Content of the article: "Assassin’s Creed 2, or how Ubisoft made me a patient gamer"
This is a short observation on the trends in video game design, which seems to be different than common opinions around here, so I'm sharing it to offer another point of view. I do not want to imply that other opinions are wrong though. It's also not just about Ubisoft, but Ubisoft Montreal is really good at what I'm talking about.
tl;dr: While many people regard AC2 as one of the pinnacles of gaming, after playing it I realized that for me it signifies a breaking point, where developers perfected a formula that's popular and sells well and offers absolutely nothing to me personally.
Some time ago I decided to play Assassin's Creed 2 for the first time. AC1, when it came out, was fresh and good looking, although repetitive and never played AC2 because I was a poor pirate when it came out, the full price was too much and it had good copy protection (not proud of it, but that's how it was). So I bought it on s*le together with Brotherhood and after seeing people loving it, saying that it and Brotherhood may be the best in the series, I decided to finally play them.
What I realized is that AC2 is probably the biggest release signifying a shift in mainstream game design, because of which I stopped enjoying AAA games and had to look elsewhere.
I've seen the difference described in different words around here. One of the ways is that there are games that try to create a world that's independent of you and then throw you in it, sometimes in a little extreme ways where the world doesn't give a shit about you at all (STALKER). And then there are games where you are very obviously the big hero and the whole game world is built around you experiencing being the one.
One of my friends told me that he plays the second type of games because it's like going on a holiday into the game. For me though, the most important aspects in videogames are gameplay, setting and a being a moderate challenge. Even though like many of you I have so much less time for videogames than 10 years ago and I've effectively become a very casual gamer by time played, in that little time I like to play games that engage and challenge me.
And playing AC2 felt like "press forward to look super cool and win", an open-world game with super linear story missions and pointless busywork. It just looked great, until you got to a scripted chase sequence which looked so artificial it could have been in a game 10 years older. Usually really well polished, but no challenge, no surprise, not much to learn gameplay-wise.
Then I played the first Splinter Cell for the first time. That was much more enjoyable, although I was kind of disappointed and didn't finish it either because I probably came in more expecting a stealthy immersive sim, which it is not. It's pretty linear, not very difficult and kind of hand holdy at times. I realized that those are the exact elements I disliked about AC2, just not manifested as strongly yet and applied to a more linear game. So I thought about what made me quit Far Cry 3, and it was again a game build around you being an improbable cool looking superhero thrown into a "hostile" but not in reality very dangerous world with shallow story.
And AC2 seems to be the most important release since it was so hyped and successful and seems like the first game to actually perfect this formula, bringing many new players to AAA gaming.
There aren't many aspects about these games that could be called bad. They just don't challenge me in any way and while they're often ambitious in technical aspects and size, they're never ambitious in game design. I now view the AC franchise as similar to Call of Duty – financially super successful games made for somebody else entirely. And, for good (financial) reasons, most of the AAA production became like this in the last about 15 years.
The older I am, the less I enjoy games like that. I see the word "jank" thrown around really often at games that dare to do some things differently and it just seems weird to me because I'd always rather play "janky" games than games that are super polished but just feel empty (even when they're full of things to do).
We do have the indie scene for this, sort of, but they rarely manage to do something like "mid budget" games, cheaper and more daring than AAA, but bigger in scope than typical indie. That makes me even more appreciative to big games that try to do something new even if they end up having many flaws and controversial mechanics, like recently Kingdom Come Deliverance, or companies that have their niche and don't try to water it down too much to gain more appeal, like From Software.
There are few games like that coming out, so being a patient gamer is pretty much a need. Fortunately, having little time to play, there are still a lot of older interesting games left. But I really hope that new technologies that make producing games cheaper will enable mid-sized studios to make ambitious, unfriendly, difficult and complicated games again soon.
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