In Lea Monde Interview, Ubisoft Hints At Changing Direction

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Apparently last week Le Monde published an interview where Ubisoft outlined how it might be changing how it designs its open-world games in the future. The article is in French but NeoGAF moderator Stumpokapow translated it and offered some main bullet points.

The overall jist seems to be that Ubisoft wants to make its future open-world games even less linear and offer players more freedom, with less focus on the scripted story segments that have run through games like Assassin’s Creed II or Far Cry 3. Personally, I think this is what Ubisoft should have always been doing. If you look back at some previous posts of mine you might see that I’ve had issues with how Ubisoft does open-world games. Many may disagree with me.

Assassin’s Creed II in 2009 is the game that set the template for Ubisoft’s open-world games where you climb towers to reveal a bunch of collectibles you grab all over the map, and complete story missions that are pretty linear and scripted in sharp contrast to the sandbox games they inhabit. It was well-received so Ubisoft pretty much stamped that format onto successive Creed games along with Far Cry and Watch_Dogs. My issue with this is that Creed II didn’t really need to be an open-world game, and its format kind of defeats the point of open-world games.

I enjoyed Creed II, but I enjoyed it because it had a likable cast of characters and an interesting setting that hadn’t really been done in a modern video game. The linear missions that make up its story could theoretically have been designed as their own levels without Ubisoft having to try to build a sandbox game in-between. The sandbox portion of Creed II adds little to the game other than atmosphere because it rarely offers players any freedom in how to proceed. I think Ubisoft has slowly realized this in the years since.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood — a sort of independent extended third act to Creed II, added enemy outposts to capture, a mechanic that really took off in Far Cry 3. Getting into random shenanigans while clearing outposts and simply traveling about the world of Far Cry 3 proved to be a lot more fun than the game’s main story, and feedback on the game sent that exact message to Ubisoft. Partly this may be because the stories and characters the publisher has presented since Creed II and Brotherhood just haven’t been as good. Ubisoft in the aforementioned article states that the market wants more emergent gameplay because that’s what people share on twitch and YouTube — their own stories, not the same story and cut scenes every player gets.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is another point where Ubisoft’s open-world design  shows its flaws holding back its good points. In that game Ubisoft finally discovered a fun sandbox gameplay loop in the piracy system which feels like a sort of “Grand Theft Boat.” The story missions that take place on land and force players into doing things like tailing characters or sneaking through specifically-placed patches of grass are a drag on the rest of the game.

So it possibly looks like Ubisoft is finally ready to design its open-world games entirely around the parts players told the company they actually like. The real question is, can Ubisoft deliver on that based on what we know it can make?

The best examples of what I hope we get from Ubisoft in future open-world games are probably Far Cry 2 and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Those games definitely have their flaws, but for the sake of this discussion let’s just focus on how they handled their main story missions. Instead of trying to put players through scripted stories, they just handed out objectives and let players fill in the rest. MGSV in particular does a good job designing various interesting scenarios for users to play around with.

I think the first real test for Ubisoft’s possible new direction is going to be Ghost Recon Wildlands (in the Lea Monde piece Ubisoft says it’s going to be the next Assassin’s Creed). In every PR video of the game Ubisoft advertises how much choice players have. Another thing to point out is that Far Cry 2 and Splinter Cell designer Clint Hocking recently rejoined Ubisoft, and he’s always been all about systemic games and free-form gameplay.

This isn’t a condemnation of linear games focused on delivering scripted stories. I’m just saying that if you’re set on making an open-world game, forcing players through tightly scripted events defeats the purpose.

BULLETS:

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