I have a mantra when it comes to being a customer of the video games industry: When I don’t want to keep your video game on my gaming shelf and would rather sell it back to GameStop, you have failed as a game maker. Because of the scarcity of any actual “rental” outlets (RIP Hollywood Video) and the rise of digital purchasing, and its resulting financial viability, through the proprietary networks of your chosen console or PC, I have basically resigned myself to the fact that if I want to play a video game or invest any amount of time into it I will have to either buy it for myself or borrow it from a friend. I’m fine with that. It certainly makes me a little bit more scrupulous about the games I choose to play. It also allows me to put a little more work into my gaming shelf.
I love my gaming shelf. And I think it’s imperative that gamers put a lot of thought and appreciation into their gaming shelf, considering how much money the industry is demanding from us to cultivate one. Not everyone may have a gaming shelf much anymore if you primarily buy your games digitally, but I’m a big proponent of keeping physical copies of the games you enjoy the most. You should appreciate your gaming shelf and care for it, organize it how you wish but make it something you can be proud in. And I’ll freely admit, I’m a little bit finicky when it comes to my organization system. Which makes it all the more terrible when gaming companies don’t seem to respect our gaming shelves in kind. They do this in a number of ways: inconsistent spine art, ridiculous “special editions” that simply don’t fit onto a shelf, releasing prequels in an established series and mucking up their order on your shelf, or releasing installments of a series across different console generations and changing up the size and shape of the box they are sold in.
But there is one method they use, an obvious cheap cash-in admittedly, that I actually enjoy: HD remakes on new consoles. HD Remakes for a new console are one of the more ideal ways for a company to get some of my respect again. I get why some people would hate this practice. Why would you buy a game you already own again? Now ideally when a video game is released in HD, I am fully willing to sell off my previous copy and get the new game. I did it with The Last of Us and I plan to do it with Grand Theft Auto V when I gather up the strength to play that game again. I get why some people would be annoyed by this though: You don’t get much money back from selling those games off and you still have to buy the game again. HD remakes were done perfectly with Journey and Castle Crashers recently, where the HD remake was released free for anyone who already owned the game, but cheap cash grabs are a thing that one would have to deal with in this modern day gaming industry and it does suck a lot.
So, let’s turn that to our advantage and do a thought experiment shall we?
Assassin’s Creed is a great series. I don’t want you thinking that I don’t love it while reading this. I’ve had my issues with it and I am not blind to its flaws, but I will admit that it has managed to be one of the more enjoyable results of the normally terrible practice of releasing yearly installments of a video game. But Assassin’s Creed has been a juggernaut of the gaming world for years now. We’re practically in on the joke now. Every year the same things happen: Ubisoft suffers a “leak” of some sort before being “forced” to announce the next year’s AC game. The trailer wows us all, then they start pushing pre-order DLC and expansion packs in additional trailers, then the game comes out and is given mixed reviews because of how rushed the game was. Then we reconvene after Christmas and Ubisoft pushes the last game aside and starts the whole cycle over again.
At the time of this writing I own seven installments of the Assassin’s Creed series and I see them every time I look at my shelf. Except I absolutely hate looking at them. They’re so ugly on my shelf. The spine art is all different for each game. I hate that Ezio and Altair’s story is broken apart across four different games. I hate that the series jumped ahead in Assassin’s Creed III and then meandered around before that with two other games across two platforms, making subsequent games technically prequels. I hate how meandering the overarching series has become and how odd that makes my placement of them on my shelf. And I hate how much space they take up. So here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to imagine a world where Ubisoft listens to fans—one where they take their time, have an unlimited budget, and release a great product they can be proud in, while also getting a bit of cash for their work. We’re going to imagine a world where Ubisoft produces the Assassin’s Creed HD Remakes.
The way I’m thinking of this is kind of in the vein of the Kingdom Hearts Remixes in that each release would bundle several games in the series together, but rather than segment them into separate games I’m thinking of these as full recreations of each game meshed together using the fiction of the Animus to connect them as complete wholes.
Part One – Assassin’s Creed: Architects
Remember when they finished Ezio’s story and they tried to release the “Ezio Trilogy?” It was released in this ugly box with segmented box art and it didn’t do much other than bundle the three game discs for II, Brotherhood, and Revelations together in one box. Yes, this does tidy up your gaming shelf. But not in a nice way. It just looks awful, and it isn’t much more than a bundle. It isn’t a re-release and it doesn’t tweak anything. I don’t think it even bundles any of the DLC Ubisoft released with the three games. They did it again later with “The Americas Collection” and it looked similarly stupid.
So here’s my suggestion: Ubisoft should take the first four Assassin’s Creed games and completely remake them into one game called Assassin’s Creed: Architects. Remember this is a world where Ubisoft has an unlimited budget, so I will hear no arguments about how financially prohibitive this may or may not be. In my perfect world there is no reason to split the story of Ezio and Altair onto separate discs. There is already the perception that Assassin’s Creed II was one game that was split across three years to allow the yearly release schedule, why not just embrace that and make them one game. This is especially since AC: Revelations ties back into the story of Altair, so having played through his story earlier in the game and not several years before would keep some of the overarching story fresh in the mind.
There’s also the fact that the whole time we are playing as Altair and Ezio, Desmond’s story is running in the background. By placing all four of the first games onto one disc, you can streamline Desmond’s story. Part of the allure of the first Assassin’s Creed game was that the “twist” to that game was that you were playing as a character in the near future exploring memories of the past. It was so long ago that some people forget that was a huge surprise when the game came out. But that is a twist that doesn’t need to be concealed anymore. Perhaps you can include some sections at the beginning of the game where you actually see Desmond getting kidnapped by Abstergo agents. Maybe you could even include some gameplay that fleshes out Subject 16 even more, even if it’s restricted to the part where Desmond is trapped in the Animus with him.
In addition, an HD remake could allow Ubisoft to fix some of the critiqued parts of the series. For instance, they could fix or even remove the tower defense minigame in Revelations. They could add in more cutscenes and sections with Desmond to make him a much more relatable character and flesh out his backstory in a way that isn’t first-person based platforming levels with audio files playing ambient in the background. Including all of the DLC—and I do mean all of it, retail exclusive and all—would also streamline the games. Perhaps they could even reimagine parts of those portable games Altair’s Chronices, Bloodlines, and Discovery and include them in this too since there are some sequences in those games that actually became mildly important in later installments of the series.
How would you rationalize all of these games being put into one product with a myriad of stories and themes running throughout? Easy, turn that “mission progression” bar you get in every game and turn it into a timeline you can jump around on a la Beyond: Two Souls. That way, you can actually make the Animus into a fully functional system that allows you to go back and replay parts of the game, maybe rewind and fast-forward. Implement a better scoring or grading system after missions. Turn the Animus itself into the base-building segment of the game where Desmond’s traversing of the Animus allows him to upgrade its systems and modify memories, allowing him to replay missions with different stipulations and objectives. It could also possibly allow you to access the short films Ubisoft made for the series, Lineage and Ascendance, either in film or remade into a playable form as missions.
And last but not least, it is imperative that Assassin’s Creed: Embers be included as part of the ending of this game. That is the ending of Ezio’s story just as Revelations is the end of Altair’s. If anything, include it as a post-credits thing after the ending of the Revelations section of the game.
All in all, I would imagine Assassin’s Creed: Architects to tell the full story of Ezio and Altair. It would need to give their story some gravitas, some real value. It’s a bold idea, restructuring the first four games and merging them into one entity with new story, levels, and content. And whether or not this would end up split over two or more Blu-ray discs for this newest generation of consoles is up for debate, but I’m sure fans wouldn’t mind swapping a disc or two like they did with L.A. Noire if that meant they got to experience the content of about seven AC games, three short films, and all their associated DLC. It probably wouldn’t be easy, but it’s the way that AC fans deserve to experience that part of the story. The story of Ezio and Altair is the story of the formation of the Assassins Brotherhood out of the fallen Hassassin Guild in ancient Masyaf. Desmond’s story meanwhile would end on a cliffhanger at the end of the game, with his father coming to collect the Assassin rebels for a journey to America. This cliffhanger is fine, it’s the structure of the next game that is going to be the hard part.
Part Two – Assassin’s Creed: Revolutions
This next part is a little difficult. See, Desmond’s story is continued in the frame story of Assassin’s Creed III. Except the ancestor he plays as in that game is Connor Kenway (or Ratonhnhaké:ton), who is the grandson of Edward Kenway the protagonist of Black Flag, which features a frame story that is set after ACIII. And there is a game which has a historical section that takes place between those two games called Rogue that features a frame story set after Black Flag’s. In addition, the historical part of Rogue helps set up the plot of Unity. Plus there’s three other spin-off games: Liberation, Freedom Cry, and Chronicles: China.
This is further complicated by the genetic memories of this cross section of the Assassin’s Guild being experienced not only by Desmond, but by several other unnamed characters who either work for Abstergo Entertainment—an evil subsidiary of the Templars who are using upgraded and streamlined version of the Animus to sift through Assassin memories and find ideas in the past to release “historically accurate” video games that are meant to portray the Assassins as scoundrels, liars, pirates, and thieves—or the unnamed players of these propaganda video games on Abstergo’s Helix game consoles. Simply put the meta-narrative frame story (which the first few games used to place Desmond in the shoes of his ancestors) goes all kinds of crazy.
The really unfortunate part about this age of the series is that by this point the series has pretty much given up the overarching story that it started building up at through the first Assassin’s Creed, namely the 2012 Apocalypse Prophecy. You see, by turning Assassin’s Creed into their yearly franchise, Ubisoft found the year 2012 creeping up on them and wanted to resolve the Apocalypse Prophecy story before the actual December 2012 prediction date passed. So, they allowed Assassin’s Creed III to end that, and by extension Desmond’s, storyline. As a result the rest of the games released since then all feel like disparate stories that are connected more by coincidence and familial connection than anything. Thematically, all of these stories are connected by the ideas of revolution and establishment of their own freedoms in societies of their own. Haytham, Connor, and Arno play parts in the American and French Revolutions, Edward tries to upend the Colonial system by helping establish the pirate colony of Nassau, Adéwalé seeks to overthrow the slave trade in the Carribbean that has long kept his people subjugated, Aveline navigates her society’s racially biased ideals of her. All of these characters are seeking to create a society they are welcome and safe in or escape the society they currently live in. This is much different from the themes of beginning, discovery, and creation that Altair and Ezio’s stories held. So the themes hold strong across the games even though the stories are disparate and only coincidentally connected.
So how would we find harmony with these game? How would we put them all together? Well the simplest answer is to craft an all new frame story, one that would allow you to experience the frames of the previous games and all of their content while keeping the story focused while you jump across history doing the deadliest parkour in all the land. Throughout all of these games, save for III but we’ll get to that, there is a running storyline about the Assassins (now being led by Desmond’s cohorts Shaun and Rebecca from the previous games) hacking into Abstergo’s servers and game consoles and showing the truth to the players. It’s strangely great meta-commentary from a company that doesn’t seem to understand that it cast itself as an entertainment company controlled by a megalomaniacal Illuminati in its own game.
Well, here’s my idea: when the game boots up it would portray itself as what it is, an HD remake of Abstergo Entertainment’s previously released games. Then, when the game is “installing” itself on your console, the hackers break into the code and “reveal” the hidden information and content from the other games. From there the gamer would then traverse the concealed files and levels across history, stretching from the opening levels of Black Flag at the dawn of the Golden Age of Piracy in 1715 and all the way into the French Revolution at the end of Unity. Along the way the player would be shown stolen files and “surveillance tapes” from Abstergo Entertainment’s offices showing the events of the frame stories of Black Flag and Rogue. Desmond’s story from ACIII meanwhile is shown as extra missions in the Animus that are unlocked as you progress through the game, as it is canonical that at the end of ACIII, Abstergo gets their hands on Desmond’s genetic material and his memories are integrated into the Animus database.
This frame isn’t all that different from the frame story of Unity, except it is meant to encompass far more than just the story of Arno Dorian. From here the player would be able to play through the stories of Edward, Haytham, and Connor Keyway, Adéwalé, Aveline de Grandpré, Shay Patrick Cormac, Arno Dorian, & Shao Jun. They would be able to do this in any order they wish but one Assassin at a time in order to keep cohesion in each game. I’d be partial to keeping it in historical order but that’s just me. As they progressed in the game, the Assassin hackers would unlock parts of the frame story. And hey they could even throw in surveillance footage or news reports of that one mission in Watch_Dogs where the head of Abstergo Entertainment from the beginning of Black Flag gets killed in Chicago by Aiden Pierce while on a business trip. That easter egg was a fun inclusion in Watch_Dogs but it wouldn’t warrant a full inclusion of that game. One thing I would make sure to include was to make the Homestead missions in ACIII completely mandatory to the main story. Skipping over those missions completely deprives Connor of any real character development and hollows his characters somewhat and is easily my biggest complaint about the series.
Once again all of the DLC from the various games would be included as well, especially the alternate history missions from ACIII. Chronicles: China would be included unchanged from its side-scrolling platforming original version, as I would be willing to believe that to change that structure in any way would be, in essence, building an entirely new game.
By the end of this entry in the series the player, both the actual player and the in-game unnamed protagonist, will have traversed through the 18th century and examined the scuttling of Ezio and Altair’s Assassin’s Brotherhood and the Age of Revolution. The Assassin hackers will have, through the players, “exposed” the true history of the Assassins and Templars to the general populace. As Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate has yet to be released I have no way of knowing what its own frame story will be, but the time and era jump in Syndicate seems large enough to separate it from this section of the series.
Part Three – Assassin’s Creed: Contracts
You may have noticed that in all of the revisionism I just went through in the previous sections I hadn’t even mentioned Assassin’s Creed’s spectacular multiplayer. Back when it was first included it was quite a different style of multiplayer from the more popular ones. While most multiplayer lobbies in gaming are deathmatches and first-person carnivals of chaos and carnage, Assassin’s Creed decided to take it more the route of a game of hide-and-seek.
The idea here is to accomplish something similar to the Halo: Multiplayer disc included with Halo 3: ODST back when that game was getting stuffed with more and more maps and armor pieces. It was a great idea, segmenting the game’s most popular section off from the expansion pack that ODST was. It allowed players to clear the various map packs from their hard drive and it wasn’t sold for a large price, being included as part of the package with ODST.
There are a lot of DLC packs and pieces for Assassin’s Creed’s multiplayer across several games. So the idea that they would sell a physical disc of remastered material from several of the games in the series on a newer generation console with dedicated servers and all the DLC, maps, and enhancements readily available and ready to be updated in the future would no doubt be invaluable for fans of the multiplayer. It’s big enough that it could occupy its own retail release and its even supported by its own storyline: the multiplayer is portrayed as a combat training simulation for Abstergo agents. This is easy money for the company and I honestly think it would be a great idea.
Wherever the Assassin’s Creed series goes from here it could use a bit of franchise maintenance and the sheer number of games in the series needs to be simplified. In addition, if they are actually looking for a quick pay day it would be easy money for them. And I mean honestly who loses here? Ubisoft gets some money and fans get a tidier and more streamlined version of the series in fewer installments. Now I don’t know if all of my suggestions could be actually implemented or how expensive it would be, but it would certainly tidy up my shelf.
Anyway, what do you guys think? Would you like to see Assassin’s Creed overhauled this much? Would you pay Ubisoft more money for a more coherent version of their most lauded series? What other series do you think could do with a remake that restructured it into a more palatable state? Let me know in the comments and don’t forget to recommend this article if you enjoyed this little thought experiment. I was thinking of doing one or two more of these so please let me know what you think.