Another year is here, which means another Assassin’s Creed game (we skipped a new entry for 2016, but we got The Ezio Collection and a movie instead). This year’s entry, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, sees us setting out in the Viking era with our male or female protagonist, Eivor. We’ll be roaming the English countryside, battling historic figures, and even participating in raids with our friends! Although not exactly in the way fans such as myself were hoping for.
This year’s entry, much like the two games before it, ditches the series unique style of multi-player, opting for a more passive experience. Players will instead be able to create an online avatar that their friends can recruit to their Viking clan. These avatars can battle alongside your friends and bring back goods, such as crafting materials or currency, to your game. This system happens without any interactivity from the player.
It’s just a shame that this feels like such a missed opportunity. Imagine creating your very own Viking with unique weapons, gear, or tattoos and jumping into a friend’s world to take out massive waves of enemies. You could cut them down together as you make your way to a distant castle filled with riches or goods which you could disperse amongst your clan back at your encampment. Maybe it could be like For Honor’s style of multi-player, where you and your friends team up together to raid a group of player-controlled Templar Elites as they work to fortify their castle defenses and cut off your reinforcements. It could be the next big step for the franchise, so why hasn’t it been done?
Too Foolish to Work
Multi-player was viewed as an unnecessary addition when it was announced for the Assassin’s Creed series. I myself don’t really play games online, so when I first heard about it, I’ll admit that I thought the whole premise sounded awful. The Assassin’s Creed games had been strictly a single-player experience for the first couple of games. That was until Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood came along. Brotherhood needed something to justify the price tag, since the main campaign was much shorter than its predecessors. Ubisoft took a big risk, and introduced the series’ first iteration of online multi-player. And it was… weird.
Players took on the role of an unnamed Abstergo employee, and through the Animus, gained the skills to take on the modern-day Assassins. There were a few different game modes and maps, which had several decoy NPCs walking around. These NPCs were look-alikes of avatars you would select at the start of a match. The goal was simple: hide amongst the doppelgangers to avoid your pursuers and try to kill your targets undetected. Patient and stealthy players often succeeded, while frantic and obvious players usually didn’t.
It was a unique take on the online multi-player genre, and it worked! You felt like an Assassin, “staying your blade from the flesh of an innocent” ,”hiding in plain sight”, and trying not to “compromise the Brotherhood”. The three tenants of the Creed, brought to you and your friends in a new way. You could team up and coordinate attacks to dominate the leaderboards, gain new perks and abilities, and take down your foes instead of tailing yet another target in the main campaign. It was an absolute blast!
Multi-player recieved a slight expansion with Assassin’s Creed Revelations and Assassin’s Creed III, but the idea had started to stagnate by the time Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag was released. Only a handful of new modes were added across four games and Ubisoft had started selling boosters that let you bypass gameplay to get all the abilities and perks from the get-go. The multi-player mode had reached its best and final form, and as much as I loved it, I knew it was time for a change. At E3 2014, Ubisoft gave us exactly that.
During Xbox’s presentation, Ubisoft unveiled Assassin’s Creed Unity and with it, the next iteration of multi-player for the franchise. You could now team up with three friends and take on the the world of Paris together! This was the next big step! It would have been cool to team up with your own pirate crew in Black Flag, but toppling Unity’s French monarchy? That would’ve been just as much fun! The only problem was that’s not exactly how it went.
Couldn’t Stick the Landing
Unity had no shortage of issues at launch: a myriad of bugs (some of which were overblown), the lack of a female lead, the several external apps you needed to connect to, and low framerates or crashes. It was a mess. The one problem I feel gets glossed over too often, however, was the new multi-player mode.
Despite what the marketing led me to believe, you couldn’t play the entire game with your friends. If this was clarified before launch, I never saw it. This marketing seemed to show people playing the game and having their friends join at any point. In truth, you could only play a few missions that weren’t directly related to the main campaign with your friends. They mostly felt like they were tacked on for the sake of saying that there was multi-player.
Even if that had been the case, the online servers barely even worked most of the time. I could never connect with my friends directly, though I could sometimes connect with strangers. Usually, most people didn’t have a mic so there was little in the way of coordination. When they did have a mic, it was pretty fun, but rarely ever more than “pretty fun”. You did at least have the option to tackle these missions by yourself. If you really wanted the rewards or just wanted more out of Unity, it was typically better to just play alone.
Looking For Other Agents
After Unity, multi-player was dead. Assassins Creed Syndicate came out a year later without any multi-player to speak of. It had two main characters that would’ve been good for co-op, but it didn’t happen. Ubisoft took a year off after Syndicate’s lukewarm reception and Unity’s abysmal launch (it’s a meme at this point, but Unity is worth playing after the patches if you never have and love the series; Syndicate is pretty good, too).
Assassin’s Creed Origins’ only online functionality was sharing screenshots and avenging fallen players near you. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey continued this trend of not having multi-player. Even the recent re-releases of Assassin’s Creed III Remastered and Assassins Creed Ezio Collection have the multi-player from the original releases stripped out. The only way to play these modes now is revisiting the older games.
I know most people don’t like the multi-player mode in these games, and I can understand why. For those of us that do, however, not all hope is lost. Serge Hascoet, the chief creative officer at Ubisoft, was recently interviewed by Game Informer. In it, he said that multi-player is something they’re “looking at”. If you want something more immediate, there’s a discord channel called the Assassin’s Creed Multi-player Revival Project, which is a community of people playing the older games. It seems there is a small, but fairly active user base that still wants this game mode to return. Until then, all we can hope is Ubisoft hasn’t said “Requiescant en pace” to this great idea.
Assassins Creed Valhalla is set to release this Holiday.