According to a pack of anonymous sources, the next Assassin's Creed is going to be set in Egypt, and it's going to come out in 2017. The former is still a mystery, but now Ubisoft has officially confirmed the latter. That this two-year gap between games is legitimately surprising proves it's been a long time coming: the series has been moving at top speed for most of its life, with its last two-year break coming between the first Assassin's Creed and Assassin's Creed 2. In the last few years the strain of that breathless development has become obvious, and not just in Unity's melting faces. It's gotten tiring climbing the same towers, chasing the same mythical objects, and dealing with the same clunky controls that simply can't evolve from game to game, because you can't make improvements to a train's engine while it's barreling down the tracks. When lined up against last year's The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid 5, it’s clear the old ideas that Assassin's Creed is built on are really starting to wear thin.
You might think that means there's nothing worthwhile left in Assassin's Creed and this two-year break (if it happens at all) is a sign that Ubisoft lacks confidence in the franchise. But Assassin's Creed is still more than capable of carving out quality. For proof, just look at Syndicate.
The latest in the series and the first major release born amidst Unity's fallout, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate cuts away all the ambitious but ultimately extraneous junk that the series was choking on back in 2014, instead focusing on building a solid game out of the elements that made Assassin's Creed so beloved in the first place. Movement is fun and satisfying (there's just something so right about bounding the width of the River Thames, jumping across its bow-to-stern boat traffic without stopping), side-missions are worthwhile diversions, the cast is genuinely interesting, and if the meaty additions to the story don't hold you, the twins protagonists' snarky (but always charming) banter will. It's light on new ideas, to be certain, and when the credits roll you won't be shocked to the core by anything here. But what it proves is that Assassin's Creed's still got it, when it treats the best parts of itself with care and sincere attention.
The possible two-year break before the next installment will hopefully give Ubisoft's many development teams the chance to step back and evaluate what Assassin's Creed is, and what it can become. What parts are worth keeping as-is, which could be good with some more polish, and what the competition’s doing that could inspire something fresh and fascinating out of the Assassins' many tales. Had Ubisoft hit the brakes immediately after Unity's lackluster performance (which Ubisoft has officially admitted has hurt installments since), that would have meant clearing the board and compiling all the information from scratch. Assassin's Creed Syndicate, however, has kindly given the series a grounding point, as it's virtually a compilation of Assassin's Creed's greatest hits.
The self-aware fun of Ezio's adventures is here, as is Brotherhood's sense of power and progression as you claim London mile by mile. The contemplative moments that defined Revelations make Jacob and Evie feel like real people, and the clever way the story weaves through established narratives comes straight from Black Flag. Even bits of Unity get to shine here, in Syndicate's 'unique' assassinations and crime-solving missions. Easily the best Assassin's Creed in years, it's also the best of Assassin's Creed, and stands as proof that the series isn't too far gone to create a quality product.
Provided a real series overhaul truly is in the works, there's going to be a lot of re-evaluating going on, and future development teams are going to have to think hard about the best way to hold onto what made Assassin's Creed what it is. After all, you don't just throw a blade away when it starts to get dull. You take the time to sharpen it.