Sixty hours after I started playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the game tells me that England is pacified. I feel like I finally put a giant, lumbering beast to rest.
Mention AC today and you would elicit a groan from more than an insignificant minority. As a fan of the series, I don’t try to argue my still burning love for it. No one can take that away.
The groans from a certain perspective are valid. The formula hasn’t veered significantly from one instalment to the next. For a series that began 14 years ago with almost 10 major titles to its name, its fundamental mechanics largely remain the same. And yet every new instalment manages to keep pace or outsell previous instalments. All valid criticism aside, no one can deny, that with Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft had created something special.
I remember watching that awe inspiring CG trailer from E3 2006 unsure of what to expect from the actual game. That first game was rough around the edges, but it was unlike anything I had experienced before. Assassin’s Creed 2 is what many consider a deliverance on the initial promise. Players loved the lead character of Ezio and the many improvements over the first game. Jesper Kyd’s unforgettable score elevated the game to a whole new level and signalled the beginning of a major franchise.
After finishing Valhalla, I began to think about why I have really stuck with the series for as long as I have.
There is the narrative foundation of it all. The ever fascinating assassin's vs templar saga continues to drive things forward while allowing for each game's individual character arcs. The modern underpinnings of the story were never very interesting and have been de-emphasised over the years. But it has allowed Ubisoft to vary the geographical and historical settings across its instalments to great effect.
The history brings with it a host of interesting characters from their timelines and I mostly loved Ubisoft's way of tying them together with the story and the protagonist. As the franchise has grown to encompass multiple studios working on it, the attention to detail lavished is probably rivalled only by the likes of someone like Rockstar. And they do this every couple of years. I am glad they moved away from the yearly cycle as the number of hours I needed to see them through began to get overwhelming.
While some say that nothing much has changed over the years I think everything that has changed has been more than enough for it to feel fresh every time. If I really think about it, Ubisoft can't be faulted for trying enough to switch things up. The location, characters and historical narrative, changes with every single instalment. I also find the characters to be consistently well written.
They gave us flying apparatus through Da Vinci and wonderful naval combat in Black Flag. Combat became meatier for better or worse and we even got light settlement building. They tugged back and forth on layering RPG style systems into the game. We got guns in one instalment and your own little squad in another. They've given us multiple main characters and a whole host of tiny changes over the years.
While some might not find this enough, a lot of players today also feel that these changes are too many. That all this takes away from what it means to be an Assassin's Creed game. This is probably true but can you really sustain a series of this frequency for as long as they have without any real changes. I know FIFA sells by the truckloads every single year but I don't think that could work here.
For me, just knowing the fact the I will get to see a brand new location and immerse myself in a whole new narrative when the next game comes out is enough to keep me easily satisfied for a couple of decades more. Or at least until I become physically and mentally incapable of playing games of this magnitude. To reproduce the oft quoted words. "It is more than the sum of it's parts"