Assassin’s Creed Unity and The Dangers of ADD-Specific Open Worlds
The organic world of the newest Assassin’s Creed could be its undoing if Ubisoft isn’t careful.
Ubisoft has had a fairly rough couple of years with regards to its AAA development. It began with the universally reviled but still commercially successful Assassin’s Creed III and was highlighted by the delay of Watch Dogs and The Crew. Then, when Watch Dogs released, it failed to be the masterpiece many perceived it would be – which in itself is due to the overdrawn amount of hype. Nevertheless, Ubisoft made the most noise at E3 2014 with Tom Clancy’s The Division, Far Cry 4, Valiant Hearts: The Great War, Rainbow Six: Siege and of course, Assassin’s Creed: Unity.
While these games may have wowed the world, some of us have taken a collective “wait and watch” approach. Ubisoft – and several developers in general – have taken to releasing unfinished products and patching those months after their launch. There are things to be excited about, sure, but it’s not worth getting too hyped up for.
"There's perhaps no other game on the list that deserves this much scrutiny as Assassin's Creed: Unity."
There’s perhaps no other game on the list that deserves this much scrutiny as Assassin’s Creed: Unity. It will be the first game in the franchise to be developed for the PS4 and Xbox One exclusively (with a PC release also due). After several titles featured competitive play, this will be the first game in the series to introduce co-op and that too with four players. This will also mark several changes to the core parkour system, allowing players easier wall-running and navigation when moving up and down buildings. On the outset, Assassin’s Creed: Unity marks a truly new beginning for the franchise.
Our scepticism begins with the game’s world though. Ubisoft has apparently taken up a new approach for its open world mission structure which is being touted as more “fluid” and “dynamic”. As in Watch Dogs, you’ll be able to roam the city in Assassin’s Creed: Unity and pick up different missions based on random pedestrian behaviour.
This could mean intervening in a fight, chasing a thief, delivering news to a grieving mother or – it seems on a larger scale – fighting for the various factions in the city. In Watch Dogs, these little missions – which we hesitate to even call side missions – would pop up and either immediately demand your attention or lay by the wayside till you mustered up enough interest.
"his would apparently mean your decisions have lasting impacts and that you just can't do everything that your ADD-addled gaming self wishes to do..."
It’s fairly different from what we’ve seen in games like Batman: Arkham City (though Arkham Origins had many of these elements with the random GCPD calls for crimes and fights). Arkham City filled a city with different collectibles, side-stories, villains and whatnot but always had the story looming over you, demanding your attention at every turn. Don’t you want to know what Protocol Ten is? Don’t you want to stop Hugo Strange? Collecting the Riddler’s trophies of course posed their own importance, as did taking down Deadshot or confronting Victor Zsasz before he could kill an innocent person. This all fit into Batman’s super-hero ideals but never, ever detracted from the main story.
Watch Dogs was seemingly different. It always wanted to occupy you with tasks whether it’s rescuing people or chasing down cars or assaulting gang hideouts. Meanwhile, protagonist Aiden Pearce is presented as a shallow, oftentimes impulsive bore who is only concerned about the next lead in his vengeance quest rather than looking at the big picture or even trying to save the city (though this changes as the game progresses). It’s an odd disconnect when you go from trying to avenge your niece’s death to suddenly stealing money from ATMs and assaulting gang members because some text messages told you to.
This seems to be the direction that Assassin’s Creed: Unity is going, even with Arnaud stating, “I can’t help everyone”. This would apparently mean your decisions have lasting impacts and that you just can’t do everything that your ADD-addled gaming self wishes to do for the sake of sweet Reputation points and upgrades.
"There's the hope that lessons were learned from Watch Dogs or that the development team is at least pursuing its own creative direction rather than being influenced by other open world titles."
Then again, it could just mean the opposite. It’s hard to tell with Ubisoft these days and this small, narrative-less structure of “activities” is annoying. Even Saints Row managed to finally tie its various activities together into the game’s single-player campaign, no matter how loosely, with the fourth iteration. Could it possibly be this difficult for Ubisoft to do the same?
Watch Dogs at least proved it could but there’s still hope for Assassin’s Creed: Unity. There’s the hope that lessons were learned from Watch Dogs or that the development team is at least pursuing its own creative direction rather than being influenced by other open world titles. The latter approach would make much more sense because if you want Assassin’s Creed-style gameplay, you’ll be playing Assassin’s Creed and not Grand Theft Auto. Similarly, if players want a world full of various little distractions and hackable interactions, they can pursue Watch Dogs rather than wanting the same features in Assassin’s Creed.
For now, Assassin’s Creed: Unity has a ways to go before its release and Ubisoft is focusing on all the right talking points with the theme of revolution and fighting against oppression. Hopefully, it won’t drop the ball and focus on all the background noise that it’s larger in-game crowds are generating.