Assassin's Creed: Syndicate is Playing It Too Safe

Ubisoft's latest excuse for improved quality is its weakest yet.

It seems like we went from knowing almost nothing about Assassin's Creed: Syndicate (originally rumored as Assassin's Creed: Victory) to knowing a hell of a lot about it. We know the protagonists, the gameplay focus, the setting, the platforms, and have even seen the game in action. Except, something very core to modern Assassin's Creed games is missing, and this is highlighted as if it is beneficial to the game:

Multiplayer has been cut entirely.

I just would like everyone to remember that the award-winning, competitive multiplayer Assassin's Creed is known for has not received a follow up or substantial update since Assassin's Creed: IV. In that time, over four Assassin's Creed games have released since then. Some people, myself included, even started buying Assassin's Creed games specifically for the multiplayer. It offers a genuinely high-skill meets high-accessibility balance that few titles can match.

So, when Unity came around as a co-op only game, a lot of us just realized that we'd be stuck with Black Flag for a little longer. Surely we'd see a return of Wolfpack mode's timing based co-op frenzy, Assassinate mode's cat and mouse sneaking, and Manhunt's team-based brawls. Yet, now another year later, there's nothing new on the table for anyone who plays the series for its multiplayer. Not even extra DLC maps to bide the time.

The first excuse given for this is that the game would be going back to its roots, but this rings hollow due to something revealed around the time of Unity's press coverage. The original Assassin's Creed itself almost had co-op from the start, as the dev team loved playing around in-game as a co-op experience, but the lore made it nigh-impossible for the longest time. So which is it? Is Assassin's Creed a purely solitary experience, or is it an experience of fighting alongside brothers and sisters of the Creed?

Then we're told that it's to better keep the game from being buggy and broken at launch. Yet, Brotherhood, Revelations, and Black Flag all released just fine despite their included multiplayer modes. If anything, the only games that have had botched releases in Assassin's Creed history are Assassin's Creed III, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, and Assassin's Creed: Unity. Do you know what all three of those games have in common? They were overly ambitious, overly hyped, and tried to push boundaries whether or not it made sense.

The idea that multiplayer somehow took away from the experience is ridiculous, especially considering the online component of Liberation was barely more than a Facebook app and III's multiplayer was the only thing that wasn't completely broken when it launched. Unity was broken on a number of levels due to a shift in engine, which is why it, instead of Syndicate, should have been the unambitious single-player only story.

Assassin's Creed: Syndicate shouldn't be the "safe" game here, it should be the most ambitious yet.

Syndicate should be pushing the boundaries of the series, and yet, because Ubisoft got ahead of itself with Unity, now it's paying for it. Nevermind that the very idea of gang warfare suits the competitive multiplayer brilliantly, and could be integrated into the campaign. Nevermind that a two-player free roam co-op between the two protagonists would be fantastic. Ubisoft makes one mistake that is more tied to its new engine than its actual feature set in Unity, and suddenly the first unique looking next-gen Assassin's Creed game is going to "play it safe".

It's not only in this lack of multiplayer that the game is recoiling. A number of the mechanics and ideas present are really just bits and pieces from earlier entries. We had horses, so now there are carriages. We had that quick-ascend interactive bit, so now you have a wrist device that can do that whenever. We had the Brotherhood system so now we're making it a gang system. This is basically Brotherhood, just with a second playable character. That is how safe Ubisoft is playing it.

At this point, I'm beginning to wonder if unique features were pulled from the game mid-production due to negative response over Unity. If that is the case, let me make it clear to Ubisoft Quebec: cutting multiplayer doesn't make Assassin's Creed: Syndicate "better". We don't need you to "redefine" it like you did in Unity either. We just want a further expanded, further rebalanced multiplayer we enjoy on a regular basis.

As a whole, Ubisoft seems uncertain what to do with it's cash cow of franchise.

It's bad enough we have an excess of Assassin's Creed games. At least in the past, Ubisoft seemed to have some sort of over-arching plan for them, and kept the games evolving. Now, as they get their first real hits of negative response, they seem to be desperate just to please the core fanbase of the Ezio trilogy. Except that is going backwards.

Yes, Ubisoft had success with those games, but that doesn't mean they can just reskin them and make it like new. The series has to keep pushing forward, and steps forward shouldn't result in less content. We've already had this issue with Sims 4 and SimCity, and I sincerely think we don't need this to become a trend in the AAA console crowd.

Of course we want a stable Assassin's Creed game -- that's true for any franchise. That doesn't mean cutting wholesale features is the best answer. If Assassin's Creed: Syndicate is still broken at launch, then what will be used as an excuse? I'm all for taking some time to get a better grasp on the new engine technology, but then this simply goes back to Ubisoft's problematic development schedule.

I sincerely hope Assassin's Creed: Syndicate blows us all away and reassures worries with the franchise. Hope is all I can do though, because once again, Ubisoft gives inaccurate explanations for things that could be handled far better. Last year it was female characters being "too hard to animate", now multiplayer "adding to instability".

What's next on the list of things that were working fine before but are now classified as somehow broken or too much work? Synchronization points? Maybe the First Civilization sub-plot? Instead of trying to nitpick the series for a scapegoat, maybe just take more than two years to make the massive game worlds ever Assassin's Creed title has. I think we can all get on board with that idea.

Featured Columnist

Grumpily ranting at this computer screen since before you were playing Minecraft. For more of my work:

Published May. 13th 2015
  • Auverin Morrow
    Featured Contributor
    Man, I was so excited that Ubisoft was finally putting in more than just token female characters, but this is a deal-breaker. I was really, really hoping that Ubisoft would redeem themselves after the disappointment that was AC Unity. But there's no way that's gonna happen (for me) if multiplayer is chopped. And you're right - it makes zero sense to cut multiplayer in a game whose plot/characters are so well-suited to a multiplayer mode - arguably better-suited than most (if not all) of the more recent installments.
  • GameSkinny Staff
    I'd very much like to see AC take an extra year instead of come out 'safe', but I think safe and less ambitious is much more realistic from a business perspective. It's an annual franchise and people buy it every year, Ubisoft isn't blind to numbers. A better, mind-blowing game would get me to play - but convincing fringe case players like me isn't going to be much of a priority for Ubi. We're only going to see a change if new AC games stay on the shelves.
  • Elijah Beahm
    Featured Columnist
    Except there's also the fact that yearly release pretty much demands you make significant improvements to justify it. Think about Call of Duty -- hardly anyone cares about Modern Warfare 2-3 and Ghosts, but Black Ops II and Advanced Warfare did unique things and are still actively played. I expect the same to happen with Assassin's Creed in time.

    So while "safe" might sound appealing to their investors, from a game industry standpoint, I'm not so sure if that's their best option or not. I guess we'll really know whether or not it is once AC:S releases.
  • GameSkinny Staff
    I'd say that's a bit far off the mark to say that no one cares about MW 2-3, even Ghosts. Most vocal people on the internet considered Ghosts to be a bomb with 'meh' innovation at best. It was very safe and it sold over 19mil copies.

    It's kind of hard to look at that number of units brought in by a safe title and say, "yeah, nah, let's stop making safe games." It doesn't happen. Is this a good thing? No way. Annual games are toxic to the creativity of the industry, but as long as people keep buying safe annual releases then developers will have a tough time justifying NOT making another one next year.

    But, true, we can't know for sure what the game will look like until it's out. Maybe it'll innovate out the wazoo, who knows.
  • Elijah Beahm
    Featured Columnist
    They sold well, be their extended lifetimes are much more limited. Same could be said for World At War, a very safe entry that was hitting 5k or less max players well back in 2012. Imagine how much that has died down by this point.

    I am not saying we should stop making safe games entirely, but we can't pretend that safe games have as long a shelf life outside of late-entry buyers and curious buyers. There's a place for them -- and personally I think they should exist in order to keep things stable for more creative games -- but the problem is that they keep getting intermixed with experimental ones in the same franchises.

    Obviously every franchise needs something new every now and then, but I kind of wonder what would have been everyone's response if Advanced Warfare and Black Ops were their own IPs. Watch_Dogs was effectively a modern Assassin's Creed game, and it did decently, but also tried to simultaneously still play it safe. It's a very tangled mess, sadly.
  • Farrel Nobel
    Gotta agree with you on this. Ubisoft flew too close to the sun and got burned in AC Unity and now they're just playing scared.

    we don't need HUGE worlds filled with useless side missions, just give us a true assassin's creed experience with a good story with fun things that players WANT to do in the game.

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