When Ubisoft announced that Assassin's Creed was no longer going to be an annual franchise, some folks breathed a sigh of relief. After some missteps, the series needed some time off to find its focus and for more casual fans of the franchise, trying to get through one huge historical journey each year was difficult. The break paid off with the excellent Assassin's Creed Origins, which is why some groaned when Ubisoft announced Assassin's Creed Odyssey for release a year later. Was Assassin's Creed back to an annual cadence already, they wondered?
Apparently not, as Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot revealed at Gamescom that the series is taking another break in 2019.
"On Assassin's, we had a game [in 2017] and we have one this year, but we are not going to have a full-fledged Assassin's next year," Guillemot said. "It's just because the teams were working separately, so we have two games now, one year after the other. But next year you're not going to have a fully-fledged one."
"What you'll have is lots of content coming on [Odyssey]. The team really want to give, on a regular basis, some new possibilities for play, so when you get [Odyssey] this year, you're going to get in for a couple of years, actually."
That "fully-fledged" comment points to more content coming to Assassin's Creed Odyssey post-launch. Eurogamer has a tiny rumor that Odyssey will see an Atlantis-themed expansion eventually. Given the mythical nature of Assassin's Creed Origins' second downloadable content, The Curse of the Pharoahs, it seems logical that Odyssey would move in the same direction. I wouldn't be surprised if Curse of the Pharoahs developer Ubisoft Sofia is working on the rumored Atlantis content.
It honestly makes sense for Ubisoft to take some more time off in regards to Assassin's Creed. In terms of the fans, a little absence makes the heart grow fonder. For the developers, it offers a chance to actually react to each game's critical reception; the problem with annual releases is if you find fans don't like a feature, you won't realistically be able to make changes for next year's release. The annual release ship is slow to turn.
I make a habit of keeping track of Ubisoft developers. I didn't know what form Assassin's Creed Origins would take, but I did expect a game from that team at Ubisoft Montreal in 2017. Ubisoft's structure of distributed development means each game is made by multiple studios in concert, but the leads seem remarkably stable. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was led by director Ashraf Ismail, creative director Jean Guesdon, lead game designer Eric Baptizat, art director Raphael Lacoste, and producer Martin Schelling. Most of those names occupy a similar position for Assassin's Creed Origins.
Assassin's Creed games tend to get three-and-a-half to four years in development. In my mental picture, I actually expected Assassin's Creed Odyssey to be released in 2019, not this year. Odyssey's development is led by Ubisoft Quebec, with some of the same leads as 2015's Assassin's Creed Syndicate. Scott Phillips is the director and Thierry Dansereau is the art director on both games. There have been some shifts in the team: Syndicate world director Jonathan Dumont is now the creative director of Odyssey, Syndicate creative director Marc-Alexis Côté is now the senior producer on Odyssey, Syndicate assistant narrative design director Mel MacCoubrey is now narrative design director for Odyssey.
You can see this sort of consistency across a lot of Ubisoft. Many of the folks behind Assassin's Creed Rogue, a team at Ubisoft Sofia, helped out with Assassin's Creed Origins and worked heavily on The Curse of the Pharoah DLC I mentioned above.
I originally pegged this year as a year off because the leads behind the game between Black Flag and Syndicate, Assassin's Creed Unity, have moved to other teams or left Ubisoft entirely. Directors Alexandre Amancio and Marc Albinet both left to form Reflector Entertainment. Senior producer Vincent Pontbriand is now general manager at EA Motive. Art director Mohamed Gambouz moved over to Ubisoft Singapore, a studio helping out with Assassin's Creed Odyssey and leading development on Skull & Bones. Lead game designer Alexandre Pedneault is over at Ubisoft Fun House, piloting new game ideas.
Of course, given the form of the studios mentioned above, the next Assassin's Creed would come at 2021 at the earliest, unless Ubisoft has a brand-new team working on the game. A planned 2020 release for Assassin's Creed would've started development in 2016. There's a few developer options for that game, many of which have a history with the game. For example, Frédéric St-Laurent B. was the lead game designer on Assassin's Creed Syndicate and is currently listed on LinkedIn as a game director on an "Unannounced Awesome Project" since May 2016. The timing there is right for a new Assassin's Creed game.
One of my favorite folks to watch, Splinter Cell: Blacklist creative director Maxime Beland, has been working on an unannounced project as creative director since April 2016. I'd like to think that's a new Splinter Cell game since Beland is at Ubisoft Toronto, but it could be an AC title instead. Assassin's Creed Origins lead game designer Eric Baptizat has also become a director for an unknown game, but only since May of this year, putting that game in 2022 or thereabouts.
I'd expect a new Assassin's Creed in 2020. I'm throwing a bunch of dice in a cup, shaking it up, and seeing where everything lands. These are educated guesses because I have some idea about the odds, but it's certainly nothing gospel. For next year, a new Watch Dogs entry would be my best guess for Assassin's Creed's 2019 slot; Watch Dogs 1 and 2 creative director Jonathan Morin is still sitting quietly in Ubisoft Montreal and Watch Dogs 2 filled in for AC's empty 2016. Maybe that Splinter Cell game I'm hoping for could also drop some time in 2019, probably in the Summer, as the early 2019 release have been announced already.
Either way, I'm fine with Assassin's Creed taking some more time off. I miss the series when it's gone, but Assassin's Creed Origins turned out so well that I think the extra space helps. It's just a matter of where the series as a whole is going. Origins leaned on an RPG experience and Odyssey looks like its diving into that wholesale. Will the next game continue that trend or becoming something else?
Guess we'll see in 2020.