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.