Assassin's Creed: What's Been Lost in Odyssey and Origins
The shift that the Assassin's Creed series has undergone over the last couple of years has left us longing for some older elements...
The Assassin's Creed series has come a long way. As we've gotten to the tenth main series entry the assassination-themed action-adventure saga has become much more of an RPG than the original stealth adventures ever were. As with most changes, some see it as a rebirth, as the start of something new. Others, however, miss what they'd grown to love over the years. You can debate for as long you like whether these are good changes and the answer will vary depending on who you ask. It's also something that's been discussed among our editorial team, in particular, the things we miss in Assassin's Creed since the watershed game that was Origins.
The Deadly Hidden Blade
The hidden blade undoubtedly distinguishes the series from other games. This tool has killed more than its fair share of enemies. However, since Origins, the hidden blade has lost some of its power (and in Odyssey, it was replaced by a broken spear). Of course, this is a result of turning into an RPG, where numbers and stats dictate what's lethal and not quite lethal. Hence, stronger enemies aren't always killed with the hidden blade anymore.
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This isn't ideal in our opinion. What we loved most about Assassin's Creed is quietly eliminating the enemy, and the change to the formula doesn't fully allow for this. Imagine a situation in which the game rewards your actions as long as you are a silent assassin. If when stalking your target you're discovered that's fine; you were guilty of a mistake and must take part in an open fight. However, before this happens, the hidden blade should be the ultimate measure. Sure, forts in Origins and Odyssey can still be finished noiselessly and unnoticed, but only because you can often avoid fighting. However, when we try to deal with an Elite enemy... well, the result is not so obvious and it often turns out that we took only half or even less of their health bar. Interestingly, even the selection of appropriate abilities doesn't help, because the enemies scale with you. Assassinations are no longer as straightforward as remaining undetected and slipping the knife into someone's back.
The Brotherhood, band of pirates or whatever we call our supporters is another element that's not here anymore (even if Odyssey returns somewhat to the formula, but in a very simplified form, as you'll have lieutenants to help improve your ship). Sadly as far as actual combat goes, they are kind of useless when you send them into combat using the Call to Arms skill.
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We miss managing the brotherhood. Planning the mission, choosing the right people, and weighing up the risk that they may not survive the challenges, made us feel that we were part of a larger whole. Especially since Revelation, where Ezio could take recruits on special missions and, as befits a real mentor, give them tips and advice. Assassin's Creed III was probably perfect in this regard because it made the brotherhood even more personalised. Each member had their own history and unique ability, which made forming a bond easier. We hope that in the sequels, the Brotherhood will return in a similar and even more expanded form.
There's no Place like Home
We also miss a place to call home. Ezio had his own villa, Connor a village, Edward an entire island, and the Frye siblings had a train (how cool is that?!). Sure the ship in Odyssey does serve as a base of sorts, but it's not a very homely one. Some may say that these were places that didn't have much purpose, and in terms of mechanics, they often served more as a trophy case and shopping centre. Still, they were a refuge within the game itself, a rest between missions, something the more recent games could do with.
Even Edward's ship gave more opportunities because we could go down below. Maybe it doesn't really do much more than a screen with upgrades would in terms of functionality, but it would anchor us more in the world. And it's not like this is something that's been missing from other RPGs. As far back as in Suikoden we came into possession of a castle, a castle that as your adventure progressed was filled with people and upgrades. It's good to have somewhere to gather your strength and, perhaps more importantly, ground us in the world. And again, to the surprise to some of us, the most interesting game in this respect was the third part of the series, in which we not only had the opportunity to invite major characters to our village but also perform a series of missions for them, strengthening the group.
We have not had fully fledged modern day missions since Desmond. The light at the tunnel turned out to be Origins, which introduced a new hero to the game, but the player's role in the events associated with Layla Hassan was marginal. Odyssey was slightly more interesting in this respect, as players were allowed to bond with her through increased interaction with the surroundings and greater freedom.
This is undoubtedly a good direction to take and we hope that this time we can form a lasting relationship. By the way, the new organisation that we lead offers more opportunities, and since we are not talking about the chosen one for a few games, we hope that Layla will not be the only hero we will take control of. There are at least a few candidates for this role, and perhaps we can finally return to fully fledged modern day chapters and truly advance the overarching story.
Two years ago, we would never have imagined we would ever miss the synchronization of an Assassin's Creed mission. And yet, here we are. As much as synchronisation in Black Flag could be an annoyance, at the beginning when the system was introduced, it was very fluid and gave a sense of being inside the Animus. You had to observe certain rules, the code of assassins or the behaviour of our ancestors made us really feel we were inside a simulation.
Interestingly, with time we've found ourselves missing things that don't seem like ideal solutions. In the synchronisation itself, it was also important that it allowed us to see everything that was in the game to find. From the list of missions to the number of collected items. Maybe we don't miss the finders especially, but the ability to repeat missions to clear events was a really good idea and clearing everything 100% was super satisfying, especially for those people who like to discover everything in a game. We belong in that group and in each title we try to do every task and collect everything that the game offers. Currently, we have a beautiful, multi-layered story divided into chapters, but somewhere this sense of attachment to the machine has simply disappeared. It's a pity because the Animus is still a sensational idea. It's not without reason that disputes are still going on as to whether the player or protagonist plays the assassin. Or maybe the player actually plays the protagonist who plays the assassin?
Sequences and the Passage of Time
Losing sequences meant that we lost that sense of time moving forward. Putting the date at the beginning of each chapter would help significantly. There are, of course, technical issues here because if we are sailing through the years, some models - children, for instance - should change. By eliminating the time division, Ubisoft cleverly saved money on such issues.
It's a shame as between particular events in the last couple of games it feels as though time should have passed more clearly. Especially given the time period, travelling from one place to another was a major undertaking. Again, the RPG formula explains and justifies things to some extent. Sure the division of the main story into acts makes some effort to show that time progresses, but it's not really enough and so we're not getting the same level of immersion.
Planning your Assassinations
On the one hand, we receive beautifully directed cutscenes in Origins. On the other hand, however, the whole movie-feeling is lost through the change in the gameplay. The abandonment of shorter sequences gave us a feeling of freedom so great that before we can encounter something from the main story, we can spend hours on side activities, which to be honest, aren't necessarily filled with the most captivating of activities.
One of the biggest problems is the inability to plan individual missions, as we know them mostly from Unity and Syndicate. Thanks to simple procedures, each escapade made a unique impression and amounted to more than just waving a sword around. We could decide many of the factors surrounding the mission, such as choosing a way to act, getting information, or even finding alternative routes into the building where the objective was - and these are just a few examples. In the new games, on the other hand, we can simply get into the camp and kill the target with a few blows. There is nothing more to it, and it detracts from the sense of accomplishment. We were left with a simple "fight and then watch a nice movie". The Witcher-style combat has certainly appealed to many players. However, in our opinion, we'd like to see some more distinction between the truly important targets.
The Art of Sneaking
That last point takes us to the mechanics of the assassin. These, if you look more closely, have decreased with Origins. The eagle accompanying us acts as a drone allowing us to research the terrain, and conducting an investigation is as simple as clicking on the magnifying glass icons - but these things can't replace some of the core ideas that the series served up to us for years and which, in our eyes at least, had been at the core of its very essence.
And so we don't have to overhear a target to get information from them. Yes, we realise that this wasn't always an ideal solution and we would repeatedly get angry with some missions, but this mechanic could certainly be improved upon. Now the protagonist can't stick to the walls actively, can't hide in the crowd or in specially designated hiding spots. Instead, like a madman, they run away from the enemies until they give up and return to their positions. This method is incomprehensible to us because after all, that's not how a Medjay or Mercenary would deal with the situation. In the meantime, there's more of everything, more weapons, more gear, and more fighting. Assassinations have been replaced by mass murder.
As you can see, the change of style and the shift into RPG mechanics in many ways has limited the sort of activities we find in an Assassin's Creed game. That said we don't hate the new games, not at all, the changes made were much needed to keep the series fresh and current. However, we would like to see Ubisoft bring back some of these elements into the game and finding a compromise between old and new. It's understandable that some of these elements need a bit more time to be properly reintroduced. Perhaps it can all fit together perfectly in the next game, which if we are to believe the rumours will drop in 2020 with plenty of extra development time to ensure further innovation across this most murderous of series.