Spoiler Alert! This critique is intended to serve as a more in-depth look at Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. For a spoiler-free review of the game look here.
One of my favorite game series for the past several years has been Assassin’s Creed. Each new addition has been a wonderful experience that has succeeded in fixing a few of the shortfalls of the previous installment, until now.
After hours of running on the rooftops of Constantinople, killing guards, killing more guards, telling my Assassins to kill some guards and jumping off really high buildings to epicly kill someone hundreds of feet below, I feel I’ve finally been able to discuss why this game fell short. It didn’t improve on the formula. It only added unnecessary segments that I didn’t want and it even took a step backwards on some things.
Constantinople, unlike Rome, never felt unique or memorable. Every rooftop felt just like every other rooftop and other than a few locations that stood out, was easily forgotten. This level of blandness has been unseen since the original Assassin’s Creed. Assassin’s Creed 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood excelled at creating cities that felt vibrant, unique and interesting around every corner. Constantinople has different districts, but they all feel the same. They have interesting buildings, but they’re crammed up against other buildings that feel less detailed. I understand that some of this could be because Constantinople, during this period, was like this, but I don’t think so. It strikes me more like the designers put in a few key locations and then let a computer fill in the gaps rather than pay a similar amount of attention to an alley as they pay to a mosque.
The characters in Revelations were less interesting. I liked Sofia Sartor, who was smart, funny, expressive and well-developed throughout the game. What I’m making reference to is the rest of the cast. With no villain present throughout the game, Ezio is struggling against an organization, which is much less interesting than the likes of Rodrigo, Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia; a cadre of characters that were interesting enough for me to remember, as well as remember how to spell. Eventually we find that Ahmet, the Ottomon prince is the real villain of the game, but we learn this so late in the narrative that it’s time for the climax and the game to end. I understand that part of the plot involved trying to find who Ezio’s real enemy is and who is trying to kill Prince Suleiman. Ubisoft was trying to utilize a trade-off by having a less apparent villain, but having a more intricate plot that involved the player trying to find out who the villain is. Unfortunately, I found this narrative to only be remotely interesting and not worth the trade-off Ubisoft was trying to achieve.
Yusuf, the Assassin was originally very interesting to me, but played a negligible part throughout the story. We learn little about him. There is almost no development. He exists solely to serve as a rallying cry for Ezio and the Assassins when he is killed. Perhaps if there had been more to his character or if we had spent more time interacting with him, I would have felt a greater impact upon his death, but I could see where the plot was headed when Ezio told Yusuf to look after Sofia. “Oh, I guess Yusuf is going to die,” I thought. It became more about when and how. Even when he dies we are left to our imaginations. He’s in Sofia’s shop, surrounded by dead Templars, lying on the ground. Come on Ubisoft, you can do better. Why couldn’t we have been there? Maybe there could’ve been some massive battle or chase across the rooftops? Instead we are left to fill in the gaps with our imagination.
Adding to the confusion and less focused narrative that Revelations has, is that you will be playing as Ezio, Desmond and Altair for different sections of the game. While adding Altair into the mix made it more interesting for Assassin’s Creed fans, it actually adds very little. Once again Ezio is trying to find an Apple of Eden; the exact apple that Altair had in the original AC game. To do this, he has to collect a series of keys to unlock the location of the apple underneath Masyaf. Each key forces Ezio to relive an event in Altair’s life. I was saddened the second Altair opened his mouth and a different voice came out since Ubisoft was unable to entice the original voice-actor back for the part. Altair’s appearances are negligible and add very little to the story. I know that they influence Ezio’s decision to become involved with Sofia, but with so few sequences they are easily forgotten. For most of his appearances, it is more reminiscent of playing a long cutscene than actual gameplay. This was a far cry from the epic return and departure of the character that originally drew me into the series.
I almost wish Desmond had been left out of the game entirely. His sequences were annoying. Suddenly being forced to endure a first-person puzzle game to try and advance the narrative made me want to stop playing. On top of that, I couldn’t figure out what Desmond was even doing. I understand that he’s trapped in the animus, but what was he suppose to be doing to get out? Was he suppose to relive more Ezio moments? How does that get him out? What was the point of his sequences? Were the sequences memories or what? The puzzle sequences attempted to add more depth to a character that has been slowly rounded out throughout the series, but they contributed very little and were not worth the time. I actually really dislike Desmond now, which is sad because before this game I found him to be interesting. His entire existence highlights what I didn’t like about this game; poor narrative and annoying gameplay mechanics.
That’s right, I said annoying gameplay mechanics. Even when I was back in Constantinople, I was forced to endure the den-defense mini-game. This game bothered me more than anything. After playing the tutorial level a few times, I was still unable to figure out how to destroy siege-equipment. I thought I was suppose to shoot cannonballs at them, but after awhile I found that I was just supposed to spam riflemen. I kept playing to see what units I unlocked and maybe try to understand what makes this interesting and possibly enjoyable, but after randomly being interrupted from what I was doing to rush across the map to play one round of den-defense where I just tried to spam riflemen for the eighth time time or so was increasingly painful. I had enough and gladly placed a Master Assassin in each of my dens. Maybe the entire mini-game was supposed to punish me for killing a few too many guards and letting my Templar-awareness max out, but I don’t think that’s what it was suppose to do. I guess I could be wrong though.
When it came time for me to launch into my multiplayer career, I was disappointed. This is essentially the same multiplayer from Brotherhood without any refinement. Hay bales are still buggy, there is still quite a bit of delay and frequently the game turns into less about hiding or running away and more about using smoke in cooperation with your teammates to smoke and stun your attackers into submission. These smoke-traps are not what makes the game fun. Even when I’m the one benefiting from this poor design, it’s just ridiculous. I’d much rather stealthily move through the crowds trying to assassinate someone or rush across rooftops trying to evade my pursuer like the game should be played. Instead, I’m forced to hang around my teammates and stun our adversaries into defeat.
Ubisoft even took a step back with their multiplayer with the newest installment. Lower-level players are forced to endure game after game of being little more than cannon-fodder since it takes hours of gameplay before you are able to come up with enough abilities to even begin to compete. You are forced to hang around higher-level players and try and take advantage of their smoke, mute and charge abilities. Playing Brotherhood, I was willing to do this since it was a new game and I didn’t know the maps or have the gametypes down. This time I’m a veteran. I know everything. I even know many of the maps since they are just remakes. Unfortunately, I see all the problems and none of them were fixed. Maybe if they had done a better job of giving you abilities earlier on, I wouldn’t feel so sick of the game by the time I’m ready to start my own smoke-traps, but they don’t. They take even longer to give you useful abilities than before, so even with my veteran status, I’m grinding my way through a few hours. I even feel like they didn’t fix the matchmaking so I have a difficult time finding games when I’m in groups of two or three.
In AC2 and Brotherhood I was incredibly impressed by the DLC available for the games considering the price tag on them. In AC2 I think the two DLCs were like $6 combined and were integral to the plot. I know it’s a little strange to play through AC2 without the DLC because after having a really cool fight in Venice, you are suddenly off to kill the Pope. I was fortunate enough to start my playthrough just in time to purchase the second DLC right when I needed it and at about $6 why not purchase them? In Brotherhood, The Da Vinci Disappearance DLC was an interesting continuation of the story and was well-worth the price tag. It even included a few multiplayer maps, characters and gametypes. Altogether, it was an easy decision to make when it came time to purchase it. This time around the DLC for Revelations is expensive and useless.
The Lost Archive is around $10 and is about two hours long. It’s not even a fun two hours. It’s two hours of Subject 16 playing more first-person puzzle sequences. The same kind of things that made me hate Desmond so much. That two hours may seem short, but when you’re playing it, you’ll wish you were done. The Mediterranean Map Pack is six more maps for $10. That’s six maps that you will almost never play since nobody else spent $10 to play them. Three of the maps are remakes of Brotherhood maps. The last piece of DLC is The Ancestors Character Pack which costs about $5 and includes four characters that you will probably rarely use. Since entire teams have to be the same character and one person each game gets to pick. That person has to have the pack and pick one of the characters. Altogether, the Revelations DLC comes to about $25 and is either terrible or almost useless. This was a far step back from the previous DLC offered for Assassin’s Creed games.
I know this entire article turned into a long list of failings in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, but there was some epic moments. Destroying an entire fleet to board your boat and flee Constantinople was terrific. Most of Cappadocia was incredibly thrilling. Chasing a boat full of Templars down an underground river, while they tried to shoot you or blow you up was memorable. These moments stood out as being some of the best gameplay of the series. The real failing comes from a lack of improvement in other areas, one-dimensional characters and annoying segments of gameplay. While you would think that these failings would make me a little leary about the new Assassin’s Creed 3, they probably make me more excited since Assassin’s Creed: Revelations left me a little dissatisfied.