After two years of stagnating in my Steam library I am finally playing Assassin’s Creed. I blame it on a friend who Tweets some awesome thing about the series every now and then. I admit I had no idea what the game was about except I would perch like a bird in high places and assassinate people that needed killing. Having got past the initial tutorial places, finally seeing the meat of the game was a revelation. It was well worth the $5 I paid for it at the time, and I will likely get the sequel as soon as I am done with the first.
I didn’t realize how much of an “explorer’s” dream the game was. The cities are sprawling and lively. There are plenty of nooks to find and crannies to stuff bodies in. A lot of time and love was spent on each area to constantly feed moments of ‘neat!’ It’s so free-spirited that when I get bogged down in a sword-fight, I am just hoping it will be over all the sooner. I want to keep exploring, and to keep the explorer heart busy, there are two distinct modes of exploration in Assassin’s Creed: guided and hidden.
Guided so far has been very objective based, and it severely blurs the line between achiever’s fodder and explorer’s map. There are towers that eagle’s like to use as perches. This tells me that I also want to go up there and use my supernatural eagle’s vision to scout the area below. In the city, I am like Batman searching for citizens being molested by the establishment, fellow assassins, and tidbits of information to find chinks in my target’s armor. These locations pop up on my map in a tiered order: find the perch, find the waylays. Usually I only need a few checkmarks before I can head to the assassination phase, but I am finding that I want to do them all.
Hidden, on the other hand, are found as flags in Assassin’s Creed. They are not on the map. They are usually hidden in a ruined building or alleyway out of the general flow of movement. Some flags are even placed as a type of platform puzzle that can only be reached through a specific route of building jumping and window climbing. When I finally lay my hands on one of the filthy pieces of cloth, I get to know how many flags of the set I’ve found out of the total. There can be up to 100 flags in an entire city.
I did manage to boggle through getting the 20 flags in the safe, tutorial city of Masyaf with the help of a map I found online. Carefully checking off each flag on the map, I thought I had managed to get them all, but the game told me I had only found 19 out of 20. Argh! I was pulling my hair out trying to figure out which I had missed. At that time I realized that this was the only flag set I would complete. There was no way I was going to take the time to find the 100 flags in Damascus.
I realized that I loved the exploration of Assassin’s Creed, but that I really needed direction. I know that I simply could not have fun trying to comb the city for flags. I needed more direction. I needed tools up for the task. I needed guided exploration. Did people really have fun trying to find all the flags on their own?
Or, perhaps it is the achiever’s soul in me abrading the happiness of “E.” I find a flag; awesome, I am a semi-hidden, off-the-beaten-path area. Pat on back, self. Except… except! The ruthless game is telling me that I’ve only found a smidgen of these infernal flags! There are dozens left to be found, which apparently I have been overlooking like a blind cow. I don’t even know where to begin to look.
I realize how much I love a guided tour, and I really enjoy just random wanderings to find neat places and things. Yet, I truly hate the middle ground of unguided exploration objectives. Any reasonable guidance or hints would turn flags into a great little mechanic. For now, I hate hoping that I will find more flags, all the while knowing that each flag I find in Assassin’s Creed makes finding another flag less likely.
Developers keep adding tasks like these in so many games and genres, and I truly wonder who they are for. Achievers are going to use guides to add… well, guidance. Explorers will only care so much as the task aligns with whatever they are exploring. Getting all the “flags” is an tertiary task. Do the developers really think that anybody is going to take the time for a near-Sisyphean task of combing and re-combing gigantic explorable areas for these small unguided objectives? In my mind, this gameplay is worse than grinding. At least with grinding I can see progress.
Since I’ve made the conscience decision to ignore the task of flag set completions in Assassin’s Creed, I am black to an “oh, neat” moment for getting the flags. I figure that at the end of the game, I’ll look at the few flags I have found and congratulate myself. It would be nice to get the majority of them, but honestly I am not even hopeful for that. I do want to get enough to feel that maybe I did take some time to explore. Then I can draw my own line in the sand.