In an interview with Ubisoft CCO, Serge Hascoët stated that he wants future games to allow players to tell a thousand stories, not just one, and the the first game to follow that example is the next Assassin’s Creed, which means it’ll allow players to choose their own path, and be able to complete missions their own way, without being restricted to a certain set of limits that force you to assassinate your target in a certain manner, take a certain route to reach your target, perform or refrain from certain activities.
It is yet to be known how this system would benefits the series or how it even fits into the style of the franchise, especially since it bares many contradictions to facts we’ve previously known about reliving genetic memories and how the Animus works.
Introducing new styles of gameplay is exciting, indeed, as the whole sync/optional objectives to complete a mission always felt restricting and stood in the way of completely enjoying how you finish the mission the way you see fit, without being told that you did something wrong, when in reality, you got the job done. Especially with certain side objectives being either too restrictive or too nonsensical, such as Brotherhood’s tank mission and skinning a alligator while tailing a target in ACIV: Black Flag.
However, like I mentioned above, there are multiple issues with this system, we’ve spent 9 years with Assassin’s Creed, and each game tries to convince us that synching with the memories is important, and that we need to conform to the actions that out ancestor performed, instead of improvising or doing things differently, and this was used as a gameplay enhancer to add challenge, while taking away freedom, be it by getting Altair’s armor, doing optional objectives, playing side missions or forcibly completing a mission without being detected, because you immediately desynch if you do, even if the guard only saw you after you stabbed him, which is unrealistic, because he’s not going to be able to inform the other guards about you, and even when you can actually finish the mission despite being detected, because you’ve done others with the same circumstances, minus the mandatory or optional objectives, or when you’re told multiple times that you cannot jump straight to a farther memory unless you relive the ones before it, chronologically, which is why we went through the trouble of reliving Altair, Ezio and Connor’s memories just so we can reach a specific moment where they find the Pieces of Eden or the location of The Grand Temple key.
Therefore, it must be noted that the new system feels like a brand new approach that now we can take multiple paths or make choices in a device that is supposed to allow you to do things exactly like someone else did, in other words, you’re being told to choose when you’re in a situation where you’re literally just repeating something that has already happened. It is imperative that this new approach is explained in detail in the story, to be something convincing to the players, rather than justifying it with using The Helix, a Cloud-gaming based video gaming console.
Gameplay-wise, it’s fun to be able to choose, it’s fun to see consequences for your actions, to feel that you are actually in that historical moment, as if you travelled through time and you did things your way. You are becoming the Assassin and you are making decisions as you see fit, as if you’re really there, without the guidance of the Animus or anyone around, telling you what or how you should do things.
Introducing Supportive Missions, a new type of missions that exist within main missions. They replace side objectives, and they only exist as a helper mission to the main one. It works in a similar manner to the first Assassin’s Creed, where you have to synch viewpoints to find places which leads you to find investigation spots, then the player can eavesdrop on a certain character(s) to learn bits of information, then tail another to pickpocket a document or item and once you could draw a picture of what to do next, you can either choose to investigate further or head towards the target, based on the given information.
Supportive Missions take that system further and turns it to broader missions where you either help a character in need and they’ll give information in exchange, tailing another to either pickpocket or find a certain place, and you can also eavesdrop on a conversation, blending in and walking among people in relevant spots, in hopes of overhearing information, threatening characters to give out information or even Assassinating and learning more through a White Room conversation.
These missions are optional. Each main mission will feature many of those, and you can do 1-3 of them and find enough answers which can either be accurate or misleading, depending on which ones you’ve played and what you’ve learned. However, you have to draw your own conclusions, either by focusing on what’s said and done, or by checking your diary to find the information that the Assassin have collected from all these sources and based on those, you can plan your attack. You could be right or wrong.
If you didn’t finish all of them, you have to rely on the information at hand, and not every mission gives the full picture, so you could be mislead and not find your target. But if you finish them all, then the answer will be definitive. And of course, you could also be right even by doing none and just striking randomly at the right spot (or if you replayed or known how to do it, you just go straight to your target, depending on the time of the day and weather. This will be explored in the next section.
It’s up to the player to decide how many of those missions they play, and which ones, and how to plan the attack and when. It gives the player the freedom to determine their own game’s difficulty and giving them so much time to play and extend the experience within the main story, without adding plot-less and irrelevant quests that feel unrewarding or unrelated to the Assassin’s story.
Imagine being on a mission where you should not be detected, whether the game mandates that or not, you are an Assassin, you have your tenants; you’re supposed to be stealthy, you’re not supposed to kill innocents and you’re supposed to refrain from ever compromising the brotherhood.
Let’s assume you started a mission and you got detected, therefore, this could lead you to getting captured, unless you kill everyone or escape and come back later.
Possibility A) you escaped or got killed in conflict. B) you got captured and that’ll lead to either X) dying or Y) surviving, yet you’ll be identified and get forced to A) confess, if you do, they’ll invade the Assassins den, but you may escape, and B) if you don’t, you could die or escape. The invasion of the Assassins Den could A) affect future missions, where you’ll either be forced to carry out other missions alone, and without the aid of the brotherhood, be punished or get demoted by your Mentor or B) if all is done right, you get to have their full support. All this could not only affect the story but the difficulty. It is similar to Final Fantasy where if you reach a boss fight and you’re not leveled up, you simply will not win, or you could win but by spending your resources on healing items and stuff that could compensate for your lack of leveling up.
Another example would be completing missions in a different order, provided that it doesn’t contradict with the succession of events that are reliant on one another. This could lead to certain missions becoming harder to figure out, because if a character is supposed to hint you about your target was killed later, he would not appear again to tell you how to do it or where to look, and therefore, you’ll be forced to either find new people who know or you just stumble upon clues by chance or by using Eagle Vision and other investigation skills, making the game easier or harder, depending on what you did, or choosing to do a mission during a sandstorm or a clear weather, during day or night, which affects your stealthiness, your ability to track and see, and the type of people who will be available or unavailable at the time. For example, during a sandstorm, a character who could lead you to your target will be at home, while during clear weather, they’ll be in walking in the streets. If it’s daytime, you find them working, and if it’s night, they’re at home or in a market or by a river bank.
Completing missions your own way could extend to putting consequences for failure. For example, a man told you to save his wife, child, caravan or camel, if you fail, the person will not help you, or they could become hostile towards you, which will lead you to following a different lead. And this of course, could mainly work with the small objectives, because main ones should have more definitive conclusions. In the next section, I’ll explain how freedom can work between main and supportive missions.
Every main mission will grant the player the freedom to find their answers the way they like and to reach their target however they see fit. Let’s look at main missions as hubs. Imagine being in a large room which opens to other rooms, yet they’re all inside the same complex. You’re free to roam around and do whatever you want, but for example, you cannot leave that complex unless you go through a certain door. This is only a metaphor, meaning that the you cannot finish the main mission without succeeding, but supportive missions can allow failure. You cannot finish a main mission by simply deciding that the target is not worth assassinating, but you can choose to abandon the small missions or fail them and move on to next ones.
This sense of freedom will also help giving a story value to the rewards we’d get from finishing missions. For example, we no longer need to be told that we’ve finished a mission with 100% synch and be given a gift out of nowhere, but instead, if when we play the supportive missions, we’ll be able to find items, whether the people we help give to us or we find in our path or take off the body of our target. Which could erase the feeling that we’re trying to cater “scores” or “points” to be rewarded by our game with a gift. But instead, give a logical reason as to why we got this armor, the sword or this sum of money.
Synchronization has always played a pivotal role in the process of reliving genetic memories in Assassin’s Creed games, as previously mentioned. If the player is to be given the freedom to tell the story their own way, then this could be explained by telling the player that the modern day protagonist is using a new type of Animus which simulates the world to the user, without restricting him/her to a certain path, however, the user has to match certain requirements for synchronization. The program allows ‘deviations’ from the set of actions performed by the user’s ancestors, but only to a certain extent, which doesn’t extend as far as changing major events, leading to a time paradox.
A synchronization bar will determine how many of your actions you’ve performed similarly to your ancestor, from the simple, mundane ones, to the major and essential ones. This bar fills up, like a score or a currency. Certain main missions will not unlock unless you’ve matched a certain level of synchronization. Meaning that you’re free to do some missions before others, but in certain instances, you’ll be restricted, either by your lack of Synch or by not finishing a certain main mission (hub) which is related to the one after, in a way that it’s impossible to play the two in a different order.
Following this system, the game will not sacrifice narrative for freedom, nor will it do away with everything we’ve learned about synchronization to give players more liberty and choice. Otherwise, it would only be logical to synch the final missions so the modern day protagonist(s) know the information they’re after, thereby ending the story in one mission. Which isn’t reasonable.
The Animus is a simulator. It reads your genetic memories and creates a reality based on what your DNA holds, and renders everything in great detail. What you have to do is follow the story to certain points in order for the Animus to “understand” and simulate the next chapter, based on the given actions of the previous ones. It isn’t like time travel or walking in your ancestors footsteps with great precision, but rather match certain nodes, but rather similar to IF/THEN scenarios, and that’s how the next chapter is deciphered and simulated for you.
Thank you for your consideration.