Ubisoft may have had some missteps in the past with their Assassin’s Creed series, but they put everything they had into the franchise’s next-gen debut, and didn’t disappoint. But even as Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag enjoys a second wind on the Xbox One and PS4, fans can’t help but wonder if they’ve seen everything that improved hardware can bring to the established formula.
According to the game’s lead gameplay designer, that’s far from the truth. Black Flag may have scratched the surface of next-gen’s potential, but the development team is anything but satisfied, and taking inspiration for the future from some of Ubisoft’s most highly-anticipated next-gen titles.
Anyone who played through Black Flag knows that the developers outdid themselves compared to previous installments, swapping confined cities for a full-blown recreation of the Caribbean Sea (read our review). Sailing from location to location already represents a serious step forward for the series from a technical standpoint, but a shift in overall design as well.
In an interview with GameReactor, lead game designer Jean-Sebastien Decant explained that the improvements were just a brief glimpse of what the company hopes for the series on next-gen hardware:
“We thought about next-gen graphics and in order to explore that we used the high-end PCs on the side, and then we continued just what we started with the previous games and build upon that. I think next next-gen is going to be for the next games. The next games are going to be much more on the next-gen side. This one is really on the edge.”
“I think we’re going toward a gaming place where the open world will be shared with other players. More and more. Socially speaking, but also maybe multiplayer stuff. And we will have to consider the open world much more like a platform that we could sustain for years.”
Although Ubisoft once earned praise for taking its unconventional approach to online multiplayer with the Assassin’s Creed series, the idea of ‘online multiplayer experiences’ has drastically changed in just the last few years. And as next-gen developers are already claiming, the ultimate goal is bringing players together on levels never before seen, without having to sacrifice the power of a singleplayer story.
If melding strong singleplayer with social interactions is the goal, the developers of Assassin’s Creed 5 don’t have to look very far to see one approach to next-gen multiplayer that is already turning heads. Although Watch Dogs may be coming a bit later than expected, Decant knows the connections are clear:
“Absolutely, Watch Dogs is kind of showing us the path for the future… Absolutely. But we have to create a… We have to respect our brands. So if we have to go that way with Assassin’s Creed we have to think about how it could fit into Assassin’s Creed.”
Those words will come as a comfort to fans of AC who are in no hurry to see Ubisoft’s third-person titles drift close together – or have little desire for a Creed title set in modern times (although the odds of that seem slim). But Decant was quite candid about the fact that the developers realize they still have work to do:
“The core pillars are still social stealth being able to blend into the crowd and finding a way to reach your target without being seen. There is this idea of having the parkour – you can jump around – and then the notion of freedom that combines everything.
“These are the roots of Assassin’s Creed. We will try and work and build upon them. We cannot tell you that we’re happy and this is how we want the game to be and we’re going to do ten more games with exactly that same gameplay. No, we are unhappy. We want to do more… There are lots of things we want to refine on the combat side, on the parkour, on the stealth. Of course.”
There’s no question that the core gameplay of Black Flag still possessed many of the frustrations fans have become familiar with, so to hear the lead designer confirm that there is still work to be done is promising. It’s too early to say if next-gen hardware can alleviate the most nagging concerns and frustrations, but at least Ubisoft isn’t blind to them (a point supported by the implementation of player-ratings for Black Flag missions).
From Watch Dogs to The Division, integrated multiplayer across multiple platforms seems to be the plan for Ubisoft’s main titles. However, Decant promised that simply adapting Assassin’s Creed to mimic other games isn’t the plan; as the pirate setting walked hand-in-hand with the new open world and naval progression, the designers would need to find similar stories that justified future expansions.
Ubisoft has already given a few hints as to where the series might head next, but which setting or time period do you think would make cross-platform multiplayer a no-brainer? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag will is available now for the PS3, PS4, Wii U and Xbox 360. An Xbox One version will be released alongside the console.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.