Assassin’s Creed’s Boring Showcase Highlights How Stagnant The Series Has Become

Summer Game Fest to E3 is a difficult comparison to make. For games journalists used to travelling to the event in person, the lack of E3 feels like a loss, but for journalists who lacked the funds or outlet backing to attend, SGF's digital focus makes it far more accessible and diverse. Less things are piled on top of each other too – Geoff Keighley's opening mamba through outer space might have been followed by a PlayStation Showcase at E3, but at SGF that happened a few days before. Xbox & Bethesda had a showcase, the only thing of note that day, followed by a longer showcase a few days later, with deeper explanation for the bigger titles and more room for the smaller ones. Perhaps the worst example of how empty the event can seem though came through the Assassin's Creed stream – a showcase that should have been an email.

At E3, this might have been something discussed at a booth, rather than a floorshow. Though SGF did have streams for Devolver and a generic Wholesome Games set-piece, plus Xbox dedicating a chunk of its second showcase to indie titles, it's the on-the-floor hands-on stuff that typically helps indies stick out. Our own Eric Switzer attended the single press day for SGF and came away with a deeper experience of a lot of titles that made only passing appearances in the general showcase soup beamed into our eyeballs. Assassin's Creed though has a lot more clout, so while you can decide to lean on that by having an extremely short and mostly pointless showcase all to itself instead of just appearing in a section of one of the existing shows, it only serves to highlight Assassin's Creed's strangely stagnant place in time.

If you just look at spreadsheets, which a lot of decision makers do, then Assassin's Creed is very healthy. In ditching its stealth-action roots to become a bloated open world, it has seen players spend more hours in its worlds and has enjoyed healthy sales. But its cultural relevance feels much lower than it was with Ezio at the wheel, and its style of game design is quickly becoming outdated. Elden Ring and Breath of the Wild were praised specifically because they avoided 'the Ubisoft open-world formula', and if your game design is so generic and reviled that they name it after you, you should probably think about changing things up.

Rumours suggest change is on the horizon, but not in a way anybody can yet define. Assassin's Creed Infinity is the live-service future of the series, and was mutedly confirmed after a major leak, but little more has been said since. It will not be free to play and will be mainly made up of separate, individualised solo experiences, which doesn't sound like a live-service game at all. It sounds at this stage more like a storefront. Uplay, but for only Assassin's Creed games. It will be "huge", according to Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot, and will feature elements of games that exist as well as elements of new games. This is empty buzzwords of the highest order, and SGF might have been the time to set the record straight, but instead we saw a little bit about a "rogue-lite inspired" mode coming to Valhalla after we've all moved on to Elden Ring or Horizon, Discovery is now stand-alone, and then we saw a very long playthrough of a 60fps upgrade that is already out.

The problem is we know Infinity is coming but nobody, possibly not even Ubisoft, knows what it is. How do you announce a new game when we all know a live-service future is coming, and how do you plan to integrate a game not sold as live-service into a live-service platform that players will expect to arrive sooner rather than later. Right now, most casual fans won't be aware of Infinity, only discussed briefly in tweets and earnings calls. But when the next game rolls around, it will be a big question the die-hards will want answered, and a lot of casual players will take note. If you tell people live-service is coming, but refuse to explain what that means, you're going to let people make up the worst versions of that reality in their own minds. You can either get out ahead of it, or bury your head in the sand. At Summer Game Fest, Ubisoft chose the latter.

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