Ubisoft Forward Gave Me Hope
Ubisoft. It is a name that has been around forever. One of the biggest publishers and developers on the planet with a long history of some truly amazing games, games that have stood the test of time and earned their place in the industry’s history. But in recent years there have been some concerning trends from the studio that brought us such beloved titles as Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia, Assassins Creed and Beyond Good and Evil.
For quite a while there has been a trend to open world titles from the French publisher. This would be fine normally but in the case of Ubisoft, all of these titles start to feel so familiar that they all begin to blend together. Far Cry merges into Ghost Recon which morphs into Assassins Creed. There is a common complaint about games in the modern era and that complaint is referred to as Ubisoft syndrome, open worlds that include some sort of “reveal the map” mechanic like a radio tower to climb or a hay bale to jump into and is full of checklists and collectables that pad out game time. It is telling that the phrase to describe this sort of all-too-common complaint actually uses Ubisoft’s name. Now that’s not to say these are bad games, far from it. I thoroughly enjoy these games and don’t expect that to change. It does however mean that there are no surprises, no wow factor. It feels like these are games designed by a committee to tick off marketing boxes and not to create a unique piece of entertainment. It feels like creativity has been replaced with corporate data.
The second major issue I have noticed with Ubisoft is it feels like they have stopped listening to their community, stopped engaging. This is easy to do, after all, there is a large portion of the community that can be both vicious and nasty, so blocking them out is essential. But community engagement is still a must and it is clear from Ubisoft’s disastrous attempts to enter the NFT market along with game announcements like xDefiant that they are really not hearing what their players want. While it may not be the intention, it comes across as arrogant, like Ubisoft is saying to players “You don’t know what you want, this is what you want.” That position, unintentional or not, is going to put people offside instantly, there are no two ways about it.
But with the latest Ubisoft Forward event, there are signs that the French giant is starting to turn this all around. There are suggestions that they are starting to get the hint and head back in the direction of the creative AAA force that they used to be. There was a range of titles on show that not only ditched the Ubisoft open world but also looked creative, exciting and fresh. The first I want to talk about is Skull and Bones. This may not be for everyone, but that is fine. It is, however, an ambitious original title the likes of which no one has made before and that alone is exciting for me. Sailing the high seas and living the pirate life is undoubtedly appealing to many and it clearly moves in a different direction than Sea of Thieves does so it isn’t simply copying a previous idea.
Next on my list of impressive and exciting titles is the sequel to Mario + Rabbids. The original game was wonderful but it always felt to me that it would be a one-and-done type game. A strategy title with a family-friendly overlay on a system that perhaps isn’t seen as the place for such a deep turn-based title (unfairly I might add.) It always felt like an experiment that would find its niche and never go any further. So it excites me to see that Ubisoft has recognised there is a place for this sort of game, that success can be found in places not traditionally associated with the console or the publisher.
Now the big one, Assassins Creed. Perhaps the biggest property in Ubisoft history, the recent titles have been great but enormous. So enormous that I would say it is fair to assume that only a very small minority of players actually reach the end of them. Ubisoft has recognised this with the new title Mirage, which will be smaller and more focused, returning to the style of the original games as opposed to the more recent Origins, Odyessy and Valhalla. A focus on stealth and story, as opposed to gigantic maps and RPG trappings, will be a wonderful reset for the franchise, a chance for fans to refresh their love and the chance may even increase the chance of bringing new players into the mix. But what is even smarter in my eyes is the announcement of Assassins Creed Project Red. Long and loud have been the calls by fans wanting a Japanese Assassins Creed game and Ubisoft has finally listened. I feel like it will be a return to the bigger-scope RPG style of game, but that is fine. The key pitfall here is cultural sensitivity of course, but if they can navigate that with respect it should be a winner.
Add to these announcements exciting little tidbits like a Valiant Hearts Sequel, Just Dance going live service, removing the need for annual purchases and implementing online crossplay, continued support for smaller titles like Riders Republic and innovations like Rocksmith+ and I can’t help but feel much more positive about the French publishing giant than when I went in. To me, it showed that perhaps the ship had started to turn back towards what gamers want and not what corporate policy dictates. There is still some way to go and with well-loved franchises like Rayman, Splinter Cell and Beyond Good and Evil currently being ignored, hidden or forgotten there is certainly more that could be done, but, for this moment at least, I am hopeful. Hopeful that the Ubisoft of old, the innovator, the IP creator the champion of the people will one day make a return. Before this Ubisoft Forward, I would have put money on that wasn’t possible anymore but boy am I glad I was wrong.