Life, The Universe And Gaming: What Assassin’s Creed Can Learn From Fallout
I’ve never quite understood that phrase about not comparing apples with oranges. Both are fruit. Both grow on trees. Both have a specific taste. Both have a certain set of nutrients contained within. There are plenty reasons to compare apples with oranges.
Surely a more apt phrase would be that you shouldn’t compare apples with Apples?
Similarly, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed and Bethesda’s Fallout are virtually incomparable games. Both have open worlds. Both are triple-A titles. Both play a specific way. Both have a certain set of objectives contained within. There are plenty reasons to compare Assassin’s Creed with Fallout.
- You’ll Be Able To Play (Expensive) PS2 Games On Your PS4 Now | 2 months ago
- Jessica Jones Disempowers Its Male Characters And The Effect Is Refreshing | 2 months ago
- Hell Is 30 000 Deathclaws Tearing Through Boston And It’s Glorious | 2 months ago
- Sony Santa Monica Is Teasing Something Truly Strange | 2 months ago
The most compelling reason to compare the two, as I see it, is that recent Assassin’s Creed games have suffered from something that Bethesda’s games — be they The Elder Scrolls or Fallout — have gotten down to a fine art.
To understand this, we must first establish why people fell in love with Assassin’s Creed. So let’s go back to the beginning of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, with the help of the following video.
The concept of games as persistent worlds is nothing new, but it’s important that we establish the point of the open world being created. Does it exist on its own, or has it been crafted specifically to cater to the player (that’s you!).
Do you remember in the first Assassin’s Creed when you walked into a new area and saw the hustle and bustle of a world that seemed to live and breathe just like you? Merchants peddling their wares, guards going about their business, a group of religious types solemnly praying. The world was going along perfectly fine without you needing to influence it in some way, and that’s what made Assassin’s Creed magical. It didn’t need you. You were only trying to interact with it in some way. Every time you managed to find a path to free-run through it was a moment of discovery and reward as you realised that, hey, you could navigate the very structure of the city to your will.
Artistically and from a design perspective, it was a masterclass.
A few Assassin’s Creed games later, you started to see what amounted to glorified playgrounds. Suddenly there was a very specific path carved out just for you. While it wasn’t the first game to do it, the game that was most guilty of this was Assassin’s Creed III (which I adored, but hey). In AC3 you would run along very specific paths within trees that seemed almost to exist for you as the player. These were no longer worlds that didn’t care about you, and suddenly the focus shifted away from having a believable world and instead towards having a world that catered directly to the player.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was widely regarded as the most fun but ultimately irrelevant Assassin’s Creed title by those who played it. Why? It wasn’t because of the exceptional (terrible) story, the fascinating (forgettable) locations, or even the memorable (boring) characters. It was because of the motherfucking sailing. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was a game where you could sail a ship and loot yourself some booty. Nobody cared about anything else. But it worked because, again, the world was believable and did not directly cater to the player — at least, the sailing parts did not.
This brings us to Fallout 4.
Fallout 4 is a game that exists entirely apart from your player character. On your way to your next quest marker, you may well encounter twenty other areas filled with enemies, cool loot, and interesting backstory. Another ten hours later, you’ve arrived at your quest marker by taking the scenic route, you are carrying your capacity of items, and you’re at least five levels higher than you would have been if you hadn’t meandered off. But the fun of the game is in meandering off.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that Fallout and The Elder Scrolls are also quite formulaic in how they go about things. For example, every new area must have enemies that you have to kill, with very few notable exceptions. Every new area will have at least one rare piece of loot. And so on. But these are games, and we accept that they have certain checklists, just like how the first few Assassin’s Creed games had viewpoints, and so on.
The point is, the world exists regardless of whether you choose to interact with it or not, and your interaction with the world has meaning. It has gravitas. If you choose to enter a building and clean it out, that building stays cleaned out for the duration of your game, and should you leave a safe locked or computer unhacked, you may return later and attempt those again. Perhaps when you’ve levelled up your measly chump of a player character.
Assassin’s Creed games have forgotten how to do this.
The world exists as backdrop, only there to create obstacles for the player while they go about their business. Side stuff? Sure, have a meaningless list of collectibles. Glyph puzzles? Gone. Area liberation and shop restoration? Why? You have a story to play, you ungrateful shit. We no longer have those wondrous moments such as that climb in Acre, in the first game. Having to figure out your path, explore, try different approaches, and finally give up before consulting some guide or walkthrough. In the new Assassin’s Creed games if Eagle Vision doesn’t show you the way, there’s probably a cutscene that will play out, leaving you directly in front of the ledge you need to climb. The actual setting is considered secondary. Secondary, in games involving the American, French, and Industrial revolutions? This is the series that gave us Renaissance Italy FOMO, and showed us the brutality of the Crusades! How did we get here?!
There’s no fun in the navigation, no fun in the combat (because again unlike the first game, you can now just press “X” to win), and then the story is left having to bear the brunt of the load. Contrast this with Fallout 4 (not a perfect game by any stretch), where half the fun is in navigating, and the combat is quite alright along the way, to the point that if you’re playing it for only the story you’re kinda missing the point. Who even remembers the stories in Assassin’s Creeds 1 and 2? But I can guaran-damn-tee you remember climbing things, riding horses, and flying Da Vinci’s crazy creations. Okay yeah and that First Civilisation twist.
Perhaps it’s unfair to make comparisons to the original Assassin’s Creed games, when Ubisoft were still just throwing caution to the wind and going with their hearts. They had a different creative team back then, so we might never see the franchise return to its roots. We have to accept this, of course. But it doesn’t mean we can’t hope for better. Naïve? Perhaps. A little unfair on those who do enjoy the likes of Unity and Syndicate? Sure.
Ultimately though, it’s the thought that nobody even thinks of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate as worthy of any awards this year, that is heartbreaking. Especially considering the series’ beginnings, as the leader of the pack in hybrid stealth-action-adventure titles. It’s the realisation that in today’s gaming industry where open world games are everywhere, we have games like The Witcher 3 (had to), Bloodborne, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Fallout 4, that totally obliterate the best Assassin’s Creed can now muster.
It’s the hope that one day Ubisoft will be brave enough to once again create an Assassin’s Creed that we can love and adore. Because Juno only knows, we really want to…