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Assassin’s Creed: learning from the past to build a better

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assassins creed red Assassin's Creed: learning from the past to build a better

Assassin’s Creed Mirage is likely closer on the hazy horizon than Assassin’s Creed Codename Red — nevertheless, Red is on the way as the next big Assassin’s Creed open-world RPG, which means we can begin the discussion: what would Red need to do to be the best yet?

Ubisoft has specified that it’s Assassin’s Creed Mirage which will aim to take the series back to its roots with a focus on parkour, assassinations, and stealth, while Assassin’s Creed Codename Red is the one to continue Assassin’s Creed’s open-world RPGs. And I’m no expert on shinobi or ninja, which is what Red revolves around, promising to offer “feudal Japan and all its Shinobi fantasies.” But as far as I know, one key aspect of the sort of work which required shinobi was stealth: espionage, covert operations, gathering intelligence, and infiltration. In other words, being a hell of a lot more subtle than your friendly Viking invader Eivor, who barges into your village and demands a round of Orlog. Stealth was still technically an option in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, but Eivor was also very happy with the “blow the horn, announce our presence, knock down the gate, and sow chaos” approach that might be more expected of Vikings. Either way, we’re heading into this article with the idea that our character in Red might be more inclined towards stealth than Eivor or Kassandra, or even Bayek, even if it’s not been emphasised yet that the game will focus on stealth to the same extent as Mirage. In fact, nothing much has yet been said about Red; all we know so far is that it will indeed be another open-world Assassin’s Creed RPG. Because of this, this article aims to speculate on how Red could build upon what came before with Assassin’s Creed Origins, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Feel free to join in the discussion — if you agree or disagree, hop over to the comments and tell us how you think Red could improve on its predecessors!

Double down on Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s settlement feature

ac valhalla settlement
This first suggestion might not suit everyone — if you weren’t a fan of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s Ravensthorpe, you probably wouldn’t be too excited to see a settlement feature return in Assassin’s Creed Codename Red. I thought the settlement was a great addition to Valhalla and a good way to centre Eivor in what could very quickly become a too-bloated map. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s world was beautiful, but it probably wouldn’t have made as much sense story-wise for Kassandra to settle down in a similar way to Eivor. In Valhalla, it made sense for Eivor’s character and narrative, and Ravensthorpe provided a helpful hub point which both gave you a sense of ownership over a portion of the map and a way to find everything you might need in one place. We don’t know where Red’s story will take us, or what organisation or location our character will belong to — if they do set out into the world as a spy/assassin/stealthy mercenary, and subtlety is of the utmost importance, it might not make sense for our character to have a well-known settlement (or at least not to shout about it as much as Eivor does) but a hub area with the shops we need would be helpful, or even just a place to receive messages or check back in with other characters. Plus, it would give our character somewhere to return to. Eivor’s Ravensthorpe gave players an added incentive to keep progressing and building up the settlement to be the best it could be, offering a bit of a counterpoint to what otherwise might have felt like an endless map.

Don’t nerf the bird

assassin's creed eagle
What happened? Odyssey’s Ikaros being able to tag things for us like a true helpful feathered friend is one of the reasons I think Odyssey should be up there with Origins as one of the best games on Game Pass. Sure, Ikaros being able to tag enemies might have taken some of the challenge away, but it made sense (at least in the weird world of Assassin’s Creed logic) that our bond with the bird helped us out in this way. Valhalla’s Sýnin can’t, it seems, be bothered in the slightest. To be fair, flying Sýnin is a fantastic way to take in the scope of Valhalla’s world, and the variety of different forms the bird can take is great fun. Valhalla is a beautiful game and its scenic landscapes look extra impressive when soaring around as Sýnin. …Still, it would be nice if he could pull his weight a bit more. And, if we’re asking for stuff, let’s go all out — I loved Ikaros but that bird couldn’t hold a candle to Far Cry Primal’s owl. That owl knew how to get things done: it could mark your foes, take out single enemies, and drop bombs to damage the rest. Its cooldown meant you were encouraged to make use of your other combat options, but it never really got old to send a giant feathered foe swooping into an enemy camp to cause chaos. If in Valhalla Eivor can train his horse to swim and convince a wolf to chill in the village and help out in combat, then he can tell Sýnin to lend a talon from time to time. Having a skilled companion like that could really help boost the stealth aspect of Red, with us using the bird as a silent scout to check out locations and enemy camps without revealing our position.

On another note (admittedly slightly unrelated but not enough to merit its own section), in Valhalla I did miss having an animal companion like in Odyssey. I didn’t miss their particular annoyances (the bear was such a bulky beast that he often blocked the screen) but it could have made sense for Eivor to also be able to tame some companions of his own. On the other hand, if Red is looking for a more stealthy approach for its character, it does make sense that massive creature companions wouldn’t work. Perhaps our ninja could befriend creatures such as foxes, like in Ghost of Tsushima; observing the more stealthy creatures of the land for information about his environment. Some tales about ninja abilities suggested that ninja could call upon animals or even transform into animal shapes, so there could be a lot of room for Red to play with that idea.

Assassin’s Creed should focus on quality over quantity

Assassin's Creed Valhalla map
This request goes for quests, characters, side activities, and the skill tree. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying there wasn’t any quality to be found in, say, Valhalla; there was a good deal of charm and humour in its quests and its world, along with a complex narrative full of plenty of intrigue and politics to keep the plot racing along. There’s always going to be something exciting about a massive open-world to explore, full of potential and new adventures. Yet the massive scope of Odyssey and Valhalla in particular often hindered those games as much as it helped them. The Assassin’s Creed games know how to present beautiful worlds full of vibrant, lived-in cities, and the settlement feature in Valhalla helped to cement Eivor’s place in that world, giving him a sense of belonging and a reason to work on improving his village and the fortunes of his people. And, at the start, the wealth of activities on offer means there’s always something enjoyable to do. But that huge open world and the sheer number of its activities starts to wear on you, particularly if you’re going after the Completionist All the Way! Achievement in Valhalla.

As in Immortals Fenyx Rising, collecting loot and new gear is always fun. And Valhalla’s Standing Stones, for instance, start out as an enjoyable Mysteries option to complete. And Orlog is great fun. But rather than exploring the world naturally as you go, those blinking icons for all the collectables start to weigh on you like a chore you know you really should get around to, and yet the further you go, the more there are. This can take you out of the game as you start to focus more on making sure you’re charting the fastest course from one unknown point to another. Red might offer us a much larger map, but perhaps the size of it won’t weigh down on us as much if the game were to cut down on the collectables, making each point of interest matter more. It worked in Valhalla’s favour to cut down on the amount of gear you could find in Odyssey, for instance; fewer pieces made each feel like a rarer acquisition, while enhancing the quality to change the appearance stretched the use of these items still further. As Ghost of Tsushima showed us, stealth doesn’t necessarily mean our character has to be dressed in dark subtle colours at all times, and finding new priceless pieces of gear in Red would be more of an incentive to explore the map than finding 100 pairs of bandit sandals in every pot, as Kassandra had to do.

And on this note — a tutorial or introduction is always helpful, especially when games are as lengthy and convoluted as the Assassin’s Creed games, but the prologue maybe doesn’t need to be as long as Valhalla’s. By the time you make it to England, you’d almost forgotten that’s where the majority of the game is meant to be set.

Making exploration feel more weighty and immersive in this way could be a benefit for Red; we could get more use out of the world rather than setting a waypoint and taking the straightest path to it, and zooming over the landscape without taking it in. In games like The Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2, for instance, you can explore using landmarks or else ride towards interesting things on the horizon, and the landscape feels more real as a result. In Tsushima, the world factors in immersive pointers like birds and the direction of the wind to guide you. In Red, we won’t be a loud invading Viking; perhaps it would make sense to feature exploration in a quieter way — to actually take in all of the environment around us while deciding on the most efficient and stealthy route. The characters, too, would benefit from being more distinctive and memorable in Red than they were in Valhalla and Odyssey, which could again perhaps be achieved by cutting down a few of the many, many side quests. There are of course some great characters sprinkled through the earlier games, but they stand to get lost in the crowd you meet in all that extensive side content. They could, at least, be made to look a little different. Looking at you, Kassandra Randvi.

Last thing in this bit: I don’t know who kept feeding Valhalla’s skill tree or what they fed it, but that thing just did not stop growing and now it’s completely out of control. At the end of the world, all that will be left is Valhalla’s still-growing behemoth of a skill tree, with Eivor forever chasing tiny and increasingly-redundant boosts. All we can do is run.

Embrace Japan’s rich folklore

assassin's creed red
There’s so much potential there with that tagline “explore feudal Japan and all its shinobi fantasies.” Even just a brief search reveals that much of what we “know” about ninja and shinobi is actually based in folklore and legendary tales. The later Assassin’s Creed games like to hopscotch over the line between factual content and fictional myths, and it seems like there’s even more basis for this with the rich layer of mystery surrounding the idea of ninja in feudal Japan. Ninja, it seems, encouraged the rumours about their supernatural abilities, while the feats they accomplished — managing to infiltrate seemingly impregnable locations and reach highly-protected targets — strengthened these ideas too, as did the secrecy surrounding ninja training and the scarcity of actual historical facts. It seems, then, that the Assassin’s Creed team has more free rein than ever in attributing fantastical abilities to their characters in Red. While it took a bit of an “eh, yeah okay, I guess” about Kassandra’s and Eivor’s abilities as warriors stretching to skills and strengths that seemed a bit more far-fetched, the idea that ninja could have been trained specifically to have such stealthy abilities and to appear so supernaturally skilled means that our character could theoretically be capable of anything, and it would kind of make sense. It seems ninja worked to blend in to everyday life as much as possible; it would be neat to witness the NPCs in Red reacting a little more to whatever our character has managed to accomplish, and to watch that air of mystery continue to grow while we hide in plain sight. One of the strengths of the Assassin’s Creed games is diving deep into the minutiae of the historical period it’s set in, and to see a background as rich as feudal Japan is offering intertwined with hushed chatter about the seemingly supernatural feats performed by our character would be even more effective.

Please fix the horses

ac valhalla horses
Okay, this one might be more of a personal request than anything, but please, Ubisoft, please help the horses. As far as I can tell, the movement of the Assassin’s Creed horses hasn’t changed much since Origins, and even then wasn’t too different from that of Origin’s camels. The fact that you have to slow down while riding through towns and cities makes sense (even if it is a little annoying), but once you get onto the open road and your horse starts to gallop, things get decidedly more wonky. There’s a wooden quality to the horse’s movement, and it can make you feel bad after a while to watch this poor arthritic horse gallop endlessly across the world while Eivor wobbles around in a strange circular movement on its back like a wooden top. Nobody looks like they’re happy with the situation.

Plus, while it makes sense that Eivor is far more skilled at running and climbing than your average citizen, it’s a bit odd to see their horses able to zoom across pretty much any type of terrain too. One way in which Red Dead Redemption 2 manages to make its world feel weighty, for example, is that the horses behave more realistically in their environment. It takes a little more consideration on how to get your horse from point A to point B, watching out for trees and terrain where your horse would struggle, and this makes the environment feel solid and believable, while the land in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, for example, feels a little superficial. What matter hills and valleys when your horse is also apparently a parkour master? The stamina bar in Valhalla did help to add another layer of consideration to the matter, however, and being able to have your horse swim was a great asset — having to pay for it to be trained to do this was a nice touch too. Since the setting of feudal Japan for Red might give us a massive map, horses could prove to be even more important. Perhaps Red could have this train-to-swim feature too, along with more training options to make sure your horse has the qualifications to back up its status as an equine expert in parkour.

Also, please give us other horse types. If you can manage reindeer, wolves, and lynxes, you can manage a fancier horse — especially when Eivor (or whoever) themselves is already massively rich and decked out in the best kit. Okay, request over.

What do you think? Which open-world RPG elements did Ubisoft get right with Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla? How could Red improve on these? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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