Much like the announcement of the next installment of Madden or Call of Duty, the reveal of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag did not catch many people by surprise. Assassin’s Creed has been an annualized franchise ever since its inception in 2007. There were a couple of things that came to mind when this newest installation was announced, particularly in terms of what it means for Assassin’s Creed’s direction heading into the next generation of consoles, and what it means for the stories of Desmond Miles and Connor Kenway.
Over time, even the most consistent of franchises can become tired and worn out. This happened to shows like The X-Files, Lost, and 24. These shows were consistent with their viewership, though it is arguable that they maintained the same level of quality as they reached the end of their run. 24 arguably hit its apex in the middle of its run, but there were a lot of fans who stayed with the show just to go down with the ship by the time seasons seven and eight rolled around.
Why did I bring up those shows? I brought them up because annualized video games do not have to have the same problem. A series like Assassin’s Creed, while linear in its telling of the overarching story, contains elements (specifically the animus portions) that can jump backwards as much as they have gone forward. We are in the year 2013 and, at this point, Ubisoft needs to justify two things: The continued annualization of the franchise, and the Kenways as viable protagonists to carry Assasin’s Creed over the presumed course of the next five to seven years.
I consider Assassin’s Creed II to be the current apex of the franchise, with Brotherhood being a giant expansion (basically, a mere continuation of AC II that could not stand on its own two feet), and Revelations being a glorified epilogue. While the interest in the story of Ezio was high after AC II, I felt that it waned after the two sequels were released. By the time I got around to Revelations, I did not feel that the series had the same allure as the story presented across II and Brotherhood. Much like my reaction to the final two seasons of 24, I just wanted it to end.
Assassin’s Creed III contained elements that were indicative of the same problems that afflicted Brotherhood and Revelations. There was a significant amount of backlash towards the characterization of Connor and the overall setting (both of which I personally did not mind, though I understood some complaints). On top of those two things, there has been notable concern as to whether or not the franchise was capable of moving forward with the same head of steam it had for five years in light of the new complaints.
This is where Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag comes in. Much of the chatter from the side of Ubisoft prior to III’s release was the fact that each numbered installment would concentrate on a brand new protagonist and setting. Why then would Ubisoft abandon Connor and his story after just one game? The current rumor is that the protagonist of AC IV will be another member of the Kenway family. By introducing this character and a timeline that allegedly will precede the events of Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft will be able to keep the series fresh while maintaining a sense of continuity with the previous game. It is the perfect case of Ubisoft being able to have their cake and eat it too; two different stories, tied together by the Desmond Miles narrative and the Kenway lineage, running concurrently with each individual story (Connor in one, and the new protagonist in the other) released bi-annually has a lot of potential. It is not a strategy that is 100% guaranteed to stave off boredom and disinterest among fans, but the prospect definitely seems more enticing than slogging through two sequels featuring the same protagonist who already has complaints surrounding him. Not to mention that the setting of Assassin’s Creed IV is seemingly based on one the most addictive and engaging aspects of its predecessor, naval battles!
The Assassin’s Creed franchise has had a pretty steady sales record with the first four titles selling between 7-9 million copies over a year after their release. Assassin’s Creed III has sold around 12 million copies – a huge increase over the rest – ever since its release in October of last year. Coupled with the age of the franchise and the concerns that arose over ACI III, it is not out of the question for Ubisoft to give Connor that one-year break so as to maintain the numbers they saw with AC III going forward. Let’s be honest, all criticisms aside, the Black Ops/Modern Warfare strategy has fared pretty well for Activision & co.
Whether this new game is on next-generation hardware or not (so far it has only been confirmed for current-generation consoles) is almost a non-issue. If Assassin’s Creed IV is featured on the PlayStation 4 and the “NeXtbox” then it will be a way of continuing the story established in AC III while delivering something new for the new consoles – in addition to bringing together both current and next-generation iterations of Assassin’s Creed together in glorious harmony. If it is not featured on next-generation consoles (which I highly doubt) then it would merely serve to set the stage for what comes next, which while it is not so exciting as the former, is not a complete detriment.
Either way, I am sure a good number of these questions will be answered on Monday, March 4th, when Ubisoft will be divulging information regarding the new game. Assassin’s Creed III had me at naval battles, Assassin’s Creed IV has me at pirates – I am genuinely looking forward to what comes next.