A good video game is a thing of beauty. It’s engaging and immersive. A good game can carry you away from your worldly woes like little else besides a good book can. A good game is like a friend who will hang out at the drop of a hat, day or night, rain or shine. And like a friend who has overstayed their welcome, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Sometimes you need some distance to make you appreciate a friend all the more. So too with video games.
I am a big Assassin’s Creed fan. If ever there was a game that was in my wheelhouse, AC is it. I imagine some guys at Ubi HQ sitting around a table spit-balling ideas. Translated from the French, the conversation goes more or less like this: “Lets blend age old conspiracy with real world history! Stealth mechanics and parkour with some swordplay and some Inception-level sci-fi weirdness! There’s a dude in San Francisco who’ll buy the crap out of it!” That’s how I imagine the early developer conversations went, considering just how into the series I am. I even like Desmond Miles. That’s how into Assassin’s Creed I am!
So imagine my dismay when last week brought rumours and this week brought confirmation of a fourth (read: sixth. Or like seventeenth if you include mobile content) installment of the franchise so soon after the release of Assassin’s Creed III (or V, or whatever). Okay, it’s been six months since AC went colonial and Desmond’s plot came to a close, but it seems like it was just yesterday that we were getting tomahawk kills and bear hunting in our spoilers. Hell, I don’t even have 100% completion yet! Too soon, Ubi! Too soon!
I guess part of my ambivalence (because I am very excited, just somewhat… staid) is that ACIII… wasn’t that great. I mean, I still enjoyed it immensely, but it felt rushed and thrown together in contrast to the playable art that was the Ezio trilogy, which rocked all the way through (admittedly, I thought it peaked at Brotherhood, but it would have required divine or malefic intervention to top that game). I guess it left me with a sour taste in my mouth
Okay, so Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag isn’t due out until November. But after the last one, I can’t help but feel like maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it had a little while longer to bake. Now, I understand that the development cycles for III and IV overlapped, but I feel like the franchise can’t bear another mediocre title, and trying doggedly to stick to an “12 months or bust” release schedule is a recipe for disaster. I feel like too often the big publishers are concerned with chugging out flagship titles in quick succession for easy money, than in publishing quality titles on a slightly drawn out timescale (of course, time doesn’t always breed better games. Looking at you Diablo 3. Looking at you right in the gorram eye…). This is especially true of hallowed sportsfranchises like FIFA or Madden, which are rather like Star Trek movies with respect to how often they turn out a decent, or even marginally innovative game.
All in all this is contributing something I’ve taken to calling franchise fatigue–the feeling you get when a beloved franchise starts to feel a little stale, because it’s just too present.
All that said, Black Flag looks frakking awesome! Island exploration? Sea battles? Ship enhancements? The hero is a freaking pirate?! I’ll be in line come November (metaphorically. Thanks Steam), because even on Ubi’s worst day, the AC games are pretty damn great. Assassin’s Creed, why can’t I quit you?
Haven’t played an AC game since the first, but I have been tempted. It does seem really soon to be announcing another title; regardless of development timelines.
But, to be fair, the reason that they’re doing it is because people keep buying the games on day 1. I know that it kills gamers to be behind the times, but if you’re getting exhausted with a franchise, then don’t buy the new one. Give it the rest that it needs. Wait until you’re just itching for some more, don’t just get it because it’s the shiny new thing.
Publishers are going to enable gamer binging as long as it turns them a profit. It’s not their responsibility to cut us off, like the virtual bartender of electronic entertainment; it’s our responsibility to say no once in a while.
I completely agree with what you’re saying, David. And I am very guilty of it myself, to be honest. I have a lot of games in my Steam list that have never been installed. They’re just there because they were on sale, or because I wanted to preorder to be on top of things, but haven’t carved out the time to play it…
Part of the problem is that entertainment companies (and their shareholders) maintain that first day/first week returns are the only one’s that matter. So a product is a flop if it doesn’t do gangbusters day one, and that discourages them from taking risks when something doesn’t mint money. Take “John Carter” for instance. Sank in the U.S., so it was labeled a flop, which lead to even fewer people going to see it on subsequent weekends–self-fulfilling prophecy. A month later, it does reasonably well overseas, and later still, decently on DVD. But it was a flop, and we’re sticking to it. The consequence of that kind of thinking is that fewer classic sci-fi stories get adapted to film and we get to enjoy “Transformers 17: Money-splosion on the Dark Side of the Sun!” So I find myself combating that kind of thing by buying products I like, even if I can’t enjoy them right away, which also reinforces the bad behavior of companies like Ubi… Damnit, this is why we can’t have nice things…
I kind of wish video games would adapt from tabletop, and develop a single world over multiple but distinct titles. For instance, the Assassin’s Creed Universe may have your typical stealth game, perhaps something more action-based, and then one completely dedicated to ship exploration and combat. They could share art assets and development, but otherwise be completely and full entities.
You’d still get burn out, but at least then there are multiple series with their own creative visions to interest you, while all participating in the same shared universe.
Just a thought, at least.
I see what you’re saying, Tyler, and I sorta kinda agree. I mean, it could be very cool. But I think the worst offender of that kind of thinking (in my experience) actually comes out of tabletop gaming. Fantasy Flight Games’ Warhammer 40K RPGs.
I mean good goddamn, they’ve got what, 5 core lines now? Each one with just minor variations of the rules, each one basically reprinting at least some portion of the same content. I mean, how many different places do they need to republish the rules for an Eldar shuriken gun? Because I think its in at least three or four right now… I was interested in Only War when it was going to be a splat for Dark Heresy, but when they spun it off as a separate line, I threw my hands up and basically gave up on the whole kit and kaboodle.
Then again, a good example comes out of tabletop as well. Although I am not a huge fan of the “new” World of Darkness (my heart will always be in the classic lines, I’m afraid), I love the model they promoted with NWoD–one rulebook from which all the splats spring. Much better than the editorial (and wallet-screwing) nightmare that is the 40K RPG model. That said, I just don’t know how to translate the NWoD model to videogames.
My tabletop familiar is at best limited, so I was more speaking from a general standpoint than any one specific model.
I guess in all honesty, I was imagining more of D&D, but from just a setting standpoint. Forgotten Realms has a specific feel, but all of the video games, novels, and scenarios for it are uniquely their own spin on it.
Like you, I just get sort of tired of seeing sequel after sequel that does little to change the series, and becomes more and more narrow until it barely touches the world it has created.
Given its historical nature, Assassin’s Creed could probably afford three or four distinct series, each more honed into the time period than others would be, but still linked by themes and characters.
There was a time in the Old School gaming days that years went by before a 3, 4, or 5 in a series. Phantasy Star, Mega Man, Sonic, Mario and their ilk spanned the decades instead of mindlessly churning out new iterations (though there were hiccups along the way). People need time to play, re-play, conquer and master before giving them a sequel. We need enough time to internalize the game. Otherwise it becomes a blip in our past instead of nostalgia. Assassin’s Creed is a great series and i like the idea of adding Pirates but Ubisoft should give it more time between games. They could easily make this a decades spanning series but currently run the risk of just having gamers burnt out and tired of the concept too quickly. (though they’ll definitely rake in the cash)