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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.