Saturday, February 9, 2013

Assassin's Creed Timeline (Part 9) - We need freedom

My last post was a fairly liberal lambasting of Assassin's Creed 3, where I pretty much railed against nearly every aspect of the game.  I stand by that assessment entirely, but I thought I'd take a slightly different look at why the game didn't work in the context of the overall series.

From their inception, the AC games have been a giant sandbox. While the size and scope of that sandbox has shrunk a little as the series has developed, one of AC3's biggest problems is that it wanted to take the sandbox away entirely. Before anyone starts talking about how there is more side content than ever before, that's part of the problem.

The core problem that runs through the entire game is that AC3 tries to dictate exactly how you should play the game. There is a set way to grow your homestead and specific order for the homestead missions. There's a set path you have to follow to find Captain Kidd's treasure. When you're running along the treetops, there are set intersections where you can switch to a different treetop track. There is frequently only one way to complete each mission and obtain full synchronization.

I wanted freedom, not a preset path. This isn't Assassin of Duty.

Many of the game's designers seem to have forgotten that they are making a sandbox, and that the chief tenet of a sandbox game is player choice. The player should be able to do pretty much whatever they want, whenever they want. AC3 doesn't allow that, and almost at every turn actively tries to constrain the player and send them along the predetermined and preordained path that the designers have laid down. The much hated final chase sequence of the game is a perfect example of how and why this is awful. Even after being patched to make it easier, it's still ridiculously easy for players to fail this sequence if they don't follow the "correct" path. This is exactly the opposite of how a sandbox game should play out.

Compare and contrast to other sandbox games: GTA, Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, Sleeping Dogs. The core story does have a set path of missions to follow, though even then there are sometimes multiple missions that the player can choose between at certain times. These games infrequently dictate a single path that the player has to follow (outside of things like "race missions"), but instead allow them to make their own choices of what to do and how to do it. This is why they are engrossing and engaging, because they provide an environment in which the player can do whatever they want, but occasionally provide direction and incentive for the player to pursue particular goals. A good sandbox should make the player want to achieve certain goals, rather than dictating to them what they must do and how they should do it.

A sandbox must provide freedom. I hope that everyone involved in the development of AC4 keeps this principle in mind, otherwise it will almost certain turn out to be a mediocre title like AC3.

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