In a recent interview with IGN, Marc-Alexis Côté, the project leader for Assassin’s Creed Infinity, revealed that the series’ modern story will now take place entirely within the Infinity hub. That’s exciting news for the segment of the fanbase who hates playing through the slower, talkier portions of the games that take place outside the Animus, and it may initially sound like bad news for players who love those parts of the game. But, the more I think about it, the more I think moving the modern story outside of the games may be the best compromise Ubisoft could possibly arrive at.
Since the *spoiler alert* death of Desmond Miles in Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft has tried out a few different approaches to the series’ present day component. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag introduced first-person sections where you played as a faceless Abstergo Entertainment employee, and this continued through Rogue. Unity and Syndicate minimized the modern day segments (to the extent that you can watch all of Unity and Syndicate’s combined out-of-Animus cutscenes in under 20 minutes). The RPG trilogy (Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla) brought the subplot back in a bigger way, with players taking on the role of Layla Hassan, an Abstergo researcher who goes rogue. Layla’s sections were basically fine — and Valhalla ended up being weirdly timely for a game released in 2020, sequestering Layla in an isolated cabin in the woods while we were self-quarantining IRL — but had the same issue that these sections tend to have. For players who are invested in the story and gameplay, getting ripped out of the flow of the action to do something else always feels like an inconvenience.
Open-world games sell the fantasy that you can do anything and go anywhere you want at any time. So, whenever the narrative forces you to do something — even if that thing is fun and interesting — it butts up against the core fantasy. Assassin’s Creed has done interesting things outside the Animus, but it’s difficult to make those segments feel like they aren’t homework since, the rest of the time, the game lets you have it your way. The Far Cry games run into a similar problem when the villain inevitably kidnaps you to monologue about their evil plan. Red Dead Redemption 2 threw a lot of players off by sending them on an island adventure straight out of an Uncharted game. When a game promises freedom, requirements can chafe.
On the other hand, the Animus has been a core part of the Assassin’s Creed story since the series debuted in 2007. For the first five games, assassins came and went — even Ezio only got a trilogy — but Desmond was a constant. That meant that, for as interesting as the historical narrative was, the really consequential story was taking place in the real world. Though Desmond’s story came to an end with 3, a lot of fans don’t feel like they ever got closure on it; the modern day story never fully paid off.
Which is why Infinity’s solution seems like the best of both worlds. AC fans who just want to play around in an ancient sandbox can do that without worrying that they’re on the verge of getting yanked back to modern times if they make progress in the story. Meanwhile, the players who love the Animus lore can spend as much time as they want exploring those details.
Ubisoft has emphasized that the promise of Infinity is the opportunity for developers to take AC in a variety of different directions. Mirage is a return to the stealth- and parkour-focused gameplay of the series’ earlier run. Red is another open-world RPG set in feudal Japan (and, it should be noted, led by a man who has been accused of harassment). Hexe, per Côté, is more experimental and won’t be an RPG. Ubisoft is also planning a multiplayer mode which will launch on Infinity. With AC heading in that many different directions, Infinity could have room for an experience that focuses entirely on the modern day storyline. Given that Assassin’s Creed’s identity seems more malleable from game to game going forward, Ubisoft could take the first-person gameplay from Black Flag and Rogue and build out an AC walking sim. Or a point-and-click adventure game. Or a Discovery Tour-style lore museum.
We don’t know yet what, exactly, Infinity will look like. The modern day storytelling might get reduced to some emails you can read in the hub. But, it could also clear the way for Ubisoft to build a bigger, more interesting framework for the modern day storytelling going forward.
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