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Game On: Ubisoft announces a swath of new Assassin’s Creed media

By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

After gamers and critics alike showed a pretty understandable degree of exhaustion from overexposure to the Assassin’s Creed franchise – from 2009 to 2015, Ubisoft churned out at least one title every year – the publisher made the rational decision to slow things down a bit.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and all that. The games that followed from 2017-20 were received more favorably, and it seems Ubisoft has taken that as their cue to ramp up production once again.

During the publisher’s “Ubisoft Forward” showcase on Saturday, they announced an absolute boatload of incoming Assassin’s Creed content: a Netflix show, a mobile app, two mobile games, three impending mainline entries and the final DLC for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, their well-received Viking-themed 2020 release.

If I’m being honest, I can’t see all of these being success stories. One of the mobile games will be tied to the Netflix Games platform, and while cloud gaming is likely to be a big hit in coming years, if the likes of Google and Amazon are struggling to make headway with their Stadia and Luna platforms, I doubt Netflix will have better luck. Then there’s the show – Netflix adaptations of video games have been hit or miss, with Resident Evil being canceled after one season while Castlevania and Arcane flourished.

Ubisoft is promising a proper open-world experience with mobile title Assassin’s Creed Codename Jade, which will be a technical marvel if nothing else – mobile games aren’t exactly known for their depth. “The Last Chapter” add-on for Valhalla is sure to please many given the main game’s popularity. Personally, I’m most excited for Assassin’s Creed Mirage, the next mainline entry.

Due to release sometime next year, Mirage is set in 9th century Baghdad and promises to deliver more stealth-based gameplay the early titles were so renowned for. In recent years, the series has practically abandoned the original formula in favor of action RPG mechanics.

In the original Assassin’s Creed, players could travel by horseback between kingdoms but otherwise moved discreetly, blending in with crowds or keeping to rooftops. When possible, it was best to assassinate your target and make a quick getaway in favor of starting an all-out street brawl. In recent entries, players command large vessels and rarely keep a low profile.

Mirage is aimed squarely at gamers who miss the sneakier side of things, and as a bonus, it’s also touted to be a more focused, shorter experience. Most Assassin’s Creed titles from 2013’s IV: Black Flag onward have been filled to the brim with side quests that can easily keep gamers occupied for 50+ hours – narrative director Sarah Beaulieu estimates Mirage’s runtime to be around 15-20 hours for most players, and referred to the experience as “linear – you have a beginning, you have an end, and it’s a character’s evolution.”

I can appreciate Ubisoft’s attempt to instill greater variety in the franchise, but losing sight of its roots entirely has been a clear mistake. Perhaps now the publisher is learning that different people appreciate different things about Assassin’s Creed.

Accordingly, I don’t think Ubisoft expects the swath of incoming titles to appeal to everyone. On the flipside, the mere existence of the mobile app, Assassin’s Creed Infinity, might imply otherwise. Franchise producer Marc-Alexis Côté described it as “a hub that will unite all of our experiences and our players together in meaningful ways,” whatever that means.

Between that and Ubisoft’s subsequent announcement that all of their future AAA games will retail for $70, I feel the publisher is overplaying its hand. While Assassin’s Creed is still a popular franchise, it doesn’t have the near-universal reverence it once did, and announcing nine additions to the franchise in one showcase would’ve been ludicrous even then.

The shotgun approach failed the franchise last decade, and I’m not convinced it will serve Ubisoft any better this time around. At the very least, with multiple studios working on this myriad of titles, we’re likely to get a good game or two out of the mix. Assassin’s Creed Mirage has me excited, and fans have been begging for a Feudal Japan entry a la Codename Red for many years.

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