With the announcement of Ubisoft’s 3 main upcoming games (Watch Dogs Legion, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Far Cry 3) we look on course to get three really fun and interesting games with engaging and rich open worlds to explore filled with tons of cool stuff to do. However, there is a similarity with all of these games that I think will hurt these games far more than help them: the fact that you can choose who you play as.
On the surface it seems like a good idea, you pick which character you are so that you are more inclined to relate to them, it pleases the fans that may feel restricted with a solitary character choice. While I agree that being able to choose your character does have its benefits, what it sacrifices most is a grounded, believable and consistent narrative.
Let’s take Assassin’s Creed for example; we saw this feature before in Odyssey where the player could either be Alexios or Kassandra (and also in Syndicate but at least Jacob and Evie were fundamentally different), essentially giving the player the exact same experience apart from the sex of the main character. But with this system the characters had the same voice lines, the same decisions to make and made the exact same friends along the way. Are we supposed to believe that Alexios and Kassandra are so similar that they do everything in the same way? Both voice actors are great and their characters could have been so much better if they each had their own reactions to the same scenario, that makes them unique and easier for the player to connect with them. Then comes the fact that Kassandra was made canon and Alexios non-canon which renders the experience you get playing as Alexios obsolete as in the lore it didn’t actually happen. And overall, the story in Odyssey wasn’t up to par with the rest of the series based on this among other reasons like lack of cinematic cut scenes in favour of generic side mission interactions and also overly dense side content you are forced to play through before you can progress with the main story.
In AC Valhalla it seems we will be able to swap between male and female Eivor during gameplay, seamlessly interchanging characters with the click of a button. That seems very immersion-breaking to me as potentially begin a side quest helping out as male Eivor and returning back as female Eivor just doesnt make sense to me. Ubisoft have said they do have some sort of canonical reason for doing this so I’m open to hear how they justify it, although I’m not sure it will be anything more than an ‘animus glitch’.
Let’s look at Watch Dogs. We had Aiden Pierce who, to be honest, was a pretty flat character with little to no depth apart from “must kill people who killed my niece” and Marcus Holloway who was more vibrant as a character but ultimately doesn’t fundamentally change as a person from the beginning to the end of the story. While the first 2 games didn’t necessarily have the best characters, they were consistent in the way that they spoke to people and handled confrontations, feeling like fundamentally believable characters, if not the best.
What Watch Dogs Legion is trying to do is eliminate the narrative of the playable character entirely, sacrificing the journey we take with a single character in favour of a disjointed set of missions for which we select the NPC who is specifically tailored for this type of mission. I imagine the characters we will grow to enjoy the most within the game will be the villains who remain ever-present while we constantly switch between characters, only having the AI Bagley and the overarching resistance gang of DedSec to link all of these seemingly unrelated people we play as.
For Far Cry 6, I suppose I respect Ubisoft for changing it up, we saw the last two games (5 and New Dawn) featuring nameless protagonists which many found difficult to connect with and I welcome the return of an actual named protagonist we can identify with. The introduction of full cut scenes and not just the villain monologuing while staring into your soul is a great addition, allowing for more emotional freedom with Anton and his son along with the main character and any other people in the story, the trailer with the grenade really showcased this well. Despite my praise for this I think, once again, the dual protagonist style of game they are creating just hurts the grounded narrative they would hope to create and it seems to me like another Kassandra and Alexios situation (both characters having the same dialogue and making the exact same choices).
Maybe they can prove me wrong but all of it just seems like an attempt at inclusivity at the expense of fleshed out and developed characters. I honestly don’t care who my protagonist is but single character stories resonate with the player so much more in my opinion and I hope we don’t see this become a widespread trend in future games as I fear it will create an age of gameplay above all else, neglecting well thought out stories and developed characters that we have seen so much over the years.
TL;DR I’m not a fan of games with multiple main character options as it hurts narrative realism and consistency and causes characters to become flat and ultimately forgettable.
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