The first time I saw a pack of hyenas take down a villager out for a stroll, I was devastated. They swarmed him in a second â in half a second â and I didn’t even know it had happened until his screams drifted across the canyon. I was sadly too late to save him.
I found him in a pool of blood on the ground, his belongings scattered around. I wouldâve stopped to pay my respects, maybe even help myself to the loot heâd dropped, but it didnât sound like the hyenas had gone far, so I scarpered before I too ended up lying in tatters beside him.
If he hadnât screamed, I might never have seen him. I might never have even known. Thatâs the magic of Assassinâs Creed: Origins and Odyssey. Thereâs a sense that, regardless of how much or how little you intervene in its world, it will continue to tick by. Wild animals will attack their prey, be it human or otherwise. Villagers will complete their daily chores. Itâs a huge, wild, energetic, living world in which there is always something happening. Nothing ever stood still.
Because of this, Ubisoft reigned supreme for me as one of the industryâs best developers. Its vast open worlds were a tad overwhelming, yes, but Christ, did I enjoy exploring them. Demisting the map. Liberating the enemy forts and outposts. Ubisoftâs formulaic gameplay scratched every gaming itch I have, from the gentle puzzles to the numerous collectables to the curiously satisfying combat.
Iâd send my trusty Eagle sidekick, Senu, up into the skies to scout ahead, tagging all the enemies I could see before I set foot in the place. Then Iâd slowly work my way through each camp, deactivating alarms, performing stealthy takedowns and stealing loot. I loved every second of it.
And yet the components that I enjoyed so much in Origins â region liberation; capturing forts/enemy hideouts; fetch quests; guns for hire â began to trickle into the companyâs other offerings, too, until every contemporary Ubisoft game seemed neatly pressed from the same mould. The setting varied, sure, but little else did. Iâd be lying if I said it bothered me at the time; I still think Origins is one of this generationâs most incredible, ambitious undertakings. It stood to reason that the developer would seek to duplicate this magic across other games and franchises.
It began to wobble towards the middle of this generationâs cycle, though. Not every release has been as magical. Far Cry is renowned for its charismatic antagonists â Joseph Seed and Vaas Montenegro are but two incredible examples â but the recent switch to mute, build-your-own protagonists rubbed away a little of their shine. The duplication of mission mechanics, even down to the bloody UI indicators, began to feel cheap. It felt as though a cloud of fatigue was blooming across Ubisoft games, as though it was running low on ideas.
The map â often cluttered and disturbingly overwhelming â served only to remind you of whatâs left to do, and not necessarily in a good way. Icons glow from all sections, indicating missions or collectables youâve yet to complete. Sometimes, this works â I was hellbent on getting around all of Far Cry 5âs prepper stashes and vinyl crates â but a lot of the time, all it does is remove the element of surprise. Thereâs no organic exploration or fun surprises if your map’s blinking like Vegas on steroids.
Several games later, and the cracks are really starting to show. Ubisoftâs glitches and bugs have always been wonderfully meme-able, but the more we encounter, the less funny they are. The homogenisation of Ubisoftâs disparate series make them feel increasingly less innovative and more mechanical, and the endless, repetitive side missions start to feel like pointless busy work and little else.
Three years after Assassin’s Creed Origins, Ubisoft has incorporated many of the same mechanics in Watch Dogs: Legions â the third instalment of an entirely different franchise â prompting a frustrating sense of dÃ©jÃ vu. Despite the innovative play-as-anyone conceit, its world isnât as convincing as Ubisoftâs games have been. It doesnât feel as deep nor as vibrant. The collectables still call me â- as does the urge to explore every inch of the map and âliberateâ each region â but it feels increasingly repetitive now.
Itâs a relief to know Ubisoft has acknowledged its design fatigue, and I suspect â particularly as the studio addresses some of the troubling allegations about its work culture â weâll start to see those changes as we move into next-gen. It doesnât matter how much I enjoy noodling around, exploring and collecting, those changes can’t come soon enough.
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Ubisoft, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Far Cry 5, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
World news – US – Ubisoftâs formula â tried and true, or time to change?