While speaking to Assassin's Creed Origins game director Ashraf Ismail at a showcase hosted by Ubisoft, it became clear that the weight of increased fan expectations did little to affect his exuberance for the franchise and its next offering. Ismail was confident, eager to hear feedback on the game's demo, as if the game had been finished for years and had simply been tucked away under lock and key waiting for the right moment. When prompted about the potential pressure that a longer-than-usual hiatus for the series meant for the Assassin's Creed Origins team, Ismail had this to say:
"We're happy about that [Assassin's Creed taking a longer hiatus], I think that helps us out a lot, that we did - that Assassin's Creed did - take a break. That time allows people to dream of it again, to say, 'okay, I'm excited to have it again.' But that didn't mean we would come back with a similar formula - we needed to come back with something very different."
In our hands-on experience with the title, it became clear that the longer break definitely allowed for some more refinement that might not have been present in a game with a tighter release schedule. There's a lot in Assassin's Creed Origins that are series firsts, but the implementation of these features is nuanced and incredibly meticulous - like the team had the luxury of spending some more time on playtesting and honing them, for instance.
"We came [to upper management] with a message saying 'we need the time to do this, we're gonna build right from scratch.' It's going to take time, it's going to take iteration, and it's going to take playtesting, but we need to get it right. We want more gameplay challenge, we want boss fights in the world, we want a beautiful balance between people who really care about the narrative to be able to play that narrative - but if you love the combat system and you want super hardcore challenges, there's optional content for you."
The idea of building an Assassin's Creed title "right from scratch" is especially poignant considering the series is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. For a franchise that has long been about reiterating the same formula that made the first few games successful, the notion of reinvention and rebirth at the same time as reaching a huge industry milestone must be especially appealing for a progressive mind like Ismail.
Given the staying power of a game like Assassin's Creed Origins, which was the most talked about title at E3 2017 despite a highly competitive showcase from other developers, it seems like it would be tempting to sit back and let fans simply get what they've come to expect out of the franchise. Ismail acknowledged that during the interview, stating that he would never want to "push away the fans or the people who have been in love with the series, because they've been with us for a long time." Still, for Ismail and the rest of the team at Ubisoft, it came down to two things: creating a new-look Assassin's Creed title that would push the series forward, and having the time to do it right.
"We didn't just get one extra year to say 'let's add hippos now.' It was in the initial plan...if we didn't have that time, we wouldn't have made this game. So for us it was the original plan, and it all kind of played out well in our favor, so I'm really happy about that and I'm happy that we're able to make the game we wanted to make from the beginning."
Too often, we hear stories about how developers are rushed into making something they're not entirely comfortable with as a finished product - the demands of the video game industry are increasingly more egregious, and even good-to-great titles are lost in the shuffle during busier release schedules. For the first time in a long time - almost half of the Assassin's Creed franchise's existence, in fact - the series has finally been given a little more room to breathe, a little more time to find its footing on a ledge hundreds of feet in the air. Now, Ismail is diving head first off that precipice into something new and exciting, all because Ubisoft gave him an extra second to catch his breath before a leap of faith ten years in the making.
Assassin's Creed Origins will release on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on October 27, 2017.