Assassin’s Creed became a major hit in the gaming world…Four years ago, upon a quick wikipedia search. Talk about time flying by. In all those years, I still haven’t managed to complete the first one, and I’m going to outline why below for anyone that cares. Let me go ahead and say that the game did do some incredible things at the time of its release, contextual controls not so much, but the low and high profile control swaps were genius. The graphical quality and animations were and still are to this day, rather superb. However, it is still lacking in many key areas, one of which I will immediately state as it has been so often noted:
This game is incredibly, abhorrently repetitious. For every assassination you must do the same tasks in preparation of them. They make sense, yes, but doing it over and over is not fun, which a game is meant to be.
I haven’t noticed this mentioned nearly as often as that first point, but the suspicion meter is absolutely annoying. I’m sure they’ve likely fixed it in the newer additions to the series, but in the first, it’s a game killer. First off, you’re in a hood and white robes, clearly sticking out, so how you’re to get around the world without enemies becoming suspicious is, well, beyond me. They provide many means to do it, certainly, but getting between the different towns, which should, you would think, be a quick endeavor, becomes a mind-numbing chore as you trot about on a horse trying to avoid rousing the enemies to aggression. And you must trot. If you switch to high profile, you get an incessant alert noise and a load of annoying shouting at you.
Suspicion is a great mechanic technically speaking, it just needed some more adjustment. A later release that’s gameplay is highly inspired by Assassin’s Creed, The Saboteur, has a much more refined and less cumbersome system in place. Keep your weapons out of sight, don’t get too close, and the enemies typically won’t mess with you. Oh, and you’re not walking by default in that game, but that’s another matter entirely.
I honestly think suspicion was an attempt by the designers to force immersion upon the player. Where they couldn’t get it with the HUD, the UI, story, art direction, animation, music, or atmosphere, they seem to have tried to get it with gameplay. Instead of running about all the time, they make you walk by default. Instead of allowing you to just zip to towns via some Animus magic, they make you gallop there by horse (maybe they’ve changed this in the newer games), and rather than allowing you to leave a saved citizen as a mysterious hero, they make you go up and listen to the same repeated lines (sometimes differing).
What doesn’t make sense here, however, is the entire concept of the Animus, and the lines of Warren Vidic at the very start of the game, reminding Desmond that none of it is real. It’s all very contradictory. They want you to synchronize with the memories of your ancestor while realizing none of it is real, and then several of the gameplay elements encourage synchronicity while maintaining an immersion breaking HUD and general UI. Even many of the in-game elements (invisible walls and flags) break immersion by their very appearance.
It is as though the designers didn’t have a solid idea of what they were trying to do. Did they want to immerse the players or did they want the players to immerse Desmond? It seems more like the latter, but the gameplay feels like they also wanted to do the former.
Probably the primary reason I still haven’t finished Assassin’s Creed is that I really don’t care about Altair. I know this was definitely a point with many others, and hence Ezio was born and is purportedly a much more interesting character. I’d hope so, after the flat character that is Altair. All the other players are pretty interesting, Al Mualim, Lucy Stillman, Vidic, and Desmond. Yet most of the first game centers around Altair’s stupidity and arrogance and redeeming himself.
Not the most fun story for a first game.
This blends in with forced immersion. The game feels slow. I’m not sure what it is, maybe the fact that it’s coddling you. Or perhaps it’s Altair himself. He knows what to do, so you feel as though you know what to do, and it drags the game’s pacing down. This was an awful decision, in my opinion. In terms of story it’s well explained, but the character you’re playing as makes it terribly annoying to go through. This is especially noticeable at the beginning of the game after Al Mualim stabs Altair and strips him of his rank and sends him out on a novice mission.
It’s irritating and frustrating for both the player and Altair, which should never be the goal of the designers, to irritate and frustrate the player. Challenge them, yes, but not induce negative feelings. I think this is likely part of the reason many players don’t care for Altair. The beginning sequence is fast-paced, then it slams into a sluggish crawl. It’s basically a very brief high and then a long, drawn out crash.
In short, don’t design a game where you appear to be trying to force immersion, put in conflicting aesthetics in the HUD and UI, and pace it so that you have to experience the dreadful rising up the ranks with a character that has little to no development to make him even slightly interesting. The gameplay may be fun, but all of those characteristics make it more of a bloody chore to get through than a joy to, which is not what a game should aim for.