Assassin’s Creed: Origins – Review

When Ubisoft decided to take a year off to “give the Assassin’s Creed brand a new dimension”, many were expecting a soft reboot in what was either going be a strong return to the old formula(Modern Day included) or a complete revamp of the series to continue the trend started with Syndicate to focus more on making the game fun rather than an experience.

As I was checking some reviews before playing the game, one comment which confirmed the fears I had expressed before the game was even released was Gameranx’s “it feels very different now, it’s almost like losing its identity to become more of a standard game.”

And that’s exactly what Origins is at the end of the day, a standard videogame where the elements of the Animus, memories, Modern Day, even the Assassins and the Brotherhood as we know them, have all taken a secondary role.

It is not easy to forget how hard the very first game tried to make you feel part of a simulation, the pentagon effect during cutscenes such as when Al Mualim is speaking to Altair, the “Initializing Memory Imprint…” with data and text surrounding the target and other details which are part of your experience to remind you that you are reliving memories.

In Origins all of this is rarely featured.

Make no mistake, I am not suggesting that an Assassin’s Creed game, in 2017, should be like the very first one, a “boredom fest with repetitive tasks” as someone would call it, I never said that and never will. After all I fully understand that a series like Assassin’s Creed desperately needed to evolve in order to survive but let’s face it, there are ways and ways to innovate a series which started with a set of predefined rules.

And since, whenever I can, I like to put my money where my mouth is, I’ll soon publish an article on my dream AC game that is big, fun, with the same elements of Origins yet loyal to the original formula where albeit optional, the Modern Day is given the role it deserves to whoever wants to feel part of a simulation.

THE STORY AND THE CHARACTERS

When it was announced that we were going to see the “birth of the Brotherhood” as we know it, in no way I would have expected to have a game with this story as I was convinced that we were going to follow the journey of an individual leading a group of people who believe in free will, who work in the dark, who respect a set of rules as we slowly start to understand why they formed this organisation and why they decided to work according to such rules.

Unfortunately, all of this was only slightly mentioned and only towards the end of the game.

Bayek’s brotherhood speech near the end of the game was beautiful, strong, well-written but I was expecting something like that at the start of the story; a story that would have indeed went on to show us the brotherhood, the rules, the work in the dark, the hide in plain sight, the help the people to have free will.

I also believe that once again a lot of question marks are hanging over Ubisoft’s decision to split the show between two characters.

I became more and more attached to Bayek as the main campaign moved forward but I simply couldn’t erase from my brain the idea that he’s a “postman”, one whose task is to go around the country to complete errands for your average Joe and I can’t really be blamed for that since that is exactly what I did for the first 30-40 hours of the game only to then see him take a somewhat secondary role towards the very end.

As for Aya, I’m on the same boat as those who believe that her story could have been more interesting as she comes across as someone with more charisma(but less Wonder Woman please) but ultimately, even if she is pivotal to the ending of the game, it’s not easy to be interested in a character that has very little background before the ending takes place. Let’s face it, she doesn’t bring much to the equation, if not the same old message that a female protagonist can be as equally “badass” as a male one as the “Aya: Blade of the Goddess” main campaign mission tried to demonstrate when Caesar assigns the task of lightning the brazier on top of the Pharos to Bayek, only for him to then assign it to Aya.

Will we see more of them in future games, will we finally get to see more of the brotherhood and the rules? Maybe but what I’m reviewing here is not what my crystal ball is predicting but what Origins brought to the series in respect to the story and in my opinion it could have been better, much better.

THE OPEN WORLD AND SIDEQUESTS

The area where Origins definitely excels is the open world and all the details added to make it feel lively and realistic. For example after completing the “Hideout” side quest, I decided to follow Chenzira, foolishly thinking that the child will just run endlessly around the map but how wrong I was as he really went back home where he told his brother what happened.

Also, at one stage I meticulously cleared an area I stumbled upon which was part of a quest I was yet to unlock and when the quest was finally unlocked there was no need to do the same process all over again, I received the reward and experience points straight away as well as Bayek confirming that the quest was already complete. Not the best way to do it considering we are reliving memories but I appreciated the fact that there was no need to redo a quest I already completed.

Having said that, it didn’t take long for the sidequests to become repetitive and all pretty similar to each other. Even though they are a big improvement in the series as we’re no longer looking at the same side mission over and over again in different parts of the city, at the end of the day it’s still a matter of meet NPC > task is assigned > go in location > kill humans or animals > retrieve object > back to NPC.

Amid all this, the game tries incredibly hard to picture Bayek like some sort of good samaritan, a superhero, always ready to help those in need but sometimes the result is very disappointing as it was the case in the “Last Bodyguard” side quest where part of your job is to pick up a package because apparently the linens are too heavy for the young lady to carry or “The Champion” side quest where at one stage you have to race the “old fighter” with the game allowing you to complete the race on horseback.

In the end, Jeska’s “Smoke over Water” was my favourite side quest, it was probably the only side quest where I cared about the NPC and how the story was going to end, too little as I consider the side quests a lost opportunity, an opportunity to have some sort of hideout where the people you help join you to help you achieve your revenge.

What also didn’t help was the level system, having to abruptly stop the main campaign because my level is not high enough, this saw me skip a number of side quest cutscenes towards the end as I was desperate to reach the required level to resume the main story.

CONTROLS AND GAMEPLAY

One thing I didn’t criticise AC:Syndicate for was the controls and Origins is as equally responsive in this department. I will not comment on the combat as I avoided it whenever I could but for the way I approached most of the missions my experience was very smooth.

I was a little bit disappointed by the lack of a proper cover system because even though cover assassinations did work well, it was very difficult to understand whether an approaching enemy will actually spot you or not with how Bayek positions himself.

Having said that, I still had those “No Bayek not there!” moments and I felt that horse riding was not as smooth as it was with Syndicate’s carriages.

One removed mechanic which did leave me bitterly disappointed was double assassinations, I have no idea why it was removed and as useful and fun as chain assassinations could be, they are not a replacement for the traditional double assassinations especially since there is always the possibility of missing the second target when using the former.

As for the level system, I was a big advocate of a level system before the game was released but in all fairness I was hoping for it to be implemented in a different way. Experience points, ability points, numbers flying around the screen is not exactly what I had in mind, I always like to see a logical explanation to almost everything happening in the AC universe but in Origins way too much was implemented without any explanation at all.

SENU vs EAGLE VISION

The introduction of a pet eagle is a welcome addition to the series but I hated how the traditional eagle vision was not available to quickly tag all enemies in area. Considering that Senu is not as responsive as the drone in Wildlands, it took me more time to analyse and tag each and every enemy and since I had no reference as it was the case in Wildlands with the orange areas, I almost always missed an enemy or two which in the long run became very frustrating.

And, to add insult to injury, on my PS4 standard I had numerous occasions when I had to endure a five-to-ten-second loading screen when calling Senu back which believe me, felt like an eternity sometimes.

In the end, using Senu to keep track of a target who is covering a lot of distance, keeping a close eye on him to understand where his hideout is located is a brilliant addition to the game but I hope to see the return of the traditional Eagle Vision in the future as I prefer to spend my time planning my moves and taking out enemies rather than tagging them.

THE MODERN DAY

I think by now it is safe to assume that statements such as “the MD is at the heart of AC” have to cease. It WAS the heart and an integral element in the series but it’s no longer.

MD in Origins is a complete insult, it’s like, “Hey fool, you whined for 5 years asking for a third-person playable protagonist, here you are, now shut up.” And as I correctly predicted, the interesting parts(Layla’s laptop) are optional, so as not to be a distraction to all those who always wanted the MD dead and buried.

Before the game was released our expectations were high and we didn’t just ask for a playable protagonist, we wanted the MD to be back under the spotlight not a replica of Black Flag going around collecting and reading documents. When I accessed Layla’s laptop I felt like some sort of stalker reading the diary of someone who is so eager to get a job with this “cool” company.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be disrespectful to Ubisoft or anything like that but at this stage they have to be loyal and sincere to the early fans of the series in a way that they either decide to keep the Modern Day segments intact but without making them an insult to individuals like myself who are always hoping to see the MD return to its full glory or they kill it off once and for all so as to turn the series into an Abstero Entertainment product where you relive memories with the additional bells and whistles such as unicorns and zombies to make your experience more “fun”.

We are reliving memories, we are using the Animus, there is a name in the MD in Origins, yet if you pick ten reviews at random from Metacritic many of them don’t even mention these elements and I’m not surprised at all considering that the MD is less than 15 minutes long.

BUGS

It’s not an Assassin’s Creed game without any bugs.

1. In my first few hours I saw a couple of NPCs walking down a ladder, that’s right, walking on thin air instead of, I believe, using the ladder.

2. On my second day of gameplay I encountered a PS4 error leading to a complete crash

3. Also on my second day I couldn’t interact with the Blacksmith in Siwa. I exited to the main menu and back in the game and this time his icon on the map was gone.

4. I saw a scorpion floating in air

5. Many times my horse got stuck against a donkey or whatever when I went in auto-pilot to reach a destination.

6. In one of the most disappointing bugs I encountered, when I entered the Crocodile’s granary, Kensa was stuck in a wall, literally, there was no way to get to her and kill her. I tried whistling, assassinating her through the wall, no luck.

7. Always in the same mission, after clearing out the area, I killed the Crocodile with three treasures left in the granary. After coming back from the MD(and this was one moment where I found myself understanding why some hate the MD interruptions), all the guards in the granary were back meaning that I had to clear the same area twice in less than 15 minutes. Not fun at all.

CONCLUSION

7/10

Assassin’s Creed Origins is definitely a big step in the right direction but just as it was the case with Unity we’re still not there just yet.

The graphics are nice, the gameplay is fun, the redesign of side missions is a welcome addition to the series but as much as I enjoyed it, I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a masterpiece.

My first 20 hours were incredibly fun; levelling up and taking on side quests and some missions from the main campaign was engaging but after hitting the the 30-hour mark I felt like everything was becoming incredibly repetitive and the reason why I was taking on so many side quests was not because they were fun but simply because I wanted to reach the required level needed to complete the main campaign.

Overall, I find it hard to call it an Assassin’s Creed game, it feels more like a spinoff as the series keeps losing its identity.

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Assassin’s Creed: Origins – Review

Improving the Origins formula: The return of a hideout and recruit system plus a solid Modern Day story

By now we more or less all agree that Assassin’s Creed Origins was a big, big step in the right direction in respect to a number of features but those who loved the original elements of the series like myself, and I’m referring to the modern day being in the driving seat as well as the game trying to give us a logical explanation to whatever is going on around us, Origins was a big disappointment.

The best way to understand what I mean is to pick a number of random reviews from Metacritic, even the most positive ones, and search for keywords such as “animus”, “layla”, “memory”, “william”, “reliving”, “memories” … you will notice how some of the reviewers of the game don’t even mention these words yet in the end we’re still a person in the modern day reliving memories through the Animus.

Now if you’re expecting a blog post about how nice it would be to go back to 2007 and have a game like AC1, I kindly ask you to read on because that’s not my objective, my objective is to talk about an AC game where all the features/changes from Origins are kept intact such as the skill tree and the way side quests are designed yet giving a logical explanation to such features with the addition of a recruit system, a hideout ACIII-style and of course giving the Modern Day the space it deserves.

Before proceeding, here are some terms I will use to keep things simple:

MD: The Modern Day
Layla: The person inside the Animus
Rebecca: The person helping Layla in the Modern Day out throughout the game
Bayek: The assassin
PoE: Piece of Eden
The three hidden ones: The thief, the archer and the warrior

Also please understand that I don’t write videogame stories, the below is not a full script for a videogame, it’s just bits and pieces of a story to encapsulate all my ideas on how to reintroduce the early-series elements back in the game.

The Beginning

Assassin’s Creed, in the early days, was all about Desmond stepping inside the Animus to find the location of a PoE in order for the modern assassins to retrieve it. In my opinion this concept can be resurrected without losing any of the magic Ubisoft introduced with Origins.

It was also about a group of modern assassins joining forces for a unique objective, not a one-man show featuring a DIY version of the Animus.

I would therefore start the game in the Modern Day with Layla stepping inside the Animus and with Rebecca’s voice saying in her earphone, “Remember, find the location of the piece of eden and we’re done”. When the memory starts, everything is a little bit blurred as a clear indication that the Animus was rushed into reliving this particular memory but amid the blurred vision we manage to identify a big fortress and Bayek trying to infiltrate the place.

All hell breaks loose and after a few seconds we are desynchronised.

Layla wakes up, asking what happened, with Rebecca confirming her fears that there is not enough data in the Animus to relive this particular memory and that they desperately need to relive more memories in order to either “upgrade” Bayek or else gather enough information on the fortress to weaken it through simulation, a subject I will explain in detail later on in the article, for now remember that the Animus’ job is to help you find the PoE so in a perfect world it would remove all the guards from the final fortress to ease your job.

Fade-out/fade-in and we see Bayek when he was younger and this is also the very first time when the modern day and the historical part intersect. A small window in the bottom right hand side corner will be displayed to indicate that Rebecca is speaking to Layla and her instructions are simple: “Again, your objective is either to upgrade Bayek or gather enough information on the fortress.” We find out in Origins that Williams believes how Rebecca and Layla would form a good team if they work together so it would be nice if the two join forces in some way or another in the next game.

(click to enlarge)

Now I understand that for some this would be classified as immersion breaking and in fact the user would be able to customise the HUD in a way to disable Rebecca’s less-important messages, I say less-important because there will be messages that will introduce new gameplay elements – which in my opinion will be appreciated even by those who don’t care about the MD – and therefore they simply cannot be turned off.

Make no mistake, I don’t want to delude myself into believing that the MD will one day be in a position to also please those who don’t want it but later on in the article I will suggest an idea on how to give a solid MD story and gameplay elements only to those who are interested in that part of the AC universe.

Moving on.

The historical part of the game starts with Bayek being promoted to Master Assassin to succeed where other Master Assassins have failed before him. This is when the story makes it clear that the Templars are stronger, much stronger than the Assassins, hence the reason why others Master Assassins have failed before Bayek.

After the ceremony ends, the Mentor approaches Bayek to understand how he intends to proceed, to which he replies by saying that the Assassins’ Headquarters have to be relocated elsewhere, that workers are needed to forge weapons, craft armour and ammo and also that he will search for the so-called “three hidden ones” to ask for their assistance.

All this justifies the:

– Work in the dark and hide in plain sight rules
– Need of building a hideout(similar to Ezio’s villa and Connor’s Homestead)
– Need to recruit people to either help you in the hideout or during missions

The fact that Templars are very strong means that Bayek cannot go out there behaving like some sort of superhero the way it was in Origins and Syndicate, he has to be extremely careful and above all, he needs his team to grow, he needs a community, he needs help, because this is not about revenge, this is not a one-man show, it’s about the Brotherhood.

This is when the open world will unlock and immediately you are free to approach people inside the current Assassins’ Headquarters to have a chat about the Templars, the fortress, the three hidden ones, etc. And of course it’s also when you have to decide how you want to tackle your objective, which again, is to locate the PoE.

THE THREE HIDDEN ONES: A SMALL CHANGE TO THE SKILL TREE AND THE RETURN OF THE RECRUIT SYSTEM

We missed it in Unity, it was poorly executed in Syndicate, not even present in Origins, I think it’s time to bring back the recruiting system in the series. The way it was implemented in Brotherhood and Revelations was pretty basic, then improved in ACIII where your recruits could do more than just assassinating a target as we had more options such as “Riot” and “Covert Escort”.

What I’m looking at is a system very similar to that in ACIII in the form of what I’m calling the Three Hidden Ones: A thief, an archer and a warrior.

Like many, these three have had enough of the Templars’ tyranny but they are not part of the Brotherhood and have no intention of joining it, their role is to teach new skills to Bayek – they in fact replace the old skill tree – and to help him in an environment simulated by the Animus(the recruit system).

Now please understand there is a difference between skills and recruit options, the skill tree was the way to unlock specific abilities in Origins that you can use from the moment they are unlocked such as chain assassination and bow bearer. Unfortunately it was an unexplained addition in the game, as it was the case in Syndicate. In fact, we are never told why these skills are locked, we are never told where they come from and we are never told why they can be unlocked by collecting ability points.

I would change that.

To start with I would reduce the number of skills to only 8-12 and I would link them directly to each member of the hidden ones. This means that at the very start of the game you don’t even have a “Skills” option in the menu but after reliving the very first memory with each and every hidden one, this option is unlocked and their respective trees are shown. This means that after the archer’s first memory in which he showcases all the skills he can teach you like using the sniper bow, his part of the skill tree becomes available in the Animus.

From then on the concept is very simple: you relive one of the three hidden ones memory and from that moment on the learned skill is unlocked and available in the same way it was in Origins, of course with a small difference that we’re back to the old days of AC2 when Ezio learned the leap skill by reliving a memory with Rosa, it’s all done through memories not experience points and ability points.

To make things more interesting, the hidden ones have a sort of main campaign of their own where as you learn skills by reliving their memories, you will learn more about them, about their family, about their friends, about why they don’t want to fight alongside you to defeat the Templars and above all, their respective communities.

Look at their missions as a collection of many of the side quests we had in Origins only that this time you are getting something worth reliving the memory for, important skills and simulated recruiting options that will help you in your journey. This is why their missions should not be small training missions which end after a few minutes but well-scripted quests which in the end will reward you with important stuff.

What about the recruit system? As you relive these memories, the Animus is constantly collecting data allowing you to use the three hidden ones during missions.

From the second memory onwards, besides acquiring new skills, whenever the memory is completed, Rebecca will pop up to update you on the recruit system. Let me give you an example. At the end of the memory with the archer where he teaches you how to use the sniper bow, besides unlocking the skill to use the long-range bow, Rebecca will tell you – via one of those messages that cannot be turned off in the HUD – that she marked a spot on the map where you will find a “little surprise”. When you reach the location you will experience something that Bayek did not experience in his life, it is an Animus simulation, similar to the tutorials we had in previous games like Brotherhood.

Here you will learn how to use the archer’s long-range recruit system by taking on a mission in a simulated environment with two guards. You will have to assassinate one of them, giving instructions to the archer to assassinate the second one.

This is when things become interesting. From the moment you give your instruction, a 5 to 0 counter will start, meaning that the archer will take down his target when the counter reaches 0. Remember, it is an Animus simulation, reason why there is a small gap from the moment you give out your instruction; the Animus has to collect data on the environment, the guard, the distance, etc. So imagine how cool it would be if you time your run to perfection and kill your target the moment the archer kills his. Or, if you kill your target with a throwing knife when the timer reaches 0.

Now you may ask: if the three hidden ones made it clear that they don’t want to fight alongside you, how can you recruit them during missions? How is it possible for them to help you if they never helped Bayek in real life? Also, why is this recruit system unlocked at the very start of the game?

The answer is not ability points, it’s the Animus using all previously-relived memories with the archer to gather enough data on his physique, the way he walks, the way he runs, the way he strikes his bow, etc. This system was locked at the start of the game simply because you were yet to relive that particular memory which allowed the Animus to gather the data it needed.

The Animus didn’t even know that the archer existed before Layla relived Bayek’s memories so there was no way for the machine to simulate someone taking down an enemy from long-range. But now it does, thanks to the memory Layla relived in which Bayek learned the sniper bow skill.

Of course, to avoid the possibility of clearing out a restricted area by using your recruit, you will only be able to use the snipe assassinate system twice, more than that would overheat the Animus. In fact when you use the archer, also to give you an idea that it is a simulation, you will not see a perfect replica but a representation similar to that magnetic field effect which was activated around Evie’s Aegis outfit.

The same concept applies to the thief and warrior.

In respect to the skills you can unlock, I would more or less keep the Origins system, that is:

Thief

Chain assassination, Sleep Darts, Poison Darts, Smoke Screen Damage and all the other useful skills from Origins’ Seer Skill Tree as well as well as some new mechanics

Archer

Sniper Bow, Eagle Tagging, Eagle Harass, Hunters Instinct and all the other useful skills from Origins’ Hunter Skill Tree as well as some new mechanics

Warrior

Air Attack, Parry, Weapon Bearer, Attack and Push and all the other useful skills from Origins’ Warrior Skill Tree as well as some new mechanics

In respect to the recruit system, below is a list of a number of ways of how you can be assisted during missions, I won’t go into much detail about this as ultimately my objective was to explain the simulated Animus recruit system.

Thief

Distract guard for three seconds

  • Similar to Henry Green’s distraction system in Syndicate so the guard will leave his place

Harass guard for five seconds

  • Similar to how Senu can harass guards in Origins so the guard will stay on the spot

Assassinate

  • Tag enemy and instruct the thief to perform a regular assassination
  • Instruct where to place thief on the rooftop and when you hit a button he will air assassinate the guard

Disable/Sabotage Alarm

  • The thief will disable/sabotage one of the alarms in the area

Spot Enemies

  • The thief will tag enemies like Wildland’s rebel support Recon skill

Archer

Snipe Assassinate

  • Tag target, give instruction, 5 to 0 counter, kill

Disable/sabotage alarm

  • Anticipate a guard who is running to sound an alarm by using the archer who will fire an arrow to disable the alarm

Warrior

Combat help

  • He will join you in combat for ten seconds

Fire bomb

  • A bomb will be thrown to set your enemies ablaze

CHANGE IN SIDE QUESTS, THE RETURN OF THE HIDEOUT

The three hidden ones are not the only allies who will join in your journey, a number of NPCs will also play a pivotal role by helping you achieve your ultimate objective of locating the PoE and this is another change I would make to the side quest system of Origins. In Origins we help many NPCs who give us absolutely nothing in return, if we are to ignore for a second the experience points used to unlock abilities. Besides, many of them had a story to tell but after the story was over we never get to see them anymore. We could meet them again later on and have a small update on what happened after the side quest, but that’s all.

What I’m looking at is a system where one of the below could happen at the end of the side quest:

1. The NPC will give you valuable information about the forts in the city

2. The NPC will join you at the Assassin’s Headquarters.

3. The NPC will increase your blending options in the region*

4. The NPC will give you absolutely nothing in return, it can happen and I will explain why later on

The NPC will give you valuable information about the forts in the city

One of the things I ended up disliking in Origins after a few hours of gameplay is all the time I spent tagging enemies using Senu, not only because of the 5-10s delay bug when I called it back most of the time but also because months before playing Origins I completed Wildlands and I’ve had enough of tagging enemies with a drone, in other words I would have been more than happy to pay to have a system showing all enemies in the area straight away.

Now don’t jump to wrong conclusions, I’m not suggesting more and more microtransactions, I would actually include a system where the person you helped in a side quest will give you important information for your journey such as the number of guards and/or their exact location for all the forts in the city.

It would actually work in a very simple way. After the quest is over, the NPC will reward you with a piece of information which will be added to your log: “Here you go Bayek, this is for a the fort located at the north western corner of Giza, I’m sure you’ll find it useful”. The information can either be the exact number of guards in the area or even better, the exact patrol routes of all the enemies which means that they will be automatically tagged, if you want to.

Rebecca or one of her team will filter the information, add it to the Animus and that is why guards are automatically located without the pet eagle and/or the traditional eagle vision.

(click to enlarge)

To make things more customisable, the process will not necessarily be an automatic one so if you complete the side quest but still want to do the dirty work on your own, you’re free to do it; a message will be shown when close to the fort to indicate that you have information on this specific area but then it’s up to you whether to use it or not, whether to switch it on or /off.

The advantage of all of this is that it’s all connected. When cleared out, each and every fort in the city will reward with a section of the map of the last-memory fortress, the more sections of the map you collect, the more the fortress will be weakened by the Animus and at any time you can decide to relive that final memory to locate the PoE.

The NPC will join you at the Assassin’s Headquarters.

Earlier I explained how at the very start of the game Bayek made it clear that new headquarters and human resources are needed so as to work in the dark as much as possible. The idea is very simple, since the Templars are incredibly strong in the city you cannot purchase weapons and armour in the same way one could do in previous games, everything has to be forged and crafted internally.

The hideout I have in mind is not a small cave or a small underground but a very large area, even bigger than Connor’s homestead that you have to manage and upgrade. A large part of the upgrade process will be done by completing side quests but there is also a mini game – like Black Flag’s Kenway’s Fleet – with which you can upgrade each and every individual like blacksmiths, tailors, doctors, etc.

Upgrade is a must as it determines the pace of your workers, by pace I mean the speed with which weapons and outfits are created and crafted. You clearly need material to forge a weapon but the upgrade will not be instant like in Origins, before using that formidable weapon you have to wait a number of minutes which will be reduced drastically the more you upgrade the workers of the hideout.

Let’s take Blacksmiths as an example from now on, but the same logic is applied to tailors, ostlers, etc.

The number of minutes required to complete a task will be a simple mathematical formula which takes in consideration the total number of blacksmiths in the hideout and their respective levels.

In order to keep things simple, there is a limit in the number of blacksmiths which you can host in the hideout and the below table summarises the process:

Maximum number in hideout: 10(ready to be upgraded via the mini-game)
From Sidequests: 7
From kidnapped son side quest which I will explain below: 2
From an unknown position in the map: 1

Let’s look at the process in detail, using Mike the blacksmith as an example. You can find Mike either by meeting his wife who is weeping because her husband disappeared or by completing a fort where he is held. Incidentally, this could be a nice opportunity to add those minor details we loved so much in Origins like for example when you meet Mike’s wife for the very first time, the garden belonging to the family is in a very poor state, clearly because the lady is too sad to take care of it. But if you visit the house once the side quest is complete, the garden will be back to a healthy state.

Regardless how you find Mike, the end result is that you will free him from captivity and what happens at the end of the side quest is that he is added to your team in the hideout and again, via the mini game, you can upgrade his level.

Now let’s assume that after some time, your Blacksmith team is as follows:

Number of blacksmiths in the hideout: 4
Blacksmith #1: Level 5
Blacksmith #2: Level 7
Blacksmith #3: Level 7
Mike: Level 9
Total Level: 28

Here comes the interesting part. After some time one of the junior assassins stops you as you’re roaming the map to tell you that Mike has stopped doing his duties as a result of the Templars finding out that he was liberated from captivity and decided to kidnap his son as a mean of revenge. This means that Mike has to be removed from the equation so the pace with which weapons are forged has gone down:

Number of blacksmiths in the hideout: 3
Blacksmith #1: Level 5
Blacksmith #2: Level 7
Blacksmith #3: Level 7
Total Level: 19

It’s decision time. Do you approach Mike to understand how you can help him or you go out there to find a new blacksmith to replace Mike? If you opt for the latter, you will be back with 4 blacksmiths but with a Level 1 blacksmith so the total level will be down to 20.

If however you decide to help Mike, there is no guarantee that your Blacksmith team will improve. This is because you have no idea what will happen at the end of the “Kidnapped Son” sidequest.

Let’s analyse two different scenarios.

In the first one, you investigate the clues to find out where Mike’s son is held, you clear the place but you find the child dead. You go back to your hideout and Mike threatens to kill himself but Bayek convinces him that it would be foolish to do it and that instead he should work harder to help the Brotherhood grow so as to go after the killers of his son. Mike listens and also vows to find two blacksmiths for your team. Amid all this, his level is increased. The conclusion is:

Number of blacksmiths in the hideout: 6 (+1 Mike, +2 the new ones)
Blacksmith #1: Level 5
Blacksmith #2: Level 7
Blacksmith #3: Level 7
Blacksmith #4: Level 1
Blacksmith #5: Level 1
Mike: Level 10 (level increased after side quest)
Total Level: 31

In a different scenario, when Bayek goes back to the hideout, Mike is so desperate that he does kill himself after the loss of his son and in this case the conclusion is the same as when Mike decided to stop doing his duties:

Number of blacksmiths in the hideout: 3
Blacksmith #1: Level 5
Blacksmith #2: Level 7
Blacksmith #3: Level 7
Total Level: 19

Of course only one memory can be relived, what I’m trying to explain here is not cause and effect or something similar but a system where a side quest could incidentally damage you rather than giving you something useful in return.

The NPC will increase your blending options in the region

Whenever social stealth is brought up, many make fun of it because it was hilarious how Ezio could sneak past guards simply by “disguising” himself with a group of courtesans. It just confirms how stupid the AI was in previous entries.

It’s also strange how people seem not to be bothered at all when a complete stranger joins them in their intimate conversations to be hidden from guards.

The idea here is that when you reach a new region, blending with the crowd is not an option, you have to create it. By completing tasks in the region you will slowly increase the number of allies and the more side quests you complete the more visually clear it will be for the player as more and more NPCs dressed more or less in the same outfit as the Assassin will populate the area.

They will do their best to give you blending opportunities such as regular blending with a group of people, sitting down on a benches, helping a couple fix their wagon as it was the case in Unity, etc.

The NPC will give you absolutely nothing in return

It could be that the side quest will give nothing in return. I mean, at the end of the day you are starting side quests hoping to learn something new about a restricted area, add an element to your team, increase blending opportunities in the region or gather valuable information that will help you find the PoE.

But it will not always be the case.

We cannot assume that every single side quest holds a reward. Reliving memories, after all, is like a closed door, you don’t know what lies behind. If the Animus was capable of knowing what you will get in return for a particular side quest, it should automatically eliminate all memories with no valuable rewards but of course the Animus cannot predict what happened at the end of a memory so it makes sense to have side quests with no return value.

This could open up an interesting scenario where you start a side quest, at one stage you realise that it will not give you any reward (the NPC saying, ‘Look I have to be honest, I can’t give you anything in return’), and that is when Rebecca will pop up at the bottom right of your screen to tell you, “Layla, this will not lead you anywhere, I suggest you stop the memory and move on”, this is a non-vital Rebecca message so it can be turned off. And this is when the psychological aspect of the game comes into play, “Do I stop and keep searching for the PoE or do I keep helping this person to see how this quest ended?”

THE HISTORICAL MAIN CAMPAIGN

You have probably noticed how I didn’t go into any particular detail about the main campaign simply because it is outside the scope of this blog post. It could be the same old target checklist type of main campaign like Syndicate or Origins or something more complex although again, in respect to the three hidden ones, it would be nice if they have a sort of main campaign of their own since they play a very important role in Bayek’s journey.

THE MODERN DAY

I already explained how the beginning of the game as well as Rebecca’s messages throughout your journey will help the MD be again an important aspect of the universe but at the same time I would be a fool in denying the fact that many of those who play Assassin’s Creed(especially after Origins) are only interested in the historical aspect of the game.

So how to please both type of gamers?

Let’s start with those who don’t care about the Modern Day, their interaction with the present will be at the start of the game, at the very end and when Rebecca has pivotal information for Layla. That’s all, they will never exit the Animus and will not endure the cutscenes or segments like we had in Origins.

Those who however want the MD(the Animus, the concept of reliving memories, etc.) to be back in the driving seat will have more options and elements at their disposal.

To start with, by not turning off Rebecca’s less-important comments, she will be an integral part of your journey, not as big as becoming a nuisance, but she will be there to update you on certain elements even when they are not so important such as the Animus overheating or whenever important data has been retrieved.

Besides, to feel part of a simulation, when you perform certain tasks such as tagging an enemy to understand his level, he would be surrounded with Animus data exactly as it was in the days of AC1:

I would of course remove the “Initializing Memory Imprint …” part as it would be incredibly annoying having to see it for every guard you tag.

Finally, one can leave the Animus at anytime to interact with Rebecca and co. and get a taste of what the DLC will be about, that’s right, I think it would be a great idea if the main game plants the seeds for an MD-only DLC where we would have something I like to refer to as a miniature version of Watch Dogs, so a small city, cars and bikes to drive, a silenced pistol, stealth takedowns, an engaging story as it was back in the days of Desmond and of course a number of missions in the city.

What I’m trying to achieve and say here is that at this stage Ubisoft have to be loyal and sincere to the early fans of the series in a way that they either decide to keep the Modern Day segments intact but without making them an insult to individuals like myself who are always hoping to see the MD return to its full glory or they kill it off once and for all so as to turn the series into an Abstero Entertainment product where you relive memories with the additional bells and whistles such as unicorns and zombies to make your experience more “fun”.

The main game would only give a background of the DLC’s story and characters, for example when you leave the Animus in the main game to speak with Rebecca or Shaun, they will prepare you for a character you will eventually meet in the DLC, a new Daniel Cross or something similar, but the mission where you actually hunt him down will not be playable in the main game but in the DLC which in my opinion should be made available for free.


Ideas marked with an (*) are the result of discussions with fellow AC fans.

Improving the Origins formula: The return of a hideout and recruit system plus a solid Modern Day story

Assassin’s Creed: Origins – Gameplay trailer, my comments

The setting (0:42s)

When Bayek reaches Siwa it feels as if all previous games were thrown in a mixer and this is the result, initially it looks like Revelations, when the palms are visible it’s Black Flag, seconds later it’s Brotherhood and finally AC:1. I love this.

Senu (1:15s)

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the controllable eagle. It works in a game like Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Watch Dogs 2 and Wildlands where it’s a robot but here I find it out of place. I do hope we will have the option to ignore Senu and make our way through tall grass to identify enemies.

AI (2:40s)

We don’t get to see much here but I hope AI has been improved and is no longer as dumb as it was in previous games. The one in the front keeps walking despite the noise emitted by the one at the back when killed. I hope he would have turned had the assassin not killed him with a throwing knife. Also it seems throwing knives now work like in AC:1 where you just throw instead of aiming as it was in Unity. I prefer this system, after all aiming will be needed when using the bow.

AI (3:14s)

Bayek knows that the Level 10 and 11 guards are “too dangerous”, I hope the game will not treat us like babies telling us all the time what guards are stronger than we are.

Damage (2:54s)

Can’t complain on this one, the “Hidden Blade damage” feature is very similar to what I wrote about in a piece a few months ago so I’m delighted it has been implemented, I’m curious to see how it will work exactly.

Collectibles (3:51s)

What do I see there? A chest! I know many hate them but I love them so I’m glad they are still there. Maybe they contain something useful this time.

Combat (4:18s)

As one who prefers stealth I will wait to judge the combat although it seems to be a little bit to clunky. By the way, anyone else speaks Italian here? It seems Medunamun or whoever the big thug is greets the assassin with a nice “Die, vaffanculo!” 🙂

Other considerations

The rest looks epic. A little bit concerned about mechanisms copied from other games though; the compass at the top, the slow motion when you fire the arrow and the triple arrow upgrade are all features already available in Horizon Zero Dawn so there’s very little to be excited about in respect to these features. I also find the gladiator arenas a little bit too “Far Cry” but maybe that’s just because I try to be loyal to the “work in the dark to serve in the light” tenet as much as I can.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins – Gameplay trailer, my comments

Assassin’s Creed – Bringing back research and investigation to the series

In one of the blog posts I wrote last year I jotted down some ideas on how to improve the enemy AI and at the same time introduce elements of research, investigation and assassin personalisation.

As I was re-reading the post I realised that I could have definitely explained better what I have in mind so I decided to rewrite the blog post and to take advantage of this to add some more elements that I wanted to include in the original post.

We all agree that back in the days of AC1 the game was very repetitive but – at least I still do – we still talk and remember the game as being special, in a league of its own. And it happens often to read comments by fans of the series who say, “that is when I felt like an assassin” when they remember the good old days of Altair.

The latest entry of the Assassin’s Creed series, Syndicate, very rarely made me feel like an assassin, I felt more like a superhero who knows everything and can kill everyone in a heartbeat.

Besides, I found the below issues pretty annoying as I progressed further:

1. Lack of variety

I counted no more than eight different type of enemies in the game and with the only exception of the sniper who can kill you from distance, all enemies act in the same way and can also be killed in the same way.

2. The AI level is just a number

Jacob/Evie can kill a Level 10 enemy even if their level is 1. Also, it’s funny how enemies dressed in exactly the same way and equipped with the same weapon can have different levels.

3. You know the level of the enemy with Eagle Vision

I understand Eagle Vision is a very powerful feature of the game but seriously, understanding the level of an enemy by just using Eagle Vision is way too easy.

4. Evie = stealth, Jacob = combat? Not really.

When I unlocked Evie’s invisibility skill by mistake, I switched to Jacob to complete the remaining side missions yet sticking to a stealthy approach and I noticed very little difference between the two.

5. The skill tree to upgrade your assassin

In the game you earn experience points that you can use to unlock certain skills regardless of the way you approach the game. For example you may complete a number of main/side missions in stealth mode without ever engaging in combat yet you then spend the earned skill points on the “multi-finisher” combat skill. In other words, why should an assassin spend hours completing missions in stealth mode to then upgrade a combat attribute?

6. The game doesn’t ask for a second playthrough

Play it, complete it, forget about it. That’s the reaction of many to Syndicate, including myself. When I did try to replay already-completed missions by applying self-imposed rules, I realised that it was still the same as my first playthrough. With what I”m proposing below, I believe a player will enjoy an almost complete different experience on his second and third playthrough.

The Solution

In my opinion, one of the reasons why we “felt like an assassin” in AC1 is research and investigation: we had to collect data, we had to plan, we had to investigate and only after going through all of that we were ready to finally assassinate the target.

I would bring that back in the form of three steps where all the information collected will be saved in a log:

  • Enemy research
  • Enemy investigation
  • Area investigation

Enemy research

The open world should ideally include more than just eight different type of enemies with no information available about them at the start of the game. This means that as the game progresses, your task will be to actually find all these different types of enemies.

Before moving forward, let’s analyse three of them to understand what information you need to collect:

I will of course explain the enemy’s level, custom armour and custom head protection later on, for now let’s take it one step at a time, starting on how you can actually find the different type of enemies in the game:

By roaming the map
Just like Watch Dogs 2, I expect the open world to be available as soon as the game starts and this would give us the possibility to research a number of enemies

During missions and side missions
Starting a side mission is a clever way to research a lot of enemies grouped in the same area. It is dangerous, especially if a lot of high-levelled enemies are patroling the area, but not impossible.

By using the Pet Eagle
If rumours about the next game are true, you will have an eagle under your control. If you unlock the enemy research skill of your eagle, you will be able to use it to quickly research enemies

There is no need to be face to face with your enemy in order to complete a research but you have to be close enough to understand the type. Maybe you could also use a tool similar to Edward’s naval eyeglass to keep at a distance, for sure is that when you have a visual you can use Eagle Vision (or a button as it was the case in ACIII’s “Encyclopedia of the Common Man”) to add the enemy to your log.

And if we are to check the log after researching the above three enemies, we will find this information:

This is because research will only tell you the type; to discover the level, custom armour and custom head protection you have to investigate the enemy.

Enemy investigation

Watch Dogs 1 included crime detection events where as you’re roaming the map a notification pops up on the screen to alert you about a detected crime. I would introduce a similar system in Assassin’s Creed which would alert you when a researched enemy can be investigated.

Your job – if you decide to investigate the enemy – is to tail him until he reaches a restricted area where your task is to reach a specific spot inside the area without being detected in order to closely investigate the enemy. Needless to say, unlike researching, you have to be very close to the enemy to understand the level and other attributes.

At the end of investigation, the information in the log will be complete:

I will explain later on how the level of the assassin comes into play, for now, understand that if your assassin’s level is 3, the “Agile Ottoman” is the only enemy you can kill because he’s the only one with a level that is lower or equal to yours.

Area investigation

So far we saw what is required to research and investigate enemies but why should you do this? It is needed because before you assassinate a target or maybe steal an object you have to investigate the area to understand the best possible path to reach your target.

Let’s see an example (I suggest you click the image to see it enlarged):

I will not go in detail about any research you have to do to actually find the area, that’s outside the scope of this blog post although going back to AC1 maybe even to just find the area you would need to look for clues such as “your target is inside an area with a very big red, white and blue flag with a golden anchor in the middle”.

Let’s instead keep our focus on the enemies and here I”m assuming that every person in the picture is an enemy guarding the area.

Our target is the red “X” and from this viewpoint we can see that the left-hand path of the restricted area is guarded by five guards(marked in blue), the middle path is guarded by seven(marked in orange), including a sniper at the top of the hut and the right-hand path is guarded by only two guards(marked in violet).

Below is a lighter representation of the above zone, a picture similar to what will go in your log the more you investigate the area. I kept the blue, orange and violet colours to understand the three different paths we can take to reach the target:

Remember how earlier on we assumed the current assassin level is set to 3? Based on the information collected we know that:

1. The violet, right-hand side is the easiest path since it’s only guarded by two level 1 enemies but I would still need to enter the orange, middle path at some stage to reach the target

2. The orange, middle path is heavily guarded and it will be exteremely tough to reach the target if I decide to take on five enemies whose level is higher than mine

3. The blue, left-hand path seems to be the most logical path to take, also because I can reach my target without entering the orange path but unfortunately there is an enemy I”m yet to research so I don’t know his level.

Based on the area investigation, your options are:

1. Take the left path and take a risk, hoping that the level of the unknown enemy is lower than yours
2. Find another path, although we have seen that such an option, in this case, is not possible
3. Take the left path, kill the first four guards and then sneak past the unknown enemy to reach your target
4. Take the left path, kill the first four guards, stay undetected to research the unknown enemy, leave the area to investigate him and come back when the level is known

At this stage you may ask: If as per option #3 you can sneak past the unknown enemy of the blue path, why not sneak past all the enemies of the orange path?

It should of course be possible, in fact it’s a type of assassin you can decide to be, a “Splinter Cell” if you like, but you will need a lot of patience and time to actually reach your target without being detected. Incidentally, this type of assassin can complete missions without knowing anything about his enemies.

Let’s now look a different scenario:

This time, the number of unknown enemies in the blue path are three so your options are:

1. Take the left path and take a risk, hoping that the level of the three unknown enemies is lower than yours
2. Find another path, although we have seen that such an option, in this case, is not possible
3. Take the left path, kill the first two guards and then sneak past the rest
4. Take the left path, kill the first two guards, stay undetected to research the first unknown enemy, leave the area to investigate him, come back when the level is known and repeat two more times until you have investigated all enemies
5. Take the left path, kill the first two guards, find three good spots to research all three unknown enemies, leave the area to investigate them and come back when their level is known

At this stage you may ask what is the difference between option 4 and 5? If you opt for option 4, you only need to research one enemy before leaving the area to start investigating and here I fully understand that everything would become way too repetitive if you decide to take cover, research, leave, investigate, return and then do the same two more times.

Option 5 eliminates such a repetitive loop as it would allow you to research only once but it’s risky. As I said earlier there is no need to be very close to an enemy to research him so this option is less risky than option 3 but you still need to be at an acceptable distance and if you get spotted and killed at some stage during research, even if it is after successfully researching the first two enemies, all collected information will be lost and you would have to start from scratch.

In all fairness, there is a sixth option you could opt for: the Pet Eagle if the enemy research skill is unlocked. If this skill is not unlocked, the eagle can still be useful as you would use it to get a good look at the three unknown enemies, take notes of how they look like(yes, I mean the old traditional pen and paper system) and instead of researching them by entering the restricted area, you would then research them by going in the open world hoping to meet them during free roaming.

And also let’s not forget the possibility of deciding to leave the area and to only come back after adding more enemy information to the log.

The Assassin’s Level

By now you know that before entering a restricted area you have to research and investigate enemies in order to understand if you’re strong enough to complete your objective.

Unlike Syndicate, the assassin does not have just one level, but multiple attributes each having their own level.

Some attribute examples are:

Noise
This determines how much noise you will make when approaching a target either on the ground or from above. If this level is lower than your target’s level, the target will hear you when you try to perform an (air) assassination.

Throwing knife damage
If the level of this attribute is equal or higher than the enemy level, one knife is enough to kill him

Throwing knife precision
This determines the size of the marker that appears on the screen when you want to throw a knife.

Throwing knife range
Just because the throwing knife damage attribute is higher than the enemy’s level it doesn’t mean that I can kill him from anywhere. If this level is not very high then I have to be relatively close kill my target.

Agility
This determines whether the assassin can kill from a hiding spot: haystack, ledge, corner, well, etc. If this level is lower than your target’s level, the target will notice you when you try to assassinate him from a hiding spot.

Combat
Determines the weapons you are able to carry and use. If this level is 2 you will not be able to use a weapon requiring level 3 and you won’t be able to engage in combat with >L3 targets.

Let’s analyse a particular type of assassin:

Noise Throwing knife damage Throwing knife precision Throwing knife range Agility Combat Eagle Vision Health
3 3 3 6 2 2 Low Low

Based on this information, we know that I trained my assassin for stealth and that:

1. I can (air) assassinate an enemy whose level is 1, 2 or 3 because the enemy will not hear me.

2. I can kill an enemy whose level is 1 to 6 with a throwing knife but the knife marker will be small so I have to be very careful when aiming for a headshot. Also, I have to be relatively close to him or else my throwing knife will not travel long enough to kill.

Let’s now analyse a different type of assassin:

Noise Throwing knife damage Throwing knife precision Throwing knife range Agility Combat Eagle Vision Health
0 0 0 0 4 7 Low Low

Based on this information, we know that I trained my assassin to be a combat machine and that:

1. I can kill in combat an enemy whose level is lower than 8

2. I cannot (air) assassinate enemies but if I am able sneak and reach a hiding spot, like a haystack, I will be able to kill enemies whose level is lower than 5

All of this means that when you investigate an area, the enemy level is not the only aspect you have to take in consideration before choosing the path but also elements such as where you can take cover, where you can hide in haystacks, where you can blend with the crowd by sitting down, etc.

For example, if we are to go back to the previous image from Black Flag describing an example of area investigation and assuming that I trained my assassin to be “stealthy”, hence using throwing knives to perform assassinations, I know that the left path has some barrels and boxes I can hide behind to assassinate the three guards grouped together, meaning that there is no need for my throwing knife range attribute to be very high as long as my throwing knife damage attribute level is equal or higher than the enemy level.

I also know that the left path has no haystacks where I can hide so I have to be extremely careful not to engage in combat because my combat level is very low.

Cause and Effect

Over at the Reddit sub some weeks ago we discussed the “cause and effect” design to be available in the next game. This can be adopted for the system I’m describing in a way that as the game progresses, an assassin attribute level equal or higher than an enemy level may not be enough to kill your target.

For example, if you kill a lot of enemies with throwing knives headshots, at some stage, they will add or improve their head protection and to kill them with a throwing knife you have to actually upgrade the throwing knives by finding ingredients and crafting the material.

Going back to the “Janissary” enemy type, at some stage he will start wearing a great helm to protect his head and straight away your log will be updated to make you aware of this change and to also let you know what ingredients you need in order to craft a throwing knife upgrade capable of crushing the material of the great helm.

This means that to kill a Level 5 “Janissary” with a custom head protection with a throwing knife, not only you have to reach a “Throwing knife damage” attribute level of 5 but you also need to find the right ingredients and craft the required throwing knife upgrade.

Border line scenarios

What if your assassin’s “Throwing knife damage” attribute level is 8 and the level of the enemy you want to kill with a throwing knife is set to 9?

Or else, what if your assassin’s “Combat” attribute level is 5 and the level of the enemy you want to kill is 7?

It is clear that certain attributes will still allow you to kill your target even if your level is not high enough. To take the throwing knife example, there should be some sort of algorithm which would allow you to accomplish your task with, let’s say, 2x headshot throwing knives.

I mean, it makes no sense at all to throw 50 headshot throwing knives and the level 9 enemy keeps walking around as if nothing happened just because your throwing knife damage is set to 8.

For combat, maybe a system similar to Styx: Master of Shadows could be adopted, where if your combat level is lower than the enemy’s, you would need to parry his attacks multiple times before being in a position to kill him.

All of this does not apply to attributes such as noise, if your noise level is set to 3 and you try to (air) assassinate a level >4 enemy, he will hear you and move to avoid the hidden blade.

Upgrading the Assassin’s attributes

I’m looking at a very simple way to improve each and every attribute of your assassin.

Training
It is clear that to move from level 1 to level 2, you will have to complete a relative easy training mission but to move from level 5 to 6, 6 to 7, etc. things will get tougher.

For example to upgrade throwing knife precision you would have a training mission where you have to hit a ball that is swinging from one tree to the other. Another training mission to upgrade the same feature would be four of your own people grouped together and you have to hit only one of them. Or maybe one of your people jumping from one building to the other and you have to hit him during the leap.

By completing (side) missions

You will earn experience points the more missions you complete that can be used to improve your attributes.

A background algorithm
Besides training, agility is one of those attributes that can be calculated automatically. If you kill 50 enemies from a hiding spot, the background process will add points to your agility level automatically.

Wouldn’t such a system become way too repetitive the more you progress?

Maybe, which is why I would add informers and spies that you can add to your brotherhood.

An informer’s job is to investigate enemies and a spy’s job is to investigate areas.

Informers and spies can be added to your brotherhood by completing side missions and the tougher the side mission is, the more experienced the recruit will be.

Experience is very important as it will determine how long a recruit will take to complete the assigned task.

Going back to the area investigation example with the three unknown enemies, after research is complete, you may decide to investigate one of the three enemies yourself and assign two informers to take care of the remaining two. All of this adds an element of teamwork in the game, similar to the recruits available to Ezio and Connor in Brotherhood, Revelations and ACIII.

Regardless of the approach adopted by the player, one informer has to be added to the brotherhood as he will be the one to investigate enemies for armour and head protection upgrades.

And if I want it easy?

I understand such a system is not for everyone as you would spend most of the time researching and investigating with little or no action involved.

If you want to quickly update the log with enemy information, you can roam the map to find and open chests to have enough coins to buy what I’m sarcastically calling the “book of books”, a book having all information you need on all enemies in the game.

In respect to upgrading your assassin, when you start a training mission you will get a screen where one of the options is to skip training in exchange of coins. In a blink of an eye you will be able to upgrade all attributes of your assassin.

Conclusion

Why did I say that a second and a third playthrough will be as equally fun as the first? Simple because for your first playthrough you would personalise your assassin according to how you prefer to play the game, for example focusing on noise and throwing knives, for the second playthrough you may focus on agility, to complete as many missions as possible by using hiding spots and for your third playthrough you may opt for a combat machine.

On your first playthrough you may decide to use your informers and spies to gather information. On your second playthrough you may decide to be an Altair and do everything without any help. And on your third playthrough you may decide to always use the Pet Eagle.

Combinations are almost endless and it’s not the game telling you how you should approach missions and what tools to use, it’s up to you to decide how.

Assassin’s Creed – Bringing back research and investigation to the series

The Assassin’s Creed series is changing but hopefully it’s not all doom and gloom – ideas on how to improve the open world

By now I’m sure all of you heard the recent comments made by Ubisoft’s chief creative officer Serge Hascoet in which he described the next entry in the Assassin’s Creed series as a game that will focus on the open world rather than on scripted stories.

This left me with a mix of emotions, from excitement, to skepticism to concern.

Initially I was very excited by the news because as much as I love the series, it’s been clear since Unity that things had to change, the formula that made this series so fun and interesting – main campaign + side missions + collectibles – started to become a little bit repetitive and, allow me to say, boring.

And as if this wasn’t enough, the story – especially the Modern Day – became almost non existent after Desmond’s death.

My excitement changed to skepticism after reading the reaction of many who are bitterly disappointed as they believe that this will mean the end of the series as we know it, at least in respect to the narrative.

In the meantime I started Watch Dogs 2 and even though Serge Hascoet said AC will be the first game to implement this new formula, I did feel that WD2 already implemented something similar in a way that after a few minutes San Francisco is open to you and you are free to do whatever you want, even ignoring completely the so-called main campaign.

This worried me a little.

Although the open world in WD2 is fun, it seems that the story just isn’t there and that’s when concern kicked in as I don’t want AC to become just a “fun game”, after all, that’s what Syndicate was all about, a fun game with the AC formula and a very poor story that I played and immediately forgot after achieving the 100% sync and Platinum trophy.

That is, I very rarely talk about something that happened in the game and when I do it’s almost always about the Kenway Mansion mission(more on this later on).

Rewind to Assassin’s Creed 1 and I see how almost a decade after its release I still talk about the enigmatic and cryptic writings left by Subject 16 with his own blood, about how the story evolved in later games and that’s because that’s what made me love the series; the story, the mystery, the cliffhangers.

By this I’m not saying that Ubisoft should stick to the old formula or that something extremely bad is coming to the series, I actually believe we should look forward with optimism as we could get the best of both worlds if changes are implemented correctly.

To start with, I would of course keep the main campaign as we know it, a number of sequences with a very solid story that ideally spans across a number of cities.

What I would eliminate is the way side missions have been presented to us in the series, like for example in Syndicate where the Child Liberation, Bounty Hunt, Templar Hunt and Gang Stronghold activities are always the same, albeit in different areas of London.

Or how in Assassin’s Creed III, complete strangers gave you courier or delivery tasks to complete.

I would instead introduce a lot more variety, a number of “mini stories” and many different ways of how players can gather experience, money, and allies, yet, making sure that all these side activities are directly linked with the main campaign.

And most importantly, you find such activities not by checking your icon-flooded map but either by talking to people or by discovering the open world yourself.

Incidentally I’m looking at a game that is even more focused on the main story, so when you open your map all you will see is the main campaign icon and icons such as where the HQ and undergrounds are. The rest? It should be available in a log.

Just like in WD2, the open world will be open to you after the first few minutes of the game – maybe after an introduction by the mentor who briefly explains who are the assassins, who are the templars, the brotherhood, the creed and of course, the ultimate objective (of the game) – and then it’s up to you to decide how you will find the experience, the money and the allies to complete the main campaign.

When I talk about allies I don’t mean just recruits to assist you in the same way they did for example in ACIII but also people you can assign tasks to, such as the informers and spies I wrote about in my first article.

Below is a complete list of activities I would introduce – some of them touch on what I wrote in my previous articles:

Training
Also in my first article I wrote about introducing attributes and levels to the gameplay. These can be either improved by completing missions or else by training. Now here I’m not necessarily saying that training is obligatory if you are to advance in the main campaign but definitely, it would help.

Tour the City
This is also linked to my first article where I explained that enemies need to be researched before taken down. A tour of the city would allow you to discover all the different types of enemies and gather the required knowledge to understand how to defeat them. It’s not recommended to advance in the main campaign without any knowledge on your enemies.

Visit the library at the Assassin’s HQ
This is probably the only activity not directly linked with the main campaign but I would add a library with a number of books on all the previous assassins of the series for those players who either want to refresh their memory or players who are 100% new to the series. One of the most beautiful moments in Syndicate, for me, was when Evie and Henry infiltrated the Kenway Mansion to continue the search for the Piece of Eden in the “Playing It by Ear” mission. It was a very nice trip down memory lane and I feel that recent games failed to link with the first few games in the series. The library would make this possible.

Help NPCs
The way you could recruit assassins in previous games, like AC:Revelations offered some sort of variety but the whole thing did feel a little bit rushed. Also, recruits didn’t play a fundamental role in your quest, I go back to ACIII and all the tasks that recruits could do. In the end I always used the “assassinate” task, always ignoring the rest, simply because I never thought they would be useful.

This time around I would give more weight to your recruits and to also give each and every one of them a background, a story, similar to how it was implemented in ACIII with your district contacts and the conversations in the tavern but on a much larger scale.

My idea is to have what I’m referring to as a “mini story” to recruit someone. Imagine a lady stopping you as you’re riding your horse, telling you that her husband has been kidnapped. She would explain why he was kidnapped, by whom, in poor words it will give you a reason to free him.

And your task is not just to locate an icon placed on the map to free her husband, you have to perform a number of tasks.

  • Understand where he was taken and this could be done by analysing clues like we did in Unity’s Murder Mysteries.
  • Understand if you’re strong enough to infiltrate the area where the husband is kept and to find out the type of enemies guarding the area. If you’re not, you might have to improve your attributes.
  • Free the husband and after completing the mission he will offer to join your team after telling you more about his story.

This would give us the possibility to interact with NPCs in a proper way, not just watching them walking around or playing cricket, which is nice, mind you, but not enough.

Also, missions could have different difficulty levels where easy missions(like the one above) reward you with an inexperienced ally and hard missions would reward you with a very experienced ally. Hard missions would be even more difficult to find, such as finding a diary or a letter in a specific area of the map that will only be visible to you if you get closer. In the end, finding a very experienced ally means that you have to go through all of this:

  • Find the diary/letter
  • Understand the clues in the diary/letter to understand who the person is
  • Reach the native city of this person to analyse clues and talk to people
  • Research the area where this person is hidden
  • Learn that you need a key to reach this person so find the guard carrying the key
  • Steal the key
  • Understand if you’re strong enough to infiltrate the area where this person is kept
  • Free the person

To conclude on this, another way to find people are the undergrounds I covered in my last article where the people inside the underground could tell you about someone who went missing and where to find her/him.

Invest in a business
During ACIII I remember how once I stopped at the Boston docks observing a fishmonger wondering that it would be nice if we could actually invest in his business in order to generate revenue. In previous games this was done by simply upgrading buildings and watching the revenue grow. I would take this a little bit further in a way that players will have multiple business to invest into and depending on the business type a number of missions will be available.

For instance, investing in the fish business will open a number of activities, mainly naval, such as:

  • Go fishing – we sort of did it before with Edward and Shay in taking down sea creatures such as sharks or whales
  • Protect your business from a competitor
  • Print advertising
  • Upgrade your ship in case you decide to embark in protected areas

On the other hand, if you invest in the lumber business you will have to provide wood, a cart, the tools, etc. to your workers. Similarly, you would have to go hunting if you invest in the tailor business. ACIII’s Encyclopedia of the Common Man is a nice way to understand all the businesses one could invest into.

Treasure hunt
In my last article I wrote about the introduction of undergrounds scattered around the city and how you could have interesting conversations with the people inside. One type of conversation could be, again, about a hidden treasure and its location. It would then be up to you to understand where it’s hidden to dig it up. And why not, your hunt could span across multiple cities, rewarding you with a very strong weapon/armour if found.

And here as well, along the way you may find someone who is also searching for the treasure, this person will tell you more about the weapon or armour you are after and when found you have to decide whether to sell it and share the revenue, keep it or let the other person keep it.

Contracts
Similar concept to previous games but again, stories should have a little bit more detail. In Black Flag, one of the first Assassin contracts says that “a corrupted officer is stealing money to fund Templar operations”, you accept it, you kill your target and you get the reward. Knowing more about the officer, knowing more about the people he is stealing from and knowing more about these templar operations would give such a small side mission a reason to accept it.

Liberate Outposts
This is very similar to how it’s implemented in Far Cry but I would link it to the player’s notoriety. Opting for a stealth approach during the game will keep your notoriety down and you will have little or no problem at all moving from one place to the other. If, however, you opt for a more conspicuous approach, your notoriety will start going up and your enemies would block you in a number of areas in the city. You either fight them off or else take over their outpost in that particular area in order to make sure that they won’t block you in the future.

I’m sure more ideas will pop into my head but the conclusion is that, yes, let’s focus on player stories, let’s make the world more believable, let’s have the main campaign change on the decisions I take(investing in a fish business vs a lumber business) but the mystery, the enigmatic and cryptic messages, well, those should stay because that’s what made me love the series.

The Assassin’s Creed series is changing but hopefully it’s not all doom and gloom – ideas on how to improve the open world

Assassin’s Creed – The importance of having a community and that family feel between its members

In my previous article, “Work in the dark to serve the light, how to properly blend with the crowd”, I touched upon the subject of the human aspect of the game when I wrote about having a full-blown community as part of the game, a community that could be attacked by Templars in order to give you a reason to take good care of it.

It was actually an old game in the series, ACIII, that made me realise the lack of family feel in recent games. It has never been one of my favourites because when I tried to play it a couple of years ago it was so buggy that I gave up a number of times before deciding not to complete it.

But this summer I gave it one very last chance and I loved it; I loved the game, I loved Connor and I loved the homestead side missions and the family feel between its members. I always remember with a grin the conversation between Ellen and Prudence when they talk about men or Norris’ attempts to court Myriam.

Now I feel that recent games, especially Syndicate, left a lot to be desired in this area. The Rooks, led by Jacob and Evie, felt more like robots waiting for instructions and I was also disappointed with the relationship with associates like Robert Topping, Frederick Abberline, Clara O’Dea, etc. They gave you a set of “missions” to accomplish and when complete, in a cinematic that lasted only a few seconds, they showed their gratitude with a gift and then vanished.

It could be because I’ve always been fascinated by teamwork in videogames but I would love to see a full-blown community in the next game, a community which is not just a train where everyone sits down without any interaction at all but a community that can grow, where people interact with each other, maybe a community which gives you tasks to complete so as to have a valuable reason to do that particular task.

Going back to ACIII, there were a number of side missions where you would approach someone, he would simply say, “Thank you”, and a number of icons appear on the map. You have no idea why you’re doing that particular courier mission and sometimes you have no idea what you’re delivering, it’s just … a side mission.

What am I suggesting? In a way, a concept very similar to Revelations and of course ACIII:

a. One big hideout, ACIII’s homestead style, the one I’m referring to as the “main hideout” in this article
b. A number of smaller hideouts scattered around the city(or cities)

If you haven’t read my previous article, one of the reasons to have these places is to work in the dark rather than exposing yourself when purchasing armour/weapons.

The main hideout would be that upgradable place where weapons are crafted and repaired, armour is tailored and repaired, the place where a doctor can heal you, etc.

Earlier I said that your hideouts can be attacked by templars. They can, but not your main hideout, clearly because of its size and the progress you would lose if you fail to defend it. Again, it’s actually very similar to the concept in Revelations where Templars could attack your Dens but they never attacked the main hideout.

Now you may ask: Assuming the assassin is new to the city, why would you need your own hideout and why should you be the one to take care of it if the master assassin of the city has been there for years and we are to assume he and his team already have a hideout?

That’s what I call the “Henry Green” problem by the way, the so-called “leader of the Assassins in the city of London” who became just a third wheel when the twins arrived in the city.

My idea is that there is already a hideout at the start of the game, you don’t have to find it on the map, it belongs to the Assassins and initially it’s only used for training and hiding purposes.

One day you suggest:

You: “Mentor, you say we have to work in the dark but we’re exposing ourselves out there when we buy weapons from shops or repair our armour at the local blacksmith”
Mentor: “What do you suggest?”
You: “Let’s build our OWN weapons! Let’s craft our own armour and let’s have our doctors for when we suffer injuries.”
Mentor: “Yes son, but we don’t have anyone to do this job. And we don’t have where to host these people!”
You: “Let me take care of everything, let me find a place and the people to run it.”
Mentor: “Ok, but be careful out there”

See what I mean? This is not like the Fonz in Happy Days where everyone leaves the table when he steps into Al’s place. That’s what Henry Green did when the twins came to town, he had to leave the party to become a third wheel. This time you’re “asking permission” to someone who has been in the city for a much longer time, someone who knows the city better than you.

At this stage you may ask, why the need for smaller hideouts if you have the big one?

Well here comes a very provocative suggestion: remove fast travelling all together.

One of Kotaku’s writers loves to avoid fast travelling and I believe it could make sense and not just to give a reason to have small hideouts in the game.

My idea is that a number of pre-defined undergrounds, ACIII-style, would be scattered around the map, ex:

I say underground in order to stick to the “work in the dark” rule. A public place like Arno’s cafe in Unity would be too suspicious.

Initially, these are guarded by templars so to make them yours you have to take on a side mission. Once taken over, inside the underground you can place:

1. A doctor to heal you
2. A blacksmith to repair your weapons
3. A tailor to repair your armour

Another side mission would allow you to find doctors, blacksmiths and tailors. The system could work in a similar fashion to ACIII and the members of the homestead where you first “liberate” the member who would then reach your main hideout and in your main hideout you could instruct where each and every doctor, blacksmith and tailor should be placed.

Clearly, you are free to take over an underground and only place a doctor inside, there would be no rule saying that an underground is only active when all three members are inside.

Something else: you’ll use the doctor/blacksmith/tailor regularly so let’s add an interesting aspect to the underground, that family feel I mentioned in the introduction. The healing/repair process will take more than just a second to complete so during those 25-45 seconds, whoever is doing the task will speak to you and reveal/say something such as:

1. A treasure location on the map, similar to Rogue’s templar maps where we are given a map and then it’s up to us to find the treasure chest
2. A lovely location on the map, maybe an iconic place worth visiting, in the case of Syndicate he could have told you, “Oh by the way, have you visited Covent Garden in the Strand?”
3. Pure gossip, like the previously-mentioned chat between Ellen and Prudence
4. Old database entries in a conversation format, history of Altair, Ezio, Connor, Edward, the player will choose what assassin to hear more about

Incidentally, this could be helpful to keep chests in the game yet have them hidden in its truest sense, hence making them more interesting to find, rather than just an icon on the map.

With fast travelling removed from the game, these undergrounds will play a very important role whenever you will need to heal/repair. For example after completing a main mission you would need to heal and repair your stuff so having an underground nearby is a must. If not, you will have to travel a long distance on your horse to either find the closest underground or of course reach the main hideout.

Now mind you, for a system like this to work, it’s vital to have a beautiful city, not particularly large and easy to travel with your horse. Or else a beautifully designed scenario like Red Dead Redemption where I spent hours riding my horse for no reason. In AC this was rarely possible, I think of AC3 and all the times my horse stopped because of a cliff and I had to continue on foot or Brotherhood and the narrow streets of Rome.

Going back to what I said earlier, undergrounds can be attacked by templars.

If you fail to defend it you will lose it forever, simply because templars will then guard it very heavily. You will clearly have a reasonable time limit to reach your underground when attacked and maybe there could be a similar system, again, adopted in Revelations, where if you place an experienced assassin to guard the underground, then this can never be attacked.

To conclude, the fact that assassins very rarely work in the dark as it should be bothers me a lot. Having one big hideout and a number of underground systems scattered around the map would partially solve this problem. And, combined with my previous two articles, these places, especially the main hideout, would be perfect to train your assassin, train your recruits, forge new weapons and tailor new armour and also, to take on a number of side missions that you would be taken by the assassin for a reason.

It’s also fair to say – in order not to forget those who like the current system – that fast travelling could be retained, hence giving an option to the player. If you want a more realistic experience, especially in respect to the open world, you would take over as many undergrounds as possible and avoid fast travelling all together. If, however, you prefer the “old” system, you could completely ignore the underground system and simply fast travel to the main hideout to perform whatever task needs to be done.

Assassin’s Creed – The importance of having a community and that family feel between its members