Assassin’s Creed Liberation is a fascinating and innovative game, both in and outside of the context of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The (mostly) high quality conversations we had surrounding the game attest to that. But its limitations are highly visible: the consistent bugs, underutilized concepts, and clunky controls. It’s an “Assassin’s Creed” game, but it’s abundantly clear that it’s not really a part of the main series. An innovative title in a franchise should affect future titles as well, but all the main Assassin’s Creed games that have followed have stuck to the same general formula: white male out to seek revenge, self-interest, or something else. But games like Liberation allow Ubisoft to point to something and say “no, look, we’re being diverse and innovative” when people make this critique without allowing these innovative games to change the status quo of the main titles.
A new trilogy of Assassin’s Creed platformers are being released, called Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles. Each focuses on a different region and period of history. The first game, Assassin’s Creed: China, was recently released and features a female assassin, Shao Jun, during the Ming dynasty. The second game takes place during the end of the Sikh Empire in India, and the final in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Each game looks amazing, with a unique art style and great “2.5-D” mechanics. But the entire endeavor is overshadowed by the recent announcement of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, which will be the story of a white man in Britain’s industrial revolution. That game looks fascinating as well, but it’s based on yet another European-centric conflict, as Assassin’s Creed: Unity was before it. Ubisoft seems to recognize the importance, and the audience, for diverse and interesting games, but so far has been unwilling to give these ideas the budget of a fully-fledged member of the series.
The premise of Assassin’s Creed is incredibly promising. But with stories that can bridge across cultures and time periods, it’s sad that each main game seems to be a clone of the other in so many ways. The stories that the Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles games tell are more than worthy of their own massive open-world games. But instead, we have another European revolution to play through. That’s not to say the industrial and French revolutions weren’t fascinating moments in history deserving of a game, but like the American revolution, there are selective pieces of history that most of us have already learned about in school because of how European and American focused so many curriculums are. We’ve heard the stories of the American, French, and Industrial revolution before. There’s nothing new about these settings. That doesn’t mean the games don’t deserve to, or shouldn’t be made, it’s just saddening to see much more interesting concepts and settings set to the sidelines. Just imagine how amazing a fully-fledged Assassin’s Creed game set in India would be. A game about the politics of the Mughal or Sikh Empires, filled with incredible architecture to climb and cities to explore, would be amazing! Or the story of gaining independence against the British Empire, and the violence of the Partition would fit in so well with the greater Templar vs. Assassin narrative. Or what about one of the many revolutionary movements from South America? Or a game about South African Apartheid? These stories would be so fantastic, shedding light on periods of history so often forgotten or misrepresented. Maybe that’s too much to ask from a video game. But to be honest, even a generic action game would be so much more interesting in any of these settings.
The format of the Assassin’s Creed game can allow it to easily diversify itself from one game to the next, but so far it has refused to do so except in smaller, lower budget spinoff games. I guess the best thing to do is support these smaller endeavors, give them as much love as we can, so hopefully Ubisoft will realize that if they made a full game in any of the above mentioned settings, or other equally interesting ones, there would be an audience, hungry and waiting.