When Ubisoft’s flagship Assassin’s Creed got started so many years ago, one of its major points of appeal was its sci-fi under trimming. This story wasn’t just about exploring historical locations and times, it was about a centuries-long political struggle that involves chemically-induced time travel. That appeal has run its course, however, and each new game comes with less of that upfront. Frankly, I think it’s about time to just drop that aspect of the series, and focus on Assassin’s Creed’s historical themes all the way.
The original sci-fi plot was admittedly interesting, and the way it was presented helped a lot. It wasn’t just a showcase of political turmoil through time, it was a story that showed the struggle continuing to the modern day. The battle between the Assassins and the Templars had grown so complex, they were literally fighting over the past in the present. It was wild, and the game having a main character in Desmond to introduce that would was quite appealing.
At the end of the third game Ubisoft killed Desmond off of course, but in a productive manner. Since then, the story of Abstergo and the modern battle between the Assassins and the Templars took more of a backseat role. Games like Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag barely included the sci-fi stuff, and did so in a very different way than the original trilogy. There was less “A” plot, and more “B” plot with occasional playable sequences mostly littered with lore codex dumps. Things only got less important as more sequels came out.
So as we head towards Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, I find myself wondering, why not just dump that part? Origins and Odyssey already served as soft reboots of a sort, overhauling the series’ gameplay systems and focusing even more on the historical side. I imagine the sci-fi elements will continue in Valhalla, but only in a way the diehard, lore-diving fans will care about. Anyone just jumping into Valhalla and the series for the first time will only be confused, therefore immediately stop caring as soon as that stuff shows up. It’s doing a disservice overall, and there could be better ways to develop the modern side of the lore more productively.
I think it’s kind of a shit or get off the pot situation with Assassin’s Creed and its time-traveling lore. Instead of dropping it, Ubisoft could go the other way and bring the subplots back to the forefront again. That would equally be fine, although there would be a lot more work involved in catching people up. Because of that, it might just be easier to drop it entirely, giving each story room to stand on its own without the gimmicks. Perhaps then it would be more feasible to do an Assassin’s Creed, perhaps a non-core spinoff, set in more recent times. Ubisoft is also no stranger to transmedia projects, so things like novels and comic book series could continue effectively expanding the lore.
Yes, there would be drawbacks to Assassin’s Creed core games dropping the sci-fi element. A lot of the UI incorporates the simulation side of things, and it would be weird for that to continue without explaining it. Also, there is tons of lore established at this point, and dropping it would be just as weird as bringing it back to the main story. I guess you could say that this is more of an observation, that due to Ubisoft’s hesitance to continue the modern side more aggressively, they’ve created a sort of vacuum where the lore exists for the fans who want it, while it’s confusingly peppered around in the background for those who don’t speak the language. It was weird and distracting in Odyssey, and made me actively avoid reading the codex stuff to get past it faster. With Valhalla, I’m hoping we see some attempt to do something interesting with the sci-fi angle, or we see a move towards getting rid of it almost entirely.