Slowly realising the path before me, I looked up to the tower which shadowed over the city of Damascus. I began to climb the seemingly never-ending structure using the smallest of edges within its ancient architecture, eventually reaching its peak.
As I overlooked this incredible city, I took a deep breath, glanced one last time at its naked and exposed body spread out before me, then, without hesitation, took a leap of faith into its bosom.
Playing an Assassin’s Creed game gives me a feeling unlike any other video game franchise. A feeling of historical and ideological exploration which I yearned for, even at a young age.
The games absolutely blew me away with their world-building ambition and dual-storyline arc (for the first few entries at least). I still consider it my favourite long-running video game franchise because of the innovation the games have gone through over the years, and the level of immersion each time and place offered for me as a player.
But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start where it all began nearly twelve years ago now, with the release of a game by Ubisoft called Assassin’s Creed.
The beginning of what will become one of the top game franchises ever made. Its DNA was in place, its gameplay mechanics and story arc set in motion for the next ten years. Although I would never consider it the best, the original Assassin’s Creed still holds as one of, if not, my favourite.
The freedom to climb anywhere in the world. Working out the right paths up historical and memorable buildings to reach that consistently rewarding leap of faith. Cementing the now Ubisoft golden rule of open-world game design, revealing nearby events by climbing to the top of a lookout tower.
The gameplay was simple yet effective. Combat mechanics resembling what I consider an early Arkham-like battle system. It was fair, but challenging when you faced many opponents at one time. The investigation events were repetitive and forgettable, but the assassinations themselves were anything but. Extraordinary set pieces found within colossal cities full of their own flavour due to their different colour palettes and religious soldier factions dedicated to their own cause.
I loved Altair and his devotion to the tenets of the Creed. His lessons from arrogance to a disciple still act as a convincing change because of the speeches of understanding spoken between him and his Mentor Al-Mualim at the beginning of each assassination.
The story was slightly beyond comprehension for a 14-year-old. Nevertheless, I grasped its general strokes with an eagerness to see what would follow from its tantalizing and unforgivingly abrupt ending (although I believe these are still made on purpose to this day, and they work in their tease).
I wanted to see more of this universe and the time periods it could offer. The next phase we saw was one which will stand with me for decades to come.
Assassin’s Creed II
The natural evolution of the franchise. Ezio replaced Altair as the main protagonist. He was a charming yet flawed hero who many of us still love to this day despite his antics with women and brawls with rival families.
Exploring the beautiful Renaissance cities of Florence and Venice are still some of the most beautiful cities ever made in video games. Combined with Jesper Kyd’s outstanding soundtrack, Assassin’s Creed II is perhaps the most pertinent example of what Assassin’s Creed is and should be.
An open world with various cities and cultures to explore within a timeline, while a present-day story slowly unfolds before you with attractive characters and a sense of urgency as the Templars and Assassin’s wage their never-ending war to this very day.
The repetition problem had been solved, but the pros of the franchise consisted. Amazing landmarks to explore, characters such as Da Vinci and Machiavelli to interact with, a story of redemption and principle told way before its time. And most importantly, we finally had some answers to the tease from the end of the first game. We found that there was a civilization that came before.
Destroyed by an apocalyptic event that destroyed a race far more powerful than our own, the threat of extinction was beginning to loom over Desmond and his modern-day
team of Assassins.
Assassin’s Creed II will likely be held as one of the best games of its generation. And rightfully so.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Brotherhood was at the time an underrated gem of the series. Introducing multiple elements that either became franchise favourites or experimental modes which only stayed for a short while. The obvious one being multiplayer. A mode which we were all sceptical about quickly became one of my favourite modes to play for the next few years.
Smart and fair, the online was the best it could possibly be considering it was Assassin’s Creed online. Although the next few titles would improve the formula to various degrees, Brotherhood’s simply multiplayer modes were a joy to experience because of their unique nature compared to other multiplayer modes at the time.
Furthermore, buying and improving property introduced in your villa in Assassin’s Creed II was expanded to the city of Rome. Again, of course, a gorgeous city full of landmarks and countryside, full of moments and memories not forgotten easily.
Building your real estate was just as important as building the Brotherhood and introducing these micro-management systems increased the RPG feel of the game.
Desmond and his team’s story paced surely forward with slightly less interaction than AC II. Though still a good level of payoff for the work done with Ezio. Especially towards the final moments of the game.
It is looked back on more fondly than when it first released as this was the first time we had seen an Assassin’s Creed be released a year after the previous title. Following on moments from where Assassin’s Creed II left off, it is now held as one of the best of the franchise.
The next entry would not be considered in a similar status.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
The end of Ezio’s trilogy, Revelations was the missing link hardcore fans like me had been dying to see connected.
The story of Altair and Ezio becoming one as Ezio travels to Masayaf and discovers the legacy Altair and the life he led after defeating the Assassin’s mentor Al Mualim. But let us not forget this chapter of the story as we explored the colourful culture of Constantinople and its people.
Some of the best story-telling of the series can be found here, but some of the first signs of fatigue became apparent at the same time. With Ezio outrunning enemies in his late fifties, the general gaming populace began to see the unrealistic aspect more than ever before. Missions that didn’t vary from the previous two games, and gameplay which stayed relatively the same despite the grappling hook addition.
Multiplayer continued in a more polished fashion than Brotherhood, so the only other notable difference for this game was the introduction of mini RTS sections. Fun if slightly too easy; another example of the series experimenting with modes which don’t seem obvious, but it’s this playful nature that Ubisoft approached the franchise with which spawns one of the best genre-defining gameplay types in recent memory. More on this shortly.
Desmond’s present-day story is brought to a steep halt here as he is in an Animus coma. Although we had the pleasure of meeting Subject 16, not much here to report other than preparing us for the best present-day moments the series has yet to see.
Assassin’s Creed III
The most divisive title in the entire franchise. You either love it or hate it, but there was a lot riding on this title when it was released. This was the most anticipated game in Assassin’s Creed ever. Some of the hype was due to it being a numbered entry in the franchise. Another was the American Revolution setting, including the iconic heroes of the time such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Lee etc.
Ironically, despite this setting and the advancement in technology compared to the Ezio trilogy, the main character Conor is one of the most dislikable, horrible, arrogant game characters ever created. And you play as him. For the vast majority of the game.
But one of the twists was playing as Haytham Kenway for the first three acts of the game, who was unbeknownst to you at the time, a Templar, and Conor’s father. Ubisoft’s first ploy to grey the battle between Assassin and Templar, and to lay the groundwork for Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, this again was a disruptive move. Meaning that the game didn’t properly start until around 6-8 hours in.
On the other hand, the present-day story was the most active and interactive one we’ve seen yet. With not just the most explanations behind the ones who came before and their story, but missions located within the present-day world. Sneaking through a stadium in Brazil or marching into Abstergo’s headquarters are still some of the best moments of the franchise.
Getting to finally unleash Desmond as he has slowly learned his assassin ancestors’ abilities through the bleeding effect was a great payoff for the slow story we had seen in his journey thus far. Furthermore, the multiplayer reached its peak with customization, mode variation, and general improvements to the gameplay which made it the best multiplayer we’ve seen.
The three DLC packs to AC III were a very ambitious collection of story arcs detailing the downfall of Washington had he got his hands on the Apple of Eden. Continuing what was a solid history of DLC releases following each games’ launch (apart from the first), this was one of the finest DLC packs for a game this generation because of its interesting storyline and peculiar yet powerful abilities Conor could unleash within the Tyranny of King Washington.
Some people liked this slow start, others didn’t. But the main takeaway from this game was its ship navigation and combat gameplay mechanics. Controlling a 17th-century ship with cannons was a mode tryout which paid off galore.
Highlighted best in the game after next: Black Flag.
Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD
Liberation was a tie-in game to AC III, with the events of the story happening alongside those of Conor’s. Developed for the PlayStation Vita, it was later ported to all main consoles retitled ‘Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD’. Updating the resolution and graphics to fit the home consoles.
Playing as Aveline was a nice change of pace because of her movement style differing from her brothers in the Creed. Changing outfits for different occasions was an interesting spin on her role as a female in those times. A mechanic which I wish was dotted around the series more.
There’s nothing spectacular here, to say the least. But what is here, if you’re a Creed fan, is rather solid. More wonderful locations to explore including ancient temples and muggy swamplands. The story is rather forgettable and because of the game’s handheld nature, there isn’t too much in terms of quantity here.
Rather, a nice break from the main series can be found with Aveline and her family’s story. The first but not last time Ubisoft would experiment with releasing two different Creed games at the same time.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Black Flag brought many fans back to believing that Assassin’s Creed was one of the best open-world series ever made. And you can see why when it capitalizes on the incredible ship mechanics of AC III and the stunning islands and towns of the Caribbean land.
The first game in the series to go back in time rather than forward, you play as Edward Kenway, Haytham’s father. Unfortunately, the game does not explore this dynamic at all, which is a completely wasted opportunity in my opinion.
The majority of the game is based around your ship. Upgrading your ship, battling other ships, catching sea creatures as dangerous as a great white and as daunting as a white whale.
Collecting the infinite amount of treasure scattered across the Caribbean was, of course, a pleasure for an OCD individual like myself. Battling land forts and bounty hunters on the high seas reminded players of the potential Assassin’s Creed had.
An issue for the story, however, was that Edward was a fairly unrelatable character until the last few acts of the game where he embraced the principles of the Creed. Meeting, as we do in every Assassin’s Creed, famous pirates and Buccaneers on the high seas made up for this lack of substance for the main character.
As well as this, it was in Black Flag that we saw a soft reboot of the present-day story. Working as an Abstergo employee, you explore and patrol the offices of the secret Templar order and solve puzzles to uncover restricted pieces of information, while uncovering familiar faces in unfamiliar territory. A real refreshing twist on the present-day story I enjoyed very much indeed. If only they didn’t play on this for another game in the series so that it kept more of its charm.
The DLC Freedom Cry was also fantastic, encase you wanted to know. Though this was the last game to include competitive multiplayer. Which was slightly sad at the time but nobody really seems to miss it.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity
Unity was the first truly next-generation Assassin’s Creed for the Xbox One and PS4. It is still one of the most beautiful games ever made with its glossy realism and frighteningly accurate world-building which kept up its reputation for creating some of the best open-worlds on the market.
You probably know this entry as that really broken Assassin’s Creed which has that horrifying face bug which causes most of a character’s face to glitch out,
except the lips and eyes. On the contrary, I remember it as that extremely glitchy and buggy unfinished Creed game which still delivered on a lot of its vision. At least for me.
Unity was a broken game, there’s no question. But it was also captivating with its world, respected for its ambitious, and I for one had a great time playing through the first-ever co-op designed mode for Assassin’s Creed, for this was the main focus of the game after all.
Seeing my friend distract the guards at the front of a palace so that I could sneak in through the top left-hand side building and then pick off guards one by one as they see the commotion outside resembles that feeling that Assassin’s Creed has always done so well: the feeling that you can kill with whatever you want, wherever you want, and look stylish whilst doing it.
Set in the French revolution, the crowds were incredibly vast and missions aplenty, and they even found a way to put more modern-day landmarks into the game which I was super pleased to see since it was unlikely we would visit the same time period again in the Assassin’s Creed world.
You play as Arno, who is romantically infatuated with a member of the Templar order and his childhood friend, Elise. This dynamic was,
unfortunately, repeatedly underutilised for what it was. Though it’s not the end of the world considering Arno is as one-dimensional as you get and very much sits beside Conor as one of the worst protagonists of the series.
The present-day storyline, well, doesn’t exist. You are playing as someone who has bought the Abstergo Animus entertainment system. Using the system to play as your ancestors, the only sneak peeks we have of what’s going on in the present-day is some assassin’s hacking through the animus in an attempt to recruit you for their cause. A bitter disappointment from Black Flag’s innovating present-day story mode.
And although we saw the birth of the co-op mode in Unity, we never got to see this mode used again in the series. A shame.
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue
Unity’s sibling. Originally planned to be released two weeks after Unity, because of Unity’s delay they ended up releasing on the same day.
There were obvious concerns with the number of resources needed to make two Assassin’s Creed games side-by-side if you didn’t want to let the quality be damaged (although they did this to a smaller degree with Liberation), but despite the use of assets Ubisoft already had, this was a very interesting tactic to be sure.
Two games released on the same day for the same franchise, one for the new console generation and one for the old. Another prime example of the experimentation that Ubisoft utilizes with this series. That’s not including the fact that you play as a Templar in Rogue: Shay Cormac.
Seeing the other side of the coin, so to speak. This is one of the perspectives that the franchise has been leaning towards ever since the very first game. Hearing the conversations between Altair and his victims, as well as Ezio and his targets, we’ve always known that the Templar vision is an enticing one. Haytham Kenway, for instance, is at least five times more likeable than his son, Conor.
This game does a few things very well. Mixing the Black Flagship mechanics with a new northern area of the Pacific Ocean, you can explore the frozen wonderland at your whim. You also visit New York once more – a city we haven’t visited since AC III. Furthermore, the present-day Abstergo offices are back. Repeating many of the same actions that you did in AC IV.
As you can see, a lot of these assets have been reused and changed ever-so-slightly. Safely concluding that the quality of the game could not meet the resources needed to make two entirely separate games with all-new periods and locations.
That being said, Shay was a great character. And seeing his journey with Achilles, Conor’s mentor, was a relationship that was finally explored to a great degree. The series was finally using these opportunities to explore these interesting dynamics. FINALLY.
The game did look a generation behind (because it was) but it was good at what it did. Still an interesting experiment which I don’t regret completing.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate
Syndicate is a really underrated Creed game. It’s fighting mechanics are absolutely ruthless and will leave you breathless just pulling off some of the combos it allows. The city of industrial London feels exactly how it should, with the areas near Parliament and Buckingham Palace open with wildlife and awe, whilst the factories and industry of other boroughs choke you with dust and civil decay.
Commanding the Frye twins, you takeover London borough by borough with your gang of Rooks to free the oppressed from the hands of the Templars. Syndicate was caught at an unfortunate moment where fatigue for the franchise started to settle in big time.
We’ve had at least one, if not more, Assassin’s Creed games every year since 2009. Players wanted Ubisoft to innovate, and really take their time in creating something special with the franchise. That means that not as many players got to experience the chemistry between the twins, nor their different fighting styles.
Nor explore industrial London as you’ve never seen it before in any video game. Nor be pulled into its staple signature factors which players love so: beautiful graphics, addictive upgrading systems, which by the way, at this point meant that AC was pretty much an RPG, and hours of content to play through. Meeting impeccable British figures such as Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale, and Queen Victoria herself was a dream come true for a British-born player such as myself.
Speaking of which, the mystery death missions were some of the best side missions the Creed games have ever seen. Something which Ubisoft has attempted to replicate to a small but fairly unsuccessful degree in the more recent games.
Not including the terrifying Jack the Ripper DLC which gave players a fantastic excuse to play as Jack the Ripper in the most over-the-top way possible.
Syndicate is a really great game. It may get boring 70-hours in, in a similar vein to Unity, but this is one of the best Creed games right here.
Post Syndicate we had a break for the franchise – one which everybody needed. Though Ubisoft did release a poorly received movie and remastered collection of the Ezio trilogy during this break year. Of which the trilogy didn’t seem to resonate as well as they’d hope either. But for most of us, this was a well-needed break for the franchise.
So, we have finally reached the end of my journey with Assassin’s Creed. Well, almost. What came next was a game that I was dying to play for months. And yet, one which never really satisfied my lust for the anticipating return of this franchise which I love so dearly.