It’s become quite clear that the modern side of the Assassin’s Creed fiction may gets little attention in the series’ marketing, as the chance to relive iconic moments in history was always more attractive than the technology that made it possible. With Assassin’s Creed Unity, players will get a close look at the French Revolution.
But according to Unity‘s creative director, the game’s story will lead Arno Dorian through some key moments in history – he just won’t be personally responsible.
The exact balance between original story and historical source material is difficult for any game, and by setting the adventures of Ezio Auditore throughout the Italian Renaissance, Ubisoft got the chance to incorporate famous faces, but put a new spin on historical events that a large part of their audience may not have been familiar with.
With Assassin’s Creed 3, that situation changed significantly. Instead of walking through key moments and events in Western history, players discovered that the figures made famous by history books were simply the ones who got the credit for an Assassin’s work.
In the role of Ratonhnhaketon (Connor Kenway), AC3 players took on a pivotal role in the American Revolution – a role perhaps too pivotal for many. Rubbing shoulders with George Washington, Charles Lee or Benjamin Franklin was par for the series, but by the game’s conclusion, players had personally led the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s midnight ride, and the Battle of Lexington.
It was that fusion of history and mission design that we had in mind at a recent Unity preview, where creative director Alex Amancio explained that the game would be set in the French Revolution, but that the event would only act as a backdrop to the game’s core love story. And in preparing us to see the first mission of Unity‘s demo, he made it clear that this approach to history would absolutely not be continued.
Without pointing to AC3 specifically, Amancio responded to our comparison by explaining why Arno Dorian won’t be taking a similar amount of responsibility:
“The French Revolution is not the main story, it’s the theme of the game. Because if you get trapped into a historical period too closely, then you become a slave to it, and you end up having missions that you have to do because they’re historical, but they’re not necessarily fun.
“So it’s not a story about the French Revolution… that acts as a backdrop. It’s a metaphor that reinforces a lot of the narrative beats.”
The team’s efforts to essentially restart the Assassin’s Creed series for next-gen have been claimed to include an even bolder, and more ambitious approach to story than previously attempted. While the morally ambiguous storyline between Arno (an Assassin) and Elise (a Templar) is intriguing (described by Amancio as “a story about the dangers of extremism” as much as anything else), fans who hoped for a French Revolution setting would no doubt be disappointed to see the events confined to the background.
Fortunately, Amancio clarifies that while the historical places, names and events aren’t what Unity is about, they won’t be left out entirely. But following on his claim that the broad themes and attitudes of the French Revolution (driven by the masses, not an armed military organization), it seems that history will only be used as metaphor to a point:
“There are key events that you witness, but we try to avoid you being the instigator of them. Different elements of the French Revolution… sometimes you see the back end of it. There’s a strange thing that happens and then we sort of reveal what really happened, and then it really makes sense with the actual historical event.
“Other times we just have it happen because it represents the culmination of something – either the success or failure of something in the game – because that event epitomizes that.
That approach to telling a piece of historical fiction is not an obvious (or easy) one, and Amancio admits that it posed a challenge that exceeded some of the team’s expectations. But the ambition sounds like it has paid off, and for players, the result looks to be a balanced tale that above all, feels as much a step forward for story as the graphics:
“We try to weave our way through it, and at one point Arno’s story and the French Revolution become inter-meshed in a way where it feels credible. It doesn’t feel like we’re in a Forrest Gump movie.”
That description is certainly promising to those who felt that Assassin’s Creed 3 ended up suffering by restricting itself to the events and missions of the American Revolution, but regardless of your feelings towards the game, it seems Ubisoft Montreal really is putting the story of Arno Dorian first.
It’s too early to tell if the metaphors emerging from historical source material will make adequate use of the setting for die-hard fans, but we think it could be a wiser direction to head.
That’s all well and good for the historical side of Unity‘s plot, but with Ubisfot promising a brand new start for the series’ next chapter, devoted fans will be just as interested to hear what the studios has cooked up for the modern half of the ongoing saga. Amancio wouldn’t divulge many details, but did explain that the science fiction premise will also be learning from recent titles – Black Flag in particular:
“We changed the context, it’s a new start, a fresh start… How you actually interact with the present day is different. The only thing I can tell you now is that you are now the protagonist. Not like in Black Flag where you’re playing the role of ‘an Abstergo employee’ who just happens to be you. This is you: You are the protagonist.”
That might not sound like much, but if fully considered, it marks a massive shift in narrative design for the AC series. Since the beginning, players have been maneuvering the man known as Desmond Miles from laboratory to genetic flashback. If Amacnio’s words are taken at face value, it sounds like the ‘role’ of a modern protagonist will be scrapped entirely. Instead, players may step into the role themselves – at least in the way games like BioShock or classic RPGs attempt.
What are your thoughts on Amancio’s comments? Are you optimistic to hear that the French Revolution has been selected because it supports the themes of Arno’s adventure, or would you have hoped to lead the revolution firsthand?
Assassin’s Creed Unity releases October 28, 2014 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.