History as Fantasy: Or, Why I'm (Still) Not Tired of Assassin's Creed - quasiconundrum Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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History as Fantasy: Or, Why I'm (Still) Not Tired of Assassin's Creed

As the sun begins to set on this console generation, I can't help but to look back at the many unique experiences it has brought us.

Certainly, the last seven-plus years in gaming have been transformative in numerous ways, bearing witness to the dawn of digital distribution, massive growth in online gaming, and the advent of practices both beloved and maligned, from the birth of DLC and episodic content to the newly-empowered indie-game movement.

When it comes to the games themselves, I think it's safe to say that quite a lot has happened across the span of this console lifecycle. Favorites from past generations like Grand Theft Auto and the Elder Scrolls continued to push the boundaries of what games are capable of, while other long-established franchises like Final Fantasy and Resident Evil weathered a somewhat rougher ride. Fresh, new IPs like Uncharted, BioShock, and Mass Effect have taken us on amazing new adventures, and independent gems like Minecraft and Journey have blazed trails to gaming experiences the likes of which we'd never seen before.

It's hard to pinpoint, when all is said and done, which of this generation's games and franchises will have been the most memorable, the most impactful. And the answer, inevitably, will be different for everyone. But for me, no series has defined this console generation quite like Assassin's Creed.

First, I feel I should address the proverbial elephant in the room whenever anyone so much as mentions Assassin's Creed nowadays. The recent revelation that AC IV will be arriving this fall has, predictably, sparked a fresh wave of complaints and outcries about the series' annual release schedule, a tactic that has increasingly soured many fans' opinions of this once-beloved franchise. Many feel that Assassin's Creed has grown stale as a result of Ubisoft's apparent commitment to pushing out a new game every year.

While I've never felt this "franchise fatigue" myself, I would have been perfectly fine if Ubisoft had decided to hold off this time around. But then I caught wind of the Black Flag leaks last week, and now I have only one thing to say:

Bring it.

Seriously. Yes, I just played AC III a few months ago. In fact, I went back and replayed the entire Ezio trilogy right after that. I may even revisit Connor and the American Revolution yet again at some point in the next few months. But even considering all of that, I still can't shake the feeling: I want more.

Clearly, there are plenty of gamers out there who feel differently. And I'm certainly not going to try and claim that they're somehow wrong. If you're tired and fed up with AC's yearly releases, then chances are, nothing I could say will change that. But I have to wonder—why is it that Assassin's Creed still feels fresh to me, when it seems to be going stale for so many others? Why do I still crave more of it, to the point where I eagerly await my annual AC fix? Just what is it about Assassin's Creed that is so utterly addictive to me?

As with any great game or series, there are numerous strengths that cause AC to rise above the pack. The detailed open worlds, the parkour platforming, the freedom to approach scenarios with a variety of methods and play styles—these are just some of the things that, in my opinion at least, make the Assassin's Creed series so much fun. Personally, I love platforming, and few games take platforming to the level that AC does. The combat in Assassin's Creed has seen its fair share of naysayers, but (minor gripes aside) for the most part, to me it has always felt quite organic.

The way I see it, however, such factors merely enhance the experience. They are what makes Assassin's Creed fun to play—but in my experience, even the most fun, addictive gameplay can get old, in time. And I can't help but feel that this is the primary reason why many AC fans are feeling tired of the series' yearly release schedule—for many of us, it simply doesn't allow enough time for the gameplay to feel fresh again. In fact, I might even be inclined to agree with this sentiment myself.

But the fact of the matter is, the gameplay is not why I love Assassin's Creed. Rather, I love Assassin's Creed because it takes me places. And it's the unique nature of these journeys that truly makes this franchise so special to me.

Ever since I was little, I have always marveled at the concept of history. History classes were some of my favorites, and I nearly became a history major in college. But I also had my issues with it. I've never been a so-called history "buff." Though I remembered dates and names and facts well enough, it just never really appealed to me to imagine the arc of history in such concrete, coldly-delineated terms.

To me, the appeal of history was not about dates and statistics, but about telling a story. It was not about trying to achieve some pure, objective view of what happened, but about embracing the subjective experiences of those who lived it.

I am a romantic—where others looked in their history books and saw pages of dauntingly stuffy writing filled with obscure names, dates, and events, I saw a grand adventure, played out against unimaginable backdrops of bygone eras. I loved the fantasy genre—and still do—and to me, the broad tapestry of human history was, in many ways, the greatest fantasy of them all. And it was all the more poignant to me, all the more powerful, because it actually happened. These were fantasies that, somewhere, at some time, actually existed.

The notion of history as fantasy is as old as humanity itself. Since time immemorial, we have held our ancestors in reverence, even worship, for all intents and purposes. Some of the oldest stories in existence are rooted in historical events, like Homer's fantastically embellished retelling of the Siege of Troy in The Iliad. And all of us, whether we hold it as truth or not, have heard tell of the romanticized notion of "the good old days."

For me, the biggest thing that sets Assassin's Creed apart is that it taps into the sprawling fantasy of human history in a way that no other series ever has. In a way, every video game is a fantasy, propelling us into experiences that, for one reason or another, would be otherwise impossible. In that respect, Assassin's Creed is no different. But the fact that it takes us to times and places that really existed, in our own world—and gives us the subjective experience of actually being there—it is this personal connection to our own collective past that, in my experience, makes Assassin's Creed so powerfully unique.

No other video-game franchise paints such lavish, openly-explorable portraits of the myriad vistas of human history. No other game transports you so vividly and so thoroughly into the dusty, exotic cities of the 12th-century Holy Land, or into the romantic splendor of Renaissance Italy. Last year, we ventured into the rough towns and wilderness of Colonial America, and this year, we're poised to experience the anarchic adventure of the 18th-century Caribbean, through the eyes of a bold, seafaring pirate.

Does Assassin's Creed bend the rules—and the historical facts—sometimes? Undoubtedly so. But Assassin's Creed is not about attempting to recreate a perfect, objectively accurate representation of history—ultimately, it's about capturing the fantasy, the romantic sense of high adventure that these historical places, cultures, and events foster in our imaginations.

The tapestry of human history on Earth is broad indeed—and so far, Assassin's Creed has barely scratched the surface of what seems like an infinity of places, times, and lives to explore. To a far greater extent than any other series out there, the potential source material for Assassin's Creed is not only effectively limitless, it is also real—and thus far richer, more detailed, and more intricately full of possibility than any imagined game world will ever be.

And this, in a nutshell, is why I believe Assassin's Creed should play by its own rules. By tapping into the expanse and power of our collective grand fantasy of human history, I believe Assassin's Creed has the potential to transcend the conventional limits of gameplay.

I know that many gamers will not see things this way. For them, the gameplay is paramount, and no amount of potential for the franchise's future will change the fact that one year is simply not enough time for the gameplay to feel fresh again. For some of us, this may well be an insurmountable hurdle—and for some of us, it already is.

As for me, I want to experience as much of the expansive, richly-varied fantasy of history as I possibly can. So long as I get to do that, and so long as Ubisoft continues to maintain the franchise's overall high level of quality, I have no problem whatsoever lining up every fall to partake of the newest chapter of the greatest fantasy of all.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag drops just under eight months from now—and you can bet I'll be there, eagerly waiting. And when the experience is behind me, when I finally set the game aside, you can bet that my thoughts will inevitably turn to next year, as I fantasize about where amid the vast swath of human history I will get to go next.

 

P.S. I'm not very active in the groups/forums myself, but if you're into all things Assassin's Creed, definitely check out GIO's own Assassin's Creed group at:

http://www.gameinformer.com/membergroups/platform/classic/assassins_creed/default.aspx

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