Beyond the MMORPG - Assassin's Creed
In our Beyond the MMORPG column, we take a look at a game that doesn't fit into our genre and speculate about how that game could be used to positively influence our genre. This week ,Donna Desborough takes a peek at Assassin's Creed.
Assassin's Creed has been anticipated for a long time from UbiSoft. The amount of hype and mystery surrounding this game has been tremendous. I wasn't immune to all the excitement mounting up and even bought the limited edition with the lovely resin statue.
I think the most obvious place to start is with the amazing graphics. The developers managed to make a game that just makes you want to stare at it. There are no separate CGI graphics sequences for cut-scenes; it's all the in game graphics. Now that alone should tell you something about the beauty of this game. There's more than just bloom encrusted pretty pixels to stare at though.
Movement is interesting to look at. When Altair climbs a wall it looks real. Meaning the places he's putting his hands and feet actually look real and not just some random pixel on the wall the looks smooth and not like a handhold. If you can reach something then you can grab it and climb it. Of course the down side to this is that sometimes you accidentally end up grabbing hand holds when you're in the free-run mode and half run up a door that goes nowhere.
Speaking of the free-run mode, just wow. UbiSoft has managed to create a system that is both easy and fun to use. Gone are the complicated exact jumps from edges to make it across. The controls are simple to use and combined with the rooftop layout it makes it great fun to run across the cities. Several times I ran all the way across the city with guards in hot pursuit without realizing I'd traveled so far. It's that easy to navigate and control.
Sometimes I didn't run away though. As often as not I'd stand and fight. This is always worth the time as the fight system is rather good. It isn't the best thing out there but it also isn't just a one button smashing affair. Combat consists of standard attacks, grabs, combos and counter attacks and also defense stances. As you advance in the game more of each type becomes available to you. Combat isn't hard to get the hang of although it can require a bit of timing and coordination with button presses. Visually though combat is actually fun to watch. You don't constantly get the same moves over and over again. There are many visual action sequences that can make fighting as enjoyable to watch as it is to engage in.
As mentioned the cities are very well laid out. Whether you're at street or rooftop level, the maps actually look and feel like cities. Add into this the populace of the city that is more singular than anything I've ever seen and you get a very real feeling world. Each person is treated as an individual entity that has their own movements and behavior. The only real let down of the populace is in the voice acting. Not that it wasn't good, but just that there seemed to only be about half a dozen things they would say before you would begin hearing repeats. You can imagine how irritating this can get when you're playing for several hours. To combat this annoyance I took to talking back to the game This not only entertained me, but also made my husband laugh while he was watching me play. So great entertainment all around.
Up to this point this all pretty much sounds like a review for Assassin's Creed, it's not. The parts I mention are all elements that could be used to vastly improve MMOs.
Combat that requires timing and combinations of controls could potentially make the continuous battles that one ends up in a lot less boring a repetitive. Having to pay attention to your enemy's moves and make your own actions to counter those would make fights much more engaging. The standard of just clicking an action and waiting then clicking another makes fight uninteresting and easily boring. There have been games that have tried to vary this standard fighting pattern, but usually not by much. Timing usually isn't much of a factor in a fight.
Also, giving variation to the visual actions that are executed would make fights much more interesting. Usually each fight action will have its own animation, but it won't vary. If there were multiple animations for a single action it would help combat the visual boringness of being involved in a fight.
In the graphics department, MMO developers have to be careful because they don't want to overpower the graphics so that you'd need a mega-powered computer to handle them. Still, something could be learned from Assassin's Creed in terms of structure. I mean this mostly in reference to the city layouts and in-between areas. The cities felt very real, instead of a standard 3 lanes that take you in a circle around the city you actually had alcoves and main lanes and dead ended alleys. There were market areas and gathering areas. This is something that MMOs should take a better look at. The city layout can contribute a lot to how a game feels and I think too often that is left out and just done as simple as possible.
Once the city is built it must be filled with people. In Assassin's Creed the people feel real. They move about on their own and act individually. Often in MMOs the populace of cities feel wooden and static. Those that do wander about often don't feel real. MMOs could take a lesson from Assassin's Creed for the feeling of people and give them a life of their own. People that talk and react to the player's movements.
Assassin's Creed isn't a perfect game, but there are many elements within it that could be used within MMOs to improve the gameplay and worlds. If you have an Xbox 360 then I would definitely suggest you give the game a go despite the flaws for no other reason that to enjoy the feel of the world.