Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Assassin's Creed Revelations: Making The Online Better

Hey Guys, now I have to admit that Ubisoft didn't do a great job on the multiplayer on Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. But this time, it's going to be better on Assassin's Creed Revelations. How?

Assassin's Creed: Revelations – Reshaping Multiplayer

Think you don't want to get online? Think again.

August 2, 2011

The Assassin's Creed franchise might not seem like it's suited for multiplayer gaming. It focuses heavily on story. Its gameplay mostly revolves around stealth and unconventional mission types. It often forces players to think calmly, to wait, plot and quietly take out targets rather than run-and-gun. It's a singular experience that merges the thrill of stalking an opponent in the shadows with an expansive narrative that unfolds proportionate to a rising body count. Certainly most of these traits seem to contradict typical modern multiplayer experiences - loud and in your face action without any thought of narrative.

Ubisoft attempted to break this stereotype last year in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. It crafted a solid foundation, but traditional approaches to online combat prevailed. Many found the intended approaches to Assassin's gameplay were run off the road by players wanting to charge into a situation. Patience was a casualty as brash, impulsive strategies often worked. A sense of importance was lacking, as the franchise's story was wholly tied into the single player experience. Likewise, customization and overall polish seemed to be absent. With Assassin's Creed: Revelations, much of that is changing. In fact Ubisoft is going one step further, bringing the core storyline of the franchise directly into multiplayer. Like it or not, you'll seriously need to consider signing online if you want a comprehensive view on the war between the Templars and the Assassins.
Moving Up the Hierarchy

Typical to many multiplayer concepts these days, Assassin's Creed: Revelation features a leveling up system fueled by experience that is earned throughout a match. Similar to Brotherhood, players find themselves as Templar recruits, training at the "Abstergo facility" in order to prepare for a secretive, modern-era war. This time, ranking up will progressively unlock story elements. Want to check out Templar files, learn more about the organization and even get fresh perspective on the Assassins themselves? Now you can. It's a unique angle to the franchise that players have never had access to.

The Assassin's Creed story has focused on the history and evolution of the Assassins from the perspective of characters within that organization. That Ubisoft is willing to open up such a large area of mythology to make the multiplayer experience meaningful speaks volumes about the publisher's commitment to making this method of gameplay equal to the single-player experience. And worry not, your online matches won't be interrupted. Ubisoft is planning on making the activation of the story elements optional. You can view movies and documents immediately while your next battle is being loaded or skip them to continue customizing your character or browsing your in-game friends list. Anything you unlock can always be viewed at another time.

Of course, tying a great deal of lore to multiplayer means one thing - the online experience had better stand alongside the single-player quest in terms of quality and design. Clearly Ubisoft is willing to make the storyline components equal, but if the same old run-and-gun tricks continue to break the intended multiplayer experience, what's the point? Fortunately Ubisoft's Annecy, France team, which is solely dedicated towards crafting Revelations' online component, has been listening.

Slow It Down
More modes. More options. More customization. More logical interfaces. Ubisoft is adding plenty to Revelations' multiplayer, but that's honestly not as important as the core experience. The key question I had walking into my hands-on time with the game was simple - can Ubisoft create an experience that's unique to the Assassin's franchise while still being fun? That answer is a resounding "yes."

It no longer pays to charge into situations. Not only is reckless aggression not rewarded with points, it opens yourself up to attacks. By and large those who attempt to boldly and brazenly attack their targets will score far less points for a kill. A base score for assassinating your target is 100 points. Running openly after your opponent will lower a meter that tracks your stealth. The lower the meter, the harder it is for you to earn bonuses. Conversely, I managed to score an 800 point score by carefully planning my attack on an enemy. By taking my time, I was not only massively rewarded, but didn't expose myself to whoever was attempting to find me.

Rooftops are a far more dangerous area now.

All three of the match types I had a chance to play - the familiar "Wanted" mode as well as the new "Deathmatch" (a surperior version of "Wanted" that operates without radar) and "Artifact Assault" (think Capture the Flag) had some strong stealth elements. And while some occasions certainly called for a pulse-pounding chase, by and large the tension and thrill of laying traps and lurking in the shadows is now intact. It's clear Ubisoft intends to preserve its original vision for franchise, and the tweaks to the multiplayer formula seem like they'll successfully encourage that.

Ubisoft is also trying to reward vigilant players with quick reactions. The Annecy team is tweaking "stuns," which allow prey to defend and escape from careless hunters, to be more useful tools for players being attacked. A second defense is being added called "Honorable Death." When a hunter moves in for a kill, a properly-timed response from a targeted player can trigger a response that, while not preventing death, will reward points to the defender. It keeps the game competitive, continuing to encourage attackers to be creative and stealthy while pushing defenders to be vigilant. The end result is a core gameplay experience that not only feels like Assassin's Creed but is balanced.

Building Your Assassin

As mentioned before, battling online will reward you with experience points that will increase your overall ranking. Pretty typical stuff. Progressing through these levels will not only unlock new story elements but open customization options for your character. While Ubisoft is opening a number of weapon and visual options for players from the start, more must be purchased from the in-game store, which uses credits that are also earned through online competition.

Ubisoft is creating a number of broad character archetypes that can be tweaked further with purchased parts. The existing characters can have their heads, chests, arms, legs, belts, accessories, colors and weaponry changed, though this customization is more based on rotating through a half dozen or so designs versus sliding scales for mind-numbingly infinite possibilities. Different weapon options will also affect character animations. As someone who can never make up his mind when too many options are presented, this sort of "pre-determined flexibility" is very much welcome. Players can also select from a wide-range of pre-existing profile avatars and customize their own emblems, which will appear on in-game characters in various locations (i.e. on a belt or on a cape).

Give up your stealth in "Artifact Assault" to find your opponents' flag.

Outside of tweaking the visual elements of your character, you're able to customize three elements that directly and significantly affect gameplay - abilities, perks and streaks. Abilities are triggered during a game, ranging from weapons like tripwire bombs to the ability to force gates and doors in a map open or closed to trap enemies. Perks are more subtle in their effect, consisting of passive enhancements like the speed-enhancing Hot Pursuit or Enhanced Autobash.

Streaks are fairly conventional, though players do get to specify one streak based on kills and one streak based on deaths. The death-based streaks are particularly rewarding in some cases allowing you to see who is following you or where your prey has gone. The development team is still taking steps to make sure nothing is overpowered, and I got the impression much tweaking and testing was still being done. For example, an ability to track your prey will only work until they're somewhere on your screen. The rest is up to you.

Although I was only able to watch some of the customization elements and play within some pre-determined sets of abilities, perks and streaks, the options here seem significant and seamless. You can even manage your characters' appearance while waiting for your next match. Ubisoft is attempting to allow for a great deal of freedom while creating boundaries that are necessary to create a multiplayer experience that still ties to story and even the single player game. The character archetypes that you see in multiplayer games will find their way into the single-player game as various assassination contracts Ezio can accept.

Gaining Prestige

With the changes coming to Assassin's Creed's multiplayer, it's likely there will be those of you interested in playing a lot - perhaps every day. Ubisoft is thinking of you, not only giving out bonuses to accounts that engage in matches frequently, but developing an extensive "prestige-like" system, similar to what we've seen in Call of Duty.

In "Deathmatch" you'll have to rely on visual clues rather than radar.

A level cap of 50 is not even close to the end of what can be accomplished online with Revelations. The development team wants most players to level-up reasonably fast so that all of the multiplayer story experience can be unlocked. As players progress, they'll also unlock customization and combat options. But once players reach the end of the narrative, they can keep going. Once at level 50, the game will track "prestige loops," which are equivalent to acquiring 50 levels of points all over again. No abilities or options will be stripped away for moving into this elite ranking. Remarkably, Ubisoft plans to allow you to do this 99 times, and rewards and bonuses will be unlocked to purchase in the in-game store as you work towards this monumental task. Good luck reaching the top of that very, very high mountain.

Killing Your Friends

Stay tuned for more of my thoughts on the Assassin's Creed: Revelations' multiplayer experience, including specific commentary on the new "Deathmatch" and "Artifact Assault" modes, as well as match commentaries and more. Be sure to also to check out my video interview (earlier in the article) if you haven't.

In short, Revelations' is becoming deeper, more involved and more complex. But most importantly, it's a great deal of fun, offering an experience unlike others on the market today. The development team has taken great steps in evolving the gameplay to no longer fall apart when players attempt to play something like "Deathmatch" the way they would play Call of Duty. Add in a story element that rewards players that continue to play online and it's clear Ubisoft wants its multiplayer component to stand alongside its solo campaign. If the final product is anything like what I had a chance to play, you're going to have a lot of fun stalking and killing your friends.

So is the online going to be similar to Call Of Duty? Well that's really not the point, let's hope their is no problems with the multiplayer just like in Brotherhood.
Till Next Time!!
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