assassin’s Creed really started to deviate from the original premise. In this game you aren’t the unsung hero Assassin akin to the first three games that has to and must defy-law for the greater good, instead you take control of a more dynamic protagonist. Edward Kenway, a swashbuckling pirate who just so happens to be in the same waters as a very important Assassin, this Assassin’s task is to deliver a blood vile and a map to a man named the governor to then locate a place called the observatory, before Edward kills him and takes his identity to then fulfill his task and collect his reward, and I am already completely uninterested in this story; the beginning hours of Black Flag are not spent being that swashbuckling pirate that you are presented with in the first few minutes, but instead are filled with a long opening, full of boring and uneventful characters and events that have a schizophrenic structure to it, just to take everything away from the player only to then give them, a crew, a shanty, and a ship.
Easily the best part of Black Flag is ironically the part that feels nothing like Assassin’s Creed, The Jackdaw, there’s nothing quite like turning off the hud, going to travel speed and just taking in the world as sea shanties narrate the adventure, going on for hours without ever using the hidden blade. And that’s probably why this game has left a sort of divide between the fans, most people can’t bring themselves to call this an Assassin’s Creed game as much as it’s a Pirate game, and I would agree if not for a few things. Black Flag is dangerously close to being a fantastic game that it’s frustrating to see so plainly why the game isn’t, it’s because of this (show title Assassin’s Creed).
The very name of the game is probably what holds it back the most, it’s what ruins an otherwise decent pirate game; tailing missions, assassination contracts, sneaking, and repetitive combat are what take up the other half of the game that isn’t spent on the ship and neither compliment each other well enough to justify having both. Whether you were looking for a good pirate game or a good Assassin’s game you’re unfortunately left in between some sort of a middle ground that appeases no one. It sadly explains why this amount of experimentation was avoided by later entries. But the issues of Black Flag are only the foundation for what would later affect subsequent sequels, that would also include the same mechanics as Black Flag.
So what can we gather so far, well, Black Flag has a huge pacing issue, dull side quests, a waning formula, and decent ship combat. And all of those issues are present in the next game I’m about to cover.
Iterative Games - Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the second game I wish to mention on the list of games in this franchise that have deviated from its original intention, but calling Assassin’s Creed Odyssey a deviation is a perversion of that word. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey might as well be a whole new game, it throws the idea of historical accuracy outside the window before the game properly starts, you get dialogue choices that affect the story far and wide, there are multiple endings that can actually affect your post game. It’s an RPG, that’s clear, but whether that choice was a good one or not; euh I’ll get into that. I said that Black Flag and Odyssey share the same issues fundamentally, and that stays true, you start the game with a chaotic action sequence that then leads into a slow paced tutorial that does a poor job representing the rest of the game.
This is true, but it also feels worse in Odyssey for its very intention to be a very different game, Black Flag iterated on a small underused mechanic that had potential, while Odyssey takes out and adds multiple different elements to make a Frankenstein of an RPG that has to give a coherent and concrete ending while simultaneously giving the player many options and choices to play their way, Kassandra or Alexios, are characters with their own backstory and beliefs, but you can quickly contradict that with the set of dialogue choices that have different effects and outlooks on the player. It would be like sculpting on top of David, or painting over the Mona Lisa creating its own identity to where you can’t even recognize the original, but still calling it the original.
The idea of dialogue choices don’t make sense in the context of the story or history for that matter, and especially the idea of multiple characters, so, why are both of these in the game? It’s not even ludonarrative dissonance at this point, the gameplay and the story are molded of two completely different materials almost like they were created by two different teams, there is even a book that gives a canon character and ending to the main story making it even more confusing for the changes in gameplay, and that book apparently portrays Kassandra as a better character than the game does, so was it really worth sacrificing good characters and story for chasing a few trends. Although Black Flag wasn’t original, it wasn’t shameless about its pirate setting, Odyssey feels like a cheap Witcher, ironic when you realize CD Projekt have both a smaller budget and team compared to that of Ubisoft behind their most popular franchise. While Black Flag did too little, Odyssey does too much, resulting in an experience that will muddy the franchise forever, between a side of people who prefer the RPG elements, and those who prefer the linear story-telling and narrative with light character customization. Origins did it better, and stands as the game that I want to shape the rest of the franchise going forward.
That aside, one thing that has bugged me while playing through these games has been the atrocious optimization, I have a GTX 1080, an i7 8700 CPU, and 16 GB of DDR4 Ram, and for some reason these games are bringing my PC to its knees. I had to make some staggering compromises to run these games at 60fps. Compare this to The Witcher 3 which is densely packed and visually superior, yet I can turn every setting to max, except HairWorks that’s straight garbage, and I’m running at a consistent 60fps at 1440p. Yet look at Odyssey and Black Flag which are visually inferior and tank down into the low 40s. My drivers are up to date, my windows updated, and my hardware tested, but it’s always Ubisoft games that strangle my PC, and I just hope that this is something they can invest in for the future, as it makes it hard to revisit these games when they don’t age as well as the hardware being used.
Traditional Games - Assassin’s Creed 2
Moving on from the doom and gloom of console ports, we have the game that made Assassin’s Creed a landmark franchise, this is where the series really made a name for itself, and it all started in the offices of Ubisoft Montreal. Coming from the series infancy of the first game, there was so much freedom and options laid to the developers that they could have easily messed this one up. But the team made the smart decision of abandoning the stoic Altair and opting for a completely new era and time, making Assassin’s Creed a Time Trotting race to find the apple of eden, a plot device that stands as an excuse to have our main characters looking so far back in time.
Oh no I’ve just realized something that changed my outlook on the series forever, Assassin’s Creed II is anime. Hear me out. You start off light and funny until that shit gets thrown out the window and you’re thrust into a life of adventure and peril, you got the rival character, the elder that knows far too much, and the cast of women that just can’t get enough of our protagonist. Maybe I’ve gotten to the point with anime where I confuse well established writing motifs with anime tropes, but god dammit I think I found something here. That being said the writing in Assassin’s Creed 2 is really good. Also a first in the series, a well optimized PC port due to it being delayed from its original console release. I was running this game at max settings with 4k turned on too, churning out a consistent framerate with some breathtaking visuals.
Alright enough of the technical talk, I mentioned how Assassin’s Creed 2 branched off from Middle Ages assassin, Altair, to the Renaissance man turned assassin, Ezio. And by gods would I love to have this creative and talented Ubisoft back. Both Origins and Odyssey seem to have a fascination with the Witcher 3, which is probably why I could never get into either, they both felt like imitations without the charm that a random studio in Poland had achieved through trial and error, on top of that they forgot the necessity of real writers, later titles seem to adopt the idea hiStory Telling, forgetting how much the plot device of the apple of eden causing our modern day characters to time trot through some weird ancestry helped. It is refreshing to go back to a time where the mystery was new, trends weren’t set, and you could always fall back on a great cast of characters, all of these guys are likable and each one is introduced at an ample time in the story to make sure they have enough to do just before they exit. This story is fun to experience. It's far from perfect, but the genuine effort put into this game is something I don’t think will ever get old, no matter how much these blocky faces and italian accents get in the way of that.
We finally have a game that sticks to the formula of being an Assassin and that’s all I could ask for, progress to finally answer that question I posed at the beginning. A game that sticks to the design of Assassin’s Creed 2 might just be what the studio needs. Right?
Traditional Games - Assassin’s Creed Unity
Unity, a game that is designed so religiously like Assassin’s Creed 2 that it hurts, genuinely hurts, that this city, this soundtrack, and these graphics all deserve a better game, except we get a game trying too hard to be like it’s predecessors. If you thought this video was just going to be me praising the games in the franchise that honor the traditional games then, congratulations, you were wrong. Unity and Syndicate are both examples of games that at times exude qualities of greatness only for mediocrity to quickly set in after the first hour when you realize the game has no surprises left in store for you. After 2 I thought Unity would be the game that would be the closest this series would get to a masterpiece, but I was dead wrong.
It sticks to everything that 2 restricting itself as you realize the game was made this way because they barely had time to make it, I am still encountering glitches both on and off camera it is an example of a horribly mismanaged game. To prove it to you here’s a few questions; Why does Arno’s character change immediately after the prologue? Why are the assassins structured completely different, from how we know them from both the past and future? Why is Arno’s initiation a dream sequence? Why does Arno like Elise? Why is Arno kicked out of the Brotherhood and then after Dead Kings he is still working with them?
Why does Arno have no presence or impact on the story? This story doesn’t make sense, it’s all one big contrivance so the game devs could craft a beautiful world. And a beautiful world it is, Paris from Unity still ranks as one of the best settings in a video game, a lot of games portray their worlds as living and breathing, but I think Unity is one of the few games that has a true living, breathing world, and there were just so many times I would start this game and want to 100 percent it just on the atmosphere alone, then the gameplay, the sidequests, the ai, and the glitches always came to remind why I will never do that. It’s sad and unfortunate, this was the moment that most fans of this series started to look back on it and judge, causing an underwhelming launch for the sequel Syndicate, which is even more boring and safe, at least it’s optimized, but there isn’t much to say about it or Unity.
That covers four of the most impactful games in the series, I now want to transition into games that don’t really fall into a category of being apart of the traditional or iterative design, I won’t go into as much detail as I did for the other titles, but I do think that covering these games is important to answer that question I posed at the beginning.
Middle Games - Assassin’s Creed 1
Starting off with the first game in the franchise, Assassin’s Creed 1, is rather forgettable. But there was something that I noted while playing it now and when it first came out, it’s simple, accessible, and easy to play, the only issue being that what you’re playing is often boring, but it does succeed where a new IP should, its presentation. It’s about as interesting as you can get, it stands out amongst most of the games that released 10 years ago and even now I’m impressed that I was intrigued enough to play for 16 hours, it succeeds for the most part, it’s genuinely creepy when you start the game and have no idea where you are, to then have it revealed that you were a bartender that was kidnapped by some ancient organization, that jumps back and forth in between the odd similarities between the past’s story and the modern story, though I very much do dislike having the player start off with everything only to then lose it all like 5 minutes later, and it doesn’t even make any sense, how does being demoted have Altair lose the ability to counter, or dodge, spoiler it doesn’t, it’s just the dumbest way to trickle down mechanics to the player without it being too overwhelming.
But I must say, I forgot how many mechanics were abandoned or just left alone with after this game, when was the last time you jumped in a haystack to hide from someone in a recent Assassin’s Creed game, you haven’t, it’s restrictive and not as useful and as dense as the foliage that populate most areas. It’s sad because these mechanics go along way with cementing you as an Assassin, it’s one thing to be told you are an Assassin and another to embody it, interrogating, looting, and eavesdropping all go into completing your Assassination, and not one can go unfulfilled, which lead into the biggest problem, players feeling bored as copy pasted objectives are given for every Assassination, the effect quickly wears off and it becomes more of a pattern that falls into boring mediocrity that would unfortunately tail the entire series to varying degrees.
I mentioned after talking about Unity that I would be briefly detailing games that weren’t apart of the traditional or iterative designed games and were more in the middle not really sure what they were trying to be, and yet I’m talking about Assassin’s Creed 1, this game to a lot of people might seem like the most traditionally made game in the franchise, yet I would disagree, hear me out. This game has so many mechanics that do and do not return in the series or are extremely downplayed to a point to where I don’t really refer to the first game as a tradtitional Assassin’s Creed game, but more of a tech demo where the dev team was tasked with throwing so many mechanics into a game that when you get to the point where you’re demoted, you take a second to look back and question, should I really be losing the ability to tackle?
To sum up this game is simple, I like that, if there’s one take away it’s that one.
Middle Games - Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Brotherhood, it’s probably my favorite but I feel like that’s more of 2 talking and not brotherhood. Though this is the first time in the series where it feels like there’s real focus, the gameplay, the story, and the setting were all carried from 2, allowing for the devs to have more time to polish and refine the systems to perfection, with a few new additions too, the most notable one being the name of the game, the brotherhood system, allowing for players to amass and rebuild the brotherhood of assassins in Rome. If you look at Brotherhood for what it is, it’s basically Assassin’s Creed 2.5, and given hindsight, I couldn’t really ask for anything more. This, and Revelations both stand as good titles, that, while not original do act as relative highpoints for the series. 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations, all exempt qualities of how to tell stories in this universe, if there’s one thing to take away from the Ezio Trilogy, it’s that good character writing can cover up otherwise bland games to make an unforgettable experience that I still find myself looking fondly at.
And none of that applies to 3.
Middle Games - Assassin’s Creed 3
My First Few Moments, revisiting Assassin’s Creed 3 were not spent playing the game but looking at a window for a 35 gigabyte install. This took about an hour so I spent majority of it lambasting my way through Assassin’s Creed Pirates, the most inventive Assassin’s Creed game yet, with the perfect balance between history and fiction making it quite possibly my favorite venture in the series yet, you are tasked with racing your ship through deadly waters to reach these handy and subtle markers, reaching all of the markers culminates in this.
Alright it’s finished downloading
Once you start Assassin’s Creed 3 you aren’t thrust into a bombastic action sequence, but are instead thrown into a slow and methodical prologue that is just too long for it to actually try and pull a twist before you are rightly given your Assassin’s robes. I would rather them to just have Haytham be the main character, he has way too much screen time to be relagated to a minor antagonist and is also the most interesting charcter in the game. He is unique, idealistic in form, and if it wasn’t for the twist, he probably would’ve been the most fascinating protagonists in the series. It’s unfortunate, then, that after Haytham’s set of missions you are moved to a completely character, and this one is the main character. I find it odd that out of all of the games, this one’s opening is mute in comparison, it overstays its welcome, and by the time you get used to it, the game shifts gears, having the player assume control of a less interesting, dull, and boring protagonist. Ezio’s family dying at the start of 2 wasn’t a twist that interrupted the story and halted the pacing, in fact quite the opposite, yet, 3’s intro has two moments that are meant to elicit that same feeling, but it honestly just makes it hard to keep up, the game’s shift in tone and character, kill this story. So, Ubisoft just won't do an opening like this again.
Middle Games - Assassin’s Creed Origins
Origins marks the 3rd big change for the series, becoming less of a stealth action game, to a full fledged RPG, with stealth mechanics. Your eagle vision from the last games, is changed to a literal eagle’s vision, functioning the same as Far Cry’s binoculars, allowing the player to mark enemies and objectives, because this time around there’s no minimap instead you have a compass along with vague mission objectives that stere the player to the general location before being prompted to use the eagle to find the objective. The process might seem complicated at first but made easier with a lenient circle that becomes gradually smaller when moved closer to the objective, there’s also a difference in color depending on whether you’re looking for main quest objectives or location objectives.
The climbing system has also been reworked, allowing for those mountains in the distance to be climbable in a similar way to Breath of the Wild, the big difference here is the lack of the stamina meter, making these moments feel like you’re just pushing up. That’s also not negated by the fact that synchronization points this time around are not required to reveal portions of the map, each zone is immediately revealed upon entering them and those question marks are revealed by the player exploring, making synch points only useful for fast travel, and that isn’t exactly a bad problem, this map is huge, you’ll easily be spending a few hours just to cover it all and it has you paying attention to the world a lot more than previous games. I felt like I noticed a lot of the details that the developers put so much time into this time around, like how when having a torch out you can burn those spider webs that cover tombs, or how when aiming your bow into fire it creates fire arrows, there’s also two different types of recovery animations depending on the height that you fall and whether you press the climb button right before you reach the ground.
It’s unfortunate that all of these details go into a rather underwhelming game that has the player chasing level requirements rather than the story, that decision was probably made to entice players to hit that store tab. Though one thing that has bothered me over everything else, is the ost, as I consider it to be the weakest this time around, Jesper Kyd is the gold standard for this series osts and while they have never gotten that good, they certainly weren’t bad by any means, but this time, I’m not sure what to think not one track stood out to me and that’s odd considering how this has never really been an issue till now but for some odd reason both this and Odyssey have greatly degraded osts.
That aside, I do like the game’s opening, XP is fair, the starting area is just the right size, and the quests act as tutorials for what you’ll be doing hours later, and I found myself enjoying it far more than the bombastic openings thus far, I think the biggest reason for that is that you get to know these characters. Similar to the Ezio Trilogy, instead of burying the player in exposition they show and tell you who Bayek is, the game mechanics also tell you how skilled Bayek is, with him being able to use four different types of bows, along with swords, spears, and maces. And by the end of the journey you see his character go full circle with him accepting his son’s death, along with his own, metaphorical death, moving on and creating a group called The Hidden Ones, a name that was slyly dropped by Bayek’s son in the opening. I like Bayek, he’s easily one of the best characters in this series since Ezio, and it’s a shame that he probably won’t get the same attention as Ezio, due to Ubisoft’s insistence on creating a new character for each entry, you were good, if only you were attached to a better, newer game.
Yeah I’m not covering these games.
Answering The Question
How do you make an Assassin’s Creed game? Was the question I posed at the beginning of the video. I thought that playing these games would make me understand the franchise to the point where I could confidently answer this question, but it has facilitated a sort of doubt within me, so deal with me as I try my best to actually deal with the question.
To Make An Assassin’s Creed Game, you need to:
Make the opening shorter; seriously an hour tops is all you need to start these games, not sure why most of them go over that, but I think that you should be able to start these games within an hour, Origins did it and it made a hell of a difference.
Next, you need to invest in these characters, most importantly the main one. When Assassin’s Creed 3 started and I was having more fun with a side villain more than the main character, I knew there was an issue, to make the characters interesting here’s a tip, write so that they’re entertaining to watch on screen, or, so that you’re focused on them and what they’re doing, too many of these games have a lack of focus on their main character causing the player to lose interest, and that’s the last thing you want.
Lastly and the most important thing; Make it about Assassin’s. I can’t believe I’m even saying this, but, I need Assassin’s Creed games to feature Assassin’s, I could care less if Ubisoft’s next game is gonna take me on a tour to Scandinavia, what I need is a game that not only portrays the history correctly, but also weaves it into story so cleverly that you don’t even notice it.
Those three things I noted are, to me, the answer to getting an Assassin’s Creed game right, whether or not Ubisoft chooses to follow them, that's on them, but if there’s one thing I hope the next games have over all else, is focus. There are so many games in this franchise, hell Ubisoft games in general, that have a lack of focus stemmed by a dev team that stumbles and falls over layoffs and crunch, and while I don’t see that ending anytime soon, I just hope to get a game that is confident in what it wants to be and gives me hope for seeing a Ubisoft logo start my game.