It's a strange time to be an Assassin's Creed fan. Up until a year or so ago, I would've defended the time bending video game franchise as one of the finest offerings modern gaming had; Assassin's Creed II for me still remains one of my favorite games and a landmark moment in my personal video gaming experience, even if it hasn't aged as well as, say, the likes of Revelations.
For myself (and I assume many others) the major draw of Assassin's Creed was the narrative. Don't get me wrong — I loved the gameplay of the more refined games and the stabbing folk facet of the series at least has remained largely solid (the buggy broken Unity aside), but there was something so addictive about the story which unfolded over the first few games.
Assassin's Creed introduced us to the modern day Desmond Miles — a bartender running from his past in more ways than one — and his ancestor Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, who grew from a reckless and shamed young assassin to become the Mentor of the Levantine Brotherhood, an important figure in the Assassin Order.
The series took us by the hand through early 1000s Syria and the Crusades, to renaissance Italy and Constantinople with series mascot Ezio Auditore da Firenze, onwards through the American Revolution with the moody Ratonhnhaké:ton / Connor Kenway before backtracking to Connor's grandfather, Edward Kenway, on the high Caribbean seas. Black Flag was an incredibly fun game, and a welcome relief from the slightly disappointing Assassin's Creed III.
But then came the French Revolution, and the cracks in the series were blown wide open when Unity released.
The series has been suffering from a decline in quality ever since Brotherhood, though Black Flag remains the exception to this. Not to say that they've declined to the point where they are unplayable — I found Syndicate to be a highly enjoyable game, yet still lacking the spark that made the series so addictive when I first discovered it seven years ago (even if it did finally introduce a playable female assassin into the main series games, and damn is Evie fun to play as).
It's tempting to point at the already heavily criticized Unity as representation of perhaps the main fault in the series: the yearly release model. Ubisoft has been pumping out a main title in the franchise since 2009, an incredibly rapid turnover for an open world, narrative driven series of this nature, and the broken Unity which released to massive criticism and widespread mockery in 2014 remains a large black mark in Ubisoft's ledger.
But bugs, half rendered faces, and the incredibly messy and cluttered map weren't the only faults of Unity. The story felt lackluster and the characters — well, I just didn't care a jot about the star crossed lovers. Diving into the concept of the morality of the Assassins and Templars was a concept that sounded great on paper, but whether it was poorly executed or just too far a left turn for the series it ultimately fell flat.
But there is hope for the series yet. The downturn has not gone unnoticed by Ubisoft, though it did take a few years of beating the tired horse before they realized they were in danger of killing it.
Earlier this month the company confirmed in a blog post that we would not be receiving another Assassin's Creed game for 2016, and many people breathed a sigh of relief over that news. Futhermore they confirmed that they would be "stepping back and re-examining" the franchise, and Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot told Games Industry a few days after the initial announcement that they may not return to yearly releases at all:
"The goal is not to automatically come back to an annual cycle, but to come back on a regular basis. We can't say every year."
This is perhaps a surprising move, given that the series has not yet declined enough to be unprofitable, but it's the right one. Taking a step back and really reevaluating the series both in terms of narrative and gameplay is needed now, with the change between Syndicate and the next hopefully being comparable to that of the major difference between Assassin's Creed and Assassin's Creed II (the only two games in the series with more than a year between release).
Perhaps most importantly, they need to start going back more to the modern day playable narrative. I'm not saying that killing off Desmond Miles at the end of Assassin's Creed III was akin to killing the franchise, but the narrative has been uncomfortably fractured by this event, and it hasn't quite sat right ever since.
It's not to say that there's no new media for the series in 2016, far from it. Justin Kurzel's [Assassin's Creed](tag:437814) film is due to land at the end of the year, starring Michael Fassbender (which may be the first successful video game to film adaptation), and Scholastic’s young adult book series Last Descendants is due in September 2016.
As for the next installment in the series? We'll have to wait for an official line from Ubisoft for that one, and hopefully a return to what made the series so great to begin with.