Update: Ubisoft has confirmed that Assassin's Creed will not be launching a new entry in 2016. The news came alongside the release of the company's third quarter financial report.
"This year, we also are stepping back and re-examining the Assassin’s Creed franchise," says the post. "As a result, we’ve decided that there will not be a new Assassin’s Creed game in 2016. Since the release of Assassin’s Creed Unity, we’ve learned a lot based on your feedback."
"We’ve also updated our development processes and recommitted to making Assassin’s Creed a premier open-world franchise. We’re taking this year to evolve the game mechanics and to make sure we’re delivering on the promise of Assassin’s Creed offering unique and memorable gameplay experiences that make history everyone’s playground."
The specifics of the next Assassin's Creed remain a rumor, but this confirmation lends credence to the information below. Ubisoft's financials also confirmed the games for this financial year include Far Cry Primal, The Division, For Honor, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, a Watch Dogs sequel, and a new game.
Original story: Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed has been an annual franchise since the release of Assassin's Creed II back in 2009, but that might be changing in 2016. An anonymous poster who purports to be an Ubisoft developer posted this information on 4chan earlier this morning, offering up the locale for the next game in the series.
"Egypt. There won't be an AC in 2016," the poster wrote. "You may screencap this and refer to it when nothing is shown in E3 2016. You'll have to wait until 2017 for it. The reason: It will be a complete revamp of the series. The game is going for a Witcher feel, with player progression, freeform combat system. Horse is back, and boats too. It's made by the Black Flag team."
Further information by the poster was included in this NeoGAF thread. Normally, I would've mentally noted this as interesting and moved on without reporting it, but this information was later corroborated by Kotaku's own sources. Kotaku has had a pretty good track record with Assassin's Creed rumors each year since they reported early information about Black Flag back in 2013. Kotaku's Jason Schreier went on to say the game is code-named Empire and would launch in 2017, with the 2016 marquee slot being taken by Watch_Dogs 2, which his sources say will take place in San Francisco.
The "Black Flag team" would probably refer to a team led by creative director Ashraf Ismail. What's interesting is Ismail previously said that he'd like the series to move to Egypt next.
"I would say one of the best things we have going for us is how we can play with history," Ismail said two years ago. "History is something that is rooted in all of us; we all have a deeper connection to it. So there's a lot of interesting periods and time places we haven't been to that I would to see. I'm not saying we are going there, but one day I would love to explore Egypt as a setting for this game. Ancient Egypt could be a really cool place. We have a really cool explanation for how we can do this, and it is with this Animus device that allows us to go to anytime in history."
At the time, I guessed Ismail's next game would be AC 2016 and if these reports are right, I would've been correct at one point. Moving the next Assassin's Creed to 2017, means the series gets a 3 and a half year development cycle, instead of the normal 2.5 years.
Ubisoft previously used Egypt for Project Osiris, a planned reboot of the Prince of Persia franchise. That game was being done by Ubisoft Montreal before the project was canned. In response to a leaked Osiris video, Ubisoft told Polygon that "the content in question was from a Ubisoft project that is no longer moving forward." It's not out of question that ideas and concepts from Osiris might have been repurposed.
Rethinking Assassin's Creed
The reception to Assassin's Creed entries hasn't always been great. 2014's Assassin's Creed Unity launched to poor fan reception due to performance issues and other bugs. That reception informed the sales for Assassin's Creed Syndicate; some took the game as a return to form for the series, but for the month of November 2015, it only ended up charting #9 in North America and #7 in the UK. Ubisoft executives noted that Unity may have kneecapped Syndicate in an investors call back in November.
"Clearly in our first week we were impacted by what happened with Assassin's Creed Unity," Ubisoft chief financial officer Alain Martinez said, as reported by Eurogamer.
This isn't the first time that this has happened to Ubisoft. The reception to Assassin's Creed III wasn't great and that was reflected in the early sales of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Black Flag sold less than ACIII in the beginning, but ended up having a longer tail due to positive word-of-mouth.
"We seem to experience the same sales curve as [Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag]," Ubisoft boss Yves Guillemot said at the investors call. "Versus Unity, Syndicate was down in the first week but nicely outperformed it in its second week as it benefitted from positive word of mouth."
The major problem with annual series like Assassin's Creed is what I call the "shackles of success". Big business, which includes our biggest game publishers, is more about minimizing risks and maximizing rewards. This means big games like Assassin's Creed are about carrying forward the same core of the franchise, while adding enough features to constitute "innovation". Rock the boat too far and you lose fans, like what happened with Square Enix' Final Fantasy XIII. Don't change enough and fans get tired of the formula. Finding the sweet spot is pretty hard.
So what we end up having is a series that lumbers forward, carrying many of the same features and issues that categorized previous entries. Despite some changes here and there, Assassin's Creed's movement has always felt like more like steering than precise control, for better or for worse. If you dislike the game's movement or combat and you want something more dynamic or measured, you're mostly out of luck, because Ubisoft couldn't really make major changes out of the fear of alienating its perceived fanbase.
This is the boon of failure though. When a series begins to decline and enter rough waters, developers are usually given more latitude to get in there and rework a series. It's a chance to find a new way to reach the same core game. According to the rumored information above, that's what's happening with the next Assassin's Creed, following the poor reception of Unity and depressed sales of Syndicate. Hopefully, the current AC team can deliver on a new Assassin's Creed experience.
In the meantime, Assassin's Creed fans are not without hope. Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India and Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia will be coming in January and February respectively. Ubisoft registered the domain name "www.assassinscreedcollection.com", potentially hinting at an HD remaster for earlier AC titles. And at the end of the year, Ubisoft Motion Pictures will be releasing Assassin's Creed, starring Michael Fassbender as 15th century Spanish assassin Aguilar and his modern day descendant Callum Lynch.
So, things might be changing for Assassin's Creed. Are you looking forward to the series taking a break? Let us know how you feel in the comments below!