With the modern era story in the recent Assassin’s Creed games having a major reduced role, should Ubisoft look to fix this once major part of the franchise?
Gamers were surprised to learn that Assassin’s Creed, a game marketed as a historical fiction action game, actually had an involved story line set in the near future. Players were not actually Altair, a member of the Assassin Brotherhood during the time of the Crusades, but were playing a genetic memory through a device called the Animus.
Even though Assassin’s Creed‘s future storyline has always been a point of contention among fans, the first five games always seemed to have a plan for where this was going. The modern story line got more and more complex, introducing new characters and issues for these modern assassins to overcome – including a plot centered around the (then) rumored end of the world date of December 12, 2012.
Then Assassin’s Creed III came along. Characters and loose threads were tied off in a number of ways, including closure for the main character, Desmond Miles, in the modern era up to this point. The games that followed completely shifted gears, putting players in the role of a nameless employee at Abstergo Entertainment who was unknowingly being used to sift through genetic memories. These segments never felt as compelling as the previous content, instead making things feel more mysterious and generic just for the sake of moving the story along.
As a big believer in Assassin’s Creed, I’ve always been intrigued by what Ubisoft was trying to do through the modern era and tying in major events like the Mayan Calendar end of the world scenario. These sequences were also given purpose in earlier games, as Desmond gained additional abilities while playing through the lives of his ancestors in preparation to combat the modern day Templars ultimate plan. Earlier games featured a very specific story arc that made sense and drove players to find out how it was all going to conclude.
With recent games however, I feel that Ubisoft isn’t sure what to do now that many of the main characters from the earlier games have moved on in some way. The modern day content in these games have gotten stripped down with each new entry, pushing the lore and characters that the first few games worked hard to establish. Pushing the modern day setting further into the background, making it feel less important in the process.
That trend continued recently with Assassin’s Creed Syndicate which features an incredibly small modern narrative when compared to previous games. There’s even a moment when the game literally apologizes for “interrupting” your play session to give you an update on how things are going in the current day timeline. While it’s kind of humorous, this scene perfectly sums up where this side of Assassin’s Creed is currently at, almost something to the effect of “Hey, we’re still here, sorry for intruding!”
So how does Ubisoft fix this issue? It’s a tough one to solve, but a great starting point would be to bring back strong characters. One common element the first batch of games had was a strongly defined antagonist in Warren Vidic, along with a strong lead character in Desmond Miles. Since moving to a nameless, voiceless, first-person perspective character with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and on, there’s nothing for the player to latch on to. The characters you interact with don’t seem to stick around longer than a game either, making it hard to care.
Assassin’s Creed, for better or worse, weaves interesting historical playgrounds in with a modern story that justifies why you’re actually playing someone from the past. While there are many that would have Ubisoft completely dump the modern elements and just focus on the historical setting, a move like that isn’t as simple as it seems considering that playing around in history requires a living host to be placed inside a futuristic device. It’s a fine line to try and navigate, but I believe it is a topic that needs to be addressed in future games.
How would you solve Ubisoft’s current modern timeline problem with Assassin’s Creed?