"If you're a fan of Lost, Assassin's Creed Revelations level design director, Falko Poiker, told me last week, "then you know that it really sucks to be left with questions."
After three Assassin's Creed games that have piled on questions... about the Assassins, about the Templars, about the possible end of the world in 2012, about some sci-fi twists, too... the fourth big game in this series, Revelations is supposed to leave its players more satisfied than an answer-seeking viewer of a Lost season finale.
They don't give the big answers and revelations away at E3, of course, but at last week's big gaming showcase, I did secure some details about the game's singleplayer campaign.
While early descriptions of Revelations confirmed that the player will take turns controlling Assassin's Creed's first protagonist (Altair), the hero of its last two big games (Ezio), and the series' modern-day lead character (Desmond), the impression I got at E3 is that Revelations is another Ezio adventure.
Poiker, who designed the modern-day Desmond content in last year's Assassin's Creed Brotherhood described Revelations as an older Ezio's early 16th-century quest to find five keys hidden in or near Constantinople by his and Desmond's ancestor, Altair. The keys are needed to open something in Masayaf Castle, the headquarters of the Altair-era Assassin's Guild last seen in the first game.
The impression I got is that we'll play as Altair for a bit after each key is discovered. Since the game is being experienced, like the others, from Desmond's perspective within the Animus Device, it is Desmond, a proxy for the gamer, who is re-living these quests and various adventures. One of the rules of the Animus, though, has been that it allows Desmond to only see the past lives of his ancestors up until the moment when they conceive a child. After that, the Animus would track the life of their progeny. The Revelations designers are skirting this restriction by saying that something screwy with the Animus will allow us to see Altair memories from beyond the point he conceived a child. We'll be seeing - and controlling - Altair later in his life.
While there's no word on how Altair will play, Ezio will be a little different. The Revelations designers have modified Ezio's arsenal, giving him a variety of bombs that he can use to be more aggressive or sneaky and arming him with a "hookblade" that can be used for combat or to zip around cables strung through Constantinople by the local Assassin's Guild. (Read my impressions of the game's E3 demo for more from Poiker about that stuff.)
The world around Ezio will work differently as well. Poiker said that Ezio's Constantinople might be "a little smaller" than the massive Rome of Brotherhood, but he believes it is denser with things to do and, because it is more urban, literally stacked higher with content. Ezio won't have a horse in this game, which will compel players to use those ziplines to get around quickly.
Poiker believes that players may have been too distracted with the side-missions in Brotherhood and not felt drawn to play through the main plot; he believes players will feel a stronger tug to get through the story this time (the promise of answers, surely helps!). The game's creative director has already explained that the game will make side missions pop up more dynamically in a manner akin to the seemingly random happenings in Red Dead Redemption. Instead of mission-givers standing around at fixed points on a map, waiting to ask you to do something, you'll more naturally come across events that invite your intervention. Some will be quick mini-moments; others will lead to satisfying side-sagas. I told Poiker that, as someone who enjoys playing all of an Assassin's Creed's side missions, I'd be leery of a new system that makes side-missions missable. Poiker said that the team hasn't figured out yet how to avoid that but that he thinks it can be easily addressed.
Poiker confirmed that the game's platforming-centric secret missions will be back. Those Prince of Persia-style lengthy locked-room gymnastic quests are a favourite among series fans. He didn't mention if Ubisoft Singapore is once again the studio building them.
As for the Desmond bits of the game, a trailer that spoils the end of Brotherhood offers some hits as to what his parts of the game might play like. No one from Ubisoft would describe his part in the game, but my guess is that his bits may play more like the virtual-reality training mode introduced in Brotherhood (to be clear, that's just my conjecture, as is my idea that the subtitle Revelations has a double-meaning that might make this game also about the Biblical end of the world.)
As with Brotherhood it's hard to gauge whether this game is going to be skimpier than its larger-than-expected predecessor. Can Ubisoft really keep making such grand Assassin's Creed games each year? Brotherhood wound up suggesting they could. We won't know about Revelations, however, until closer to its spring release.
<em(For information about some of Revelations' tweaks in the series' multiplayer mode, check out yesterday's story.)