The Assassin's Creed franchise is easily one of the biggest IPs in gaming, alongside behemoths like Super Mario, Pokemon, Call of Duty, and the like. Yet, Ubisoft’s treatment of the series and its core fanbase has somewhat tarnished the reputation of the series as a whole.
From creating gigantic open worlds often filled with mundane activities to introducing microtransactions and lootboxes in these exclusive single-player experiences, the AC series has slowly but surely been going downhill.
While new games in the open-world franchise aren’t inherently bad, they do lack the charm and identity of the series. The combat system in the new RPG Assassin's Creed games is arguably the best the series offers, with many customization options and skills to experiment with different playstyles.
However, in pursuit of giving players a choice over every aspect of the game, Ubisoft has reduced the once iconic stealth action-adventure franchise to yet another open-world RPG trying to emulate Skyrim or The Witcher 3.
The most recent title in the series, Valhalla, despite promising a grounded and more stealth-focused experience, is nothing close to what the series originally stood for. But it seems Ubisoft is finally listening to fans and is returning to the series' roots with their upcoming title, Assassin's Creed Mirage.
Changes introduced in the core Assassin's Creed experiences over the years, for better or for worse
Assassin's Creed Mirage was initially in development as an expansion for Valhalla, featuring Basim Ibn Ishaq, one of the antagonists and a Hidden One (proto-assassin) in the game. However, during development, the scope and ambitions for the title expanded into their own standalone thing.
Ubisoft Bordeaux, the development team behind AC Mirage, conceptualized the game as an homage to the original Assassin's Creed, something fans have asked for years since Ubisoft drove the franchise more profoundly into RPG territory.
According to the narrative director of Mirage, Sarah Beaulieu, the game will focus much more on the core tenets of the series, i.e., stealth, assassinations, and parkour, something that has been missing from the series since 2017’s Assassin's Creed Origins.
The series' subpar stealth system, which has only degraded in quality over the years
While stealth has never been a strong point of the series, the groundwork the original titles laid down with the social stealth elements was truly revolutionary. Blending in the crowd of NPCs, hiding in plain sight of the target, and assassinating them are rarely seen in modern AAA open-world games.
Ubisoft did improve the social stealth aspect of the series with 2014’s AC Unity. However, the improvements made to the core gameplay system in that title were hampered by the dreadful state of the game's launch.
The stealth aspects were made even worse by omitting the ability to one-hit assassinate using the hidden blade, which makes little to no sense in an Assassin's Creed title.
Instead of focusing on the stealth and assassinations aspect of the series and streamlining the games to deliver an authentic AC experience, Ubisoft steered the series towards an entirely different direction, for better and for worse.
A significantly inferior traversal system has now replaced the iconic parkour and freerunning system
Another aspect of the series that has been severely downgraded over the years is the parkour traversal, which used to be synonymous with Assassin's Creed. Freerunning and parkour in Assassin's Creed have always been the highlight of the series, something that used to be the draw for the franchise.
However, with Origins, Ubisoft has dumbed down the freerunning, making it just a climbing and basic traversal tool, lacking the finesse and coolness of the parkour system of the franchise. Once again, Ubisoft did innovate and perfected the parkour traversal with Unity. However, never truly capitalized on it with future entries in the series.
The RPG trilogy of Assassin's Creed does offer an incredible open-world experience, filled with some great stories and a great combat system, that is miles ahead of what the series offers with the earlier games. However, these games are also the further the series has ever strayed away from the core ideals of what makes an Assassin's Creed game worthy of the title.
It is due to this reason that Ubisoft Bordeaux’s promise of returning to the “roots” of the series with Assassin's Creed Mirage sounds so enticing. While players are yet to get a glimpse at Mirage's gameplay, the way Ubisoft is marketing the title and the game’s announcement trailer makes it seem like the quintessential stealth action-adventure game that fans have been asking for.
Changes Ubisoft Bordeaux can bring to the table with Assassin's Creed Mirage to overhaul Ubisoft’s open-world formula
Assassin's Creed Mirage can act as the first step for Ubisoft to evolve its stale and mundane open-world design for the AC series and even other open-world IPs under the French publisher’s umbrella.
Ubisoft’s game’s used to be pioneers in creating some of the most innovative story-driven action-adventure games. From stealth-focused Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon games to the open-world action-adventure behemoths like Assassin's Creed and Far Cry, Ubisoft has always delivered some really fun and exciting gameplay ideas while also delivering an engaging narrative experience.
However, over the years, the French publisher has been more inclined towards creating lazily designed open worlds, which despite featuring a plethora of quests, side content, and other activities, never truly delivered anything of substance or memorable.
Assassin's Creed Mirage will make do with the series' RPG progression in favor of a more focused linear narrative-driven experience
The bloated nature of Ubisoft's most recent open-world titles is known to bog down the overall quality of the game’s rather fun gameplay. However, with Assassin's Creed Mirage being a more focused experience, it is very much possible for the company to innovate once again regarding its tried and tested open-world formula.
According to the developers, Assassin's Creed Mirage is doing away with most of the RPG elements of the previous few AC titles, including the arbitrary level system, perks, dialogue options, and more, to deliver a more focused narrative and gameplay experience.
The level-gated content was something fans of the series found detrimental to the last three titles in the series. Despite Valhalla reducing the burden of levels by introducing a faster and more lenient power level system, it was nowhere near perfect and still locked players behind arbitrary restrictions before they could engage with certain quests or combat encounters.
Getting rid of the level system will exponentially improve the Mirage’s moment-to-moment gameplay, giving players full agency over the quests or activities they want to pursue without grinding for levels. This progression system is very similar to the original AC games.
Having worthwhile side quests that provide some entertaining and intriguing stories can add to the open-world experience
An open-world experience is nothing without quality side content to keep players busy between the main story quests. While repetition in gameplay is inevitable in open-world titles, developers can instead offer some engaging and memorable stories with the side quests in their titles to make them much more exciting for the players.
Mirage’s setting of 9th century Baghdad offers a lot of avenues for developers to stitch fascinating narratives with the side quests that may or may not connect with the game’s overarching plot, which can increase the quality of the side content in the game ten folds, while also making the open-world something worth exploring, not just for new gear or combat equipment, but also to experience some intriguing stories.
Mirage will feature a fluid parkour traversal system akin to Assassin's Creed Unity
Another crucial aspect of any open-world title is the traversal system, which, more often than not, can make or break an experience. While parkour was one of the most neglected aspects of the recent Assassin's Creed titles, Ubisoft Bordeaux has promised to deliver a much-improved parkour traversal system for Mirage.
The developers even cited Assassin's Creed Unity as a source of inspiration for the freerunning system in their game, which sounds promising given that Unity is considered to feature the series’ most nuanced, stylish, and fun parkour traversal.
There are a host of different ways Ubisoft Bordeaux can end up massively improving and evolving Ubisoft’s stale open-world design by delivering a more focused game.
While the open-world genre in itself comes with some limitations that can make the experience repetitive after a certain amount of time, great open-world titles like Bethesda Softworks’ Skyrim, CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and FromSoftware’s magnum opus Elden Ring circumvent the repetition by giving players an incentive to indulge in a loop of repetition.
It is yet to be seen how Ubisoft delivers on its ambitions and promises with Assassin's Creed Mirage, and whether the developers can end up impacting Ubisoft’s open-world formula in a meaningful way to finally make their games stand out amongst the crowd or if it remains as yet another stale Ubisoft open-world experience.