Last time in this series, I took a look at Assassin’s Creed: Revelations Sequences 1-3. Today I will be looking at the next set of Desmond’s memories contained in Sequences 4-6. Please keep in mind that while I try to keep spoilers to a minimum they are unavoidable in an article like this. To put it plainly, there are spoilers within. Read on to see what problems I encountered in the game design and how Ubisoft could improve upon this series in the upcoming Assassin’s Creed III game.
At the start of this sequence I had purchased all of the shops in Constantinople so I began working on controlling cities in the Mediterranean Defense side-mission. It is relatively simple and mirrors the one found in the previous game, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Ezio saves citizens to train Assassin recruits and the recruits level up by being sent on missions around the world. The biggest change from the previous game was the addition of being able to occupy cities. Cities began as being under Templar influence. The more missions completed in that city, the less Templar control existed and the easier it would be to take it over. The benefit of controlling a city is that periodically gold, bomb making materials, and Assassin experience will be earned.
Once a city is taken over, Assassin control will decay over time so missions must be periodically done to maintain control or the Templar will launch an attack and, if successful, take the city back. Five Assassin recruits can also be assigned to each city. Doing so will remove the Assassins from Ezio’s pool of helpers during the game, freeing up slots for Ezio to recruit more Assassins. City control is capped at 50% influence when first taken over, but if five level 10 Assassins are assigned to the city then the influence cap is raised to 100%. Assassins which are assigned to a city cause Assassin influence to decay at a slower rate and they can be used to go on city missions meaning Ezio does not lose his personal recruits.
My biggest problem with this mini-game was how poorly it was explained in-game. I had to search online for most of this information or just discover it as I went. I would have checked the manual, but, like most games today, the manual was nonexistent. These side missions were a nice break from doing story missions, but flying with one eye blind is not fun.
The decay system was also annoying because with five level 10 Assassins assigned to each city I feel the influence decay should be halted completely. Master Assassin level, which is the level above 10, is only obtainable on a limited number of Assassin recruits who are then permanently assigned within Constantinople. Since level 10 is effectively the cap, I feel that the reward should be a city permanently under Assassin control. It is extremely tedious to recruit and train five level 10 Assassins for each city. There is an achievement for having all the cities under Assassin influence at the same time, but there is no reward for filling those cities with level 10 Assassins and I think that is a missed opportunity.
Additionally, it would have been much better if players could recruit Assassins directly into the empty slots of cities. The way it works in-game is that five city slots are unlocked and the player must manually assign Assassins to that city. Once those Assassins are not part of Ezio’s posse the player can recruit more Assassins to replace the ones assigned abroad. Without assigning them abroad, no additional Assassins can be recruited even though cities have empty slots in them. I did not like having to temporarily lend my level 10 Assassins to a city so I could recruit a bunch of level 1 Assassins.
Memory 5, “Galata Tower,” introduces something I was hoping did not survive from Brotherhood: timed missions. In order to achieve full synchronization players must complete the memory in 6 minutes or less. The sheer number of timed missions in Brotherhood was the sole reason I could not achieve full synchronization for the entire game. I have always hated timed missions in my games. I prefer to have immediate feedback on how well I am doing in a game. When I fail, there is usually death, health loss, or some other indication of the failure. In a timed run, I am usually unaware of how well I am doing until it is too late. There is no metric for comparison. When the timed run fails there is nothing to indicate where the player messed up or how to improve.
For this Memory, there is not even a timer on the screen! Well, that is not entirely true. There technically is a timer but in order to see it the player needs to pause the game. That is incredibly unintuitive. I expect a timer to appear on the screen somewhere and not hidden behind a pause menu. Accessing it that way also makes the player lose his or her momentum. It breaks the immersion in the game and is a bad design.
Beyond that, timed runs scream “do it again, stupid” to me. There is no skill involved. It is just a matter of learning the correct course to go and doing it. It becomes a game of memory. I like it when a game presents me with a problem and leaves me options to deal with the problem. I do not like having a single pre-determined course of action with nothing to figure it out besides failing repeatedly.
This particular timed run could have easily been improved upon. Instead of relying on poor lighting and dead-end paths to make it more difficult, Ubisoft could have instead forced the player to have situational awareness to shorten the time it took to reach the objective. For example, hanging lamps can be swung on to round a corner, or they can be used to launch Ezio forward in a long jump. The difference is holding a button while jumping.
I can envision an obstacle that calls for using the long jump certain times if it appears the path forward is the correct one. A mistake forces the player to take a longer route which obviously costs more time. At least then players would realize missing the long jump was their mistake. Once the objective is reached, it is found in a room with three or four treasure chests. The clock continues to tick while opening the chests. That means a player cutting it close has to choose between opening the chests and achieving full synchronization. In the end, I needed to watch a video on YouTube to finish it successfully.
Memory 6, “The Mentor’s Wake,” is another Memory with a poorly worded full synchronization requirement: “Do not lose more than 3 synchronization points.” What in the world are synchronization points? It turns out Ubisoft just meant health. The full synchronization requirement calls for not losing more than three points of health. I cannot understand why Ubisoft would call them synchronization points. You lose the bars when you take damage and Ezio dies when they are all gone. That sounds like health bars to me.