I love the Assassin’s Creed franchise, ever since Christmas 2007 (excluding ’08) I have spent the holidays playing through the latest AC title. Playing these games evokes a calm time, as it is the holidays for me, I purposely leave them until Christmas as some kind of weird tradition.
I can’t really tell you why I love the franchise as a whole either, problems that have existed since the first installment still stand seven years later. Combat hasn’t found it’s place, the movement system has faults and the overall story has lost itself and even Ubisoft themselves seem disinterested in it. In order to understand these issues we have to have a look back over the series as a whole.
The first Assassin’s Creed was originally developed as a spin off to the hugely successful Prince of Persia franchise where you would play as a royal assassin for the Prince. Despite the decision to redesign the game as a new franchise, this original influence stuck with the game and helped create a strong foundation for the gameplay. While close to greatness this series starter wasn’t without it’s flaws. While the movement system and the world in terms of story and uniqueness were strong, the lack of variation in mission design was where the game fell apart for many.
Released in 2009, Assassin’s Creed II successfully added what was needed, fixing many of the mistakes made in the original. Essentially using the open world techniques seen in the GTA series and including Prince of Persia type linear platforming segments, we now had weapons and armour to buy and could even invest money into our home base for extra income. We were introduced to fan favourite Ezio Auditore with a strong story starring great supporting character, all of which made the game so memorable. AC II was what the first game should have been and is still held in high regards. While problems with missions design exist, like having to tail one too many targets and combat issues people were forgiving due to the unique setting and the open world design itself.
That’s kind of been an issue of the series, those core issues have never been addressed or fixed. Instead Ubisoft opt to add more activities to each sequel in the hope that it will cover up the franchise’s shortcomings.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood did away with the old slow combat approach though. This was now a post Batman: Arkham Asylum world so a similar combat system was introduced, but instead of being rhythmic based it more about gaining a kill streak, one successful counter meant Ezio could go on an endless killing spree until having to counter again. It was simple and looked great when up against a large group of enemies. Brotherhood was also responsible for introducing the now well known Ubisoft open world template with towers to take over, though the design may have changed over time, the concept remains from this game.
This game also signaled the franchise going for a more action based approach, most noticeable in the side missions helping Da Vinci solve a few problems involving some war machines he’s invented. The finale of which involved firing at people in a prototype tank, it was goofy but fun none the less. Brotherhood was loaded with side content which kept people busy and brought hope for the now yearly release schedule of the series.
AC: Revelations, as we now know, was something of a stopgap for the series. While not doing too much for the series as a whole it did bring to an end the now dubbed “Ezio Trilogy.” It was cool to see an older Ezio, in his fifties and almost kind of regretting his life as an assassin. One of the main story plots in this game is his love interest, which was pretty good and added some depth to the already well established character. I wouldn’t say Ezio goes out with a bang to remember though, the story is somewhat anti-climatic. We forgave Ubisoft because let’s face it, we know what was coming, Assassin’s Creed III! Well we were all excited for that weren’t we? New Assassin in the new setting of the Revolutionary War in America, what could possibly go wrong? Well, everything actually.
Assassin’s Creed III is the worse game in the franchise and shone a bright light on all of the series faults. With the most linear mission structure of the whole series and a poor User Interface it was difficult to understand the simple things. As a fan of the series I can’t quite understand the design choices they made, for example, swapping to weapons now took you to a whole different menu screen. Hunting in the forest was a big selling point but in order to craft what you hunted meant going to specific NPC’s to navigate through more terrible menus. All side missions felt passive and thrown together, this game became a chore that I forced myself to get through. This was during a time when I was playing Far Cry 3, another Ubisoft property which had similar systems to AC III with one very big exception, they were working and fun to use. Luckily, the next installment, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was less Assassin’s Creed III and more Far Cry 3 in style.
Sadly Assassin’s Creed III was also the final nail in the coffin for the meta narrative of the series that up until this point had been an important part of the overall story.
Honestly, I don’t know where to start with the meta narrative of Assassin’s Creed, to say it’s complicated would be something of an understatement.
Ok so, the modern day protagonist is Desmond Miles, a seemingly normal barman who is kidnapped by an organisation called Abstergo Industries. While a captive Desmond is forced to relive the life of his ancestor, the master assassin Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, through a machine capable of reading genetic memories. The purpose behind the virtual time-travel is to determine the locations of ancient powerful technology known as the “Pieces of Eden”.
By AC II we learn that Earth was originally populated by an ancient race of advanced beings known in-game as the Precursors. It turns out that this first civilization actually created the human race as a workforce and the pieces of eden were used to control the slave labour. Unfortunately for the Precursors they were outnumbered considerably to the point that when revolution came the advanced beings were easily overpowered. Unconventionally, the Earth was facing another threat in the form of a massive solar flare and with war distracting everyone from solving the literal Earth-shattering problem, the Precursor race were entirely wiped out with only a few human beings surviving the catastrophe.
It was at this point I personally checked out.
I would have been more than happy if each game told it’s own separate well told story similar to the GTA franchise. I was however intrigued by the fact that by the end of AC II Desmond had all of the assassin’s skills in combat and traversal for real. This of course led me and many others to believe we would eventually get a modern day setting to conclude his story. Sadly, we did not.
Despite Ubisoft putting a lot of time and effort into the meta narrative over the years since the series opener, the conclusion of Assassin’s Creed III seems to have ended that chapter of Creed games on a disappointing low. The death of Desmond, the constant character which tied the games together, does seem to suggest that even Ubisoft have given up on that side of things. The games that continued the franchise from this point on seem to want to ignore this meta future narrative altogether.
It’s those games that I will be looking at in the second part of this feature where I will conclude my thoughts on the series as well as look at what could be done to get the franchise back on the road to greatness.