The Assassin’s Creed game series is fascinating. There are great Assassins’ Creed games and sucky Assassin’s Creed games, and the debate about which are which is as fierce as it is irrelevant to this article. What I’m doing today is making a proposal. I want someone to make a game that is like the Assassin’s Creed games, but different in crucial and innovative ways. So without further ado, here are my proposals:
Like Assassin’s Creed but with fewer collectables. “Dude.” I hear the fictional objectionist in my head say. “You’re asking for there to be less content? Who are you? Peter Molyneux?”
Of course the fictional objectionist has it exactly wrong. The problem with Peter Molyneaux’s fable games wasn’t too little content, it was too much. Peter was so enthusiastic about adding more and more stuff that his team never had any time to ensure that the stuff they had made was worth playing through.
The trouble with Assassin’s Creed collectables is that there are so freaking many of them. Have you tried opening all the treasure chests in ACIV? Either you have, and you’ve developed OCD, or you haven’t, because opening that many chests is super-duper boring. If there were fewer chests, and the chests had more gameplay significance, then seeking and finding them would be more engaging. And, speaking of collectables;
Like Assassin’s Creed but the collectables fit into the game narrative. It niggles me that there are always things just lying around the AC world waiting to be collected by whatever jerk murderer the brotherhood has suckered into joining their unaccountable gang/political conspiracy. Yes, collecting things may make traversal of the map more interesting, and may be a somewhat fun activity in itself, but there should be an in-game reason for the collectables being there in the first place. So, here are some collectables, and the in-game justification for them being collectable, as well as some ways to make them more narratively interesting:
Song sheets. AC 4 (the pirate one) has the player chasing down sheets of music paper that float around the tops of buildings. For each one the player collects, their crew learns another sea shanty. No reason is given for these song sheets being up there and nothing happens upon collecting them apart from getting a new song for while you’re traversing the sea.
How to make them interesting. Three famous wizard-musicians have spread their magical flying song sheets over the Caribbean. Only the most adept roof-runner will be able to catch them all. Find and catch all eight sheets (not seventeen, the number in the actual game, that is ridonk) and the wizards will be suitably impressed. After getting hella drunk with them, they will teach you how to whistle to the song sheets for aid. Whenever you do this, the song sheets will float in as a cloud of whirling paper and smother the nearest enemy silently.
Treasure chests. Every Assassin’s Creed game is filled with treasure chests. They each typically contain a small amount of money. Why are they there? There is never a given reason. In later games when the interior of buildings are simulated, the justification can be simple – these are people’s valuables, inside their homes. You are stealing their stuff for your own gain. You bastard. But in the games in which the chests are out in the open, there could be a story behind them.
How to make them interesting. Fitting with the conspiratorial theme of the series, the treasure chests have all been placed deliberately. A rich noblewoman has had them set up all around the city and each filled with random quantities of gold. She – or one of her assistants – occasionally checks on them to see which have been opened and which have not. Some chests contain notes suggesting to the player that there may be some kind of plan behind their existence. The treasure chest game can also be the reason there are so many people running around carrying money – they have been given money and sent running through the city by the noblewoman.
Then, when the player has opened enough chests and tackled enough runners, they get an opportunity to discover the purpose behind this strange chase, and to meet the woman who set it up. Why did she do it? Why was she not heroically murdering people or flaunting her Prostitute Heart of Gold like every other woman the PC knows? She tells him it was for science. It was to learn what people would do when given the opportunity to take free money. And then the PC can either learn a lesson or murder her like the holier-than-thou psycho he is. Or both I guess. Right, I’ve alienated everyone. NEXT POINT.
Like Assassin’s Creed but with hard options. This is one that I suspect more people could get behind. Assassin’s Creed is an easy game series. Apart from the original game most of them are just not challenging in any interesting way. In the newer games, the PC doesn’t even die when he touches water. Like fable, these are entire games one can play through without dying or having to load once. There are ways that one can make AC more challenging and interesting for one’s self, like trying to fulfil all of the secondary objectives for example, or turning off most of the UI, but these are not hugely satisfying. My proposal for difficulty settings is to take a mechanic from that most hated of video game developers mentioned at the top of this piece, Peter Molyneux. The mechanic I would lovingly steal wholesale is fable’s boasting system.
For those of you who haven’t played Fable or who didn’t care enough to pay attention to what was going on when they did, I shall explain. The original Fable game had a system in which the player character could climb onto a stage and tell the villager hive-mind what wonderful accomplishments he aimed to achieve. He could announce that he’ll do a quest naked for instance (removing his armour and revealing a patriotic pair of underpants), or that he’ll take no damage whatsoever. This meant that a mentally un-taxing game such as Fable could suddenly become a challenge suited to the player’s own demands. This mechanic fits perfectly with AC, in which the main character is always an arrogant show-off that any right-minded person should despise. The player character could bet that they will never lose more than one bar of health, or that they can sail the seas with the anchor down. Thus is introduced a reason for the player to avoid being detected, and a way of eliminating the ship’s insane ability to accelerate like a jet plane and practically pirouette in the midst of combat.
By taking the right boasts, sailing the seas could be made into an adventure in itself, with the player having to zigzag into headwinds and suffering immense damage if the ship hits land. How are these changes achieved? By boasting that the rudder will be cut off and the boat will be filled with explosives. The reward for taking on boasts could be a small amount of money, which gives the player the option to take on a greater challenge in order to be able to get upgrades more quickly. Or there could be some other options. Right. That’s it. I have more proposals to make but they shall have to wait until my next article.
Please do post and comment on this article. Feedback on any aspect of it is always welcome – my aim is to become such a better writer that someday I look back on pieces like this and become so embarrassed I vomit. Anyway. Until next time.