There was no shortage of expectations placed on publisher Ubisoft when they took center stage at E3 2014, but they didn’t disappoint. The announcement of Assassin’s Creed Unity was going to elate fans no matter what, but the company’s decision to showcase the addition of 4-play cooperative play stunned and surprised even the casual viewer. Next-gen has made story-driven co-op possible, and the publisher is now offering some insight into why it hasn’t happened sooner.
The publisher has managed to escape some criticism over the course of the Assassin’s Creed series by placing much of the focus (and marketing) on the historical time period and setting of the traditionally story-driven franchise. So to see the new co-op gameplay not just confirmed, but starring in the cinematic announcement trailer came as a bit of a surprise. Especially since little of Unity‘s story and its hero is known – or how the co-op will be integrated into the campaign and plot created by the developers.
Ubisoft promised a “reinvention” of AC for its leap to next-gen consoles, and it’s already abundantly clear that co-op will be a large part of that transformation. But with a majority of the core gameplay and traversal still following the formula, some may have wondered why the ability to play with friends wasn’t added sooner. Speaking with CVG, senior producer Vincent Pontbriand offered a direct answer:
“Because it’s very complicated to do. Assassin’s Creed was always a single-player game to begin with. It took us three games to introduce PvP (player versus player). It was in the same universe but you were playing as a Templar avatar in a very separate game mode. In Unity, we set out to unify all these game modes into a single experience.
“That’s when we decided that co-op should be the next main focus but in order to do that we had to rebuild all of our systems to allow them to be replicated over a network and working online. So it took years of development to reproduce and redraft all of our sandbox features for a shared online experience.”
Without any further details, skeptical consumers will have to take Pontbriand at his word, and assume that the ability to jump in and out of a friend’s story missions required a fundamentally new approach to the Assassin’s Creed formula. That’s entirely possible, since little is still known about the limitations, customization, and variability at work in Unity (and our time with the singleplayer alone promises some significant steps forward).
That being said, Pontbriand’s explanation that “co-op is complicated” will do little to silence skeptics, since Ubisoft also opened itself up to criticism when some pointed out the presence of 4 male Assassins – and not a single female (despite female Assassins playing prominent roles in the franchise previously). The publisher’s similar explanation that crafting a female Assassin would be too much work invited even more criticism, and a few shots from fellow developers.
Hopefully the studio will reveal more information on how the “sandbox elements” of AC will be re-imagined in co-op, or whether the work put into making co-op possible will be purely under the hood. And in the end, only will fans be able to decide if the chance to play Unity with friends was a long time coming, or something that only next-gen could make possible.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity will be released for PC, PS4 and Xbox One in late 2014.
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