You know for all my talk and analysis that I blather on about here I like to think that I’ve left you readers with the impression that I am as prone to being excited and swayed from my opinion as the next person. That said, I should explain my feelings about the Assassin’s Creed franchise before I kick into this.
I was wowed into submission by the first game in the series. There is a strong warm place in my heart for the initial listening and pickpocket missions. Despite all of the cinematic flair and improvements in the subsequent games I have strong affection t for that first game even if it did dredge into monotony and I hated the combat system. At least I could do everything in the game.
I’ve enjoyed Assassin’s Creed 2 as much as I’ve played of it when I can and I’m sure I’ll enjoy the subsequent games when I get to them. I feel a bit bad for the reputation Desmond has in the series, even if it is deserved in Assassin’s Creed 3 (About the only voice Nolan North’s done that people don’t like so I guess the man was due). I haven’t played the latest release yet but criticism that reaches my ears is so divided between praise and condemnation that I can only shrug my shoulders and wait my turn.
That all said, I am wildly excited about Assassin’s Creed 4.
You see Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag covers the period of history when there was an Assassin that was also a pirate captain. This is during the period between1716 to 1726 which is also known as the golden age of Piracy.
We’ll one of them anyway.
Now, during this entry I can easily justify my interest discussing game design, implementation, aesthetics (and be rest assured I will) but in the end I have to be legitimately truthful about why I’m so excited despite my more intellectual justifications.
I freaking love pirates and I freaking love stealth games.
I can’t be more honest than that.
First of all; pirates. I have always been a big fan of pirate stories and mythos despite the fact that I’ve probably never seen a complete version of Treasure Island beyond the Muppet one. I might have seen one of the Disney versions when I was a wee lad and that sort of thing was on the TV as a special thing but don’t quote me.
Yes I know that most pirates aren’t like the Captain Blood film and what we normally imagine as the lifestyle of pirates was actually Spanish, French and English privateers and actual pirates were ruthless monstrous men (and women) who raped and pillaged. Fuck it. I still love the whole thing. I played the shit out of Sid Meier’s Pirates game when it was on the Genesis and again on PC. I can recite Captain Blood from memory and go watch it fifty times and I know that Blackbeard was really just a famous loon who didn’t know how to die and Henry Morgan was really history’s greatest pirate. I love it all.
Except One Piece. I can’t stand One Piece.
I also love stealth assassination games which include the likes of Metal Gear Solid and Dishonored among the Creed franchise. To me these games represent the ultimate in the concept of player effort yielding reward. And this isn’t through tedious grinding; this is through patient planning and strategy on the player’s part that is influenced and encouraged, not forced, by game design.
So you can imagine that in my mind I’m going to get some game that is half Sid Meier’s Pirates and half Assassin’s Creed. Now I’m probably not going to get exactly that though the idea of sneaking into a port city and eavesdropping on conversations and pickpocketing feels like a very natural flow. I do hope that Ubisoft does ditch a portion of its cut scene love for this title. Just to make the whole thing flow better.
But we’ll see on that point.
The thing though that I know will happen and make the game a success is that, on a thematic level, the game has already deduced a way to combine two unique overall game design ideals into one cohesive whole.
I’ll explain this one.
There’s two ways to look at video games: A linear progression of challenges that escalate in difficulty such as with Mario titles and mobile puzzle games and the like. The second is games that offer the player the chance to choose which combat engagements they take on.
Now in the first category the challenge is simple. Make each progressive challenge designed that it builds upon player skill base and the player feels that each success empowers them to take on later challenges. Simple conceptually, hard in execution. No argument.
In the second category though, that is dynamically more complicated even on the conceptual level. For now I’m going to talk about two ways of encouraging player progression. I’m sure there are more.
There is immediate challenge completion gratification and long term challenge completion gratification. In other words there are games that give you tiny simple things to beat and games that give that give you large complicated things to beat that require planning and effort. Often they both occur in modern games. Now this exists in linear games as well but I think it’s more nuanced here. The idea is that small challenges are offered to encourage the player to progress and gain skills to take on larger challenges. This is true from grinding in JRPGS to learning to dodge and fight in Mega Man to… I could go on forever.
Now the trick, the hard trick, I believe is in making the small challenges in the game not simply be smaller versions of the larger challenges. Skills and experience gained should transfer, but it shouldn’t just amount to more guards to fight or an enemy that just takes more hits.
That’s why I think Assassin’s Creed 4 has actually thematically proven that it’s balanced these two ideas. Piracy is all about immediate gratification. You travel, fight and kill at your whim and the skills and fortune you earn improve your men and upgrade your ship. Assassination takes time, planning, strategy and study. It isn’t hard to see this. You travel around having adventure and when you’re ready go be an assassin. And unlike the build a city or Assassin’s base features in Creed 2 and onwards, getting money has a more tangible reward: Upgrading your ship. Which you can then use to have more adventures.
In fact, wouldn’t it be awesome if the ship did become an Assassin’s base? People do the leap of faith from the crow’s nest into the water, you transport groups of Assassin’s yourself to bases to siege them for separate missions.
I know I’m really am only justifying here but I hope that my justification is at least valid. There exists a very easy merge of two distinct gameplay styles in one title and both to be freaking sweet!
I know it can be easily messed up and I know I might just be buying the hype.
But gosh darned it! I’m jazzed!
And so too does this work exist.