Hand in hand, naturally.
The last Assassin’s Creed I played was 4 – Black Flag. Pirate ships remain awesome. That said, I missed 2 (3?) iterations between. Bear with me.
AC uses to operate under a simple set of numbers. Your level went up and you got stronger. You received points to spend for additional skills. It was rather linear and vertical. AC4 was the same when it came to land-based combat. On the ship you instead had a tree-like growth, with multiple upgrade paths. There wasn’t a choice so much as a clear progression path that had many iterations. e.g. canonball 1 to 2, and so on til 6.
AC:O goes MMORPG instead. There are different weapon types (4 bows and 6 melee if I recall). Each type has a different benefit – slow and heavy, quick, used for sniper shots…so you eventually find one that fits your playstyle. They have item levels, commensurate with your player level – e.g. level 20 bows when you are 19-21. Each has a set of passive boosts. Fast weapons may set enemies alight, while slow ones have higher crit damage. On top of that, each item has a quality rating (blue, purple, gold) that changes the value of each passive buff (and may add more). If you like a weapon, you can pay a fee to increase it’s level – sort of like a favorite I guess.
This takes a bit to get used to, but eventually you’ll find a gold-tiered weapon, with good passives and be willing to sacrifice the item level to keep it. At the start you’re changing weapons every 5 minutes, later one you’ll stick with the same for hours. Thankfully you can break down items to save inventory (and improve passive stats for more damage, HP and so on).
The game starts like a loot pinata, but turns into an inventory management chore later on. Which is really the same issue all loot-based games eventually encounter.
Previous games were a simple dance. Block, retaliate, kill. You could take on 10-20 enemies without much worry – aside from ranged attackers. Not here.
Combat is focused on the 1vs1, and you are better off “focusing” on a single target to survive. There’s the meat fodder you can just swing away on, but the other half of the enemies have more to them. They will have a red glow to their weapon when taking a big swing. You can either dodge and counter, or have really good timing and deflect and counter.
Dodging works most of the time, but larger enemies need to have their defenses broken – meaning a large swing. This swing takes time, and during that time you are vulnerable to attack. Deflecting automatically breaks defense, but the timing is different for different enemy attacks. On the really tough enemies, they can swing 3-4 times, in a large area.
Now imagine having to face 3, 5 or 10 enemies at the same time. You end up chain-stunned, and picked apart. Even facing 2 enemies, you need to be quite quick and nimble. I found myself dying a half dozen times to a single strong enemy because of these mechanics… trying to learn the specific dance and avoiding new soldiers from joining the battle. Phylakes are super-enemies in that regard…and alone it’s a real challenge. 99% of the time though, I seem to pull in extra soldiers and die in seconds.
Back to the itemization part. While slower/longer reach weapons seem neat, in reality they are useless when facing groups of enemies, and require very good timing for hard ones. There’s little benefit to them, so half the item types go out the window.
Adding to this is that a good 90% of all missions and side missions require you to kill everything in an area. I can think of the Synchronization points, and the Constellation side quests as the only without combat. There’s no real ability to sneak past guards because there are just so many of them. I mean, it’s great that I don’t need to tail someone on some stupid quest with horrible AI, but the puzzle aspect of finding a solid route or just getting out of danger in time is gone.
The core mechanics of AC, killing from the shadows and combat as a last resort, seem a bit confused here. Enemy pathing is such that you’re better off using a sniper (predator) bow until you run out of ammo, then stalking until you clear the area. It feels more like Lara Croft than AC. And if you do end up in combat, it’s a long-drawn affair, where you need space to properly survive. It’s fun and hectic, but it’s a departure from the bread/butter of AC as I remember it.
I think there are some solid advances in this, it just requires a bit more tweaking. It would probably work just fine in another game… but those don’t have 10+ years of franchise history behind them.