[Assassin's Creed (series)] "Elite" enemy types - Part 2
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Previously, I talked about why the Elite enemy type in Assassin's Creed is currently problematic, and while having some conversations about it with someone, we reached some other good points to elucidate.
The idea of the Elites, while poorly executed, has some value, which I'll explain. If every enemy in the game could be fought the exact same way, that would be overly homogenous and bland. So, it does make sense that different enemies should be approached differently, that there should be guards the player needs to run from, and that some guards should be very hard. The problem is that Elites right now are none of these things, even though they do supply the illusion of it. They're not tough, the player actually isn't encouraged to run from them, and they do not need to be approached differently. They are exactly the same difficulty as everyone else. All they do is make the player Wait and it is a loss of rhythm that can be felt physically and mentally. I'll explain why this is bad a few paragraphs down.
It's the same problem Arin/Egoraptor has with Ocarina of Time: Not real difficulty, but the illusion of it, by wasting the player's time. Again, if you attack a Heavy, they tend to damage you or block you in similar ways to Elites, but that's because you've made the wrong decision, not because the enemy feels the need to waste your time.
Even in the unlikely scenario of these faults being the results of something deliberate and thought-out, it can still be done much better than it is now. The enemy can actually be threatening, for one. Second, they can be more aggressive and simply have a far larger (massive, even) health pool, in addition to dealing more damage. The player then may feel like this enemy type is legitimately dangerous, and be forced to get more defensive, hitting everyone else in an encounter the usual way while "managing" the threat that this enemy outputs by defending against them as necessary. This also means that if too many of them (say, 3 and up) are mixed into an encounter — something that never happens in the current games — the player is absolutely certain that this means they should be running away and there's no guesswork about it. If they truly wanted a player to run away, they wouldn't just make this enemy a waste of time, they would make them something that outputs an appropriate amount of threat to make the player want to run. Little things like that. So much can be done to make this enemy more interesting and meaningful. An actual threat, and not a pretender, which would make them more enjoyable to outsmart, kill, or evade.
Right now they're shallow, and while the rest of the combat system is as well, at least in every other instance the player can get into a tempo, a flow, a rhythm, that can distract from how repetitive and simple the fighting is. Whereas this enemy type draws attention to this fact: when the rhythm is gone, the player can truly see how simplistic combat actually is. Their crime goes beyond simply being "unfun," it's that they don't fit, and they damage the game that they're in with the way they exist at the moment.
The idea of them does fit, though, and I'd love to see them be given more attention in future titles. The sentiment that there should be guards that need to be approached in more thoughtful ways is a fantastic one, and there can be massive improvements to the way the player engages with Stealth, Combat and Parkour all at once, simply because of an enemy that truly does what Elites pretend to. Right now their execution is poor and can be made more interesting, more threatening, and more cohesive with the rest of the experience.
As for following the Creed, and roleplaying that pushes us away from interacting with guards at all, we should judge what exists in front of us today, since we already know the previous games were godlike. And, despite doing two full playlists of Non-Lethal/Kill Target Only Stealth Speedruns on AC Unity and AC Syndicate, I stumbled into many issues while making them, because the games aren't built for such a playstyle. Right now, the games on their own give the player no incentive to live or play by the Creed, not the way the older ones did. You and I may play this way, either because we "know better" or because we feel like it, but this is not an experience representative of the game most players will get out-of-the-box. I judge the game itself, not the mind-made rules we might impose on it. That the game overall doesn't support playing as a Creed-respecting Assassin still rings true, and it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Tugging on the design of Elites and unravelling the whole game from that point could help restructure Assassin's Creed to actually be more... Well, more Assassin's Creed.