Assassin’s Creed‘s latest installment was recently revealed to be taking place in the age of Vikings. Titled Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, the game promises added player customization, settlement building and more character optimizations and choices. The upcoming games seems to be more in line with the previous two installments, Origins and Odyssey, which embraced more RPG elements rather than the stealth-driven adventures of earlier iterations.
The move towards the action RPG genre was initially a steady trend, with games after the Ezio trilogy adding more and more role-playing elements while maintaining the core of an action-adventure stealth game. However, the stealth aspects of the franchise were slowly chipped away after the success of Black Flag, which shifted further away from the original premise of being an assassin than any other game before Odyssey.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins introduced even more RPG elements, such as skill trees and upgrades, while deemphasizing assassinations and stealth combat. Odyssey went further, fully embracing the action-RPG genre and making the hard shift away from stealth-based adventures into power fantasy role-playing. It introduced level grinding, gender options and a romance mechanic, thus transforming the game into something unrecognizable next to the franchise’s early entries.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with making an action-RPG, especially considering how popular the genre is at the moment. However, Ubisoft has plenty of resources to make a completely new franchise. By choosing to instead overhaul the core concept of the Assassin’s Creed games, it has given players a product that is a mediocre RPG pretending to be a game about assassins.
A similar shift can be seen in the Resident Evil series. Originally a survival horror game set in closed, claustrophobic and anxiety-inducing settings, the franchise drastically transformed into an action game with motorcycles flying over helicopters. And while that may sound cool, it failed to grasp what made the franchise great in the first place. Instead, it tried to pander to an audience that preferred a different genre and failed spectacularly at it. In response to its discontented fans and critics, Capcom finally returned the Resident Evil series to its roots, releasing Resident Evil 7 in 2017. Once again a survival-horror game, Capcom managed to create what is possibly the series’ best game since the highly lauded Resident Evil 4.
Ubisoft needs to do the same by returning Assassin’s Creed to its roots. There are many great action-RPGs around, but what made the series great in the first place was its stealth action-adventure gameplay. But it is worth asking why Assassin’s Creed moved towards being an RPG to begin with.
Following the beloved Ezio trilogy, Assassin’s Creed began to struggle to incite the same reaction from its fans. Rogue and Unity were buggy and glitchy at launch, while ACIII and Syndicate were considered too repetitive. The franchise as a whole was failing to evolve from the original formula created by the first game built upon by the second. When Black Flag introduced naval combat into its gameplay, fans finally responded positively. Then, Origins‘ introduction of RPG elements were also very well-received, pushing Ubisoft further towards that direction.
From there on, Ubisoft began to follow the philosophy of “more equals better.” Maps were now bigger, enemies were now stronger based on arbitrary numbers and the number of choices were increased. But what’s gone is the qualitative nature of the game. Killing is no longer about planning an assassination; it’s about smashing the attack button until the enemy is dead.
Then there’s the story, which is no longer overarching to connect with the lore and plot of the earlier games. Assassin’s Creed was always about exploring the history of the assassins and Templars, and being an assassin. The RPG elements detract away from the idea of discovering a pre-determined history, as well as that of being an an assassin first and foremost.
Ubisoft should have two things with the series. First, evolve the core gameplay by advancing the parkour and stealth aspects of the game rather than replacing them with ideas from other genres. This would’ve solved the problem of repetition without discarding core gameplay elements. Second, it should have spaced out the releases of games like Unity and Rogue, which could have been great if not for the rushed nature of their developments. Now, Assassin’s Creed is a game that has forgotten its roots, instead trying to be a replica of better games. Ubisoft needs to realize this, and, if it wants Valhalla to succeed, it needs to understand and reintroduce the magic that made the earlier games what they were.
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With Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, it seems Ubisoft is pushing further into the realms of action-RPGs while forgetting the series' roots altogether.