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IMO: How Ubisoft Lost its Way

Nuno Martins / November 22, 2014 at 1:00 PM / Gaming, Opinions

Assassin’s Creed is an action adventure franchise published by Ubisoft. It can be said to be their most popular franchise to date, with fans worldwide, and a total of 10 games released for several platforms. Assassin’s Creed: Unity is the most recent addition to the roster, and as many have experienced, it is not just buggy, and unfinished, but also has very intrusive DRM that blocks out game content if the player isn’t online. Ubisoft also is selling a pack for 99$ that unlocks all game content, something that leaves a sour taste on everyone’s mouth. Ubisoft wasn’t always like this though. There used to be a time when their releases weren’t yearly attempts to milk as much out of their franchise as possible. When did they get so greedy? Personally, I saw this coming from miles away. Ubisoft’s titles have been declining in quality for a while now.

One can easily see the decay in quality in Ubisoft’s titles when they look at the progression of the Assassin’s Creed titles. The first Assassin’s Creed was genius, grabbing the freerunning mechanic from Prince of Persia, making the world a sandbox, and turning it into something entirely new. The attention to detail was amazing. Many people were angry that there was a bait, and switch, that the story was more sci-fi than we had originally thought going into the game, but it was not something I really minded because of how it was executed. It’s true that Desmond as a character was sub-par, especially since we played more as his ancestors than Desmond himself, and therefore connected more to them, but the idea of the Animus, and how it tied into the game made even the pause menu immersive.

It is entirely possible, and plausible, to pause the simulation. When you change your game’s options, you’re changing the options for the simulation. Because the Animus translates Arabic to English in the first game, you can turn this option off, and have everyone speak in their native language. It was a tiny detail I absolutely loved. Needless to say, the first Assassin’s Creed did have its issues too. Some gameplay design flaws, like repeating the same missions in every city to unlock an assassination or having to come back from the Assassin Citadel after every successful one, but it was still a good game all things considered. It was a good start for the franchise.

So then came Assassin’s Creed 2. It wasn’t a big surprise that Ubisoft would make a sequel, everyone was asking for one, what was surprising was that it would be so good. Assassin’s Creed 2 is in my opinion the best one in the franchise. It’s the one that added the most to the formula of the original while taking into account the flaws of the previous title as well. Praying to blend? Gone; instead, a new mechanic for blending. Guards instantly knowing you’re an assassin because you’re not praying? Gone too; instead there’s a notoriety system. Even in the endgame, unless you’re breaking into restricted areas, guards will behave normally. Compared to the first game, where they were actively seeking you, and knew who you were if you were not pretending to be a priest.


It added a bit to the combat system as well. It was still slightly flawed, but adding the ability to disarm opponents, and break an opponent’s guard changed how combat functioned. It was still possible to just counter attack everyone, but if one wanted to actually be aggressive, they just had to know how to fight the different enemy types; while in the first game elite soldiers would just counterattack you. Finally, it also added more tools for us to use. Ezio had the hidden pistol, two hidden blades, and poison among other tools to help him operate. Altair was more of a purist, using only the hidden blade, a sword, a dagger, his fists, and throwing daggers to achieve his goal. Ezio also did not disintegrate upon touching water.

Here is where everything starts going downhill. The next Assassin’s Creed isn’t Assassin’s Creed 3. (And mind you I’m leaving out the PSP title). Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood takes place still in the renaissance, still with Ezio. This was the first warning sign. I was surprised that they weren’t changing the setting, as there are so many settings in history they could explore. I found it odd that they’d pick the same character in the same setting for the next game. This was the last Assassin’s Creed I bought for a while, with every title I’ve played from then having been at a friend’s house rather than on my own console or PC. Brotherhood is an expansion pack for AC2 priced, and tagged as a full game. It adds 2 to 3 new tools to the original game, a tower defense mini-game, and a multiplayer mode that at release did not work for me, which meant I could only play the campaign.

It was also the first game to have the combat we know AC to have now, you know, the one where if you kill one guy you can combo instant-kills onto everyone else? The combat style they decided to integrate to make the experience more cinematic, and the player feel like more of a badass. This detracts from the actual gameplay by making it the blandest, and most simplified combat I’ve ever touched since the Arkham Games. At least Arkham didn’t let you instant-kill every enemy on screen in a combo (almost).

It just gets worse from there; Revelations is the next expansion pack to AC2 to come out. It lets you play as both Altair, and Ezio in certain segments, but with most of the game being spent in Constantinople instead of Italy. It was definitely slightly better than Brotherhood, but it still added nothing new other than a new setting with the same characters. It did not fix the issues of the previous game, deciding instead to keep the current bland, and cinematic combat instead of making something with actual gameplay value. Brotherhood and Revelations sold well enough to put up a precedent. They are the same game as AC2.


It’s easy to notice this once you compare it to the release of Assassin’s Creed 3. You can tell that it’s a different game, because not only is the HUD different, there are actual new gameplay features introduced, there are new weapon types, and it’s a new setting all in one. This precedent though is what allows Ubisoft to simply release a new expansion pack priced, and tagged as a full game every year. They saw that it was acceptable, and that people still bought their games, something we see Activision do with Call of Duty.

But what about Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag? It was a good game wasn’t it? Well yes, and no. Black Flag was definitely a very enjoyable game. It was one of the few new Assassin’s Creed games that I was driven to buying after Brotherhood, and kind of liked. I was still pretty sour about the fighting mechanics being the same as the previous titles, but the ship combat was great.

However, Black Flag feels like two things at once. Because the ship combat in AC3 was so popular it feels like a cash grab to try, and milk as much as possible from it. Do I mind that a company grabs a good concept, and makes a game around it? No, but think about it this way. Why wasn’t Black Flag just a pirate game? Or better yet, a spin off the franchise where you played as a pirate, kind of like Blood Dragon for Farcry 3? Assassin’s Creed is a franchise that has a big name. By putting its name on something, you can guarantee it will get sales. Because of that, it simply feels at the same time as an expansion pack to Assassin’s Creed 3.


However, by putting its name on it you also have to abide by the game’s setting, and make it an Assassin’s Creed game. As a pirate game, it is the best one out there. But it is held back by having to take the role of an AC game instead. It even suffers from it. On land, your missions are stealth or tailing missions. At sea, stealth missions on a boat, which are just absolutely horrible. The best part of the game, I’d say, is fighting the legendary ships at the end of the game. Bosses that made you use everything you learned about ship combat, and a fully upgraded ship, to beat. It was the biggest most rewarding challenge. But it was alternative content; it was not part of the story. In fact, to repeat the fight against one of the legendary ships, you had to replay the entire game up to that point, since the game didn’t let you repeat those battles. Assassin’s Creed doesn’t have bosses. Assassination targets are at best tougher versions of a normal mob, and in the best case scenario you assassinate them without a struggle. Ubisoft could’ve easily used Black Flag to make a new brand of games, but it was at this point that Ubisoft started to show just how greedy they were.

It was around this time that Tony Key, Ubisoft‘s senior vice president of sales, and marketing, revealed that the company wasn’t interested in making games if they couldn’t develop into franchises. Quoting him, he stated that “There is no more fire and forget — it’s too expensive.” when speaking about the possibility for Watch Dogs to have sequels. For me, this was ultimate proof that Ubisoft was more interested in making money than making games. And it was more than enough reason for me to start being very careful about their content, and releases.

So, looking back at all of this, is it really that surprising that Asssassin’s Creed: Unity was an unfinished buggy mess on release? That Ubisoft did not allow for reviews of the game to be online for readers until 12 hours after release? Is it that surprising that you can unlock all of the game’s content if you simply pay 99$? That the current DRM blocks out content if you’re not online? Is it that hard to believe that Ubisoft meant it when they said they didn’t have the resources to code a female assassin since it’d take effort, and money? If the company’s goal is to make money, not make good games, no. As long as we, the consumer, keep paying, they will keep pushing the line to see how far they can go. Unity is the newest low; Watch Dogs was almost as bad with its infamous DLC chart. Maybe if there is enough pushback this time Ubisoft won’t pull it off a second time. I didn’t pre-order Unity. My policy to never pre-order a game saved my wallet with Aliens: Colonial Marines, and it did so again now. Let’s just hope Ubisoft gets enough bad PR to try, and do better next time.

Nuno Martins

A 21 year old Portuguese gamer who is still waiting for the sequel for Legacy of Kain: Defiance and greatly enjoys tabletop rpgs.