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Soapbox: Assassin's Creed's Modern Day Component Is Holding the Series Back

Posted by Robert Ramsey

Robert Ramsey's sick of stepping out of the Animus

After testing my sailing skills in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag at the Eurogamer Expo all the way back in September, I knew that Ubisoft had a great game in production. From the rolling waves of the sea to the swashbuckling adrenaline rush of combat, it all immediately felt like a solid step forward for the French publisher's incredibly popular franchise. And as our reviews last year indicated, it was. I was fortunate to finally fully sink my teeth into the title over the Christmas break, and it's already safe to say that it's my favourite entry in the series thus far.

However, like the telling signs of a foul sailor's disease, something has been niggling at my enjoyment – and every time that it occurs, I become more and more convinced that it's an unnecessary inclusion. I talk, of course, about the franchise's long-running modern day storyline.

Back when we were first introduced to Desmond Miles and the Animus in the first Assassin's Creed, it didn't seem too out of place. After all, this was an entirely new property – we didn't quite know what to expect to begin with. As time went on, however, the tale of captain generic and his band of annoyingly cheery companions would slowly but surely grind down my tolerance for the non-historic component.

Arguably, this all just sounds like one jaded editor's pointless rant, and I'll admit that it is to some extent – but I find myself writing this after suffering something that no game should covet: a complete loss of immersion. Our favourite hobby is capable of introducing us to engrossing, often amazing worlds that we're happy to spend our time in, but being pulled out of that enjoyment is never a good thing, regardless of whether it's because of an eye-catching graphical glitch or, in this case, a particularly jarring change of pace and setting.

Hyperbole aside, there's no doubt that I felt a mix of negative emotions when the release first decided to yank me from my pirate adventure and force me to play through a few minutes of a first-person walkabout simulator. I'm not even entirety sure what this unappealing mix of wandering, daft dialogue, and minigames can be described as, but nevertheless, it feels like it doesn't need to be there.

Or at least, it doesn't need to be mandatory. After returning to the sea-soaked shoes of Edward Kenway following the initial cutaway, I remember thinking, “I'm pretty sure that the modern day bits are optional – I won't have to ever leave the Jackdaw again.” Sadly, I thought wrong. A few main missions down the line, I watched in annoyance as Kenway's face slowly disintegrated, signalling another return to Abstergo Industries' sickeningly arty offices. “Not again,” I thought.

And then came the minigames – the pointless, fiddly hacking parts. There may only be a few mandatory ones, and they may only take a minute, but they still serve to pull you from the experience even more. Eventually getting back to the sunny shores of the Caribbean, away from the pretentious ramblings of supposed freedom fighters masquerading as office workers, feels like coming up for air after being close to drowning.

Once back into the activities that I had so desperately wanted to get back to, I couldn't tear myself away. The real meat of the adventure lies out on the vast waters and in the densely populated towns and cities that make up the release's open world, and eager to get back to being left to my own devices, I blitzed through the linear objectives of a main mission only to be unapologetically torn from proceedings and thrown back into the life of the mute, tablet-loving, memory invader. Forced to once again sit through lines of hilariously boring dialogue and stare at the faces of characters I couldn't possibly care less about, it dawned on me that I just couldn't go back to Edward's tale after this ordeal was over – I had been wrenched from the glorious act of piracy just so that Ubisoft could try and convince itself that this modern day malarkey is actually progressing somewhere.

And that's really the issue at the heart of this opinion piece: it's hard to believe that the franchise's modern plot is still even necessary. It's a problem that's furthered when it actively serves to sever the tie between you and an engrossing open world. If you happen to actually like the component in question, then by all means continue to enjoy it – but it's still worth questioning just what purpose it serves, especially seeing as Desmond and his Scooby Doo squad's story came to a natural conclusion in the series' last iteration.


Do you agree that Ubisoft should ditch Assassin's Creed's modern day component, or are you a fan of the futuristic mumbo-jumbo? What did you think of the latest instalment's first-person segments, and do you think that they fared better or worse than Desmond's escapades? Tap into the comments section below.

Are you tired of Assassin's Creed's modern day sequences? (64 votes)

Yes, I wish the series would allow me to fully invest in its historical sandboxes

63%

Honestly, I neither like nor dislike them

22%

No, I really enjoy the fusion of futuristic and old-fashioned content

16%

Please login to vote in this poll.

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User Comments (29)

Gamer83

#1

Gamer83 said:

I'm indifferent to the present day story at this point. I actually thought it was good stuff in the first two AC games but I do admit by the end of Brotherhood it felt tedious and got worse from there. I think they could keep it going but I wish it would be relegated to two sequences. One at the beginning, one at the end. This way it wouldn't deter from the main experience which is messing around in a historical period.

Splat

#2

Splat said:

I have only played AC2 and while I enjoyed the game for the most part I hated the modern day storyline. It just felt so unneeded and out of place.

It really sucked me out of the game...

chazaroonie

#3

chazaroonie said:

@Gamer83 I feel the same way really. It was nice in the early iterations of the game to jump into Desmond for a while to break up the gameplay and I thought it was an interesting diversion in the story.

I thought that we'd end up playing an assassins creed game in the present day or near future as Desmond, running around a modern day city and I was totally on board.

The current games have kind of ruined that initial buzz though. The "out of animus" sections now feel disjointed in my opinion. I wonder if Ubisoft have made a rod for their own back though and now feel that removing these parts of the game will make the current games non assassins creedy, if that makes sense?

I think that if you could opt out of leaving the animus, this would be a compromise that everyone could agree to. It can be a buzz kill being forced into the modern day when you are trying to get on with the job of pirating.

Gamer83

#4

Gamer83 said:

@chazaroonie

I too was on board for possibly playing a whole game as Desmond in a modern setting maybe even in a game that would close out the series, but should've known that wouldn't happen. And the way they wrap his story up in AC III is quite disappointing. III was actually disappointing all the way around and it almost made me give up on the series but I'm glad I decided to give IV a try, outside of the modern day stuff it's a brilliant game, definitely competes with II for my favorite in the series.

chazaroonie

#5

chazaroonie said:

@Gamer83 I think AC IV is easily the best game in the series so far, I love the way they have fused the best elements of far cry 3 into the mix too. I also think that the naval combat is so much better than AC III. I haven't quite finished AC IV yet because there are so many ps4 games vying for my attention, but I'm enjoying it.

Bliquid

#6

Bliquid said:

Did not play AC IV yet, but i find this article reasonable. I, like others here, enjoyed Desmond's novelty the first 2 or 3 times, but in the end, the lack of an interesting "present" plot or charachters made me loathe the boring sections out of the Animus. I thought the idea that now anyyone can "buy an Animus experience" from Abstergo was cool, but it sounds kinda invasive still.
Maybe they should have done something less than AC IV and sonething more than Liberation, which had basically the same premise.

Spidernoir

#7

Spidernoir said:

For the first few games, it was cool , gave us a bit of back-story and modern plot. For 3 it started going down hill, the modern story and gameplay felt like it was forced in and didn't blend well. The ending was complete BS.

For 4 it was just what ? You play as a faceless man/woman, I was hoping they would show the face at the end. Not to mention the entire thing felt out of place and rushed.

Or am I missing a comic that explains the post events of 3 ?

TerrorByte

#8

TerrorByte said:

If I don't get a ninja assassins creed game within the next three iterations. I'll just...I'll just...Continue to live my life accordingly. But seriously we need Assassins Creed 5: Black Clan.

Hetsumani

#9

Hetsumani said:

I actually like the modern day storyline, that is the reason I play this series, yes I love the part inside the animus but the story outside makes it more interesting to me.

Ginkgo

#10

Ginkgo said:

I'm a fan of the futuristic plot. I think it adds something different to the series and is now very much a part of it. I would be sad to see it go. Actually I want the glyphs back. I think I should start a petition...

GRIFFEN14

#11

GRIFFEN14 said:

I think the modern day parts were set up very well in the first 2 games and just went completely downhill from there. I was always hoping that it would lead up to a full fledged modern day game with Desmond as the lead. With the ending of the third game I knew that the modern day parts would go even further down.

ASonic3582

#12

ASonic3582 said:

This was very good, I agree in having started from AC3 that the modern day stuff was just a waste of time. I enjoyed Connor's story but every time I got back to Desmond I got completely lost.

calin1010

#14

calin1010 said:

The whole point of the modern day gameplay was to turn Desmond into the ultimate Assassin to defeat de templars for good, after five games he just kicked the bucket after fighting a few dudes, so yes! Please remove the present sequel-bait

hydeks

#15

hydeks said:

The modern day thing is very much holding back the Assassin's Creed series. When I played Assassin's Creed 3,I enjoyed everything about it, then the modern day scene would pop-up and suck me out of the fun of the game :-P

get2sammybAdmin

#16

get2sammyb said:

Agree with this article. I quite like the way they handled it in Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, whereby the storyline has been 'manipulated' in order to force you to think certain things about the characters, but the whole plot was for too ambitious to make any real sense. I think part of the reason that was preferable, though, is because it never took you out of the action - you were always in control of Aveline.

The stuff in Black Flag is utter rubbish, and it's made worse by the fact that the actual game is top-notch. It completely breaks pace, is rife with unlikeable characters, and it just feels like filler. The craziest thing is, you know that Ubisoft has an entire studio working on that stuff when it doesn't need to be there. Just strip it all out, maintain the iconic look of the protagonist between time periods, and keep the Templar storyline ticking. There's no need for modern day stuff until they inevitably decide to make Assassin's Creed 832: Urban or something.

big-al

#17

big-al said:

I agree, the modern plot is pointless to me - that's the reason i could never really get into Assassins Creed. Black Flag looks amazing, but i wouldn't really bother with it, as i really get agitated with the Animus storyline.

Zombie_Barioth

#18

Zombie_Barioth said:

Definitely agree, I'd be fine with the modern setting as apart of the overall story, in the sense that your adventure isn't entirely real, but I don't like being reminded that my character is really just sitting inside a machine. Especially with ACIII, modern-day man taking part in the American revolution is enough of a story as is.

astroshamu

#19

astroshamu said:

I thought the assassins creed 3 modern storyline was boring and tedious, and then assasins creed 4 storyline I'm not even 100% sure what I did after all that, it seemed unecassary and boring although I did get a kick out of their trailer for The Devils of the Carribean

divinelite

#20

divinelite said:

the novel series of assassin creed omit all present-day events, and it's better that way i guess.

except the un-understandable "Desmond" being spoken in one event in Assassin Creed 2. The novel wrote "Desmond" too, but never tell the present-day events, hence the confusion

TasukiStaff

#21

Tasuki said:

Great read. I have only played the third and fourth and I will say the whole modern parts just bored me. I couldn't wait to get done with them.

MANTAGTJ001

#22

MANTAGTJ001 said:

never mind the fact, its first person, with no 3rd person assains creedy type things in the REAL WORLD, now he has learnt ? better things to do than live in the real world, I do that every day......

redd214

#23

redd214 said:

AC4 is the first game of the series I have played. And yes I agree after killing some red coats, wheeling a boat thru a bay, and wandering around Havana, the next thing I know im in an office building. Was one of the most harring and unexpected things ive seen in a game in a while. Really killed the immersion.

Dodoo

#24

Dodoo said:

In my opinion adding the modern day section to these games was completely and utterly pointless.

I wish Ubisoft had the balls to get rid of them but they are hanging around like a bad smell.

charlesnarles

#25

charlesnarles said:

I'm sure somebody already said this (I know I have before), but I can't take being (let me think: my consciousness, inside my body, holding a controller, controlling a computer, running a program, emulating someone else's consciousness, inside their body, holding another controller, controlling another computer, emulating someone ELSE's body) nine steps removed from whatever is happening inside the game.

BlueProxy

#26

BlueProxy said:

Its a jarring disconnect, and feels unnecessary. They could have dropped it after the first or second AC. This isn't the Matrix. Whats worse, you can always tell the time and effort was not put into the futuristic sections like the main story. Feels like a totally different, not as experienced team put those parts together.

Reverend_Skeeve

#27

Reverend_Skeeve said:

Excellent article, and I agree! Not only do I feel like the modern day parts hold AC back, but in the case of AC 4, even the Assassins gameplay does so...it just feels dated and done to death if I still have to stealth-follow people and such.

Give me a proper pirates game with more open world and some economy sim with the ability to have own stronholds and I don't even need the Assassins part.

Realportugeezer

#28

Realportugeezer said:

Enjoyed it in Assassin's Creed 1, 2 and 3 (especially the first two as the story felt like it was going somewhere).
Seems like they are struggling to get a decent character arc in following the end of Desmond - they need to really throw something Mirror's Edge like at it for the modern day segments (leaping out of skyscrapers, racing across cities, stealth in train stations/airports Jason Bourne-style, etc) to make it an interesting 30 min change to justify the intrusion

cleanermonkey

#29

cleanermonkey said:

I totally agree with your points about the leaving Animus, and this in the end was the main reason that I quit the game after reaching about 67% completion... I lost interrest! and this "a complete loss of immersion."

The loss of immersion started the first time I had to play the modern day part and only grew bigger every time I had to leave my swashbuckling ways to run through halls, hack various systems, ride elevators and other boring stuff that didn't hold my interrest. And it served as a reminder that I was kind of playing a game about "playing a game" and that all my upgrades and possessions weren't "real" and that really sucked.

It was the same reason I NEVER got hooked on the first one and shunned the series all together untill Black Flag came out. And it is a DAMN shame cos the pirate part of the game works and it works very well. I found myself sometimes foregoing the main storyline quests, just to sail arround listening to the pirate songs (like I would with cars in GTA San Andreas) and boarding ships, destroying fortresses and hunting animals of the sea all because it was very enjoyable and so I wouldn't be "pulled" from the game.

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