Assassin’s Creed’s meta-story is weird: players act out the memories of famous Assassins with a machine that extracts the memories from the DNA of the Assassins’ descendants. The (usual) point of this is to gain some advantage in the 2,000+ year war between the Assassins and Templars, or in baser terms freedom vs. control. But wait there’s more, there was a super race, which may or may not has been the Greek gods and goddesses, that fell to a cataclysmic event that could happen again. Or almost happened again, still may occur, the games are not super clear if ACIII fixed the apocalypse. It is enough to make even the biggest fan say “wait, what?”
That is why Desmond was such a blessing. Desmond was the protagonist for the first five games of the series. He served the same role as Tidus from FFX, or Harry Potter from the first few books did, to help the player get familiar with the strange new world they were being thrust into. Desmond was not up to date with all the wrinkles in the war between Assassins and Templars, so he would often ask the questions that the player was wondering. This fish out of water character was useful. Additionally, he gave the player a reason to care what was going on in the metaplot. This has been missing in the recent games. I can recall what was going in the modern day sections of AC, ACII, ACB, ACR, and ACIII. However, even though I played the games far more recently, I don’t remember what the modern day subplot of Unity or Syndicate was. That is because I had no character to latch onto, no reason to care. Bottom line, if Ubisoft is going to keep the modern day subplot of Assassins Creed, then they need to have a character in the modern day for us to care about.
Assassins Creed is my Call of Duty or Madden, I buy and play it every year despite its flaws and for the most part, enjoy it. However, over the nine main games (just discussing the console games here) a disturbing trend has emerged: many of the features that are present in one game disappear in the next. Ideas and features in the AC series are tried and thrown out on a yearly basis. This waste needs to stop.
Until Origins, Assassin’s Creed games on average took about three years to make. Since it was, and maybe will be again, an annual franchise this means multiple games were being developed at once(as evidenced by the yearly leaks around March). This means certain features that are present in one year’s game have a significant chance of not being included in the next game because the following game is too far along development. This has led to AC gameplay changing over the years, but not progressing in a straight line. Rather it sidesteps, giving abilities or activities here, and then taking them away later.
For example, the hookblade was a cool weapon; it progressed freerunning by allowing one to zipline through Istanbul. It only appeared in Revelations. An argument can be made that it should not have appeared in AC 3 because it would not have fit the setting although why not Unity? Unity’s Paris would have been perfect for ziplining through similar to Revelations. There are more features this has happened to: horseback riding through the city was present in Brotherhood, but gone in Revelations, back in 3, but then gone again until Syndicate. Another feature that the series developed, tossed away, and then redeveloped was being the leader of leading a group of assassins. This first appeared in Brotherhood. It was fun, reviewers and players loved it, then it was gone. I understand that in each game you won’t start off as a master assassin such as in Brotherhood, but you do rank up, and it would be nice to see your rankings come with the ability to command squads of Assassins. The group dynamic was missing in AC IV. Being the captain of a pirate crew would have been a great excuse to bring the Brotherhood mechanic back. However, despite being captain, you had very little control or customization options of your crew in IV. Same in Unity. Then Syndicate brings back the idea of your Assassin having a team or gang to control. Once again the mechanic was lauded by reviewers and players alike. I feel if Ubisoft would take the time to recognize when they have a great feature and polish it from game to game they would have something extraordinary on their hands.
The development cycle of the previous games was likely the cause of the seemingly random inclusion of features. Ubisoft should not bring back AC as an annual series. They should keep it with one development team for a while. Let that team get a chance to truley improve on what they made and advance the series. The jump from AC1 to AC2 felt huge. Ubisoft should strive to make each sequel feel as special.