Assassin’s Creed started strong. One of the biggest breakthrough for a new IP of last generation, the series expanded greatly in the highly-acclaimed sequel, but we keep on getting AC games year after year. Rumour has it we won’t have one this year.
Some years are stinkers- Assassin’s Creed III and Unity in particular- some are strong: last year’s Syndicate, and most importantly Black Flag, shows that the action-adventure franchise between two supposedly discreet organisations can expand to other locales, and provide interesting gameplay.
So here’s an interesting thought exercise, since Ubisoft insistently wanted AC to go for unique settings unexplored by other games (which is why we won’t see Feudal Japan and ninjas any time soon), why not they try something familiar, but fresh.
Think of Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, the pirate themed entry, but set in the Straits of Malacca before the the West arrived.
A Brief Tale Of the Malacca Sultanate
Malacca, a thriving kingdom in the 15th century, reportedly one of the biggest ports in the Straits of Malacca, acting as a central hub of traders of South East Asia. Founded by an ousted prince, who saw a magical act of a deer fending of crocodiles whilst under the Malacca tree, the main population there are mostly seafarers, called the Orang Laut.
Under protection of one of the Chinese Empires, Malacca saw great growth, under the leader of the Sultan. Islam is the dominant religion, yet elements of mysticism and old teachings derived from their past Hindu beliefs still remains in the heart and soul of the people.
Being a central trade hub, Malacca is no stranger to foreigners. Traders as far as Turkey and the Middle East, their neighbours/rivals from across the Straits in the Island of Java, as well as other Malay kingdoms dotting the peninsula. This is a time where technology has yet to bloom. Gunpowder is unheard of until the arrival of the Portugese.
Lush jungles, and rivers flow on the outskirts of the main town, with the looming Mount Ledang, rumoured to be the seat of the Princess of Gunung Ledang.
So why Malacca you ask?
So, what makes Malacca pre-colonization an interesting setting? Because we can have AC Black Flag again, that’s why! The Caribbean isn’t far off in terms of aesthetics of South East Asia, and at the time, the 14th-15th century, sailing is still prominent. So it’s a good excuse to have a personal ship, along with a crew, as a game mechanic again. The Straits of Malacca being the main body of water traversable, along with some other cities along the coast of the Peninsula as other locations (Temasik? Riau?).
Old Malay history has tons of fantastical and mystical facts even historians now couldn’t figure out which is which. Is Hang Tuah, the fabled Malay warrior trained with his four other friends, later Admiral of the Sultanate real? Who knows! This gives plenty of leeway on the devs to craft their stories with more creative liberties, as the main source itself is pretty muddled.
Plus, the fantastical elements of Malay folklore gives plenty of areas for them to insert the Ancient Civilization plot device they have more prominently. Make the Princess of Gunung Ledang to be one of the first citizens, and keeping an Apple of Eden, or something.
How Assassins arrive to Malacca is even easier to explain. To avoid religious sensitivity, we can say the traders from the middle east teach the people here the thinking of an Assassin, later establishing a chapter in the Kingdom.
The downside of Malacca as a setting? Not enough buildings, which we will see a lot of downplay on parkour, the series’s staple mechanic. Judging how Assassin’s Creed III tried to mitigate that problem in the American Revolution, this can be tricky.
But we have tons of potential in combat though!
Combat has to be overhauled. All the magnificent advancements from Syndicate have to be discarded for now. Good news is, there can be more emphasis on hand-to-hand combat. Make Silat, the Malay’s martial art be at center stage. The main character can learn different schools of silat training to get different move sets. I know one particular school is focused in submissions, for example. And another focused in quick, stylish moves. Maybe there’s also another school for heavier and slower form of silat, just to make combat balanced, and varied.
Hidden blades? No need. The Keris, Malay’s traditional weapon in the form of a small dagger, is commonplace. The Malays prefer to maintain their status quo and use the keris instead. Not all assassins need to have gauntlets with a hidden blade, especially not among these people who have smaller keris called the anak badik.
But a hidden keris could look cool, though.
Since we can play around with mysticism, have a Tok Bomoh (Witch Doctor) character give our main character supplies of potions and charms as consumables. A potion for warding of tigers, for example. Useful for trips into the jungle.
Plot And Story
The main question now is, who is the main character? What’s the plot about? Personally I have no idea. Ideally, our main man is a man, of course to reflect the culture of the time, and the people, where males are the ones dominantly go out and explore. Maybe he got fascinated to be an Assassin, and chronicles his adventures of becoming one, and once initiated, tasked to find an Apple of Eden.
Story would have a different tone, as the Templars would obviously have not a huge presence yet. I picture the Templars are the ones from the West- Portugese, Dutch and British, who came to colonise South East Asia in search of the Apple, but they waited out and gather resources first before mounting a full expedition. The Assassins, learning this, went to make contact to Malacca earlier, via the Arab merchants, and established an Assasin’s chapter to recover the Apple before the Templar arrive. The ending culminates with the Templars finally arriving, and the Assassins, as well as the people there, are outgunned and lost in the invasion.
So basically a wannabe Assassin’s journey to be a Master Assassin while journeying without much plot agency of the looming Templar invasion should fit in the lore, right? Right?
The Cast and Enemies
So the Templars have yet to arrive, so what do you fight against then? Now this is tricky to justify.
Why not make the Assassins allegiance towards other factions- as in the Kingdoms, anti-Assassins movements. Not everyone supports the Assassin’s cause, so in the move to build allegiance, the Assassins will sure to want their sympathisers to be instil to power. That’s where Assassination targets come in.
This fits thematically too. In the case this takes place near the start of Western colonisation, where tumultuous condition of politics did indeed happen, which are one of the factors of the downfall of the Malacca Sultanate.
The cast can be any named person from the Malay Annals. Tun Perak, any Sultan of the time, even legendary folks like Hang Tuah, and his merry friends Jebat, Lekir, Lekiu and Kasturi. Make up a some original characters too, some Arab traders who are secretly Assassins, or some guy who does wayang kulit shows (a kind of puppet show) whose a contact to an Assassin.
While all of this came up after a short brainstorming session, these ideas alone is well within the limits of possibilities of an Assassin’s Creed game, both lore-wise and gameplay wise. What it needs now to do the setting justice is to nail the art (make the silat warriors in thier getup look badass! sprinkle some Malay/Indonesian words here and there! Heck, hire some local people playing them.)
Since Ubisoft is considering to open an indoor theme park sometime soon in Malaysia, why not woo us, and introduce this sleeper region of the world, to the global audience?
And don’t worry, all of these are free if you guys go ahead with this idea.
[Huge thanks to @najmi for the awesome sketches he made!]