#4: Make assassinations more memorable.
Unity already had a stab (ah ha ha) at this, but it wasn’t entirely successful. The huge infiltration environments and optional opportunities were great fun, and made assassinations feel like more than the stabbing you get up to while running about the streets, but there was so little room for improvisation or creativity that they ended up being very scripted experiences. Ubisoft does such a good job of enabling emergent gameplay in Far Cry, and there are some great cues in classics of the stealth genre like Hitman and Dishonored. Ubisoft should think very hard about what it wants the assassination experience to be, because, well – it’s in the title of the game, innit. It should be the best bit. On that note…
#5: Quit design-by-numbers and figure out what the heck you’re doing.
Nobody at Ubisoft has any idea what Assassin’s Creed is actually about, and so every release wanders off to do something else. In some ways I really like this, and I really enjoyed the base-building of Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood, as well as the sailing in Black Flag and trade empires in Assassin’s Creed 3. But I feel like there’s room to experiment with these systems, and even have them play major roles in the overall design, while still doubling down on what it is that makes Assassin’s Creed itself special. What is that? I don’t know. Fans will tell you it’s the stealth, or the assassinations, or the crowds, or the historical tourism, but none of these aspects have been especially successful for several entries now, and certainly aren’t getting the kind of design focus they need to truly shine. Instead of throwing in new systems and mechanics every time (and, as discussed above, putting multiple teams on them), Ubisoft should ease off the focus testing and design the game the old-school way: as a complete, one-piece experience tightly focused on the core strengths of the formula. The core strengths, Ubi; not abstract “design pillars”.
#6: Push the writing
On a related note, Ubisoft should retain and celebrate the things it’s done right this time. Both Rogue and Unity have drawn praise for their story-telling, for quite different reasons. Ubisoft should take a good long look at the reception to both games and figure out what it’s doing right. Protecting the canon isn’t all you need to do to make your universe a place of rich, compelling stories and characters – and if you don’t have rich, compelling stories and characters, the scales fall from our eyes and we suddenly realise we’re doing endless fetch quests when we could be outside in the fresh air.
#7: Do something with all that amazing city and crowd tech.
Unity’s version of Paris is undoubtedly one of the best cities we’ve ever seen in a video game. The huge crowds are genuinely impressive. Wandering its streets is a sheer pleasure, and its been designed with a good eye for providing free-run opportunities without consequently leaving it looking like token textures slapped on mechanics-focused geometry. Sadly, it’s just not that great a place to actually play a game in. The touted “dynamic” crowds are annoying to move through and rarely provide gameplay opportunities. The “living, breathing city” boils down to the same tiny handful of optional gameplay events occurring so frequently as to be laughable. Nothing you do seems to make any difference to the city. You may as well be back in Rome, really.
#8: Go somewhere else.
One of the best things about the first Assassin’s Creed was it showed us something of the world in a way other video games hadn’t. Most games that take us into the middle east cast us as American or at least definitely western soldiers and have us mowing down enemies. Assassin’s Creed made us a local, and explored the setting from a perspective in which the European presence was invasive, not gloriously justified by terrorism or liberation or whatever we’re calling our oil greed nowadays. That was super interesting. Since then, though, it’s been very Euro-centric. Italy. The US. Paris. And now London. Black Flag is the only one to deviate from the endless parade of thoroughly western settings, and even then it is preoccupied with European and American matters. Let’s go somewhere else, be somewhere else, and maybe learn a thing.
#9: Definitely make sure it works.
Yeah, no, let’s not have another balls-up like the Unity launch. Delay the next one, if you have to. Delay it substantially. You can afford it.