Assassin’s Creed 4 Multiplayer Preview
When Ubisoft announced in 2010 that its third installment of the Assassin’s Creed series (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood) would feature a competitive multiplayer element, I was one of the first of a cripplingly cynical bunch to say that it would never work. Fast forward to three years later, as they begin to release information on their plans for the fourth iteration of the game’s multiplayer component, and I have long since given up on trying to wash all of this egg off my face, and the humble pie is having a tragic effect on my waistline. This is because it has proven to be rather successful, even attracting players to purchase Assassin’s Creed games for this portion alone.
Breaking the Mould
Having played each of the previous games extensively, it has become clear to me that, with each new sequel, Ubisoft Annecy, the branch of the company behind AC’s multiplayer, does not try to reinvent the wheel, having found an overarching formula that works. It instead attempts to sand away the splinters in the wheel, to allow it to run more smoothly. Naturally then, it is the minor tweaks in its mechanics and infrastructure that form the major talking points each time a game is released. This time however, Ubisoft intends not to just break the mould, but to hand the mould to you, the player, along with a blowtorch, and let you loose in the workshop with zero regard for safety regulations. This workshop will be called ‘Game Lab’ and was keenly demonstrated as Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag Multiplayer’s USP at this year’s E3.
For those still in possession of their ring fingers, Assassin’s Creed Multiplayer takes the three main pillars of the series – namely parkour, social stealth, and assassinations – and tasks players with eliminating assigned contracts while avoiding the end of a blade themselves, rewarding them not only for the quantity, but the quality of their kills. What Ubisoft promises with its Game Lab feature is the ability to bend this to our will by enabling us to create new modes and make changes to existing ones. Of course, a feature like this is only as good as the level of customisation it offers, so Damien Kieken, the Lead Designer of all of AC’s multiplayers to date, was keen to stress that there will be a plethora of options, including ability or perk restrictions, as well as allowing players to rebuild the scoring system from the ground up.
Game Lab seems like a very shrewd move from Ubisoft. If you have ever been involved in any sort of competitive multiplayer game community, you would have no doubt heard discussions, akin to listening to elderly men talk about the state of the economy, about whether or not a playstyle or perk is unbalanced, often polarising the playerbase. Ubisoft appears, by this stage, to have realised that with a game like this, there will always be somebody criticising their driving, and that the only viable solution is to install another steering wheel in front of the passenger seat.
Game Lab has been set up as Ubisoft’s ace in the hole for Assassin’s Creed 4: Black flag multiplayer. However, there are other changes that they have alluded to, although with tantalising brevity, that they hope will breathe new life into the series.
Wolfpack, the cooperative mode unleashed in AC3 was created as a sort of answer to the traditional horde mode, in which up to four players race against the clock to dispatch multiple waves of NPC targets. AC4: Black Flag is set to introduce new modes to add some variety to the game type. Wolfpack will now task players with protecting chests (which ties in nicely with AC4’s pirate theme), as well as a mode in which you must, for an as yet unexplained reason, pick up packages before taking out your targets. Although I expect these additions to be fun to play with friends, Wolfpack will no doubt become repetitive once you have sampled these new modes.
Perhaps you could say the same about the competitive modes, as they are by definition repetitive. But playing against human players with different skill levels and playstyles ensures that no two matches are the same. Also, that feeling of smug superiority drawn from outwitting a fellow player, imagining their shaking fists and scowls of fury at the sheer weight of your awesomeness, provides a level of joy that Wolfpack could never match.
Matchmaking, the Private Match System, and the Abstergo Ladder
It seems unnecessary to devote a subheading to this, as Ubisoft Annecy, in a Twitter Q and A session in July, has merely stated that matchmaking in particular will be ‘improved’ while, in true politician style, not going into specifics as to how this will be done. As for private matches, several members of the community were itching to know whether or not Ubisoft will make it easier to set up tournament matches in AC4: Black Flag, to which they answered with a flat, but encouraging, ‘yes’. With so little details as of yet, it looks like we will have to wait and see, but it’s good to know that the need for this is recognised.
AC3’s ‘Abstergo Ladder’ ranking system was rightly criticised for reflecting skill like a broken mirror covered in sewage reflects the sun in a room with no windows, punishing players heavily for unavoidable defeats such as through disconnects, as well as disproportionately rewarding players who favoured team modes over free for all modes. I am certainly happy to hear the uninformative ‘yes’ in response to questions about its improvement, as anything more logical than the Abstergo Ladder is 300% better by default.
Normally, I would discuss new abilities, perks and maps when looking at a multiplayer component of a game. However, Ubisoft was keen to keep to majority of this information under wraps until its release for current generation consoles in late October. What we do know for sure is that Game Lab in particular, signifies an exciting time for Assassin’s Creed multiplayer veterans and newer players alike, putting the power in their hands.