How Assassin’s Creed Revolutionised the Gaming Industry

How Assassin's Creed Revolutionised the Gaming Industry
Written by Vince Abella

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Assassin’s Creed has come a very long way since its first title, going from Assassins in the Medieval times to Vikings, and even having a movie with Michael Fassbender in the lead role. Starting off with a brand new game engine and following Prince of Persia, this brand new title would be a bold step as Ubisoft aimed to present the player with freedom in actions in its open world setting. The team took advantage of the new generation of consoles, the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation at the time, and used it to further develop their setting and cities.

After bringing on Jade Raymond to help with development as a producer, game director Patrice Désilets kept going, sticking to his ideas such as using large crowds, something their previous games couldn’t do as a result of hardware. This eventually developed into what would become a blend of action and stealth, if imperfect. Being able to blend into crowds with what became known as “social stealth” was a memorable feature, but a big draw was the parkour and fluidity of it all, particularly the “Leap of faith” where a player jumps off of a high place into a hay bale or something like it, eventually becoming an immediately recognizable action that has been referenced in the years since release. Its signature weapon, the hidden blade, is another iconic item to come from Assassin’s Creed, and has made many appearances as a piece of merchandise.
Image from Assassin's Creed

Despite being a commercial success, it was still a flawed product. Ubisoft had faith in the game, so it began developing the first of many, many sequels. And likely the best. Désilets returned once again to direct the sequel, with a new protagonist in Ezio Auditore, an instantly recognizable name for gamers everywhere. The series continued blending history with fiction, as the sequel even included Leonardo da Vinci as an ally. Assassin’s Creed II received massive acclaim, garnering great reviews and reaching 90 on Metacritic. Its protagonist was massively popular and still remains so to this day.

Roughly a dozen games later, Assassin’s Creed has definitely left its mark. Even with some hiccups as a result of releasing a game yearly, the series still finds itself to be very popular, with the latest title garnering $1 billion in terms of its revenue. The series’ “Eagle vision” which highlights characters and separates them by colors, has resulted in numerous similar mechanics, such as the “Survivor Instinct” in the Tomb Raider reboot trilogy that highlights your desired mission location, The Witcher series’ Witcher sense that allows one to sniff out items, and Detective Vision in the Batman: Arkham series that launched not too long after the first Assassin’s Creed which points out your enemies in x-ray vision. Over time, many people have dubbed Ubisoft’s games to have a standard formula that hasn’t exactly been well-received lately, but even so, in its earlier iterations, it found an audience that seems to have stuck around.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla Siege of Paris

The series has also kept its tradition of having collectibles to find, from the infamous feathers to Valhalla’s staggering 700+ count of different items to find. Eventually, its massive scale somehow grew even more, as lands stretched far beyond what was normally expected. Valhalla has a staggering size of 140km2, the biggest in the series by far. The overwhelming amount of content has noticeably spread to other open world games, with the recent Horizon Forbidden West presenting a map bigger than its predecessor and even more activities to partake in. Ubisoft clearly saw the “less is more” saying and ran in the exact opposite direction, stuffing its various open world titles even outside of Assassin’s Creed with activities, such as The Crew 2 being somehow even bigger than Valhalla, and Far Cry 6 hosting numerous minigames and areas to explore. Its yearly model was profitable, even if the games released during that period were seen as subpar thanks to bugs and glitches present.

It’s open world format is a recognizable one, but it became a format because of its success. Sony’s own Horizon and Ghost of Tsushima franchises have been compared to Assassin’s Creed as being successful takes on the open world genre, with the latter in particular having stealth as an important factor while also taking place in Japan, a setting that Ubisoft hasn’t explored yet with its series. The way Assassin’s Creed has combined action and stealth with a bustling, crowded open world, particularly in its early titles, remains as many of Ubisoft’s own games and some others have followed formulas that the studio set. Many years later, after many sequels, some books here and there, an audio drama starring Riz Ahmed, and the aforementioned film, the series still continues to thrive, and its influence on many popular games cannot be understated.
Image from Assassin's Creed Unity

In its early years, its action was far more subdued in its pace, with the team behind it opting for slower gameplay and patience as one scales rooftops and buildings. Its parkour was precise and careful, though recent entries have faced some criticism for feeling clunky from players. The animations of jumping and maneuvering through busy areas look incredibly smooth. Parkour was done great back in 2008, notably the same year as Mirror’s Edge, another parkour-focused title, and the series has continued to use parkour for traversal in the many years since. Ubisoft has even brought parkour into WATCH_DOGS, another one of its titles though in a far less mechanically complex experience. Many open world games since have included parkour in its traversal, with Spider-Man 2018 allowing the titular protagonist to run around on buildings and through dangerous areas with ease, and both Horizon games having simplistic but still present fluid movement and climbing.

With Assassin’s Creed Origins especially, it is clear the goal of the series was to go for a “go big or go home” kind of game, since as the games went on, they expanded on the locations and the mechanics of previous titles, with Valhalla as an exception for lessening the RPG elements. Even then it is still clear that Ubisoft favors populating its open world with activities, a practice that is rarely not seen in games within the same genre. The series has sort of popularized the very busy map trope, with markers all over the place, numerous side content and missions, and a staggering amount of collectibles. Many open-world games even feature a filter so as to sort between the varying activities that one can do. Even Batman’s popular Arkham series is populated with Riddler challenges that serve as collectibles that can be earned through puzzles.
Image from Assassin's Creed Unity

Assassin’s Creed’s continued success was an early sign of how studios would continue to develop new titles to follow up on popular games. Once Ubisoft released a popular title, they kept producing more content for it before releasing a sequel. Their very own WATCH_DOGS was supplied with some DLC and new missions prior to being given a sequel, which followed the same formula prior to the third entry in the series. The amount of sequels that Assassin’s Creed has produced has outnumbered a lot of older series, and as a result of the previous yearly release schedule, it is now one of the highest selling franchises in gaming ever, with every title up to 2020 selling over 155 million copies worldwide. The poorly received Unity and Syndicate were very controversial for the bugs they had, but even then, they still proved themselves to be very successful games and have found their fans. Their system of numerous releases seemed to be successful, and it worked not just on them, but on Call of Duty as well, another massively popular and very successful franchise that has released yearly titles since around the time Assassin’s Creed began to do it.

The developers seemed to have enough faith that franchise fatigue won’t settle in, and considering Valhalla’s previously mentioned commercial success and how it continues to receive expansions and DLC 2 years after its initial release, they may not be stopping soon. Valhalla was the series’ most successful game on launch, and also managed to have the most sales of any Ubisoft title on PC platforms. A lot of their other franchises have been pumping out new titles, though some of them less successful than hoped for with WATCH_DOGS Legion being disappointingly received, Far Cry 6’s middling critical and audience reception, and Rainbow Six Extraction’s average reviews. Even the gaming juggernaut Call of Duty faltered with Vanguard being largely seen as a big disappointment and one of the franchise’s worst games. Despite the other franchises’ faults, Assassin’s Creed has maintained the positive reception and its large sales figures.

Despite the many, very controversial ups and downs that Assassin’s Creed has had, both the initial and currently ongoing success is undeniable, largely thanks to Désilets who spearheaded the project that would become one of Ubisoft’s most lucrative original properties. The original title’s shift from being a Prince of Persia game to a brand new intellectual property is a sign of how they took their unique concept and ran with it. While the “go big or go home” style of the latter entries in the series has been met with doubt and criticism, in its early stages, this style is what pushed the game forward as they looked to history for their newest title. Once it was proven to have worked, they knew they had a hit on their hands and sought more games, with a Nintendo DS game serving as a prequel even following the first game soon after its release. Ubisoft has applied this faith in their titles to many other of their series, with The Crew getting a sequel and Rainbow Six Siege receiving its aforementioned spin-off along with a slightly overwhelming amount of downloadable content post-launch. Somewhat fittingly, Ubisoft has taken many “leaps of faith” with their games, evolving even the most critically disappointing titles into future franchises. The series’ success has provided proof that there is a rather large audience that is interested in spending dozens of hours clearing bases and completing activities in games to take up their own time.

One thing that stuck out was Ubisoft’s decision to focus on nailing the historical aspects of their games, something that ended up proving to be shockingly useful in the wake of one unfortunate tragedy. The often criticised 2014 entry, Unity, eventually became a big part of history, as it was used to help with the reconstruction of the Notre-Dame cathedral after a fire had done a lot of damage to the building. The team’s 5000+ hours spent researching the cathedral to recreate was used to help the reconstruction. On a much less unfortunate note, Assassin’s Creed Origins as well contained a secret chamber that wasn’t found in real life until after the title’s release, having been put in the game after research was done on the Pyramid of Giza. The game later even included DLC that allowed for exploration of the area without having to deal with any combat. One common argument between gamers is whether or not realism is good or not in games, but Assassin’s Creed’s type of historical fiction has allowed for there to be actual good done in the real world outside of games.
Image from Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

The gameplay and development has created an interesting new style of combat in games, one that features both stealth and action in creative ways. Leaping around areas and jumping down to assassinate enemies will always be satisfying, and it is that creativity that allows other games to succeed. The well known Hitman series features a lot of the previously touched upon concept of “social stealth” where Agent 47 blends into crowds with disguises, avoiding enemies that he comes across by being just normal. Arkane Studios’ own Deathloop and Dishonored games feature this blend of intense action and sneaking around, as characters move around to stay hidden, with different choices on how to deal with targets and enemies.

The original games’ ambitious blend of storytelling and open-world was so well done that they eventually managed to spark an increase in similar titles. An interesting tale of both the past and present laid the groundwork for what the game would consist of, and the fun gameplay only added to the entertainment provided. It was one of the first of many action-adventure open-world titles to have a focus on its story as well as its gameplay. Dragon Age Origins and Batman: Arkham Asylum released the year after Assassin’s Creed came out and both were massively successful, and Red Dead Redemption releasing a few afterwards. While it would be a big stretch to say it either influenced those early titles or that it was the first of its kind, it was definitely an early sign of what was to come and what potential the genre had. Even now the current games follow along with creating an overarching story like the original ones did, with Layla Hassan being the connecting figure between Origins, Odyssey and Valhalla. The aforementioned Sony games like Ghost, Horizon and Spider-Man included the combination of grand, intriguing storytelling with fun combat that resulted in all three of them being renowned success stories. A lot of open-world titles including Horizon and Spider-Man took after the towers in Assassin’s Creed that unlocked parts of the map that players were unable to see before. The series’ design of unlocking towers and then providing tons of markers so players have a guide on where to explore is something that has clearly stuck around and is likely to not go away any time soon given how successful it is.
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood Artwork

As mentioned previously, it seems that Assassin’s Creed has a formula, and was one of the first to use it as successfully as it did. Later installations in the series continued adding more to it by populating the map with things to do, and with the current sales figures, there’s no denying that its formula has been put to good use in some great games. While sometimes it can be to a game’s detriment like in Rage 2 as it was a pointless addition, there are other moments where it can prove to be immensely rewarding without being too much for a player to handle like the 2018 title God of War with its optional Valkyries and even Doom Eternal’s great use of collectibles and secrets, with both of these titles providing great and exciting new challenges for the player to overcome, which is what the optional side content of the game should do rather than pad the length of a title. Some recent Ubisoft titles have garnered criticism for their reliance on the formula instead of doing anything new with it, but while their other titles have faced this criticism, Assassin’s Creed has continued on with expanding the formula of its gameplay to critical success, as the last three entries have received Metacritic scores ranking in the 80s.

This formula that has garnered both a surprisingly devoted audience and some amount of criticism for it being “stale” has its reasons for its success. The series has expanded its gameplay to have more role-playing elements incorporated into its gameplay, while also continuing the aforementioned growth of its game worlds. Its massive open worlds may come under some criticism, but in the end, their ongoing development of these landscapes with a massive wealth of activities to choose from has proven popular amongst critics and gamers. While that is possible, both the series and the developer have found their desired audience and have chosen to stick with it.

Mentioned previously is the series’ grand story, and it goes without saying that Assassin’s Creed has some of the most recognizable names and characters in gaming history. Previously mentioned was Ezio Auditore, the second game’s main protagonist, following Altaïr who starred in the first one. Even without those two, the series as a whole has given players many memorable characters, such as Conner Kenway, Bayek, Kassandra, and Eivor, with a lot of them having devoted fans. Assassin’s Creed’s plot has developed over the course of multiple games, with the first few games devoted to Desmond Miles in the modern age, while the most recent three games have placed an emphasis on Layla Hassan. Assassin’s Creed might as well have been one of the first big open-world games to have an overarching narrative take place over multiple titles, all of which great, seeking to tell a large scale story with returning characters in comparison to other titles, particularly RPGs, that, while being sequels, change the player character. While they all change the main character one controls, the central character for the first few games and the recent ones has stayed consistent instead of switching to another present-day character.
Image from Assassin's Creed Black Flag

With all of that, some of the most enduring aspects of the series are its settings, taking place in unique, uncommon areas with some of the stealth and assassination seen in previous games like Hitman and Thief. While those titles have their own positives, Assassin’s Creed has always managed to stand out in the crowd thanks to changing up where it takes place. It has moved all around the world, landing in the Crusades for the first title, ending up in the Renaissance in the second, making its way to Egypt in Origins, the Peloponnesian War in Odyssey, and finally including Vikings in Valhalla. The series has always taken advantage of its unique settings, with weapons, characters and stories based around wherever the game is at the time. These unique settings have paved the way for Assassin’s Creed to carve out a distinctively changing style of world design. Blending the aesthetics of each location only adds to how cool it feels to be assassinating targets in them, blending deep and historically accurate immersion with the fantasy of living as an assassin. While other games somehow manage to take place in space and on foreign planets, there’s a lot of interesting things that could be done with underutilized areas on our planet already, and Assassin’s Creed has been taking advantage in addition to a ton of other popular games like the already mentioned Ghost of Tsushima being in Japan, taking advantage of the history of samurai, and Forza Horizon 5 taking its refined racing to the streets of Mexico. Assassin’s Creed shines best when it merges the slow paced assassinations and gameplay with these exciting and aesthetically unique locations.

Despite there being fans of the newer entries in the series, the older Assassin’s Creed titles remain hugely influential and acclaimed by fans. Their blend of immersive stories, unforgettable characters, excellent gameplay, movement and art direction still remains beloved by the fanbase. The way main characters go through history and are able to interact with important historical figures is both fitting and all too exciting. Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood in particular have received acclaim for perfecting this balance of gameplay and story, with them both relatively standing the test of time as they are remembered, particularly Assassin’s Creed II, as one of the greatest games of all time. The absolute freedom the player was given while still requiring the player to work to unlock more advanced techniques was crafted well enough to make progression feel rewarding enough for one to actively seek it out. Its simplicity and the way climbing felt more engaging is something that the series and other games sort of lack, with parkour being more of an emphasis in the sequel.

The freedom in traversal isn’t just what made the games special, but the freedom of choice in how to act. What makes other titles like Hitman, Deathloop, Dishonored and Assassin’s Creed special is the freedom of how to take down a target and assassinate them, obviously. With the wide range of areas you can go onto, there are numerous ways one can perform kills on enemies. Sneaking into areas or taking higher vantage points are options, and so is an aggressive approach, though this is much less recommended. It is in this freedom of choice in the combat and gameplay that Assassin’s Creed finds its stride, in addition to the great musical score that usually accompanies a title.

Assassin's Creed Blackflag Cover ArtAssassin’s Creed to this day remains a revolutionary franchise for numerous reasons. Its yearly release schedule proved to the gaming industry that despite there being potential flaws in the title, it will still be successful at least a little bit. Every mainline Assassin’s Creed title has proven itself to bring in lots of money, with even the more controversial ones making money for the studio. However, despite the continuing success of the yearly format, they ended up somewhat skipping 2016, with WATCH_DOGS2, Far Cry Primal and The Division and The Ezio Collection being their big open world releases for that year, and upon coming back, learned from their mistakes and came back swinging with Assassin’s Creed Origins. Their choice to skip a year ended up working and Origins ended up selling over 10 million copies during the eight generation of consoles, proving itself to be a very big success while also receiving notable positive reception from many critics and players, with Odyssey and Valhalla continuing this streak of positive reception from critics, players and selling very well. The latter games in the series have found their sort of beat with what they are attempting to go for, but still remain historically accurate as the series always has been since its debut. However, what makes the earlier ones so influential is their freedom of choice in gameplay and combat encounters and fluidity of movement in addition to their open world structure.

The parkour mechanics in the game weren’t the greatest ever made, but its implementation in Assassin’s Creed allowed it to reach a wider audience as it wasn’t all too common at the time, releasing before Mirror’s Edge and Dying Light could grab hold of the attention of the public with their own takes on parkour, albeit with linear levels and zombies respectively.

Coming fresh after Prince of Persia, the debut entry of the series found popularity. Even years after release, people on YouTube are posting parkour videos with real people inspired by the very first game. The blend of both stealth in crowded areas and running atop empty rooftops was an inspired choice that definitely paid off, with climbing to the top of tall towers becoming a major highlight that would also be seen in many other games after it.

Its emphasis on storytelling and branching it out over the course of multiple games has seen success, with the long, ongoing story of Desmond Miles becoming one that players eagerly stuck around to see, getting heavily invested in it. Layla Hassan, as mentioned before, now is taking the wheel, being the games’ present day protagonist. Even bringing important aspects of its main story to the non-numbered Brotherhood, it held a lot of important narrative beats that shocked a lot of players in a good way, with the game being one of the most popular amongst the fanbase. Fans have been vocally passionate about what they both want and what they don’t want to see the series do, with many people having different opinions on the direction the series should take. No matter the perception towards them, Assassin’s Creed has always found a way to get players to be invested in their protagonists.
Image from Assassin's Creed 3

Assassin’s Creed has been going on for more than a decade at this point, and it is undeniable the effect the series has had on the industry as a whole, from showcasing the impact of its sales formula to the formula of its games themselves. The series may not have been the first to include some of the trends Ubisoft is now associated with, but it definitely played a part in, at the very least, popularizing them and showcasing them for a more mainstream audience. It was one of the earlier games to incorporate a parkour system and mechanics into an open world setting, and it stood out even more with its unique locations and periods. It played into a lot of what would become some of the more popular trends in open world titles, and helped to set the formula that Ubisoft has been going with in their last few games. No matter the opinions one may have on the newer entries, it is undeniable the impact that Assassin’s Creed has had on the gaming industry with its sheer ambition. Even through its faults, it has constantly been a very commercially successful series, taking advantage of both the boldly careful, stealthy and rewarding freedom of the earlier titles and a more RPG focused approach in the recent games, proving itself to always be popular amongst the gaming community no matter what approach it takes.

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Vince Abella

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