Should Ubisoft Remove the Modern-Day Storyline From Assassin’s Creed?

"Should these controversial missions set in the present-day remain or exit the franchise for good?"

Spoilers for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey incoming. I will also be referring to the protagonist of the game as Kassandra throughout the article because I played as her rather than Alexios.

Well it took a while but I’ve finally completed Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, at least until more DLC comes out that is. Odyssey turned out to be the perfect name for this instalment, not only because of the location of Greece and its history, but because the game is one hell of a journey. It’s easily the largest Assassin’s Creed game and the hundreds of quests and locations are as addictive in the first hour as they are in the 100th hour. I’ve been an Assassin’s Creed fan from the very beginning and, other than a brief period during the Unity/Syndicate days, I’ve been invested in series for over a decade. But now I find part of my interest waning. There’s no doubt that Odyssey, and Origins before it, are great games but what I enjoy from Assassin’s Creed as a franchise has changed. I love the sense of location, the long-form historical narrative and the gameplay but where once love for the greater lore and universe blossomed, it has now begun to wither. I used to love the complex mythology surrounding the Isu and the modern-day sequences in the games, championing them against the haters, but now I find myself no longer caring. I find myself actively disliking them and wondering what can be done to rectify that. Should these controversial missions set in the present-day remain or exit the franchise for good?

At the moment Ubisoft are striding a half measure that pleases no one. Where once the modern-day storyline put the effort in and developed characters and storylines over multiple missions in multiple games, Odyssey goes for the bare bones approach. We now have short abrupt missions with huge time jumps between games and characters aren’t given introductions. Origins, while spending little time in the present, peaked my interest with new protagonist Layla but when we catch up with her in Odyssey she feels like a completely different character. The once Abstergo agent is now a straight-up Assassin, a veteran of multiple missions, after a large time jump and she even has her own crew. I still remember being introduced to the characters of Shaun and Rebecca in Assassin’s Creed 2’s present day missions but here there are no introductions to speak of. We just have a new bunch of characters including Japanese Guy on the phone and Computer Lady next to the Animus. I have no idea of their names so that’s how I have to refer to them. They say their few exposition-filled lines and the scene’s over. The fans of these segments are left unsatisfied and those that don’t like them are still annoyed no matter the short length of the scenes. Nobody wins and everyone’s frustrated.

In their attempt to be brief so not to annoy non-fans, Ubisoft disrespects characters that we have become invested in which makes the modern-day characters even less likable. Layla doesn’t comment on what’s happening in the Animus or show any sort of emotional connection to the characters she’s studying, no doubt to stop those who don’t like the present-day stuff getting annoyed at having to hear her comment on situations. This makes Layla feel cold and unlikable. She should be like the player, in awe and invested in everything she’s witnessing, just like Desmond was in his games. I used to love hearing him comment on what was happening in the story with Shaun butting in with some historical context.

The modern-day sequences in Odyssey would be better if they were just given time to breathe. In the third and final scene set in 2018, Kassandra appears to Layla, having lived thousands of years due to the Staff of Hermes, and passes on the artifact that kept her alive, dying in the process. As the player we’ve been with Kassandra for so long at this point – 115 hours for me (without DLC) – and we’ve come to care deeply for this character. We’re invested in her story and so her death should be an emotional moment but as soon as it happens, because Ubisoft is terrified of spending time in the present-day, Layla quickly chimes in that we should get back to the Animus, undercutting the moment dramatically. The scene should have been like that great moment when Ezio comes across Altair’s body in Revelations but instead it reminded me of Assassin’s Creed 3’s rushed ending. Kassandra’s death should have been given adequate time so that we feel its impact, and her dying as soon as she lets go of the staff doesn’t make much sense either. So, she had been holding it constantly for over 2000 years? How does she get anything done? How did she change into that modern suit? Why not have her grow weaker after passing on the staff and die a few minutes after? Oh, I know why. It’s because Ubisoft can’t even spend a few minutes away from a combat encounter to tell a story anymore.

I’m not sure how I feel about Kassandra living for over 2000 years but I think I could be won over if she shows up as a recurring character in the series with at least a cameo in the next few games. Maybe she’s been manipulating events as a third party, at times being an ally or enemy to both the Assassins and Templars in order to maintain this balance she speaks of. This would keep something introduced in the modern-day sequences in future games without having to have a storyline set in the present. Maybe it’s revealed that she’s Edrutio, the hacker who was introduced in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and gave Desmond the passwords of his colleague’s Animus logins. Although knowing Ubisoft they’ve probably already answered the mystery behind Edrutio in the comics and left gamers none the wiser. Or why didn’t Ubisoft jump the shark entirely and have Kassandra survive and become the new modern-day protagonist? The series could deal with her getting adjusted to the modern technological world and players, even those who don’t like the modern-day stuff, would already be invested in the character.

So how should Ubisoft deal with their present-day problem? I’m of the mindset that they should finish the current arc in the games and then get rid of the sequences entirely from later games. It can continue in the comics and books for the mega fans to read; a group I can no longer say that I’m a part of. That’s what they did with the Juno storyline in fact. A main focus for several core games in the series was Juno’s resurrection and then, just a few months ago, I find out on Reddit that that storyline had been wrapped up in the comics and isn’t even referenced in the games. As an invested fan that pissed me off.

I say just finish the current arc and then get rid of the storyline completely but to be honest I’m not sure what the current arc actually is or even what the current state of the Assassin vs Templar conflict is. I used to pride myself on knowing the canon of the franchise. I own the encyclopedia. I know the first five games like the back of my hand but now I’m lost. We don’t get enough information and what we do get isn’t enough to quench my thirst or even make me intrigued to seek out more. In Odyssey we learn that there was, and maybe still is, a rebel group of Isu organised by Aletheia but how they’ll play into the franchise’s future I don’t know. Layla is apparently the answer to some prophecy that will bring balance (very Star Wars) and the Staff of Hermes might be able to bend realities. Also, Origins made it sound like Layla won’t need the Animus to travel through time. So, time travel, reality-bending Isu civil war? I just don’t know what’s happening anymore.

Ubisoft needs to pick a direction. Quite simply, they either need to put time and effort into the modern-day storyline or remove it completely. This wavering in the middle that they are currently doing is pleasing no one. How do you think Ubisoft should tackle the modern-day sequences going forward? Get rid of the storyline completely or continue with the current course? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.

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