For the longest time I’d been shying away from open world games because I have been spending less time playing games these days and the idea of starting something so monumental would have been an exercise in masochism. As fate would have it, though, December shifted beneath me and I found myself not with just one open world game, but two…and myself enjoying them both.
I had been on the fence about Cyberpunk 2077 mainly because I didn’t think my computer would handle it well enough. Taking a leap of faith, I purchased it on Stadia and haven’t had a single regret. On the contrary, it’s been entirely the opposite: around the time Cyberpunk launched, Ubisoft added their “Ubisoft+” service to Stadia, allowing access to a wide range of their most popular titles for $15USD per month. Considering I had Immortals: Fenyx Rising on my Christmas list, and because my friends play a lot of TC: The Division 2, I thought that subscribing to U+ — and using Stadia’s “no install needed” platform — might be a decent experiment in cloud gaming. I haven’t played a local game since, and with the Chromecast Ultra on the TV upstairs, I can move between devices with ease.
Lest this sound any more like a commercial for Stadia and less like what the title promised, let’s get back to it. While immersed in Cyberpunk 2077, I also started playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. Although I do not consider myself a fan of the AC IP, I did enjoy Origins and Odyssey much more than the old-school editions. Since I was getting Valhalla “for free” I decided to try it out before committing to Fenyx Rising. I don’t know if Valhalla has been further streamlined over Origins and Odyssey, if it’s because of the strong Skyrim vibes I get from the game, all of the above, or something else but this game clicked and clicked hard for me. I’ve since stopped playing Cyberpunk 2077 and have thrown in with Eivor and the Raven Clan full time.
Still, Cyberpunk is on my mind probably because it was the only thing I had been playing earlier, and because I played every day for several hours at a stretch. Now having spent almost as much time in Valhalla, I am finding the open world-ness of the two to be complimentary. Taking missions as the wind blows or just wandering around to pick up random things to do, I have come to enjoy the freedom that each game offers. I am also enjoying the stories in both.
These parallels have lead me to look down the road, and also to face some uncomfortable (yet prevailing) truths. Cyberpunk 2077 is a mess. It’s getting better, tech-wise, as we’ve had several patches since release. I had been fortunate to have had smooth sailing up to this point, but my luck ran out last night as I encountered a bug which prevented me from finishing a mission, and I don’t know if I have a viable save game to fall back on. In short, my days of open world gaming in a technologically advanced dystopia are over for now.
CDPR either finagled the deal with R.Talisorian Games and Mike Pondsmith, or vice versa because of CDPR’s technical track record with The Witcher games, and all other things being equal it would have been a great partnership had CDPR not dropped the ball to hard. But considering CDPR’s primary claim to fame is just The Witcher and it’s spin-offs, it feels like a gamble that didn’t pay off. Ubisoft, on the other hand, has experience more befitting to a cyberpunk game, and I can’t get that out of my head.
As much as I am enjoying the throwback to the 9th century, though, I find myself really wishing that Ubisoft had made the cyberpunk game instead of CDPR. I know that Ubi has detractors, and I am generally among them. There’s a painful sameness to their games which always disappoints, but on the flip side the familiarity lowers a lot of barriers which allows unique aspects to move to the fore. Among their stable is Assassin’s Creed, which hasn’t always been a hit but has become a tent-pole of gaming over the years. There’s the Far Cry games which focus on all kinds of settings around the globe and all kinds of situations, most of them completely off-the-wall. And there’s also Tom Clancy’s: The Division, a well received post-apocalyptic gunplay simulator set in dense, urban environments.
Between all of Ubisoft’s properties, they have pretty much shown that they could totally pull off a cyberpunk game that would be superior to what we’ve gotten from CDPR. I would be different, yes. CDPR’s characters and voice acting are superb and, in my opinion, are much better than anything Ubisoft has pumped out in any of its games to date. An Ubi cyberpunk game might lean more heavily on the regional activity model that forms the basis of all of it’s open world games, which some people like and some people hate.
Despite Cyberpunk 2077 being the proverbial horse outside the barn, it’s never too late for Ubisoft to venture into it’s own cyberpunk territory, and I’m hoping that Assassin’s Creed might be the vehicle to do it.
Although the AC IP has traditionally been about modern day science sending modern day people back into the memories of ancient people, there’s always been a parallel story taking place in modern times. I haven’t played enough of the AC games to be up-to-speed on this parallel story (I’ll be looking for a wiki very soon), but from what I’ve experienced in Valhalla, it sounds like the modern world is on the brink of some kind of civilization-shattering fuck-up, the size and caliber which could easily allow Ubisoft to steer the franchise towards a “high tech, low life” reality that defines the cyberpunk genre.
And if the AC IP were to have an actual end date, a point where Ubisoft stops making games in this world, then I think it should end with a catch-up with modern times: bring the Templars and the Assassins into this dystopian future so that all of this delving into genetic memories winds its way into an actual end-game for the series, and not just reveal itself to have been an end to justify the means of changing up the time period for each release. Ubi has the experience creating urban areas that cyberpunk would need, and has certainly has the experience creating open world games with lots to do and various ways to do them.
I’m enjoying Valhalla a lot and hope to some day get back to Cyberpunk 2077 just so I can finish it, but the more I play both the more I wish they were kind of the same game. Despite the many, many missteps CDPR has made in and around Cyberpunk 2077, I am appreciative of the moments of gold that I find easily and frequently in the game. I am also very much in love with Valhalla and cannot fault their choice of setting the game in the time of the Vikings. Both games dropping at the same time, and my adoption of both at the same time, has made me really wish for an Assassin’s Creed: Cyberpunk game some day, either as the final chapter of the IP, or as another stop in the ambitious universe.