Friday 19 November 2021


This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

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This is how far out of the loop I am with big triple-A video games. Yesterday I took a day off after feeling a bit of brain-burn. I fancied some open-world exploration and picked up what I thought was a hot new game from a couple of years ago. 

The game was Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, which is actually like eight years old. 

Still, it's new to me, and this is a remaster at least. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting my younger years with a full day of just playing a new videogame. Brain healed. 

Overall I enjoyed the game and I look forward to playing it some more. 

BUT who cares about the positives, right? We all want to gripe about how big company makes bad games. So here we go.

Actually, I'm not doing that, but there were a few things that left a bad taste in my mouth, and got me thinking about how those tastes have influenced my approach to running and designing RPGs.

We'll indulge in a little hyperbole, because this is an editorial after all.

Stupid Sideplot Framing Bollocks

So I forgot that this series has a thing where the main portion of the game (roaming around some historical era being an assassin, and in this game a pirate) is framed around a ancestral-memory-regression VR thing set in the near future. Occasionally the game pulls you out of your world of high adventure to put you in a corporate office to endure boring conversations with regular people. Like when you were playing Link to the Past and your aunt and uncle would come around unannounced and your mum makes you come and talk to them about what you're doing at school this week. 

I overuse the phrase "Make the Main Thing the Main Thing" but... just do it for everybody's sake. 

Not Like That!

Mission Failed: You strayed too far from the target.

Desynchronised: Your ancestor did not kill civilians.

This area is unlocked by progressing further in the main story.

You cannot push this door open while the guards are on alert.

It's like the game can't resist reminding you that you're playing a piece of software. I guess here the framing device means you're using a piece of software to pretend you're using another bit of software about being an assassin. This isn't innately bad, but here it's the same feeling of hitting an invisible wall. I see why it's there, but really they could have handled this in much better ways.

If part of your game relies on this sort of clumsy fix then consider fixing the core issue rather than applying a messy bandage on top. 

Yes Your Home is Lovely

Sometimes the game makes you walk really slowly through a very pretty area. The run button is locked, and if you stray too far from an NPC they stop and call for you to come back. I can't help but feel like I'm being expected to ooh and aah. Maybe I will, but maybe just let me explore this world myself, yeah?

Players care more about a world that they discover on their own terms. 

Give Me the Thing or Don't

On the first cutscene of the game I noticed you could hold a button to skip it. Cool, thanks for the heads up but I'll watch this one.

Later on I'm getting impatient and want to get to the mission. This cutscene can't be skipped. It didn't seem to be any more crucial than the others, but maybe I'm missing something. I wouldn't mind if I hadn't been teased with the thing already.

If you're going to include a feature in your game, accept that sometimes the players will use it ways you didn't initially plan for. Instead of hobbling them in its use, maybe rethink the tool itself. 

I know this is a pre-BotW sandbox, and should be viewed accordingly, but sometimes it's hard to go back. 


  1. If cutscenes are suddenly unskippable, that means the game's loading the next area in the background. These are often the ones that you want to skip the most because they are quite literally filler to pass time before the actual game can resume.

    1. Ah! Makes sense.

      Weirdly I think I prefer it when they stick you in a lift instead.

  2. The genetic-memory/VR thing has been a thorn in AC's side since the beginning - it desperately needs to be either properly integrated into the main game or excised completely.

  3. Oh gosh yes, I loved Black Flag, by which I mean the piratey sailing and exploring bit. The Sneaking Around Google Bit, not so much. It's such a baffling creative decision, to pull you out of the bit that must be the main selling point to do something else.

    (Maybe the fanbase really likes the Google Bits, which is why they keep shoving them in?)

    It's bad enough that it's put me off trying any of the others in the series, although I'm told there are fewer Google Bits in the most recent one, with the vikings.