Sequelitis and Assassin’s Creed

You may not know the term Sequelitis, but I’m almost positive you’ve felt the emotion before. It’s the feeling that you’ve seen/done/read something before in a previous entry in the series and it has generally lost its charm. Whether it’s the Transformers movies, the yearly releases of Call of Duty, or neverending anime like Naruto and Bleach; we’ve all felt Sequelitis before. For me the most striking example is one that I thought I would never grow tired of: Assassin’s Creed.

I like the Assassin’s Creed series. In fact, I think that the Assassin’s Creed 2 trilogy has some of the better action in this new era of open-world gameplay, a decent story, strong characters like Ezio Auditore, and a fantastic, fully realized open world. It’s also a series where new-age technology truly did help push the game further, with graphics being advanced enough to be impressive but not obnoxious in it’s overt nature. I played so much of these original Assassin’s Creed games that naturally I was excited about the third (really the fifth, which is incredibly confusing) entry into the series. Unfortunately, Assassin’s Creed 3 didn’t live up to my expectations.

Assassin’s Creed 3 was so incredibly buggy that it was almost game-breaking, it had boring side missions and content that dragged the game down, and, honestly, it was just badly written. The dialogue and characterization used to range from passable to pretty well done, but AC3 seemed to barely reach passable levels at its high points. Not to mention that the series went from a strong protagonist in Ezio to a flimsy, weak-willed character in Connor. So, in general, I did not enjoy my time in the American Revolution.

But after having two years to think back and get some time to play the series again, however, I have realized a very important fact:

I am sick of Assassin’s Creed, and it is not just because of AC3.

I know this because Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag should have been uproariously fun. Pirates and Assassins is a great mix and the fact that the game took my favorite part of Assassin’s Creed 3 (naval exploration) and expanded on it seemed too good to be true. But my short time with the game left me disappointed. Any part of it that had attracted me seemed weighed down with long-held conventions from the previous installments of the series. Sailing on the high seas is awesome, right? Not when one of the first things you do is yet another tailing mission, especially where the controls are far too inconsistent to stay in that perfect range from the target. Jumping off your boat and swimming to an island for an assassination sounds downright cool. But then you realize that as soon as you land on shore it’s like any other infiltration mission in the series.

I couldn’t help thinking that if the game had just been named Black Flag, and not Assassin’s Creed 4, would I still have to play these now tedious parts of the game? If you’re a fan of Assassin’s Creed, I think you can feel my pain. I asked myself this question and came to an unfortunate conclusion: I do not want to play more Assassin’s Creed.

Don’t get me wrong here, I still think that Assassin’s Creed 3 is the weakest game in the series. It was badly executed and I don’t think it deserves the praise it received. Black Flag looked to be better all around, with good dialogue, more interesting characters, and great combat (the improved gun mechanics were a bonus). But it was held back by the same elements that I had originally loved Assassin’s Creed for: the tense chases through the streets, the immense satisfaction from infiltrating and assassinating someone quietly, and the cities that felt alive and bustling. I realize now that I found them almost … dull. It could be that AC4: Black Flag just handled the series’ long-held conventions badly; maybe it’s not just me. Maybe it’s both. But ultimately, it seems like the new and interesting ideas are held back by old tricks.  And the old tricks aren’t made new, they’re still the tried and true elements of the series. But now, I’m tired of them.

It’s sequelitis at its worst. A great game (or in this case, series of games) with sequels that don’t improve upon the last one. Instead, the developers choose to simply stick with what worked before, or they add new mechanics that are ultimately weighed down because they can’t break away from those old tricks. It’s not so much that the game wasn’t made as well as the ones that came before it, it’s that it was made exactly the same.

Looking back, I can’t say I’m surprised. Three games of generally the same content were bound to wear on me and leave me hoping for some significant changes. When I didn’t see it in AC3 (and was simultaneously disappointed at the game’s execution), I think part of me decided I was done with the franchise. Now that I have some very real experience with it, I understand why people complain about Sequelitis so much. Maybe more time away from the series will do me some good–I overdosed on Assassin’s Creed and I need some time in rehab. I’ll be playing some Metro: Last Light if you need me.