2007 marked the launch of one of the most popular action-adventure series in video game history: Assassin’s Creed (AC). In 2009, the franchise’s sophomore effort launched, and each consecutive year for six years an additional installment was released. However, the production value of each entry during that six-year period seemed to peak with 2013’s AC IV: Black Flag, which is arguably the most popular release to date. The franchise took a noticeable dip in quality with 2014’s AC: Unity, which was widely criticized for its bug-ridden multiplayer and lackluster story. The series seemed to improve slightly with the following year’s AC: Syndicate, but it still had a long way to go to regain its momentum and live up to the likes of Black Flag and its predecessors. After the lengthy, predictable release schedule, the franchise took a break for a year to focus on the feature film of the same name. Once that gap had run its course, Ubisoft released AC: Origins to critical acclaim. This year, the franchise appears to be returning to old patterns, meaning AC Odyssey may be coming too soon.
In 2016, instead of yet another video game, Ubisoft produced the Assassin’s Creed movie, which did not live up to its video game counterparts’ standards. However, taking a year off from producing a video game seemed to give Ubisoft the fresh eyes it needed to revamp the series and make a quality piece. 2017’s AC: Origins saw the franchise exceed the lowered expectations of fans and critics since the Unity debacle put the series in a hole. However, this renewed faith in the series is being endangered by Ubisoft’s return to old habits: releasing another game just shy of a year after the previous title’s launch.
Slated for October 2018, AC: Odyssey takes Ubisoft’s stealth series to Ancient Greece, promising representations of historical Spartan tropes and other Greek lore. While the thought of a Spartan Assassin is enticing, and Origins did restore much of the franchise’s former glory, the return to an annual launch model is cause for concern. The previous yearly releases were exciting with each addition, but that anticipation bottomed out with Unity—a single title all but halted the franchise’s momentum. Moreover, the rapid release of each game makes the next installment’s announcement go from a welcome prospect to white noise.
The buzz surrounding AC has lessened over time. When compared to the adrenaline-infused reactions that wash over news about a new Elder Scrolls or Grand Theft Auto, additional Assassin’s Creeds are mundane. Large time gaps between sequels in major franchises allow fans to build up the craving necessary to rally behind developers. For example, the build-up to Red Dead Redemption 2, a sequel eight years in the making, has created a palpable tension that will cause many gamers to flock to the Western on launch day. With AC: Odyssey, fans may not feel as strong of a pull to obtain the game the day it launches. The tedium of keeping up with annual entries is enough to make consumers roll their eyes.
Exasperation aside, the AC franchise has had a healthy life, and by no means does an annual release schedule automatically make a game subpar. Nevertheless, the chances of such a rapidly crafted game being a quality product are somewhat diminished when the developer has less time to work on the project. The Grand Theft Auto and Elder Scrolls series, while they have their bugs, are much more popular and well-crafted due to the extended time periods between each title. When developers have more time to work on a game, the chance of the title living up to the industry’s high standards are greater. Hopefully, Ubisoft’s return to annual AC installments is not a bad omen.
Time will tell if Ubisoft can maintain the momentum and revamped faith generated by Assassin’s Creed Origins. Unfortunately, the industry is rather cyclical, and old mistakes tend to remain as lessons unheeded. AC is an enthralling series and has the potential to reclaim its former greatness, but wariness currently grips the hearts of many of the franchise’s fans. Until Ubisoft proves it is up to the challenge of producing a quality product year after year, consumer satisfaction is certainly not guaranteed.