The Franchise: Assassin’s Creed
Well hey there, Oratory.
First of all, I haven’t written for this site in a very long time. Over a decade, in my estimation. In that time my life has completely changed, and those of you who remember me might be glad to know that since I last wrote here I’ve made writing into my career. Second, I’ve noticed there is a particular drought of columns in the ‘Entertainment’ category here, and I think we can make that better. Since I went on my indefinite hiatus all those years ago, I’ve moved to a city with a booming entertainment industry, went to school for it, started working in it, and gotten some stuff produced. In the past several years I’ve worked in small productions, big productions, film, TV, sketch comedy, video games, and my first feature length movie is currently in production, so entertainment’s a pretty big part of my life.
I thought I’d reboot myself here with what I hope will be a recurring column called The Franchise, in which I look into the collective catalogues, filmographies, discographies, or otherwise full bodies of work as a whole. Already I have a few future installments in mind, examining a few musicians I enjoy and a director or two whose movies I like. It’s possible that I could take requests, but only if I’m familiar with the entirety of it or have access to the rest of the library I haven’t yet experienced.
I’m starting with the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise for my first installment because there’s been a break in Ubisoft’s typically annual release schedule, and I’ve been catching up on the last few games in the series during that time. I can’t say Assassin’s Creed has ever been my #1 favorite video game franchise, but regardless of the missteps it’s taken, it’s always been fun leaping off very high places and assassinating people in a variety of historical settings. I’ve never skipped a main game, so it’s a franchise I’m quite familiar with.
The main way I’m going to talk about this series is more from a personal/subjective perspective; rather than breaking it down into a bunch of minor categories analytically like a review, I’m going to focus more on likes/dislikes of each game, how fun it is, how the experience has changed, and how the story and gameplay have progressed. If there are minor games outside of the main franchise that I haven’t played, I’ll let you know when I get there, but I’ll at least make an effort to watch a Let’s Play video.
In case you’re not aware or just need a refresher, Assassin’s Creed’s core plot revolves around a war between two Illuminati-style secret societies throughout history, Assassins and Templars. In brief, Templars want control and order; Assassins want independence and freedom. Assassins are usually on the side of historic rebellions, Templars are often on the side of fascist or totalitarian rule. One thing I didn’t expect when I first started playing these games was that it’s also very rooted in sci-fi. The framing story is always present day, as your characters relive their ancestors’ memories via DNA samples through a machine called Animus, and there’s an extinct prehistoric high-tech civilization called Precursors that created humans to prevent the apocalypse (or something – their agenda’s still pretty vague), but that’s mostly in the background because their artifacts serve as plot McGuffins to get you into some jumpin’ and murderin’.
Assassin’s Creed (2007)
I never really felt this game introduced a particularly great crop of characters – where they could’ve fleshed out one or the other, they instead split focus. There’s Desmond Miles, unwitting descendent of Assassins abducted by modern Templars under the “Abstergo” corporation and forced to use the Animus to unlock memories of his ancestor, and then there’s said ancestor Altair Ibn-La’Ahad. Altair’s a sourpuss. He’s very serious, and one of the least fleshed out protagonists in the franchise. The whole story’s basically about his sect being manipulated by his obvious secret Sith Lord mentor into tracking down a Precursor artifact. This sets up a long history of every game’s villain saying “You know nothing of our real plan, but you murdered me so I will tell you details and/or reflect on my life with my dying breaths for some reason, despite that you’re in public surrounded by people!”
Looking back it wasn’t really deep in terms of gameplay or story, but in its day it was pretty damn fun to traipse around the Third Crusade and murder high-profile targets. It looked great for its time (it still holds up well graphically), and ratcheted up the parkour climbing style popularized by the Prince of Persia franchise. Side note: PoP’s Sands of Time trilogy is one of my favorites of all time (even that edgy emo phase where they tried to be all God of War grimdark SHUT UP DAD), and I’ve always been fond of the Hitman games too. So a game like AC1 that focused solely on PoP-style parkour and Hitman-style assassinating was extremely my shit. I don’t think they quite knew what the full story was going to be at the time, but it set up a lot for the future of the franchise. Honestly I only played through it once back in 2007, so I’m fuzzy on some of the early details. Sometimes I feel like games with a lot of installments like AC need “previously on” segments.
Verdict: A solid start, but you won’t be missing a lot if you haven’t already played it unless you’re really into the framing story.
Minor games: AC1 spawned a prequel Nintendo DS game (Altair’s Chronicles) and a sequel PSP game (Bloodlines), neither of which I’ve played. However I did watch Let’s Play videos to get the idea of what I missed. Not much, apparently; the DS game sucks – thin plot, clunky gameplay and bad graphics even for a 2008 handheld, and awwwwwful voice acting. Bloodlines isn’t great either, but is better than the DS game by virtue of PSP hardware. The story is pretty much only notable because it shows Altair’s life directly after the first game – including a relationship that apparently continues the ancestry, which eventually leads to AC2’s Ezio (and eventually Desmond) hundreds of years later.
Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009)
First of the “Ezio trilogy”. While Altair was dour and experienced, new protagonist Ezio Auditore da Firenze was charming and immature in his early years. Honestly, I didn’t like him at first. He had a weak attempt at a love story, was a little too flippant for me to take him seriously as an Assassin, and the tone shift was a tad too drastic. Granted, the series needed some levity after Altair, but only when Ezio matured a bit in the spinoffs did I start really enjoying the character. Desmond views Ezio’s life through another Animus after being freed by modern Assassins (Shaun, Rebecca, and Lucy), but the present day plot is weird and doesn’t quite fit, and in my opinion has always been the weakest part of the franchise. AC2 also added an upgradable base, which became a staple of the series (albeit on a wider scale). Having an entire villa with shops and resources was a really fun addition.
This was also the first game to bring what I call “history tourism” to the forefront, which I still think often feels far too convenient. For example, in AC1 you cross paths with Richard the Lionheart and a plot to kill him, but the characters you meet throughout aren’t major fixtures that everyone recognizes (mostly because it’s the 1100s and there’s not much reliable information about them). But in AC2, Leonardo da Vinci is your personal inventor bro who looks like Kurt Cobain, Niccolo Macchiavelli helps you strategize, and Pope Alexander VI is your main villain. I honestly preferred when historical events were just a backdrop for the setting, and you were only on the shadowy fringes of history, not the key player shaping literally every major historical event (though I guess they really wanted to push that Illuminati parallel). In some games it’s way more annoying than others. It’s tolerable here.
Verdict: An improvement on the first game, adding a lot more open world freedom to a fairly restrictive predecessor, but the best is still yet to come.
Assassin’s Creed – Brotherhood (2010)
There is a game that I consider to be the best overall video game in the series (more on that later), and a game I consider to be the best Assassin’s Creed game in the series. This is the latter. As an AC game this does so much right, and polishes AC2 to expand on the franchise in ways that shaped the series for years. Not only is Ezio a better and more believable protagonist, but the celebrity history tourism is less in your face, and the city has more of an open world and progressive feel. You get a great element of gradually taking over Borgia-controlled parts of Rome, replacing them with your guild halls, and you get to do cool mini-game things like send your brotherhood off on missions and get rewards from the results. Perhaps the best part is that you can hire recruits and level them up to have your brotherhood aid you in a fight, to the point of calling in a full-on airstrike of assassin backup. Plus it looks better, the controls are better, and the writing is better.
While AC1 and AC2 were pretty cool games I enjoyed, ACB was the game that got me sticking with the series as a whole. Again, the Desmond parts are nothing great, but this time they feel more relevant because you’re hanging out in caverns below Ezio’s old villa in present day as you cut back to what originally happened there. There’s a bit of a WTF cliffhanger ending, but it does get explained later.
Verdict: Far and away one of the high points of the series. It does just about everything right.
Assassin’s Creed – Revelations (2011)
I feel like this game mainly exists because they felt not enough of Altair’s story was told in the primary games, but it’s a nice bookend to this section of the series. An aging, grey-bearded Ezio follows clues of his ancestor back to Constantinople to complete the story, and you get insight into both characters including the final fate of Altair. While the gameplay in this one starts feeling a little too familiar (aside from a new hookblade that lets you zipline around the city), it’s still a solid and good looking game and its story ends on a really satisfying, if rather sad note.
What I do think bogs it down however is the Desmond-in-a-coma story, and in a more intrusive way than the previous ones. Too much of the game pulls you out of its dual 12th/16th century settings, and puts you back in present day but in a surreal virtual world. Too many settings and time shifts become tonally awkward. You do get a better handle on where the series is trying to go, but Revelations has this weird subplot where you’re stuck in the Animus and a previous test subject is sending you cryptic messages to find your way around this weird non-Euclidian island. It gets weirder once the ghosts of the Precursor civilization show up and say even more vague stuff. Still, this is the first of two games featuring John de Lancie (Star Trek TNG’s Q) voicing Desmond’s father, so that’s pretty cool.
Verdict: Good if you want story closure on Altair and Ezio, otherwise fairly unnecessary.
Minor games: The only one to come out in this time was another DS game, Discovery. I never played this one either, but it takes place between two of AC2’s DLC missions. It serves as an extended side mission where Ezio heads off to Spain, and is a side-scroller with very dated graphics, but it does look to play better than its predecessor. There’s also a short animated film called Embers. Where Revelations was the epilogue for Altair, Embers is the epilogue for Ezio. It deals with the end of Ezio’s life and his interactions with Shao Jun, a Chinese assassin who later stars in her own game. Lastly, a few browser game tie-ins and iOS apps started showing up around this time, but are completely ancillary.
Assassin’s Creed III (2012)
Oh, AC3. You tried so hard, and only partially succeeded. So much was added in this game that really did hit the mark, but so much missed it as well. Starting with the good, the frontier setting of upstate New York wilderness was fantastic. Climbing through forests and trees instead of just buildings, infiltrating British forts, hunting down animals for crafting (and being hunted) – there’s lots of cool stuff here. It was also the first game to introduce naval battles, though it’s in fairly small segments. The criticisms I have mostly stem from the newly revamped control scheme, which somehow managed to be simultaneously too simplified and too clunky – they tried to compress all movement and action into two buttons that switch contextually, and it really doesn’t work. Out of all the games in the series, this one frustrated me the most for characters not doing what I told them to do. You want to slide under a gap, he jumps into a fire. You want to grab a ledge just below you, he dives into a river.
Somewhere in the middle was the story – a Native American protagonist with his culture represented pretty respectfully, to the surprise of many. Unfortunately Connor turned out to be very wooden, which is highlighted further by playing as his more interesting Templar father Haytham Kenway in the first segments of the game. Connor’s more of a catalyst character: it’s really the characters surrounding him that make things interesting, and several of them appear in later games. However, going back to my history tourism gripe, I find it a bit silly that you’re literally aiding the American Revolution by directly being on the front lines with your new war buddy George Washington. On the Desmond end, we finally get some closure on that arc, as this is the last game he appears in. I feel like that should’ve happened in Revelations instead, so they could’ve ended all 3 character arcs at the same time.
Verdict: A very mixed bag, but adds a lot of new elements to the series that shape later ones.
Assassin’s Creed III – Liberation (2012)
I’m not listing this as a minor game (originally a PS Vita title) because it got an HD remaster and major re-release. It was notable for not only having the first woman protagonist in the series, but a Creole black woman at that. Aveline was a solid protagonist who injected some much needed diversity into the story, as well as a unique perspective on race in history. She even crossed paths with Connor briefly. The Louisiana swamps and early New Orleans were a fun setting, and the brief stints in Mexico and New York were refreshing to break up the otherwise singular setting. Gameplay tried a few new things like disguises, although the whole “charm” thing where you can basically hypnotize any man by flirting just because you’re a lady in a dress was decidedly goofy and cartoonish.
What’s interesting is that the meta plot is sort of a test-run for something that becomes way bigger after this – Abstergo becoming a multimedia conglomerate (and in-game proxy for an evil version of Ubisoft). Basically the modern Templars have taken the DNA memory technology and found a way to get users to data-mine information about Precursor artifacts for them: Put it in a video game disguised as historical action-drama. This tongue-in-cheek breaking of the fourth wall actually improves the non-historical part of the game, where the Desmond parts before it became a bit of a slog. The caveat is that since you’re testing an Abstergo game, it attempts to paint ancient Templars in a sympathetic light. Meanwhile a hacker group of Assassins reveal that the Templars heavily censored the game for just that agenda, and get you to infiltrate and uncensor those segments yourself. It’s a neat idea to revamp my least favorite part of the story and broaden the scope of it as well.
Verdict: Good for what it is; a port of a handheld. Entirely skippable, but fun.
Assassin’s Creed IV – Black Flag (2013)
Remember when I said Brotherhood was the best Assassin’s Creed game of the series? This is the best overall video game of the series. I say it’s not the best AC game because it really doesn’t even need to BE one; it was initially an entirely new pirate-based IP. I kind of wish it had been, but I understand why it wasn’t: Gotta sell those AAA titles! So the AC plot is kind of shoehorned in here since you play Edward Kenway – father of AC3’s Haytham and Connor’s grandfather (so it’s a prequel to 3) – who becomes sort of an accidental Assassin by being in the wrong place while pirating the Caribbean. While you do still traipse around island cities assassinating people with your stabby wrist blades, the bulk of the game is spent on the high seas of the Caribbean, plundering ships and attacking forts while aiding some of the most notorious brigands in the Golden Age of Piracy. And it’s so goddamn fun.
Here’s one game where I really don’t mind the history tourism, because the real pirate characters here are more based on their legends like Blackbeard, rather than historical political figures. The gameplay basically came out and said “Sorry about all the stuff you complained about in AC3, here’s everything we did well in that game but way better”. They fixed the terrible controls, they kept the forest/jungle climbing and hunting elements, they massively expanded the ship combat to the point where it’s most of the game, and the protagonist was a lot more likeable. It also added berserk darts, which is the most hilarious thing the series has ever done. They allow you to make an enemy go crazy and kill his friends without you going anywhere near combat. Darting a few elite guards and watching chaos ensue from far up in a tree is the best thing.
Here’s where that Abstergo Entertainment setup from Liberation comes in: You’re now a nameless grunt working in their cushy high-tech office tower, testing out their new games and unlocking secret historical data before the games go live. Abstergo’s in the market of selling stories based on heroic Templars and villainous Assassins, so apparently the secret societies aren’t secret anymore? I was never quite sure how that worked – the overall narrative of the games has likely changed hands several times in 10 years at Ubisoft, so you’re going to inevitably see some retcons. In any case AC4 acts as a soft reboot, so although you can pick up a few Desmond-related Easter eggs throughout, you can pretty much dive right in here without missing much before it. It’s seriously fun to play, and if there’s one AC game you should get out of the whole bunch, make it this one. Pick it up on a Steam sale or a bundle somewhere.
Verdict: Best game of the series. Highly recommended, even if you’re not an AC fan.
Minor games: In the age of expanded franchises and licensing across new technology, it gets hard to keep up sometimes, but they’re out there. Nothing that’s considered a direct spinoff this time, but a couple mobile apps – AC: Pirates being the most prominent, as a semi-spinoff of AC4 which just featured ship combat and another pirate who wasn’t an Assassin or Templar. I should also mention at this point that there have been some novel tie-ins, but frankly I’m never going to read those.
Assassin’s Creed – Rogue (2014)
There’s some controversy among fans as to whether you should play Rogue or Unity first, since they were released on the same day. Play Rogue first! I’ll get further into why in the Unity section, but without spoiling too much, Rogue’s last mission is Unity’s first mission from another perspective (if you pay attention you’ll spot Unity’s main characters Arno & Elise at the end of Rogue). Besides, Rogue takes place only a year after Black Flag and plays exactly like it. Rogue also caps off the American frontier storyline of AC3/AC4, similar to how Revelations did for AC1/AC2/Brotherhood. Although, Rogue is weirdly set in between them, so the timeline actually goes AC4>Rogue>AC3. Technically, you could play them in that order if you wanted to keep it chronological, but there will definitely be some continuity errors in the present day framing story. Due to the gameplay basically being a Black Flag carbon copy, you’ll see me talking mostly about story here; other than some icy ocean-related things due to sailing through a Nova Scotia winter, there’s very little new in the engine.
But the main hook? You play a Templar! Fans had wanted to see the other side of the story for a long time, only glimpsing it briefly with AC3’s Haytham sequences. Despite Abstergo going to such lengths to paint their side in a heroic light, they still look morally grey as hell here (I mean, in contrast to their rival group literally named after murder). Shay Cormac is a perfectly serviceable protagonist, though you don’t get much of his personal life beyond his moral compass, and I have trouble reconciling a sympathetic protagonist with aiding late 1700s British imperialists trying to stamp out revolutions. Shay starting as an Assassin and going the titular “rogue” here contains one of the oddest historical retcons I’ve ever seen from these games: It makes you responsible for the great Portugal earthquake of 1755, and explains the 1770 Haiti earthquake after it, due to removing artifacts from Precursor temples. Strange, yes, but the escape sequence from a crumbling Lisbon is fun as hell. Rogue also fills in a few story gaps, like what Haytham was up to between 3 & 4, why Connor’s mentor Achilles is even alive, and what happened to Edward’s shipmate Adewale from AC4 and its Freedom Cry DLC. But the real mystery is what the hell happened to Shay after this, since Unity has no mention of him and AC3 basically nullifies the Colonial-era Templars. One can assume he either died or went into hiding shortly after this, but nobody knows. In any case, he was apparently total bros with Benjamin Franklin, because of course he was.
Verdict: Worth a play if you want more Black Flag, and/or closure in the American Frontier trilogy, and/or some pre-context for Unity.
Assassin’s Creed – Unity (2014)
Unity gets a bad rap. It was buggy as hell when it was released, which is unfortunate because it’s actually a pretty solid entry. Another reason I said to play Rogue first is because there’s a huge graphical upgrade – Black Flag and Rogue look great, but Unity is gorgeous. I spent a good 5 minutes at the start just looking at stuff like light on textures and fabric detail on clothes. One exception: The hair looks awful and stringy, like they rendered it in last-gen’s engine. Everything else looks amazing. Controls are revamped again, for the better. It took them this long to put in “free-run up/down” buttons, and the transitions are ridiculously smooth (though unsurprisingly this does cause issues with certain ledges). World design has also changed. After several vast forests, jungles, and open seas, Unity returns the series to its roots in a single city: Paris during the French Revolution. While I miss the open world, I give Unity credit: Paris is PACKED. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many AI citizens in such thick crowds before, and city protests contain literally thousands of NPCs. You hide in plain sight in public because you have no other choice. Paris feels lived-in and crowded with multiple levels of politics, factions, protests, and districts. There’s random street level crime you can prevent, and tons of multiplayer and side mission activities to keep you busy. Some of these go into different time periods of Paris due to glitches in the system (one of which is World War II, which I hope they revisit – how can you not eventually address the Templar/Nazi parallel?).
Speaking of which, even the Abstergo story tries something brand new: You’re not an employee and the game’s no longer in development. Rather, you’re a gamer playing Abstergo’s new content delivery system called Helix, which releases games based on historical Templars. Your first mission is actually as a Templar in the 1300s (which I also hope they revisit), before the Assassin Brotherhood hacks your console via new character Bishop, and makes you play Arno. Arno’s alright. He’s basically Ezio 2: French Edition. He’s flawed and hot-headed, and even goes on a bender after being disgraced. His story’s kind of all over the place, but it does come together eventually. Still, the more interesting character is his on/off girlfriend Elise, raised a Templar but sympathetic to the cause, and I’d honestly rather have played as her instead. Kudos to the writing staff and voice actors here, their chemistry feels realistic and their banter is believable. Though I do question why almost nobody in the game has French accents in Paris, most of all Napoleon fucking Bonaparte. Come on, Ubisoft. You’re in Montreal. YOU HAVE ACCESS TO FRENCH PEOPLE.
Verdict: Story’s a little muddled, but it’s really pretty and has a ton of fun stuff to do, if you can get past the bugs. It’s been patched, but I still had some pretty prominent ones occur.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles (2015-2016)
I’m going to put these in their own sub-category because while they’re all minor games, there are three of them in a similar 2D side-scroller style, and all follow a single narrative of tracking a box containing a Precursor item that once belonged to Ezio. Syndicate actually came out before ACC Russia, but for the purposes of organization I’ll stick them all together. One gripe I have for all of the Chronicles games is that there’s plenty of material to mine for settings in major AC games, but they decided to use them in these instead. That’s not to say there couldn’t eventually be another game set in another Chinese, Indian, or Russian time period, but we probably won’t see that for a long time. Frankly I’m shocked they haven’t gotten to feudal Japan yet – ninjas just seem like a no-brainer for Assassins. Maybe they haven’t yet because it’s too obvious.
ACC – China has a lot to like if you don’t mind it being such a blatant ripoff of Mark of the Ninja (which you should play too). The first of this trilogy has a really pretty looking classic Chinese watercolor art style, so it looks great. The protagonist is Shao Jun of the Embers short film that came out after Revelations, so she’s familiar. The plot has her protecting the artifact Ezio gave her, so there are established stakes involved. There’s a good mix of challenging stealth sequences and timed escapes, making full use of the “2.5D” style, the weapons are useful and there are tiered rewards depending on how stealthily or aggressively you play, and it sets up the feel of the rest of the games of this style.
ACC – India was a misstep for me, which is unfortunate because I really liked the setting. The art style was pretty and it did some interesting things with the 2.5D, but everything cool about it was already covered in ACC China. About half the game doesn’t even take place in India. New protagonist Arbaaz did very little for me, and his plot uses the cliché story everyone uses for India: the scrappy ruffian secretly in love with the princess. Mix that with the standard “Aha! I was really one step ahead of you the whole time!” villain, and you get the idea. But I’d overlook all of that if not for the fact that the game relies far too heavily on multiple sequences where you have a window of about two seconds to do everything perfectly, or else you lose and start the whole sequence over. Rather than a stealth game, this one is way more focused on “escape this thing in time” or “get from point A to point B before time expires”. Easily the most infuriating one of the three, especially since its controls don’t always respond well. China had difficult yet challenging escapes between lengthier stealth creeping sequences, but India has rage-inducing and sometimes literally unfair ones.
ACC Russia is a return to form. It takes place during the October Revolution, and the Soviet propaganda art style looks incredible. It adds a lot of little touches like a rifle instead of darts, a winch cable with electrical surges, and great level design – one of the early missions is stalking around various areas of a single mansion and its grounds. Items feel more necessary to advance, and it’s hard but not unfair (at least until the final tank chase sequence, which is hard as balls and almost as frustrating as some of India’s sequences). However, it takes the history tourism WAY overboard. Your winch is made by Tesla, your character is buddies with Trotsky, and it takes a seriously weird turn a little ways through: There’s a legend that the real-life Anastasia Romanov survived the killing of her family and escaped. You get to play her, making her the first ever playable historical figure in AC. But… uhh, then she becomes possessed by Shao Jun’s Assassin spirit, because of Precursor magic. OK sure. Points for creativity?
Verdict: China’s worth playing, Russia’s really fun but weird, skip India unless you’re a masochist.
Assassin’s Creed – Syndicate (2015)
Right off the bat, two things struck me about Syndicate. One, the dual-protagonist format was a really nice surprise, with on-the-fly switching between twin brother/sister duo Jacob and Evie Frye. They shoehorn in dialogue to frequently remind you that they’re siblings, ostensibly to ward off creepy shipper fanfics (like that’s ever stopped them), but their banter is fun. Two, the new interface is dumbed down as hell, with stark white outlines around enemies, arrows showing building entry points, enemy levels appearing over people’s heads when targeted, etc. They might as well have said “ENEMIES HERE!” However, Syndicate is loaded with cool new stuff, including at long last a sneak toggle button. They finally caught up to every other stealth game in existence! They also brought back the gang recruiting/territory capture elements from Brotherhood, which is a very welcome return.
Another new thing that adds a GTA-like depth is the ability to drive/steal a horse carriage. Mostly a means of getting around Victorian London faster, but there are some chase sequences and whatnot. I also really like that your base of operations is a train that moves all over the map. Combat-wise they’ve finally caved in and switched to the Arkham system, which is good if you like those games, but I find it’s a bit overused lately. Honestly with such a frequent release schedule, they shouldn’t keep messing with the controls so often. Stick with what works. I dislike that you can’t take huge, wild leaps from buildings anymore too. You HAVE to climb unless there’s something to jump to. The new grappling hook does make up for it though. It allows you to play “the floor is lava” with city streets, though at times its targeting system is a bit wonky (I’ve had it attach to rooftops behind me several times for no reason).
1868 London looks awesome, and so does everything else (it also marks the first AC game where I couldn’t play at full settings because my VRAM isn’t high enough). The history tourism on the other hand is absolutely bonkers here. They’re not even trying to be subtle or historically accurate anymore. Somehow within a relatively small span of time and in the same location, you become friends with and do missions for Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Alexander Graham Bell, Florence Nightingale, Benjamin Disraeli and his wife, and you guessed it, Queen Victoria herself. There’s even a part where a glitch warps you to WWI where you do missions for Winston Churchill, because of course you do. Not content to make the historical celebrities just story elements, they’re now simply quest hubs, which feels really on the nose and wedged in. On the present day end, Shaun and Rebecca are back after a few games of absence, taking orders from hacker lady Bishop from Unity. They’re after another piece of Eden, and the weird-ass Precursor stuff comes to a head too, but still doesn’t pay off. Honestly I don’t see why they even have this. They could just make it a story about a secret organization assassinating people throughout history and that would be fine with me.
Another note, this is a pretty long game. They’ve gotten to the point where they’re more RPG than stealth action, though the progression was evident a long time ago. It’s fun to have so much to do, but there’s almost too much to the point where it gets annoying, because there’s not all that much variety in the side missions. That said, it’s one of the better games in the series if you don’t mind the issues I’ve mentioned. I wouldn’t say it’s the best one ever, but it definitely takes a lot of the best elements from other games in the series and revamps or updates them.
Verdict: Definitely worth playing. In the top tier of the series.
Other Material: I’ve already covered ACC Russia above, but chronologically by release date it would go here. So instead I’ll give a brief mention of the movie, only because it’s supposedly canon. It’s really, really mediocre though. Fassbender is fine, but if you were looking for the film to break the streak of bad video game movies, this isn’t it. I wouldn’t call it bad necessarily, it just adds nothing new – especially for fans of the series – and doesn’t spend nearly enough time in the past. Nobody plays these for the framing story. How is it that they can flesh out a full story and juggle multiple characters in cinematic sequences of a game, but can’t do the same for a 2 hour movie? You can skip it unless you’re a total completionist.
1) Things I’ve never understood about the series:
- Why you always have a full conversation with a guy you just murdered in public. It’s like time freezes and you just casually talk to a person with a blade in their throat as they make peace with their death. Unity tried something different with this, accessing your target’s memories instead and showing you key plot points, which I like better because it’s thematic (you’re exposed to their DNA, so the Animus shows you their pasts too).
- Whether or not the Templars and Assassins are supposed to be publicly known. There’s this whole layer of secret societies and unseen assassins controlling the strings from behind the scenes, yet if Abstergo is releasing a line of games based on those shadowy groups supposedly based in real life, they’re both telling people about these two groups while also revealing the locations of Precursor temples. I’m not quite sure when the world supposedly knew about them.
- WTF the purpose of the Precursor story is. It’s all over the goddamn place. There are solar flares, triple helix DNA, high-tech Adam & Eve, magic apples, walls of light that can destroy people, Pieces of Eden that hold the world together, stone-age CDs that apparently hold music, gods that talk to you from millions of years ago, magic entities that possess computers, prehistoric technology, and they all seem to have separate motivations which they can’t coherently tell across like 80 games.
- Whether Eagle Vision is hereditary or if every Assassin just randomly happens to have it. I didn’t touch upon this much above, but each game has some variation on a second-sight that lets you see targets. At some point, I don’t remember when, they changed from identifying targets to being able to keep track of them when it’s turned off. Unity gave it a limited use, and Syndicate let you upgrade it with skill points. But I have no idea if it’s an innate genetic thing or if it’s a learned trait.
- Why they keep using “follow but don’t get spotted” missions. They’ve always been annoying.
2) If I were to design a perfect AC game, I’d use:
- The graphics engine from Unity/Syndicate
- The ship combat, character controls, and open-world scope from Black Flag
- The wilderness exploration from AC3/4
- The recruiting and territory control from Brotherhood (which Syndicate refined)
- The city exploration mechanics from Syndicate
Supposedly the next one is set in Egypt and is codenamed ‘Empire’, which sounds interesting, though I’m not sure what era. If they’re going back to pharaoh times, that’s the first time a major AC game has taken a big step backward in chronology.
Conclusion: I’ve pretty much said my piece in each individual entry, so I’ll spare you the detailed overall conclusion. I’ve never been into the framing story much so I don’t care a lot about how they all relate to each other, aside from when the in-Animus portions cross over. Again, there are some major missteps in the franchise, but in some cases like Black Flag there are some really great gems as well. I’ll probably pick up each new one for the duration of the franchise’s run, but I for one am glad Ubisoft is now working at a pace where the game is done when it’s done, instead of rushing to a deadline and possibly sacrificing gameplay and bug detection as a result. Suffice to say, if you like optional stealth, parkour, jumping off rooftops, and murdering high profile targets, you’ll enjoy a lot of these games. If you like pirate ship combat, even better. At least pick up Black Flag sometime if you haven’t; you don’t even need to be a follower of the series to enjoy it.