Words by Richard Noronha
For fourteen years Assassin’s Creed has been immersing fans in historical locations, ranging from Classical Greece to Victorian London, establishing itself as one of gaming’s most recognisable and successful franchises.
Throughout its lifespan, the series has witnessed many shifts in direction and tone, with some changes more well-received than others. However, the latest news on the future of Assassin’s Creed from developer Ubisoft has been met with scepticism and concern from fans and critics alike.
Earlier this summer Ubisoft announced plans for Assassin’s Creed Infinity, the next instalment in their most popular franchise. Infinity plans to adopt an evolving, live service model, featuring multiple historical settings with room for further expansions to follow.
These features may seem attractive on the surface, however they consolidate a transformation of Assassin’s Creed away from its roots, conforming instead to some of the gaming industry’s most exploitative and anti-consumer trends.
The live service model, which has surged in popularity over the last five years, sees developers continually add content to games after their release, greatly extending the game’s lifecycle. This appears inviting to players, however, in practice, this approach has encouraged developers to release unfinished games. Offering the promised additional content for extra fees, and implement predatory microtransactions and loot box mechanics into their games.
Several high profile games including Marvel’s Avengers, Anthem, and Star Wars: Battlefront II received scathing criticism for utilising these practices, culminating in the Belgian Gaming Commission’s banning of loot boxes in 2018.
The negative attention live service based games have generated has prompted a gradual decline in developers adopting such an approach in the last few years, making Ubisoft’s Infinity announcement all the more alarming.
In a typically tone-deaf fashion, Ubisoft has instead spent the previous year doubling down on its live service offerings. Released in October last year, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla received criticism at launch for prioritising its in-game store and microtransactions over the numerous bugs and issues present in the game. Despite being a high budget, single-player, narrative-driven game, Valhalla’s regularly updated in-game store and paid downloadable content (DLC) are more characteristic of a free-to-play mobile app’s monetisation methods.
Assassin’s Creed adoption of a live service revenue model is not the only drastic change the series has undergone in recent years. Earlier games focused on the ideological clash between the Assassin and Templar orders throughout history, focusing on stealth mechanics and linear storytelling. However, in the wake of the popularity of sprawling open-world, action role player games (RPGs) such as Skyrim and The Witcher, Ubisoft followed suit producing 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, a game almost unrecognisable to any of its predecessors.
Although franchises need to evolve and modernise gradually over time, the only element Origins shared with the rest of the series was its title. The absence of Assassins, Templars and the lack of stealth unsurprisingly generated much controversy.
Origins’ loss of the Assassin’s Creed identity cemented the perception of Ubisoft as desperate to remain relevant, even at the cost of its most beloved franchise’s core DNA.
Interestingly, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla gave Ubisoft its best-ever financial result, earning over $1.2bn in 2020. Despite being almost unrecognisable from its beginnings, and even with its exploitative mechanics, Assassin’s Creed has never been as popular as it is today. Although Infinity exemplifies many predominant issues within the gaming industry, it is likely to become another financial success for Ubisoft, drifting further from the franchises’ roots and what made Assassin’s Creed an instant classic in 2007.
Words by Richard Noronha