Every spring for the past six years, Ubisoft has released at least one big new Assassin's Creed game. This year, the mega-publisher could be breaking tradition, skipping spring for the first time since 2009, according to a number of sources speaking both to Kotaku and others. The next Assassin's Creed, which we believe is set in ancient Egypt and code-named Empire, won't launch until 2017, according to both a new online rumour and sources speaking to Kotaku. One person familiar with Ubisoft's upcoming gaming plans told me today that the decision to delay Empire from spring 2016 was made after 2014's disappointing Unity, and that this bump will allow the development team more room to improve and polish the game. The source said this bi-annual approach could be a new trend for Assassin's Creed, which has suffered from franchise fatigue in recent years.
Rumours about Empire originated this morning on the 4chan boards, of all places, where an anonymous poster claiming to be a developer at Ubisoft wrote that Assassin's Creed would be skipping this year and that 2017's big game would be set in Egypt. Although I haven't been able to confirm the veracity of this 4chan poster — whose posts are compiled on NeoGAF here — everything he wrote matches up with what I've heard independently for months.
I'd heard last year from three different people familiar with goings-on at Ubisoft that the next big Assassin's Creed would be set in ancient Egypt. Since this morning, two other independent sources have contacted me to corroborate that. I heard about the code name Empire from two of those sources. Three of them told me the game would indeed launch in 2017. Months ago, one source told me the game would also take place in ancient Rome, although that may have changed; the 4chan poster says some sections had been removed from the game. ("There are talks about making a trilogy of this same character, so they might explore Greece/Rome next," the poster wrote.)
It's a good time for a change in Ubisoft's annual schedule. Although last spring's Assassin's Creed Syndicate was excellent, it still had some of the technical awkwardness — fidgety controls, easily confused enemy AI — that had become accepted as part of the annual, not-fully-polished Assassin's Creed norm. It also continued to raise questions of franchise fatigue among even the most hardcore series fans. With staggered development teams working on each release for roughly two-year periods, Ubisoft has released nine major console and PC-based Assassin's Creed games since the franchise started in 2007.
Many have called for the company to take a break from the annual schedule, especially after the spring of 2014. That year, Ubisoft released two major Assassin's Creed games — the buggy Unity and the surprisingly good Rogue — on the same exact day. The disappointment of Unity may have even negatively impacted sales of Syndicate, according to Ubisoft executives.
With or without a big game, we'll still see plenty of Assassin's Creed this year; Ubisoft will release two sidescrollers in January and February as well as the Michael Fassbender movie on 21 December 2016. Ubisoft also recently registered the website domain "assassinscreedcollection.com," which preferably refers to a compilation of older games. That could make for a nice stopgap this spring.
A possible Ubisoft substitution for this spring's big Assassin's Creed could be Watch Dogs 2, which we hear will be out later this year and set in San Francisco.
We've reached out to Ubisoft for comment, but they probably won't get back to us.