So the long-awaited fifth and final game in the Assassin’s Creed ‘Trilogy‘ just released yesterday and Assassin’s Creed III has been produced with the intent to move onto a new Assassin ancestor in Colonial America and then finally conclude Desmond’s dragged-out story. But is this the end of Assassin’s Creed as we know it? Probably not. Actually let me rephrase that: definitely not. Make no mistake, Assassin’s Creed will come back and it’s not because we can’t get enough of Ezio’s magnificent Italian accent (it’s not that magnificent) but rather because the franchise has just become too successful Ubisoft to let it go.
Just last month, the creative director of ACIII said that the franchise is really popular and that as long as they feel they can produce quality each year, there’s no reason to stop with ACIII (click here). This is pretty much the pattern we’ve observed in the two sequels to ACII (Brotherhood and Revelations) and the release of AC: Bloodlines and Liberation, so there’s plenty of reason to believe that in the future ACIII is going to have some kind of successor whether it’s a direct sequel, spin-off or new direction for the franchise. Part of me feels like this is some form of extortion because Brotherhood and Revelations were so average but I really have to wonder; is it such a bad thing if Assassin’s Creed becomes some kind of annualized franchise? To answer that, let’s digress a little bit.
Firstly, while sequels get a lot of shtick in the gaming industry, they really do have to exist and honestly this can be a good thing for everybody. Let’s take God of War for instance. The first God of War took five whole years to develop (as long as your high school career) and was a truly amazing game but it left a lot of design space and story unexplored. God of War II, by comparison, only took two years in development and managed to hit all the notes that the first game missed and raised the bar because it had a strong platform to build on. God of War III came three years later to take the series to its absolute pinnacle and finish off with a bang. So as you already know, continuing the series past the first game benefited the developers with shorter development times and more profitable games and it benefited us too because we got to play through the series as it explored all of its design space and provided higher and higher quality experiences.
The other good thing about sequels is that we, as human beings, are creatures of habit and familiarity is something that strongly appeals to us. Most of us eat from the same take-away places we like or buy (pirate) music from our same favourite artists and the same applies to games. Our tastes can and do change over time but at least for some period of our life, we do get hyped up when the new Elder Scrolls or FIFA game comes out even if it’s just the same thing as last time but slightly better.
And the FIFA business model is certainly living the dream as far as most developers are concerned. Imagine developing the exact same product year-in and year-out and people just flock outside the stores to get a piece of the latest one (*cough* iPad 4 * cough*). Obviously, of course, you need to be doing something right for this strategy to work and FIFA manages to add just enough each year to justify our purchases while also greedily holding other things back so that we can buy the next game in a year’s time when they add those features. It’s a strategy that’s insanely profitable if done well and the success of the Call of Duty series using this model has certainly shown that annual releases can work outside of sports or racing games.
It can be awesome to get a new game every year but there’s also a dark side to it. Sequels and franchises are all fair and well when they’re executed properly like God of War was and each game is intended to take the series to another level. They also work well when they’re done like Uncharted where the intent is to give you a top quality but familiar experience each time but with a new twist on it. The point where they become evil is when they release the same game every single year with a couple of incremental changes and without feeling the need to ever truly innovate or take the series further. In short, it becomes evil when the intent is to spit out another game just for the sake of it, regardless of whether or not there are new places for the series to go (kind of like what Nintendo does).
Somehow FIFA manages to improve just enough each year but they’re the exception. By contrast, franchises like Call of Duty and Halo (and many Nintendo franchises) just seem like they’re going to go on forever and forever regardless of whether or not they can actually bring something new to the table or continue in a meaningful way. Not all series need to be continued ad infinitum and sometimes the greatest service you can do to a series whose design space has been exhausted is to let it end (as opposed to Max Payne 3) or, at the very least, reinvent it or something (like Mortal Kombat).
I suppose this is also the reason why I’m so disappointed in God of War. Because after concluding the trilogy in the most spectacular of fashions they’ve taken a step backwards and gone into the murky realm of prequels with God of War: Ascension. Instead of taking the God of War concept in a new direction, they’re just thrown Kratos into some miscellaneous time era to randomly dispatch giant beasts and Greek deities. To me at least, the existing prequels (Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta) were nothing to write home about and I can’t see Ascension being able to top God of War III. It’s sad actually, because it’s not even trying to. I guess it just feels like the series has jumped the shark I can’t see any reason for Ascension’s existence other than greed.
I guess I’m wondering if that’s where Assassin’s Creed is heading. Like I said, sequels can be good with the right intentions but bad when they’re shoveled out on an annual basis without really doing anything different. So far, there’s not much reason to be optimistic because AC: Brotherhood and AC: Revelations were exactly that: incremental updates on Assassin’s Creed II that didn’t take the series further or stand proudly in the franchise. It’s disappointing because ACI and ACII were such great games and Brotherhood and Revelations can’t really hold a candle to them. As for ACIII, they’ve been working on it for three years and with a team of their talent, I’m sure that it’s going to be a show-stopper. But after that? I’m not expecting much. I suppose the good part of this is that when Assassin’s Creed III ends, the fans won’t really have to say goodbye. The bad part is that we may have to watch a series we love degenerate into a money-printing machine and ultimately become something we’re disappointed in.
Star Wars Episode 7 anyone? See you next week…