Over the course of the last six years, the Assassin’s Creed series has become one of the most popular (and most profitable) game franchises on the market. Growing from the promise (but clunky mechanics) of the original Assassin’s Creed back in 2007, Ubisoft has managed to iterate on their stealth-action format year-after-year – pulling in more and more gamers with each (now annual) entry in the series.
Still, some players have become concerned about the over-arching series storyline – once a relatively straightforward (albeit mysterious) narrative about protagonist Desmond Miles and his ancestral adventures in and out of the animus machine, the trajectory of the series plot has become increasingly meandering. Assassin’s Creed 3 reportedly put an end to Desmond’s storyline and, instead, Assassin’s Creed 4 will feature a nondescript protagonist who accesses archived copies of Desmond’s ancestral memories – somewhat muddling the strength of the core story for the purpose of giving developers more narrative wiggle room. However, according to a new interview with Ubisoft game director Ashraf Ismail, the developer is still working the franchise toward the planned ending – even if there are an increasing amount of detours along the way.
Speaking to Eurogamer, Ismail made sure to clarify that each entry in the Assassin’s Creed story has a place in the larger series canon – and that franchise overseers have a cohesive endpoint in mind:
“We have multiple development teams, then we have the brand team that sits on top and is filled with writers and designers concerned with the series’ overall arc. So there is an overall arc, and each iteration has its place inside this. We have an idea of where the end is, what the end is. But of course [Ubisoft co-founder] Yves [Guillemot] announced we are a yearly title, we ship one game a year. So depending on the setting, depending on what fans want, we’ve given ourselves room to fit more in this arc. But there is an end.”
According to Ismail, that overall arc also allows for different Ubisoft studios, working on Assassin’s Creed games, to coordinate story elements and add links and “seeds” that help connect each entry to the unfolding series plot:
“We’re now able to seed stuff earlier and earlier in our games. So for example in [Assassin's Creed 4] we have Edward, who was seeded in AC3. But there’s a lot more stuff in our game that is hinting at other possibilities.”
As mentioned, Assassin’s Creed remains a strong performer each year. Assassin’s Creed 3 was the fourth “best selling” game of 2012, managing to move over 12 million copies worldwide in just four months on the market, and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag pre-orders suggest the upcoming installment is also on track for another strong performance. As a result, it’s unclear when (if ever) we’ll get to see Ubisoft’s planned “end.”
That said, franchise fatigue is becoming a concern in the video game industry – especially in the case of annualized game releases. Despite coming in at number one on the aforementioned pre-order list, Call of Duty: Ghosts numbers are down, compared to Black Ops 2, suggesting that the series may have finally peaked. Yet, considering neither the Xbox One or PS4 have announced release dates, it’s possible that 2013 holiday pre-order figures aren’t the most reliable metric – given that some people might be waiting for concrete console launch info before pre-ordering games set to release around that time.
Still, with one Assassin’s Creed title coming out each winter, and a host of similarly open-world offerings in the pipeline (Watch Dogs and The Division), it’ll be interesting to see if the franchise can maintain its annualized release schedule – especially if longtime fans become underwhelmed by the increasingly drawn-out series storyline.
Even if the franchise becomes eclipsed by new IPs, when would Ubisoft realistically enact that end game story? Few video game seres are ever really dead – making it hard to believe the developer will actually provide a definitive end to series. Of course, even if Ubisoft did wrap-up the current Assassin’s Creed plot, they’ve created an extremely rich and complicated world, which would make it pretty easy to explain away post-planned ending storylines – and setup an entirely new ending altogether.
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag releases October 29, 2013 for the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. The title is also slated for the PC, Xbox One, and PS4, but no release dates have been announced.
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