The Ubisoft open-world formula is often criticised for its tendency to bloat games with tedious and repetitive objectives, yet its influence has spread throughout the genre to games like Horizon Zero Dawn and Spider-Man – at least in parts – but is the Ubisoft formula out-dated? And what actions are being taken to address the criticisms?
The Ubisoft formula truly took shape In Far Cry 3, a game which every subsequent entry has been closely modelled after. Far Cry 3 featured a large open world with a variety of missions and objectives. You could hunt and skin animals for materials, take out enemy outposts, and undertake quests like bounty hunting. One of the other key aspects is the radio towers, which have to be visited to complete the game’s world map, and are developments of Assassin’s Creed’s viewpoints, and have been seen in numerous games since, even Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Many players found these elements tedious. Personally, I very much enjoyed Far Cry 3, as this was the first time I had ever seen these systems, but for Ubisoft to re-use this formula in all its further releases shows a lack of creativity and passion.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins was the first Ubisoft title to move away from the traditional structure and try something new – or new enough. RPG elements were included, such as experience points and skill trees, although this had the effect of level-gating – stopping players from accessing certain content – and made assassination attacks no longer instant kills. Furthermore, the world, despite being exquisitely crafted (even with the inclusion of a historical tour exploration mode), was filled with too many – often boring – things to do. With the breadth of the game being stretched so wide, the depth remained shallow and uninspired, with fetch quests and a huge map stuffed with too many icons. The game is, however, often praised for its historical accuracy and an immersive exploration of Ancient Egypt, which suggests that Ubisoft are very much able to craft successful worlds, but unable to populate them with interesting things to do. This trend continued in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, a game notorious for being even more bloated and over-ambitious than Origins.
This brings me to the recent Ubisoft Forward. The event showcased two main series gameplay shorts for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Watch Dogs: Legion; alongside a cinematic trailer for Far Cry 6. Do things look to have changed? …Kind of?
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla appears to keep the traditional structure, with a large map (rumoured bigger than Odyssey’s) and a variety of activities, like the new Viking raids. The map encompasses England and some of Scandinavia, and so far looks to be as historically accurate and detailed as its predecessors. There appear to be no radical changes to the formula, which – for me at least – is disappointing.
Watch Dogs: Legion on the other hand introduces new never-before-seen gameplay mechanics. Watch Dogs is remembered as a marked downgrade from its pre-release state, with Watch Dogs 2 being a more interesting game in many ways, with its more colourful world and improved hacking. Legion allows you to recruit any character you see in the world, each with unique weapons and abilities (although it’s unclear if this is similar to a class system or randomised). This would revolutionise the ways you approach situations and provide new and interesting gameplay. There is also no level system, meaning no level-gating, which is a welcome change. This proves that Ubisoft are seeing the drawbacks of their typical gameplay systems, and hopefully we will see more of this in the future.