Course Correcting Assassin's Creed

I think most fans of Assassin’s Creed were rightfully nervous when Ubisoft announced just months after the stellar second installment in 2009 that the series would become a yearly franchise. We waited two years between the first and second game, and the improvements were vast, how could they do the same in a year? 2010’s AC: Brotherhood turned out to be a pleasant surprise. In just 12 months Ubisoft managed to flesh out the gameplay, refine some existing features, and add a unique, and genuinely fun multiplayer component.

After such a successful turnaround on Brotherhood, I was more than happy to purchase Revelations, the 2011 game, on day one. It’s definitely a great game, and if you like Assassin’s Creed, you’ll enjoy it, but it doesn’t move the series forward much. What it does do is offer further refinement of the core mechanics, and some glimpses at interesting gameplay and story possibilities for the franchise. Also if you liked the multiplayer, it’s even better here.

With Revelations, the AC franchise has reached a fork in the road. One direction leads to further innovation and exciting new gameplay elements. The other direction leads to the death of the franchise through stagnation and over saturation. Here’s what I think Ubisoft should do more of to stay on the right path, and what they should do less of to avoid the bargain bin.

More Customization

It’s fun to buy different armor, weapons and clothing for Ezio, but I’d like to see them take the customization a step further. You start Revelations with an overwhelming number of moves. You’ve got access to every item from the previous games, plus a slew of new bombs and a handful of new hook blade abilities. Revelations does a poor job of introducing you to the old gadgets, instead focusing on the new stuff. But I didn’t really need the new stuff. I didn’t use bombs much because I still had knives, and a gun, and a crossbow, and poison darts and Assassin’s to call. That’s a lot of stuff! I would love to see my play style rewarded and the inventory simplified through a Deus Ex-like leveling system. Instead of giving me everything, let me choose what I want. Then let me level up the things I like. Instead of just buying a bigger pouch for knives, make it a perk on a knife skill tree. Revelations gives you a zillion different options, but when the stuff introduced in AC 2 still works so well, there’s little incentive to branch out. I think a RPG-like leveling system, complete with perks and cool unlocks, would do just that.

More Linear Level Excursions

Brotherhood and Revelations featured some excellent one-off levels that had a clear linear path. The change of scenery and gameplay focus—you can’t just free run any old way to your objective—is refreshing and fun. You can tell the designers enjoy these levels too, as the interior linear levels in Revelations feature some of the series’ best technical and artistic design. I’d like to see more of these levels in future games. Maybe turn the main city into a hub, and have up to half of the missions take place elsewhere. That makes room for more environmental and platforming puzzles, which adds variety to the core gameplay loop.

More Consequential Platforming

The addition of the hook blade makes platforming in Revelations more participatory, and that’s a good thing. Sure, it still looks cool to see Ezio parkour all over ancient buildings, but after four games of sitting and holding up, it was getting old. The hook blade requires a button press in most platforming situations. Now chase sequences actually require timing and skill. I’d love to see them take this a step further. Add a slide or roll maneuver, or just find more ways to use the hook blade while free running to build momentum. I’d like to see games as whole break away from the whole autopilot thing. I want to play my games. Revelations lets you play more than any Assassins’ Creed game before it.

Less Tower Defense

You may have heard that Revelations features a tower defense minigame. It's not aggressively bad, but it's not fun either. Because it serves as a punishment for letting your notoriety get too high, it's not something you look forward to. Also, it totally breaks the fiction of the series. The past three games build the war between the assassins and templars as a secret war, happening in plain site. Huge armies of both factions battling in the middle of the street over a random tower is the opposite of secretive.

Less Convolution

I like the AC series because it fills that conspiracy theory hole that Lost left in my life. I like the mystery of the animus and first civilization, and the crazy secret war between two factions, but I think Ubisoft needs to reign it in a bit. I hope the next game contains some concrete answers that push the story and game world forward. This is a lucrative franchise for Ubisoft, so I doubt it will end with next year’s game. If they want to stay relevant, they can’t continue to rely on the same conflict. I suggest they start with a face to the Templar name. Each game has stretched the Templar name further, using it as a vague and generic term for bad guy. Give us a true villain, a bad guy leader, in the next game. Put Desmond up against something or someone other than “them”.

Less Face Changes

Revelations opens with a quick recap from the first two games. In it you see Desmond, wearing his white hoody. Then the game starts and you see Desmond in a black hoody…but the changes don’t stop at his clothing. For some reason, after three games, the developers decided to change Desmond’s character model. It’s immediately noticeable and off putting because they open with the old model in the recap. The new Desmond looks all puffy and swollen and dumb. They should change him back. The other character's faces have changed with age, and their changes look appropriate. There's no reason for Desmond looking like he got hit with an ugly stick. This one is nitpicky, I know, but it drove me crazy nonetheless. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.

Revelations hints at some cool changes for the series, but it also hints at some potential missteps. The story in this new game offers little forward movement, choosing instead to focus on the back story of its main characters. It’s kind of a bummer that the cliffhanger in Brotherhood isn’t addressed, but at least the character development for Altair, Ezio and Desmond is top notch. The writing and gameplay works together to paint Ezio as a master assassin and mentor, and it’s neat to see how much he’s matured since the first game. I recommend watching AC: Embers, the cool animated short, when you finish Revelations if you want to check in on Ezio one last time. As for Altair and Desmond, we finally get to see why the former was so revered (because the first game certainly didn’t make him out to be an amazing guy) and why the latter is so special.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Revelations, and I’m looking forward to jumping back in to get the rest of the single player achievements—which has become a bit of a tradition for me with AC games. The turnaround since the last game was fast, but as Stephen Totilo pointed out in his excellent review, no one has done a game like Assassin’s Creed since the last Assassin’s Creed. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to come back every season for more. Let’s hope next year’s is even better.