It has been a rough few years for the Assassin's Creed franchise. At one point among the premiere action titles in so-called "Triple-A" gaming, the series has been drawing increasingly strong criticism and slowing sales ever since fans and critics were underwhelmed by Assassin's Creed III. While the pirate-themed fourth installment was welcomed as a return to form, subsequent titles like Unity and Syndicate have been alternately plagued by buggy-releases and marked-down by reviews citing the series for repetition and stagnation -- not the place Ubisoft wanted the franchise to be in with its first movie on the way.
Now, the developer has announced that they'll be "stepping back and re-examining" the series; and as a result it has now been officially confirmed there will not be new Assassin's Creed game for 2016.
In a post to the company's official UbiBlog, Ubisoft dropped the news amid more positive talk of the upcoming Michael Fassbender-starring film along with promises of better days to come, stating:
"Since the release of Assassin’s Creed Unity, we’ve learned a lot based on your feedback. We’ve also updated our development processes and recommitted to making Assassin’s Creed a premier open-world franchise. We’re taking this year to evolve the game mechanics and to make sure we’re delivering on the promise of Assassin’s Creed offering unique and memorable gameplay experiences that make history everyone’s playground."
While none of the mainline Assassin's Creed titles has yet been received as an outright failure, it's hard to ignore that the series once held up as an example of the potential of high-end gaming has more recently become known for "feature creep" and glitch-filled releases. And while any number of factors could have (and likely did) contribute to the series' issues, it seems logical that Ubisoft's near-annual release schedule for new fully open-world installments was likely not helpful.
What's unclear is what "stepping back" or "re-examining" actually means in this context. Was there a planned release that's now going to get a slower, more detail-focused development process? Does Ubisoft not know where they want to take the series going forward, either in terms of setting and characters or the franchise's time-jumping storyline? While fans have taken Ubisoft to task for the repetitive nature and buggy launches of recent sequels, there have also been more substantive issues raised, including a call for more diverse characters in the lead roles (something the "side-story" games have begun to address) and more a broader scope of historical settings. While the original Assassin's Creed made the bold move of grounding its narrative in the Middle East, subsequent episodes have mainly stuck to Western Europe and North America.
It is also within the realm of possibility that, if the Assassin's Creed feature film connects with audiences in a big way, the series could see a reboot or "reimagining" to deliver an installment that more closely follows the movie. The franchise mythology allows for multiple different characters from myriad backgrounds to be depicted as the hero, and the film is supposedly set in 15th Century Spain with Michael Fassbender playing both a Spanish Assassin named Aguilar de Nerha and his 21st Century descendant. Though nothing along these lines has been hinted at, it wouldn't be entirely unexpected should Ubisoft want the next major release to reflect the film in order to draw the attention of potential new fans who weren't previously aware of the series.
Assassin's Creed is due to be released to theaters on December 21, 2016.