What Is Assassin’s Creed Good At?

Having spent a bunch of time complaining about Assassin’s Creed: Unity (an infamously weak title of the series), it kind of raises the question: Why bother playing these games at all? It’s not like I’m trying to finish every game in my Steam library. I’ve left a lot of games off the list of incomplete games I’m trying to get through right now. So why didn’t I leave Unity or Syndicate off, especially since I’ve played both of them in the past (just never to completion)?

The answer is because they’re really good for historical tourism and making me feel like I’m in a place. The Far Cry games are also good at this. Really, it seems like it’s the only thing Ubisoft still knows how to do anymore. They made Renaissance Florence and Venice in Assassin’s Creed II and then Far Cry 3 had the whole “murder vacation in a tropical paradise” thing and then they made those two games but in new locations for ten years. And, honestly, I think the biggest problem with their method is that they kept listening to people who wished they were making different video games and making feeble, half-hearted attempts to do that. People complained that the Assassin’s Creed series was too easy, so they made it noticeably harder in Unity, but they didn’t spontaneously transform into FromSoftware or Rocksteady, so it’s really just the same old shallow combat they’ve always had but less forgiving. It’s not super creatively fulfilling to stumble across a formula that can work with minimal alteration across a massive variety of different settings, but it works, and I really don’t think there’s anything noble about turning your nose up to the sure thing.

Pokemon had the same gig going, and the bloom did finally come off that rose in Sword and Shield, but I would argue that a major reason for this is precisely because they weren’t willing to remain a 2D sprite-based game, one which could keep making use of all the assets they’d created for extant Pokemon in gens III-V. Instead, not only did they go 3D, they escalated to consoles, and their ever-expanding monster roster has now gotten ahead of their ability to design new sprites from scratch. Since their graphical arms race prevents them from using any of their old work, more and more of their focus is put into updating mons instead of making the new games good, and it shows. Not only that, but their ability to update the mons has finally been exceeded by the number of mons and scale of graphics, and now I can’t have Houndoom in Galar.

(It doesn’t help that Pokemon is unwilling to hold onto improvements like Z-evolutions, swarm battles, or contests, but that’s a different issue)

There are some game franchises which really do work just fine by just plunking the existing game mechanics down into a new setting, and the main focus for those game franchises should be a combination of making sure the new setting is properly evoked (Assassin’s Creed: Revelations’ Istanbul felt almost identical to Brotherhood’s Rome, and that was a problem) and in not fucking up the core gameplay the way Assassin’s Creed games are constantly, fruitlessly being harmed by tweaks to the combat and parkour systems that already worked fine in Assassin’s Creed II and didn’t need to be meddled with or burdened with dumb gimmicks that were obviously not going to be worthwhile additions even at the concept stage, like the hooked blade from Revelations that lets you grab ledges one foot higher than before or the zipline thing from Syndicate (major additional gameplay elements like the tower defense game from Revelations get to stay, because even though that one didn’t work, sometimes it results in things like the naval travel/combat in Black Flag).

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