When Ubisoft recently announced it was pushing out not just one new Assassin's Creed, but four (opens in new tab), I should have been pretty chuffed. I've been climbing historical landmarks and stabbing historical figures for 15 years and was still enthusiastic enough to put around 150 hours into both Odyssey and Valhalla. It's a series I like a great deal. But instead I found the news, and the prospect of many more Assassin's Creeds, exhausting.
In games, just like every other kind of media, success is a trap. Good games beget sequels, which spawn yet more if the reception is good enough, on and on until the sales dry up. Few successes are allowed to exist on their own; they have to be a vehicle for more big releases, more profits. With Assassin's Creed, this state of affairs chafes a bit more than with, say, Call of Duty, because there's an overarching plot that keeps being stretched and stretched to maintain the cavalcade of DLC and new games.
Apocalypse now and then
Assassin's Creed's first modern protagonist, Desmond Miles, sacrificed himself to save the world from an apocalyptic solar flare all the way back in 2012, at the end of Assassin's Creed 3. Nearly a decade later, new modern protagonist Layla Hassan sacrificed herself to save the world from an apocalyptic electromagnetic catastrophe at the end of Assassin's Creed Valhalla. The series is stuck telling the same stories over and over—the war between the Assassins and Templars, Abstergo's shenanigans, the world's imminent destruction.
Despite this repetition, the story grows harder to untangle with each new game. It's incredibly messy, but the real issue is that the modern day stuff simply isn't very good, and Ubisoft definitely seems to realise we just want to travel back in time and have a holiday in Ptolemaic Egypt or England during the Viking Age. Thus, the overarching plot gets pushed to the peripheries, being given a couple of hours of attention compared to the hundreds spent with long-dead Assassins.
The solution is not spending more time in the 21st century—it's concluding the story. It's run its course. Several times! And there needs to be a point to it all, narratively. After all these years, I want to know what Ubisoft's endgame is, but I don't think even it knows. I'm sure there's a list somewhere of possible destinations for the series, looking years ahead, and story beats that are being considered, but I don't believe it's working towards a conclusion. As long as it keeps generating money and seducing yet more players, it will continue until the world actually ends. For real this time. Or at least until Ubisoft comes up with something else just as successful.
All these announcements are quite telling: Ubisoft is heavily investing in Assassin's Creed because it's not having much luck elsewhere. Beyond Good & Evil 2 seems destined to be vapourware forever, Hyper Scape was shut down after less than two years, most people probably don't know Roller Champions even exists, and while Skull and Bones is finally launching in November [It was just delayed again (opens in new tab), until March 2023, mere hours after I wrote this.], it doesn't look like it will make much of a splash. Far Cry is still around, but even it seems stuck in a rut these days, with the series seemingly unable to showcase anything that feels meaningfully new or creative. At least there's Rainbow Six Siege.
Ubisoft's reputation has also taken a significant hit, and rightly so: 2020 saw several allegations surface that accused the publisher of having deep-seated cultural problems that allowed senior employees to discriminate, harass and bully without consequences. The fallout from this included several resignations and terminations (opens in new tab), but in July of this year, A Better Ubisoft, an internal group that was created to campaign for better working conditions, claimed that its demands had not been met (opens in new tab).
With all the bad press and a slew of games that hardly set the world aflame, it makes sense that the publisher would cling onto its one sure thing. Assassin's Creed is a safe bet, especially when there are folk like myself, who are largely tired of the series but still willing to spend hour after hour exploring 9th century England.
The neverending story
Look, I will absolutely play some of these new Assassin's Creeds. While the story feels stuck in a loop and the underlying structure of the series hasn't changed all that much, it's not like it never offers anything new. Starting with Origins, it began pivoting from stealth game to RPG, a change that was fully embraced in Odyssey and continues in Valhalla. This has changed how character progression and combat works, and the addition of so much more story, thanks to the quests peppering the world, has been very welcome. But I still want it to end.
It's not just that the series deserves a conclusion—I do, too. I've foiled countless plots, murdered countless Templars, and I feel like I've earned the right to watch Abstergo's destruction. This isn't James Bond, with its infinite rogue's gallery and constant reinventions; it's a cohesive story—at least it's meant to be—with the same set of antagonists working towards their nefarious goal. But without an end in sight there are no stakes, and I increasingly feel obligated to play to keep up with a story I was once invested in, hoping that it will all pay off eventually, even though I know it probably won't.
What was once planned as a trilogy has now introduced concepts like the necessity of the Assassin-Templar war, which Odyssey indicated was essential to the survival of Earth. And Earth, it turns out, has been targeted for destruction, and will keep facing extinction events that the Assassins will need to circumvent. Odyssey and Valhalla have set things up so that there will always be an excuse for a new game. Hence, Assassin's Creed Infinity (opens in new tab).
Unfortunately, just like Abstergo, capitalism is a cockroach that won't give up, demanding constant growth, constant expansion, and the work of the Assassins won't be over until the success turns into failure. It's a sad state of affairs: we won't get a finale until Assassin's Creed stops entertaining people.