Boy, am I late to this party…
Assassin’s Creed is one of those series that everyone else but me seems to foam at the mouth over. I don’t get it. What are people seeing that I’m not?
Unlike almost everyone that I’ve spoken to, I loved the early stages of the game. The portions where you actually play as Ezio rather than a guy in a white cape were the only parts that kept me entertained. I loved these parts because they actually had a little weight behind them. The mission was unambiguous. Your family was killed and you need to kill the guy that did it. But most importantly the early stages also gave you time to really get to know your main character. Sure, it turned out he was an insufferable Italian twatwaffle. But that’s kind of the point, right? The transformation to the assassin is made all the more impactful if we know how unsuited for the role he was before. Unfortunately after the first few hours the game starts to go downhill really quickly. Infact, I think the exact moment you can tell the developers stopped trying to make a great game was when you get to Venice.
The pace slows down to a crawl in Venice. Rather than have a clear goal every memory sequence boils down to having to assassinate the villain du jour. But wait! You need to get his defenses down in 3 of 4 different ways. It’s boring, repetitive garbage and incredibly frustrating to do. But more importantly, it adds nothing what so ever to the story. As soon as you get to Venice you basically start having to assemble a team to nobodies to help you do…something? The problem is that these guys never actually help you do anything. Every mission is the same, get told that killing this new guy will somehow bring you one step closer to the shadowy man in the red cape then going and killing him, repeat ad nauseam.
Ubisoft needed to ask themselves these two questions when the story was being written; What was the purpose to assembling the A-Team toward the middle of the game? And what was the purpose of killing all the cannon fodder during the missions leading up to the final battle? Extending the length by about 10 hours would be my guess. Think about those situations logically for a moment. If Ubisoft are asking us to spend this much time forming this team and kill these people, shouldn’t it have some sort of payoff in the end? You could make the argument that the killing of these randoms from chapter to chapter is lowering the defenses of Borgia. I never got the sense that killing these people or building my team was actually achieving anything other than making me bored. In the final mission it’s still me against a castle full of guards. So I guess I could have skipped the whole section in Venice and have been just as prepared for the fight against the final boss? It’s all well and good to tell me that my actions are having an effect. But it’s all for naught if it’s all happening off screen. Having Borgia show up from time to time and make angry faces in my direction is not my idea of good storytelling. Show me that my actions are having an effect.
What’s even worse is that Ezio’s journey is basically made meaningless towards the end. You see, Ubisoft felt it was necessary to pull out the old “You were the chosen one all along” plot device. Really? I’m the chosen one, am i? So this whole getting revenge for my murdered father and brother and the destruction of my home could have never happened and Ezio would have had just as much motivation because fate had apparently decided Ezio was born to do this? I don’t buy it. I want Ezio to be motivated by something real and revenge is as real as it gets. Being “The chosen one” hardly ever achieves what the developers think it does. It doesn’t make me feel any more engaged with the character than I normally would have it just makes the hero’s journey meaningless.
But enough about that, story is for losers, daddy-o. How does the actual game part of the game stack up? Yea, it’s not bad. Firstly, the good. I really loved the movement in the game, jumping around the city and climbing buildings is great. Ubisoft have somehow managed to make these buildings fully climbable without making too many compromises in the art design department. Although you may see the occasional conveniently placed crack in the wall or portion of extruding ledge, for the most part buildings look the way they are supposed to. Kudos to the developers. Couple the good movement with the searching of puzzle pieces and collectables and you have an awesome thing to do when you’re not killing people or being Italian. Speaking of, how awesome are those puzzles? The story of how the game’s macguffin helps or hinders important people in history is very interesting and well told via a series of challenging riddles. Even thought the secret takes a turn for the laughable in the final moments I really enjoyed this portion of the game. It was actually the only thing keeping me playing after a while. It goes to show just how well these puzzles and the story behind them is when you are putting up with the rest of the game just to see it through to its conclusion.
For a game called Assassin’s Creed, the main character isn’t doing much assassinating. Sure, he kills people. But that doesn’t make him an assassin. It just makes him a killer. So many times the game forces you to basically run up to the target (Or fight your way to him) stab him in the throat and run away from his guards. Ezio has more in common with a renaissance era purse snatcher than an assassin. Aren’t the assassins supposed to be a highly trained order of skilled killers? Any moron can stab someone and run away. I get that Ubisoft seem to be required by law to include a rooftop chase in every mission. But seriously, some variety would be nice. The actual times when you do get to stealth it up or kill the target are few and far between. I was bored with the run in-stab-run out routine very quickly.
The game gives you a gun but at times simply doesn’t allow you to use it if it’s not convenient to the plot. I guess da Vinci built a mechanism in it that allows for Ubisoft’s poor design decisions. You have da Vinci’s flying machine for one mission and it’s kinda cool but they don’t really do anything interesting with it. One truly bizarre feature was the villa that collects money. With very little investment I was earning so much every hour that it rendered the entire search for treasure across the city moot. Why would anyone waste their time looking for 250 florins when they make thousands by doing nothing? You’ve got to imagine what the thinking was behind including this feature? The developers must have known it would render the search for collectable almost obsolete. These are what I like to call “Trailer Features” stuff that was put in the game to be used in the press material. That wouldn’t be so bad, but developers usually stop caring once they have enough usability to fill out a 15 second spot on a video. And it shows.
Has any good come out of this IP at all? Well, I strongly suspect that Watch Dogs was originally supposed to be the inevitable Assassin’s Creed game set in the present day where you play as Desmond. So if that game turns out to be as awesome as it appears to be, then maybe half a decade of terrible games was worth it?