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Assassin’s Creed Shadows Reveals Ubisoft’s Hidden Formula

Assassin’s Creed Shadows Reveals Ubisoft’s Hidden Formula

Summary

  • The Assassin’s Creed
    formula is a unique blend of open-world exploration, historical settings, and innovative gameplay mechanics that has captivated fans for years. While the franchise has evolved and added new features throughout its entries, the formula remains hidden, allowing players to discover its depth and rewards through exploration and strategic decision-making.
  • One of the key aspects of the
    Assassin’s Creed
    formula is the variety of mission options and objectives that players can choose from to progress the story. This non-linear structure creates synergy between main and side missions, offering a more rewarding and immersive experience than games with bloated open worlds filled with filler activities.
  • Another important element of the formula is the focus on player freedom and choice. Players can choose to engage with combat systems, stealth strategies, or simply explore the world at their own pace, with each choice having consequences and offering unique rewards.



Assassin’s Creed Shadows is months out from release and is already being negatively compared to many other games in the open-world, action-adventure, and role-playing genres, as well as those set in Feudal Japan, such as Ghost of Tsushima. Interestingly, while Assassin’s Creed is one of the best-selling video game franchises of all time, with over 200 million units sold, it is often met with critical reviews. How can a franchise that sells so well, and is clearly beloved by a large fanbase, be so overlooked when analyzing the industries it’s influenced with 13 mainline games over the last 17 years?


Assassin’s Creed is known for its historical settings in significant periods of history, which lends to one of the most erroneous perceptions about the franchise: that it can be defined by an individual feature. Its prominent elements work in tandem with those less recognized to provide innovations, transforming player experiences into something unique. Could it be that, much like its main characters, the Assassin’s Creed formula purposely hides in the shadows? This theory is supported by the franchise’s own dialogue through its most iconic character, Ezio, who says “what you are not is actually what people will assume of you first.” There is power in being underestimated, and even before its release, Assassin’s Creed Shadows brings the power of the franchise’s formula into the light for players who know where to look.


The Assassin’s Creed Formula Innovates by Transforming Player Experiences

Unique Feature Combinations Make the Series a Master of None, but Empower Player Freedom


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10 Best Assassin’s Creed Settings, Ranked

With historical figures like Cleopatra and Napoleon and exciting periods like the Renaissance, Assassin’s Creed has several settings fans love.

Assassin’s Creed Shadows is the perfect game to reveal what’s hiding within the shadows due to its:

  • Unique spin on a fan-requested, well-trodden historical setting
  • Genre first of seamlessly interchangeable dual protagonists
  • Refined gameplay mechanics in an ambitious, dynamic environment

The Assassin’s Creed formula has been brought up in many gaming conversations, and its assumed lack of influence is palpable in the industry. Negative reviews of the franchise often state two conflicting ideas:

  1. The newer games are too dissimilar to the older games
  2. The formula is too repetitive


Yet, it’s impossible for these to be simultaneously true. In fact, the changes from game to game, along with experiments notable for their risk in spanning across multiple genres, make it clear Ubisoft’s innovations aren’t superficially flashy for industry reviewers but crafted specifically for players.

Assassin’s Creed’s focus on historical depth necessitates Shadows’ comparison to other games set in Feudal Japan. However, this is also the most popular setting the franchise has competed in, and it’s likely Ubisoft has considered what’s already been accomplished in the industry and implemented decisions specifically to yield a new, unique experience. One of these differentiators is the absence of any animal violence, unlike games in similar settings, such as Ghost of Tsushima and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, to evoke a more Zen environment with respect to the setting.


Another differentiator has already caused a stir by critics who purport it to be a slight against Japanese culture: the introduction of the first non-native protagonist in the series. However, the inclusion of a Japanese male samurai perspective is already common, and it would actually be more unique to see Japanese protagonists outside this established role. Thus, enter a protagonist with an entirely new perspective within Feudal Japan who’s also the first real historical figure in the franchise to be a playable main character. Shadows Producer Karl Onne shared with CBR why they chose this uncommon story:

“How is this person, this outsider, this foreigner coming into the service of one of the most powerful people in Japan? If not the most powerful. And there is information but it’s very limited, so you have this enigmatic, mysterious person. And so for us, it’s a great canvas to write a story.”


The logic behind this decision highlights how Ubisoft approaches its settings: by asking questions that open doors to intentional exploration. And, Yasuke is not the only protagonist-related decision Shadows has received criticism for. While less divisive, not everyone is pleased about the complexities of having two main playable characters. What those voices have failed to recognize is the most important thing about this decision: just as with the decision behind Yasuke, it’s not simply for the sake of differentiation.


Seamless character swapping gives players an entirely new strategic system for creating their preferred interactions with the environment, and it’s difficult to find a game with which to compare the resulting gameplay design. While Syndicate provided a testing ground with somewhat limited character swapping, it was not as seamless as the experience Shadows is anticipated to provide, since its two protagonists come from entirely different backgrounds and have separate motivations throughout the story.

Everything familiar in the Assassin’s Creed universe will feel a little different when playing as Yasuke, who is the first playable character to be large and slow, whereas the other, Naoe, is a small and fast shinobi, which is more aligned with the classic series’ assassins. Instead of merely continuing the skill tree methodology from recent games or utilizing industry-common character-build systems, this separation of skills by character is a brand-new experience for seasoned players of the genre. Not only is building an expansive skill system into the story with character motivations a more synergistic method than most similar games, but it also adds an element of replayability since players may want to try missions again from the other character’s skill set and perspective.


Shadows isn’t the first Assassin’s Creed game to have significant changes from the last. The franchise boasts nearly every feature of popular games across multiple genres, and often experiments with them before other popular games, combining new ideas with innovative refinement of their foundational elements. For example, the franchise is hardly known for its multiplayer features, but their addition was unique within the context of a primarily solo experience and was so well received by fans it was added to half the mainline games. Many criticisms compare Assassin’s Creed to those inspired by it, suggesting the latter did it better. But the series doesn’t need to be the best at any one element in order to transform the experience for its players. It’s all about balance.


New features throughout the Assassin’s Creed franchise create intrigue for long-time fans and new players, alike. For example:

Brotherhood

Recruiting and managing assassins to strengthen the Brotherhood

Revelations

Crafting a dozen types of bombs for strategic advantage

Black Flag

Upgrading the ship to become a more formidable pirate

Syndicate

Aiding Alexander Graham Bell, resulting in receiving a rope launcher

Odyssey

Controlling how the story unfolds with dialogue decisions

Valhalla

Investing in the settlement to add upgrades, tools, and new mission opportunities

In Shadows, the new features offer some of the most game-changing potential of any entry, such as:


  • Grappling hook
  • Destructible armor
  • Craftable weapons
  • Parkour refinement
  • Updated combat system
  • Skill trees for weapons
  • Advanced dynamic lighting
  • Breakable environmental props
  • Seasonal environmental impacts
  • Seamless swapping dual protagonists
  • More diverse AI variations affecting tool interaction

The Assassin’s Creed Formula Hides in the Shadows to Allow Players to Discover its Depth

Player Decisions Reveal the Best Parts of the Game

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10 Weirdest Details In The Assassin’s Creed Modern Storylines

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Assassin’s Creed’s formula and the features that comprise it are clearly innovative, synergistic, and influential, but why does it go so unnoticed? Ubisoft’s impact and player satisfaction can’t be overlooked entirely due to industry bias from past controversies, nor could it be consistently missed by ineptitude throughout an entire industry. The Assassin’s Creed formula’s subtlety is likely by design in order to cater to rewards that can only be appreciated through exploration, and in Shadows, this is perfectly exemplified in its freedom to choose from a wide range of options between skillful mastery and relaxing achievement by:

  • Planning effective stealth strategies to reduce repetitive leveling
  • Engaging with combat systems to find the most rewarding style for player preferences
  • Weaving together the threads of the expansive lore


Very few AAA games have Assassin’s Creed’s strategic problem-solving for organic progression, as many require “grinding” repetition in order to level up, and those with the same rewards system were almost certainly inspired by this successful franchise’s experimentation with it. The Assassin’s Creed formula is built on objectives where players have a degree of control.

From the very first game, it gave varied mission options for players to choose between to progress the story. If a player chose an interrogation mission and listened carefully, they might gather insight into enemy weaknesses or escape routes for their main objective. It is possible Shadows will have callbacks to similar classic mission designs based on its removal of the scouting feature with the bird companions, which has been present in the last four games since its addition in Origins.


This thoughtful, open-world structure makes the stories somewhat non-linear and creates synergy between the main and side missions in an organic and much more rewarding way than games with bloated open worlds reliant on filler activities adding playtime, yet hardly tying back to the core narrative or gameplay advancement. The Assassin’s Creed franchise has evolved from more structured mission choices and, in many of its entries, experiments with black box missions that require more real-time decision-making and more organic approaches where players must pay attention to their surroundings and make similar decisions without direct instructions.

The specific blend of mission structure in Shadows hasn’t been released and likely won’t be, for the same reason the formula is hidden: the player will uncover it for themselves. But there are still plenty of other inferences to be made. For instance, many new features will improve stealth to reduce repetitive leveling by offering replacements for some attribution-based leveling with skill-based leveling and allowing for strategic creativity:


Grappling hook

Can be used for strategic parkour opportunities and in hiding when used with the dynamic environment

Parkour refinement

More responsive movements and increased verticality provide new stealth options

Advanced dynamic lighting

Hiding in shadows, combined with dynamic environmental features, provides observant players with more opportunities

Breakable environmental props

Has potential to function similarly to the dynamic lighting, creating additional opportunities

Seasonal environmental impacts

Provides organically-shifting options for stealth, creating synergistic strategic puzzles

Seamless swapping dual protagonists

Creates a new attribution build system, providing a new structure to strategic freedoms

More diverse AI variations affecting tool interaction

The hidden blade will not one-hit heavily armored enemies, resulting in new strategic puzzles


The combat in Assassin’s Creed isn’t heavily celebrated compared to other popular games, yet there has been plenty to master over the years. Many criticisms of its combat relate to the series straying too far from its roots, with the misconception of the RPG entries removing features. In actuality, the combat system has merely added features as it’s evolved from counter-based to hitbox to objective and enemy-specific cooldown abilities.

While Assassin’s Creed isn’t known for its difficulty, its boss battles share common structural elements with more challenge-focused games, which the franchise has incorporated into its formula for more variety. Some might criticize Assassin’s Creed for not implementing this element as effectively as other games, but that would be a misunderstanding of its purpose. For example, if someone said, “Elden Ring is an easy game because you can use summons and have someone else defeat the bosses for you,” that would be an oversimplification of the game’s difficulty level.


While Ubisoft is clearly not a direct competitor to FromSoft’s challenge level, it provides plenty of variety for strategic and under-leveled gameplay, rewarding players who enjoy mastering combat, while also including far more layers than the acclaimed combat style of Ghost of Tsushima. Each of these systems is fun and strategic in its own right, but Assassin’s Creed is the only one to go unnoticed, likely because combat is one of many focuses within the games and is crafted with player freedom in mind, rather than specialization. While Ubisoft hasn’t stated whether boss battles will be a feature of Shadows, there is sure to be a similarly rewarding portion of the Assassin’s Creed formula crafted from its many additions:


Destructible armor

Poses a new layer of complexity in combat

Craftable weapons

Allows players additional reasons for meaningfully exploring the world

Parkour refinement

Opportunities for use in combat add new options to the mix

Updated combat system

Refined mechanics with increased focus on timing will require more skill or opportunistic decision-making

Skill trees for weapons

Pushes players to be more thoughtful about which weapon they’re using and why

Breakable environmental props

Has the potential to function similarly to parkour opportunities

Seasonal environmental impacts

Has the potential to function similarly to breakable props and parkour opportunities, or to add a new layer of difficulty

Seamless swapping dual protagonists

Will affect combat similarly to how it affects stealth, offering strategic freedom

More diverse AI variations affecting tool interaction

Could go further than simply destructible armor and require thoughtful combinations of skill master, tools, and special abilities

Mastering the use of many of these features will provide answers to many of the design decisions, with observation being of paramount importance. One such observation is that Assassin’s Creed Shadows takes place within the same century as Ezio’s final entry. This gives fans more information than those unfamiliar with the series may realize.


Those who have not fully explored the newest entries often lob continued criticisms of assassins’ increasingly superpower-like abilities and battles with mythical creatures. Origins and Odyssey happen to take place more than 1200 years before the rest of the series, meaning Kassandra and Bayek have less diluted Isu blood than the other protagonists, as they are closer to the time when Isu and humans originally reproduced, which explains their stronger abilities.

For those who might move on to questioning Mirage and Valhalla, they’re also chronologically before the rest of the games, but furthermore, the main story, along with extended exploration, weave together to explain how the main protagonists of those entries have a more direct line to Isu blood. This could easily lead to a debate with lesser-experienced Assassin’s Creed players stating this is too dissimilar to the older games, but this exploration-based delivery of Isu lore dates all the way back to solving glyph puzzles in Assassin’s Creed II.


Each game’s story revolves around the Isu origins of the powers that the assassins and templars fight each other for throughout the series, and while players have a variety of preferences for how the games should relate to the overarching story between the modern day and the historical contexts, the changes and exploration-driven subtlety simultaneously increase immersion for those uninterested in its depth and reward the most immense fans for their efforts. That is the crux of why the Assassin’s Creed formula remains hidden, and Shadows is guaranteed to follow suit by giving freedom to players with its increased focus on exploration.


Assassin’s Creed doesn’t attempt to fit everything into one game, nor does its effort appear to be primed for making its formula’s “perfect” version. That’s why its formula is so misunderstood and overlooked. The series’ priority has always been its fans, and that’s exemplified through the freedom given in its gameplay variety. Nonetheless, player freedom also results in consequences. A quote from the modern-day assassin William Miles exemplifies this best:

“We are not public figures and never submit ourselves to the hollow request for fame. We move through clouded spaces. Beware the easy path. Knowledge only grows through challenge.”


Fans are passionate about Assassin’s Creed because they trust its formula. However, no game is for everyone, and the downside of hiding the formula within variety can be a confusing and misunderstood experience for those who don’t fully embrace what’s hidden. The formulas of other open-world, action-adventure, and role-playing games might be more ostentatious, but the rewards are often for their own sake. In Assassin’s Creed, what players find hiding in the shadows are treasures of innovation, too dazzling for the light.