Growing up I was always into singleplayer games over multiplayer. It was definitely a choice, and not because I had no friends into games, and felt intimidated by the prospect of talking to adult men on comms. It was definitely a choice. But for the longest time, singleplayer games were all I consumed in the basement of my parents' house.
One Christmas, I was given Assassin's Creed 3 and I was hooked. Though maybe not the best in the series, AC3 opened my eyes to Ubisoft's stealth series and I adored it. In the coming years, the Assassin's Creed franchise was my go-to and when I'd finished the campaign of AC3 and bagged as many collectables as I could be bothered to fetch, my eyes fell on the multiplayer portion of the start screen.
If you're new to the Assassin's creed series, the multiplayer mode I'm talking about is ancient history. AC: Brotherhood, AC: Revelations, AC3, and AC: Black Flag all featured a mode where you'd kill other online assassins in an arena. Within crowds of NPCs, you'd have to deduce which of the characters on your screen were just AI and which were your human enemies, trying to hunt you down. It was as much about observation as action and, in how that aligned with the game's mechanics and themes, an excellent fit.
I remember the adrenaline rush as I had to stand my ground in a crowd, knowing full well an assassin was on their way to kill me. My hands would start sweating as I could see them approach, and their character model hesitating, wondering if you're their target. And then they mess up. They turn their back, or maybe they kill the wrong person in the crowd. You can retaliate, knock them off guard, and run back into the crowds of people, off to find a new spot to camouflage. The ultimate game of hide-and-seek.
There were several modes over the four titles which would change the flavour of multiplayer here and there. Though it was always about staying hidden and alive, there would be a variety of objectives to complete. For example, in the main mode you have a target to kill while you're trying to avoid being killed yourself. Depending on the mode, there are more or fewer clues as to who your target is, from an icon to a radius tracker, which would give a hot or cold approximation of how close you were.
On the other hand there were options with a more team-focused strategy. For example, there was the classic map domination mode where you'd win by holding points. This isn't a new game concept by any means, but it was freshened up and reinvented in Assassin's Creed multiplayer by making it more difficult to determine just who is the person in the zone capturing. You can't just kill everyone in the area, you have to work out who's your enemy and who is just a bystander.
Though there was plenty of customization to the characters you'd play in Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag (I used to main the puppeteer), the core mechanical abilities of all these assassins were the same. You can climb, run, use doors to disrupt your enemies, hide in crowds—the classics. Everyone here had played the campaign and knew how to employ these skills to fool and outwit NPCs, but playing against real people made everything that more compelling.
Running away from a real person isn't nearly as easy as it was escaping an AI, and a human brain is far better at predicting your path and cutting you off. You could be stalking your own prey and suddenly be attacked from above because you got lazy in checking behind your shoulder. Everything you had learned in the campaign was relevant, but heightened. You're not the only one who can do a backflip now kid, everyone is just as smart as you are.
It feels like the multiplayer was where you got a real feel for being an assassin in some ways. If you know the series, then you'll know that assassin's versus templars is a tale as old as time (historically speaking). The relationship between the two is well explored throughout the games' campaigns but the warring and violence between the two is often told through exposition and hand gestured et ceteras. The multiplayer mode really felt like a war between the two organisations where everyone was a trained killer rather than a political figure you had to hunt and just needed to get close enough to to complete a mission.
I'm not the only one missing this mode. There are quite a few YouTube videos either asking the same question as this article, or in fact, going back to the servers and playing the modes all these years later. There is a want for this multiplayer to come back, but what actually happened to it?
Black Flag is the last time that this assassin versus assassin style of multiplayer appeared in the series. It was replaced, in Assassin's Creed Unity, with co-op wherein you could complete missions with a group of four. After Unity launched as a broken mess, I guess these multiplayer modes were abandoned entirely, with the exception of some light teamwork you can do in Valhalla. But why bin it?
Ubisoft loves online multiplayer. From Tom Clancy games to Watch Dogs Legion, it has a wide variety of online experiences. Perhaps after Unity's failure to impress, it was decided that Assassin's Creed was at its best as a singleplayer adventure. Maybe there weren't enough people playing the multiplayer to make the development worth the effort, even with the cosmetics and abilities it encouraged players to buy.
But I do have hope for it making a reappearance. We've heard a little about Assassin's Creed Infinity. Though still in its development stages we know that the game will be focused on a live-service format, and bring together multiple historical settings. Personally, I think this would be a perfect opportunity to reintroduce some of the earlier games, as well as their multiplayer functionality. Bringing back multiplayer with Infinity just makes sense, as a live-service model would mean the team wouldn't have to reinvent multiplayer with every new release as they did before.
Basically, I just miss feeling like an assassin in Assassin's Creed. With the latest releases, the games have transformed into historical, mythological, RPGs more than an organised murder syndicate simulator. I know that Valhalla, Odyssey, and Origins are great games, but sometimes I just want to stand in a crowd with an oversized hood waiting for my prey. Is that too much to ask?