The Assassin’s Creed franchise hasn’t exactly been having a good time lately.
Perhaps the mistake has been producing a game franchise that features annual releases. They’re good for making money, but bad for production value, with rushed or unfinished games wreaking havoc on the series’ wider popularity.
Three years ago, we got Assassin’s Creed: Unity, a buggy mess that was widely hated and is ultimately remembered as little more than the source of some horrifying glitches.
Two years ago came Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, which was big and complex, but which ultimately didn’t win any hearts to the franchise. Nobody really cared.
Last year, developer Ubisoft took a year off from games in order to make Assassin’s Creed the movie. That did not go well. Not at all.
Now, the studio is back with a game that’s clearly seen a lot more thought and polish than the previous few Assassin’s Creed: Origins takes the series back to its routes, with an ancient Middle Eastern setting that’s filled with romantic, Hollywood-esque depictions of a time period from before the invention of the gun – all the better to (hopefully) rediscover what made these games popular in the first place.
The latest trailer looks very pretty, but then, they always do. No game studio is going to put the very worst parts of their game on display for viewers to laugh at.
There’s a lot riding on Origins, more so than most Assassin’s Creed games. With so many failures and missteps in previous years, Ubisoft needs this game to land with a bang, winning back customers who’ve long since written this series off for dead.
It’s hard not to remember the recent folly of rival developer BioWare, and the catastrophe that was (and still is) Mass Effect: Andromeda. This game, like Origins, had a longer than usual development cycle, promised a return to the classic game formula, and featured a wide open world of adventures that the studio hoped would encourage fans to give up on previous crimes committed by the studio.
BioWare needed to prove that the controversy surrounding Mass Effect 3’s ending was an anomaly. The studio, increasingly assimilated into EA, needed to show fans that they really cared about the brand, and had ironed out the creases that had shown up as the game series had developed.
Andromeda was poised to be the start of a whole new trilogy of games, a kind of soft reboot for the series, that would remind people why Mass Effect games were worth playing.
The studio blew it. Despite having a lengthy five years of development time, Mass Effect: Andromeda released filled with bugs, glitches, bad writing, terrible animation, and long, dull driving sections that somehow managed to amplify the problems within the game’s formula that the studio was trying to fix.
This is the kind of disaster that Ubisoft is looking to avoid, but it’s one that could very easily occur if things don’t go well for this game.
With any luck, having a longer period to get Origins finished properly will mean that the game won’t be as buggy and horrible as Unity. Ubisoft is counting on this game being finished to a very high standard – hence why Origins will take advantage of the greater processing power afforded by the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X.
It’s almost as if the franchise is starting all over again, with Ubisoft having to prove to fans that the new game will deliver a fresh, novel experience that isn’t just treading water.
If Origins doesn’t do well then, just as with BioWare putting the Mass Effect franchise on hold, this might be the last Assassin’s Creed game for the foreseeable future.
After all, Ubisoft has bigger fish to fry at the moment. Ghost Recon: Wildlands is currently among the best-selling games of the year, so it would make sense for the studio behind the game to ride that particular brand in future in the same way that they’ve been banking on Assassin’s Creed up to this point.
Assassin’s Creed itself originally grew out of the Prince of Persia series, so Ubisoft is clearly not opposed to abandoning dying franchises in favor of investing in young, hip new game series. Assassin’s Creed as a brand is now ten years old, so it might be time for the studio to cut their losses with this particular brand of sandbox gaming.
If Origins tanks, it’ll be a sad day for Assassin’s Creed fans. The game series could well join Mass Effect on the pile of franchises that die in 2017.