2009’s Assassin’s Creed II is arguably still the best entry in Ubisoft’s mammoth franchise, and there are plenty of good reasons why.
With AC: Syndicate being released recently to generally decent reviews, it was hard for me to feel or act shocked by the game’s issues and what it does it right. Frankly, it’s still the same old story with Assassin’s Creed for 6 years running. Syndicate has a gorgeous setting, generally fun platforming mechanics with only a few slight issues, interesting main characters, poor side-characters and story, and side-missions that can’t help but feel banal and outdated. Overall, it’s yet another good entry and an improvement over last year’s AC: Unity—a game that isn’t too hard to improve on anyway—but it isn’t anything special
So why exactly has Ubisoft failed to produce a sequel as great as AC2? Well, the best aspect of AC2 is the fact that it’s a very focused game. What I mean by this is that it doesn’t try to be a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to open-world games. The settings aren’t too big, and it doesn’t contain hundreds of boring objectives that end up plaguing the maps. No, you don’t have to find hundreds of treasure chests, you don’t have to take over a bunch of cargo ships by doing the same actions over and over again, and the story and world outside of the animus actually make sense.
AC2 is a very simple game with just a few side-missions—like slowly upgrading your Villa—that are actually fun to partake in and that reward you handsomely. It takes a classic quality over quantity approach which, honestly, the later games fail miserably at. I mean, just take a glance at Unity’s map about 3 hours into the game; it’s a complete mess. More importantly, however, Ubisoft actually knew where it wanted to go with the series’ complicated story and it seemed like it was confident in the direction it was taking protagonist Desmond Miles. Up to that point in the series, it was still based around Desmond and his ability to re-live the lives of his ancestors. Ubisoft only hinted at conspiracy theories. Stuff like the Eden artifacts and the world ending was expertly teased, and it all seemed actually intriguing.
Of course, let’s also not forget that AC2 still has the best main assassin—Ezio Auditore. The Italian is still a fan favorite because he is well-written and has a terrific character arch spanning decades. His simple story of avenging his two brothers’ and fathers’ death and becoming an assassin to do so was captivating, clear, and relatable. Even for those that aren’t fans of the game or series as whole still can’t argue the fact that they can actually understand what goes on in AC2.
So, what happened? Why are AC3, Black Flag, Unity, and Syndicate just not as focussed and well received? One of the reasons is because Ubisoft simply became a little bit too greedy for its own good. AC quickly became a huge money maker, and so Ubisoft swiftly turned it into an annual franchise and disallowing consumers the opportunity to catch their breaths and actually long for a new entry. And the publisher completely botched the series’ overarching story, especially when it came to Desmond Miles, because it just doesn’t want the franchise to end with any sort tangible and worthwhile conclusion. It has to keep going. There are actual characters that fans haven’t seen for several games now; characters that simply vanished without a trace for no reason other than to keep the money-making machine rolling.
When it comes to gameplay, Ubisoft continues to do way too much. Syndicate is definitely a big improvement, but it still contains a plethora of different collectibles and mundane objectives that become way too predictable pretty quickly. Just take a page out of Bethesda or Rockstar’s books; both companies are regarded as the masters of open-world games because, for one, they make exploring and completing side-missions in their worlds interesting and engaging.
Look, Syndicate isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It’s actually pretty good and has a ton of things going for it. But is it a far cry from what the series used to be? Yes, definitely. I can’t help but feel that there’s still plenty of untapped potential left in Assassin’s Creed; Ubisoft just needs to finally take a break for once and realize that potential.