"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy." --Hamlet, Act V, Scene i
Recently, Jason Schreier over at Bloomberg reported that Ubisoft's next chapter in the Assassin's Creed series was going to be a live service game currently codenamed (unimaginatively) Assassin's Creed Infinity. Details were obviously scanty, but even the basic idea is enough to put one's teeth on edge. Ubisoft's announcement is basically saying, "We're doing this thing and here's everybody working on it," with some vague references to how post-COVID development practices have changed. "Rather than continuing to pass the baton from game to game, we profoundly believe this is an opportunity for one of Ubisoft’s most beloved franchises to evolve in a more integrated and collaborative manner that’s less centered on studios and more focused on talent and leadership, no matter where they are within Ubisoft," the official press release read.
So, another live service game. Another live service game from Ubisoft. 'Cause, you know, it's not like we already have enough of those. No, with Rainbow Six Siege, For Honor, Hyper Scape, The Division, The Division 2, Watch Dogs: Legion, and the upcoming Riders Republic, clearly the market can stand yet another one from Ubisoft which will in no way be competing with Destiny 2, Hitman III, Marvel's Avengers, Anthem, Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Warzone, Diablo IV, Halo Infinite, Minecraft, and Fortnite.
You cannot imagine how utterly wearying it was to list out all of those titles, and knowing I've probably still missed some. If that isn't enough proof that the market is at or over the point of saturation in live service games, I don't know what would be. For that matter, Ubisoft itself seems to have more live service games out than virtually any of its other competitors just at this moment. Is it honestly hurting so badly from CD Projekt RED beating them out as the biggest game publisher in Europe that it has to recapture the top spot at any cost? No, nothing so prosaic. Ubisoft just doesn't seem to give a damn about anything if it is not a live service game. Honestly, it's kind of surprising that they haven't tried to do this sooner. But even if they had, it'd still be a dumb-as-hell idea.
Since we have no idea exactly how Assassin's Creed Infinity is going to be structured, we can only guess. That said, we can use existing Ubisoft live service games to try and extrapolate. The most likely features will be:
- A single-player campaign which will be relatively short (maybe 20 hours), probably with multiple "character slots" to allow players to have different character/gear builds easily available to swap out with. For a first time playthrough, it'll probably take a week or two. By the fourth or fifth time, an experienced player could clear it on a Saturday with time to spare.
- A post-campaign multiplayer environment with PvE "open world" areas and dedicated PvP "arenas" of some sort.
- A "season pass" expansion, probably on a quarterly release schedule which will mostly add a bunch of small costume pieces and an even shorter single player experience, along with more mixed PvE/PvP multiplayer content.
- An in-game currency which will let you buy costume pieces which you would otherwise need to unlock through continuous gameplay
- Some kind of call back to other game franchises which may or may not be entirely germane. One example would be costume pieces from Splinter Cell showing up in The Division 2; another could be just as ridiculous as the Final Fantasy XV crossover in Assassin's Creed Origins.
And all of this will absolutely ignore everything that made the Assassin's Creed series interesting in the first place, while at the same time trying to cram in twenty odd years of previously established lore on top of whatever new lore is being developed as we speak.
There's simply no good way to make a game which is both a live service game and an Assassin's Creed game. Somebody out in the Peanut Gallery might argue that this is the best possible way we're ever going to see places and time periods like Sengoku-era Japan, India during the British Raj, the Mali Empire, or Pre-Colombian South America. By creating smaller slices of history to explore, the argument could run, it would be possible to create more opportunities for the franchise later on, almost like focus testing to see what new eras really deserve more attention. The problem with this is that in order to do so, you'd basically have to become a series of bit players in the grand saga of the Assassins, virtual nobodies who made no impact on the course of history except for that one time when they killed a guy. People who were unlikely to have lived long enough to have children whose DNA could be used to fuel the genetic memories needed by the Animus. I have no doubt somebody could half-ass an explanation which would seemingly mate up with existing lore, but it would be just that: half-assed.
They could go the other way, focusing more on the multiplayer than the single player, harkening back to Assassin's Creed Brotherhood with its different types of Assassins all fighting against each other. But then it's just For Honor with different skins and less interesting combat mechanics. And probably a bunch of people standing around a hub zone doing jumping jacks without actually talking to each other. While there are characters in Assassin's Creed games who handle support roles like researcher or armorer, it's unlikely Ubisoft is going to make being a researcher for an Assassin a viable game role, much less an interesting one. And while multiplayer would inherently suggest the creation of organized "clan" mechanics, it creates potential ludonarrative dissonance with the lore as a whole, not to mention the basic premise of being an Assassin. As another wise assassin from Grosse Pointe once said, "I didn't get into this business to have any relationships! I don't want to join your goddamn union. Loner, lone gunman -- get it? That's the whole point!"
Ubisoft seems to be bound and determined to ignore the fact they have created a franchise which is inherently focused on a solo experience. They've added some good things like the "Discovery Mode" history sections, they've added some terrible things like the Helix Store, but the core has always been the journey one person makes as they grow and evolve even as they ultimately erase themselves from history. How people who have wasted their lives up to a certain point finally get their act together and find the focus they lacked before they began fighting the Templars. Those stories are powerful and compelling and always worth enjoying. They make for the sort of games we want to replay years later because we want to enjoy the journey all over again, to see what we didn't catch the first time, to look at it with new experiences informing us since the last time we played. They fulfill players in a way which no live service game will ever truly be able to match.