Ubi Forward September 2022 Review
Contributed by DJMMT
Last week, Ubisoft presented their latest Ubi Forward showcase. This was a long presentation with a lot of content. In fact, it was more than an hour’s worth of announcements if you also took the time to watch the pre-show. There were some huge drops that are definitely worth talking about, as well as some general points that I wanted to address. Given how many gamers were discussed, I’m only going to cover the main show announcements in this post. But I do encourage you to watch the pre-show for some interesting indie news.
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope
I think it’s really cool that they started the presentation with this game. It’s nice to see a AAA company showcasing a franchise that is not only not built on a AAA budget but also not focused on their own internal IP as a highlight. It shows a level of confidence in their own brand and support for the project that’s fueled by passion and support of the team rather than business politics. I respect Ubisoft for making choices like that.
I don’t even know if it’s fair to refer to this game as a sequel to Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. Other than the fact that it has the same characters from the original, it looks like an entirely different game. They’ve added quests, open exploration, side quests, hidden paths, and collectibles. The combat looks so evolved that it’s not even the same experience anymore. The synergy options look insane with dozens of sparks to choose from and several ways to approach challenges. The way Mario took out the boss in mid-air was awesome.
I’m absolutely picking up this game, and I’m glad they were much more transparent with the DLC announcements this time around. I bought the regular edition of M+R: KB, because it wasn’t clear what the DLC would entail. I ended up buying the Donkey Kong expansion more than a year after playing the game, when it was finally on sale. Here, they’ve already announced multiple DLC packs with Rayman being a playable character in the 3rd one. It wouldn’t even make sense not buy the Gold Edition with the season pass this time around. I’m sad they still haven’t announced any PVP though. Otherwise, this game looks great.
Skull & Bones
I have to say that I’m a bit bitter after seeing all these testers shown in the presentation, considering I’ve signed up for every test for this game and haven’t been chosen. I’ve been so excited since the first announcement of Skull & Bones way back when, and I’m glad to see that it’s finally releasing.
They didn’t really announce anything surprising, but they did clarify/confirm some details that are important to a pirate game. Players will have their own pirate dens to store their loot. If I understood correctly, there will be a black market. I wonder if this will actually be a factor in the game or if it’s just the name of the place you convert your resources like shops in any other game. They will have secret treasures you can find on islands throughout the world. Originally, I don’t believe they planned to let you leave your ship like this, but I’m glad they have it now. It’s also nice to know that the game has full co-op play with the ability to turn off the PVP at any time.
Shipbuilding customization was always going to be there, but I’m glad they dived a little deeper into what exactly that will entail. It’s more than just surface level cosmetics. You have to actually choose your weapons and armor on top of the appearance of your ship. Personally, I think the idea of a game where you can be an infamous pirate in an MMO setting is cool if it actually works. Like I’d love a game where you’re a pirate with a bounty based on your past exploits and you’re known for your custom flag design and ship. Not just by NPCs, but actual players. Like imagine you’re sailing around and people know you’re Captain BigBawlz69 because of your iconic skull and cross dildos flag. I’m kidding, but the concept could be cool. I’m quite interested in this game, but I really need to try it before I decide to buy.
I enjoyed the time I spent with Riders Republic, but I can’t stick with a sports game indefinitely. In general, all of Ubisoft’s games are starting to work as continuous live service games, and it’s impossible to find the time to stick with them. With a sports game, even when it’s one I actually enjoy, it’s even harder to motivate me. That being said, I’m glad the players will be getting additional content. Granted, paying for a season 4 pass for a game built around courses rather than story is ridiculous to me. But the collaboration with Vans and other famous clothing brands is cool, if you care a lot about cosmetics. I don’t see myself jumping back into Riders Republic, but I will still say that the mass races are the coolest online sports game experience I’ve ever had.
The Division 2
I’m genuinely shocked that they’re still making story content for The Division 2. I played it at launch and enjoyed it. But I stopped playing after I completed the campaign. I had no idea that they were on season 9 and still making more content with plans for a year 5 release schedule. They literally announced two more seasons together. I don’t even know how one would return to the game at this point. And that’s one of the major issues I have with the live service model. It’s great if you stay from the beginning. But for those who finished the content and left, returning is super daunting. But maybe it’s not for new or returning players. Maybe the entire model exists for people who just want to play one game for hundreds or thousands of hours and don’t want to play Fortnite.
The Division Resurgence
It’s very apparent that Ubisoft has been trying to take mobile gaming seriously over the last few years. I guess I can’t blame them for trying to expand into new markets. That’s how you run a business after all. I’m never gonna play a mobile version of The Division, but I was quite impressed with how legit of an experience they’re trying to create. It has a standalone story connected to The Division universe. It’s an open world mobile experience. Most impressive is the fact that they even have a Dark Zone and PVP. Honestly, I still think the Dark Zone is the best part of The Division as an experience.
The Division Heartland
I was surprised to see Ubisoft throw out a random small-scale survival game set in The Division universe. Even more impressive is the fact that they decided to go from huge stories in New York and Washington D.C. to a small town in the middle of nowhere. The risk taking is impressive to say the least. I really like that it’s a standalone adventure that just happens to exist. I doubt it’s nearly as epic or impactful as its predecessors, but in a way that makes it even more beautiful. Now personally speaking the words “survival action shooter” do not lure me in. I’m still kind of surprised that I ever got into The Division franchise at all. But I really did enjoy 1 & 2 and would almost certainly play the base campaign of The Division 3, which I consider an inevitable release at this point. Heartland looks like an honest attempt to take the franchise in new directions for a specific subset of players. It links to the overarching story but adds new characters and plots. I doubt it’s for me, but I did sign up for the beta. I’m curious and impressed enough to give it a shot.
Rainbow Six Mobile
Once again, Ubisoft is going hard for mobile. I don’t play Rainbow Six, but for a mobile game, this sounds pretty legit. They did a closed alpha and they’re doing a closed beta. The game has daily challenges, voice chat, multiple maps, and even a battle pass. I can’t even imagine buying a battle pass for a mobile game. Granted I’ve never bought one for a console or PC game either. They seem to be taking community feedback really seriously. But more importantly, they seem to be taking the right community feedback seriously. A lot of people don’t realize how big the mobile market is in Asia and South America. The Asian mobile gaming market surpasses the American and European console gaming markets in value. Places like Indonesia have massive mobile gaming communities. As a person living in Taiwan, I’ve experienced more than one instance where Ubisoft was conducting a closed feedback program for a console game but limited it to US or EU participants. But the list of countries for the Rainbow Six Mobile closed beta includes the Philppines, Singapore, India, and Brazil. Interestingly enough, EU isn’t even represented in the list of countries in the beta. That tells you who the target audience for this game really is. And I’m not mad. It’s good to see AAA companies prioritizing other audiences than just USA and EU when developing and greenlighting games. I’d like to see that with AAA projects in the future as well.
Netflix x Ubisoft
I’m starting to get really irritated with these Netflix exclusive games. It’s fine to make games available on mobile via Netflix, but they’re having legitimate studios I support make games that can’t be played without a Netflix subscription; and I do not like that. Like Devolver Digital made Poinpy. I’m a huge fan of Devolver Digital and play many games from them. People shouldn’t have to get a Netflix subscription to continue playing games by the company. This is much different from using Steam or buying a specific console. It’s not like anyone is making Stadia exclusives. During this presentation, Ubisoft announced that they will be making Valiant Hearts 2 and an Assassin’s Creed game exclusive to Netflix. That’s ridiculous.
If you haven’t played Valiant Hearts, it’s phenomenal. Truly one of the best low-budget story driven indie games ever made. Even today, I highly recommend it. To finally be making a sequel, which I would absolutely love to play, and lock it to an exclusive subscription-based platform is atrocious. Especially when you consider that fans of the original game were able to play it on 10 different platforms.
On top of that, a subscription exclusive Assassin’s Creed game? What the hell is that? It’s completely unacceptable to lock part of one of the most intricate and interlocked canon franchises of the modern era behind such an inaccessible paywall. Netflix isn’t even available in every country. How are fans of the franchise supposed to stay up to date with the canon in this scenario if Netflix isn’t an option for them? It’s one thing for Netflix to pay for the development of original IP games, like the aforementioned Poinpy. It’s completely different for them to buy the rights to existing franchises that people have been supporting financially for more than a decade.
Trackmania is weird to me because I swear it has been around for years but apparently it’s only two years old. Then you realize that there are multiple Trackmania games from the past but Ubisoft realized along the way that there was more value in just making one live service game run perpetually than trying to reinvent the wheel ever few years. Sadly, I think all their non-story games will eventually get to this point. Hopefully all of them end up free to play at that point though. I’m honestly a bit shocked that this game is only just now coming to consoles when it already has such a huge player base and more than 280,000 user made tracks. That sounds like something that should have been ported by the end of year 1.
This isn’t the first time they’ve shared about Rocksmith+. It’s a nice concept. But as a person who is never pro-subscription models, I don’t really like the idea of music teachers being replaced by software that requires a continuous cost. A one off purchase similar to buying a language course like Rosetta Stone (is that still a thing?), I’d take no issue with. I guess if they are constantly adding new music there’s a justification for a subscription model. But it’s not something I’m going to pick up. Granted I’d want to learn drums or saxophone before guitar.
Just Dance 2023 Edition
For starters, this name is a huge red flag for me. I’m a long time Just Dance player. I’ve bought every game every year for the last decade, across three generations of consoles. I absolutely do not want this game to become a subscription only model game. Unless that subscription has no tiers and costs less than $30 a year, it’s simply not worth the money to me. And they’ve clearly been pushing towards that model for years now. Calling this game “2023 Edition” instead of the traditional 2023 makes it sound like an even bigger leap towards this nightmare scenario.
That being said, the new features shown in this presentation look nice. Private rooms for up to six people. That should have existed years ago. I could finally play with my family overseas. Multiple game modes with stories following specific characters through multiple songs. That’s a cool concept that evolves the basic game into something more interesting. Customized playlists that adapt to your preferences and better song recommendations. These are nice things. Content seasons sounds nice as well, but that’s a clear sign of a push towards forced subscriptions. If not this year, it will probably only be up to three more before they go full subscription and force me out of yet another franchise I’ve supported for a long time.
There were so many AC announcements that I could have done a post just about them. For the 15th anniversary of the franchise, Ubisoft really pulled out the stops. They announced multiple mainline sequels, an additional mobile game on top of the Netflix one, a live action Netflix series, a final free DLC for Valhalla, and what looks to be a new metaverse AC multiplayer experience. I don’t know how people are even able to keep up with all this content without making this one franchise their entire entertainment life. I still haven’t started Valhalla, and I still mean to go back and actually play Liberation. But let’s look at the highlights.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage
This is the next mainline title in the franchise. Honestly, it sounds like exactly what the franchise needs, and what the players want. A return to the roots of the franchise with a story-driven action-adventure parkour game with a focus on assassinations. It’s set in one city (Baghdad), which is my preference, 20 years before the events of the previous game, Valhalla. This is what Assassin’s Creed is supposed to be. I’ve said multiple times that Odyssey was a great game but not a great AC game. It was too big and didn’t focus on stealth. I don’t want an open world, gear focused brawler RPG. I want a stealth game. I miss the days of mission objectives where you literally can’t progress forward without completing a stealth assassination. I don’t want it to be unnecessarily hard. I just want the focus to be on stealth technique rather than button mashing attacks and dodging. This looks good, and I am excited.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla – The Last Chapter
As they usher in a new title, it’s time to cast off the old title into the great beyond. I commend Ubisoft for doing a final sendoff story based DLC for Valhalla that’s FREE. The free part is really important. I’m still a bit depressed that even though I preordered the collector’s edition of Mass Effect 3, I never got to play the Citadel DLC. Because I refused to pay extra for that type of content. Companies that truly care about their games and the stories they tell wouldn’t lock an integral part of that experience behind an additional paywall after already asking you to pay for other DLC. Kudos to you, Ubisoft. When I eventually play Valhalla and the Ragnarök DLC, I’ll be sure to end on The Last Chapter.
Assassin’s Creed Codename Jade
I don’t take mobile games seriously, and there’s nothing I hate more than a franchise with a long canon forcing players onto some lower quality portable platform. Looking at you Kingdom Hearts. I’m also not happy about the fact that every time Ubisoft does a Chinese protagonist it’s gotta be some short order, lower budget experience. Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China was good, but Shao Jun deserved better than that. The Asian player base, which is massive, deserves better than that. And I’m saying that as a Black man. That being said, as I’ve already stated previously in this post, the Asian mobile market is huge. So, I understand the decision to target an Asian protagonist at the mobile market. I would argue we should be able to have both. But that’s not the way the world works for ethnic minorities.
Most likely, I will not play Codename Jade. But I will say that the presentation of it made it seem like the team is very passionate about the challenge of creating a meaningful AC experience with touch controls. That could be very interesting for future games in the franchise and the industry in general when ported over to PC and console titles.
Assassin’s Creed Codename Red
This is the game that the fans have been demanding for years. A shinobi/ninja focused AC set in feudal Japan. It’s being built as a AAA open world RPG by the team that made Odyssey. First of all, I’ve already stated that I don’t love Odyssey as an AC game. I don’t want a ninja game to devolve into an open world brawler. If there’s one AC setting that I want done in the traditional style with a focus on stealth, it’s feudal Japan. That being said, I could see real benefit to recreating the Origins experience in a feudal Japan setting. An open world that encompasses several cities and the ability to travel freely between them. Upgradable gear that focuses on ninja tools, swords, and stealth clothing features. Obviously, the plot would work. I assume Nobunaga would be either the villain or the protagonist’s friend whom he ultimately fails to protect. I don’t doubt that they will make a good game. But what I want is a great AC game that’s true to the core principles of the original franchise.
On the flip side, years ago, Ubisoft stated publicly that they did not want to do a game set in feudal Japan. They were very transparent in saying that it was the most demanded setting. But they made it clear that it wasn’t a game they wanted to make. So my question is what finally promoted this decision? Was it that the people in charge changed and the new guard doesn’t share this view? Was it that greed got the better of them like Square Enix who had originally said they wouldn’t remake FF7 until they made a game that surpassed it? Are they starting to run out of ideas for interesting settings so now they’re starting to use the cliches? I have no idea. But I would be curious to know more about how this decision came about.
Assassin’s Creed Codename Hexe
They didn’t say much about this game. I’m shocked they even announced it. I’m sure it was just to make the 15th anniversary seem even more epic. Looking at the short teaser, my mind immediately went to the Salem Witch Trials. And let me say that I absolutely don’t think that’s a great setting for an AC game. For starters, Salem wasn’t big enough at that time to warrant an entire open world AC game. Meaning this game is going to stretch across multiple towns in the region and involve either a ton of fast traveling or a ton of mindless wandering through forests.
I definitely see the potential of an AC story that makes use of magic and mysticism, as that has happened in the franchise multiple times. The problem is that the scope of a Salem Witch Trials story, even if we pretend there really were witches there for the purposes of making a compelling game plot, just isn’t that impressive. Honestly, the only reason we teach about the Salem Witch Trials in American history classes is that it’s one of the few instances in that period of American history where the tragedy doesn’t have an overt component of racism. It’s sexism in this case. But ultimately, it’s still just a small number of tiny villages and towns that had little effect on the grand scheme of history. While an argument can certainly be made for the merits in taking the direction of the franchise to smaller, more contained stories about tiny moments in history that were more about impacting those people specifically than the entire course of history, that doesn’t really track so well when presented as the follow-up to the Viking invasion of England, literally anything set in the Middle East at this point, and feudal Japan. To have presented that next to these other settings is quite out of place.
To be clear, they did not confirm that Hexe is about the Salem Witch Trials. I’m just making that assumption based on the teaser image; and I am not alone in that assumption. Plenty of people have made the same guess based on the little bit shown.
Assassin’s Creed Infinity
This actually surprised me a lot more than most of the other AC related announcements, because it was so different from what I expected. When Infinity was first mentioned several months ago, it was implied that this was a new multiplayer focused PVP or MMO style game. And I was not happy about that. But what was described in this presentation was basically a hub that unifies all the AC experiences in a meaningful way that is not in and of itself a game. They also mentioned the prospect of multiplayer as a standalone concept, which I would absolutely love, depending on how it’s priced. What I took this to mean is that they’re trying to build an AC Metaverse, which arguably they already have, where players would be able to create their own assassins and wander around a social hub that would link all the extant AC communities. This hub would have a multiplayer lobby system so people could play it, either competitively or for fun, but that wouldn’t actually be the focus of the platform. I imagine community events, content creation lounges, contests, and such that changes over time as new AC content is released. Essentially a WoW server that connects to all AC related content and has multiplayer included for fun. But the focus isn’t on doing quests. It’s just on socializing with other AC fans about AC content. And I of course assume you could buy shit.
Whether you’re interested in the games or not, one must acknowledge that this was a hugely impactful presentation. Ubisoft announced a ton of stuff. And not just junk no one cares about. Multiple AAA announcements for serious franchises. It was a great presentation. As I finish writing this just a day before both a Nintendo Direct and a PlayStation State of Play, I honestly have no confidence in either presentation matching this Ubi Forward in scope. Nor should they given how often Nintendo and Sony do their presentations by comparison. But give credit where due. Ubisoft even announced a free month of Ubisoft+ on PC for all players. You really can’t argue with that level of dedication to making noise with this showcase. Ubisoft took this presentation seriously and I’d say they did an amazing job.