First To Worst: Looking Back On The Assassin’s Creed Games
When Ubisoft announced that a new Assassin’s Creed game would not be coming to consoles in 2016, the entire video game industry dropped its collective jaw. For better or worse, the company seems adamant on keeping its word, meaning that players will just have to find other ways to get their haystack diving fix. With a new film/mobile game on the horizon, however, that shouldn’t be too tough. And who could possibly forget about Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles, the series of games Mark Of The Ninja fans might just have to settle for until a proper sequel to the latter is finally released? Nevertheless, the break in this long running franchise that the company has so considerately granted us seems the perfect time to look back on these games and reflect on the series as a whole. Spoilers for a plot too convoluted for such a thing to even be an issue incoming.
Assassin’s Creed II
In almost all ways, Assassin’s Creed II did exactly what a good sequel should do. It improved upon the look of the game, it added new depth to its combat system, making encounters with guards quicker and more fluid, and, perhaps most notably, it fleshed out characters both old and new. Players suddenly had an assassin they cared about (and who would later go on to star in every goddamned game in the franchise), and the fact that most people were shocked to see the game’s bloodthirsty killing machine running around in street clothes and cracking jokes makes one realize just how little they actually knew about “that dude in the white hood, or something.”
Above all else, though, Assassin’s Creed II tells a more personal story than its predecessor. Your character experiences betrayal and he loses people – loved ones – because of it. He sets out on a quest for vengeance, regardless of what that might mean and, frankly, that story is much more interesting than whatever the heck those pseudo-otherworldly phantoms are going on about as the series progresses.
How dope was that cliffhanger though?
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
If you’re not one of the dozens of people posting on the Ubisoft forums demanding they make an open world pirate game, and it’s not because you’re busy posting on every social media account EA has demanding they make Skate 4, then it’s probably because you haven’t played the remarkable Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
In many ways, Black Flag feels far removed from the standard Assassin’s Creed formula, and the game is all the better for it. Sailing across a vast ocean with exotic islands both big and small scattered about while your crewmen sing shanties of dead men and beautiful women is both a welcome and refreshing change from, well, running.
Naval combat, originally introduced in Assassin’s Creed III, is front and center this time around, and your ship, outfitted with its own upgrade menus, feels less like a prop and more like a second main character.
The first main character, of course, is the self-serving pirate turned reluctant assassin, Edward Kenway, grandfather to Assassin’s Creed III’s Connor. Not since Ezio made his initial debut has a protagonist in this series been so charismatic and fun to listen to. Edward, looking for little more than riches and notoriety (but of course is still blessed with Eagle Vision because why wouldn’t he be?) is only interested in fighting with the assassins while it fits into his own personal agenda. Can you believe this dude is actually related to that bland, monotone Tea Party crasher?
In the end, Assassin’s Creed IV’s likable cast of characters, uncharacteristic environment, and genuinely thrilling plot – that neither outstays its welcome nor manages to get tied down by incomprehensible present day mumbo jumbo – place it well ahead of the other games.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
When Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood was announced for release, many people were skeptical, expecting it to be nothing more than a glorified expansion pack to Assassin’s Creed II. That will apparently happen when you annualize your most popular franchise and your most heavily boasted about addition is an online multiplayer mode. Nevertheless, Brotherhood would ultimately go on to become a favorite among fans.
Ezio returns and he still doesn’t know who Desmond is. That’s alright, though, because he brought some friends with him this time around! True to its name, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood sees everyone’s favorite Pope punishing Italian rebuilding the clan.
Calling on your AI buddies during combat/missions makes for a refreshing in-game experience that already feels far removed from Assassin’s Creed II, and when players aren’t fighting side by side with their recruits, they can send them out on missions to level them up and earn some in-game currency as well. That extra revenue comes in handy when upgrading Rome, which then rewards you with discounts at shops. In short, there’s a lot to do in this game’s single player when you’re not playing through the actual story, which proves to be just as engaging a second time around.
The multiplayer itself is a great idea, as there aren’t nearly enough big name AAA titles offering the kind of cat and mouse gameplay that this does. Multiple unlockable abilities, however, mean that you’re already at a disadvantage unless you play enough to keep up with the pack. Nevertheless, the new online mode felt inspired, which is another big win for people who feared the worst since the annualization.
If Assassin’s Creed II managed to improve and expand upon all of the great features that the original game had going for it, then Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood took those established ideas and perfected them.
The original Assassin’s Creed has not aged well. The game itself can be extremely repetitive, the only interesting thing about the main character is the fact that he’s the only Caucasian in all of Jerusalem (though the developers would go on to change his character’s voice by the time Assassin’s Creed: Revelations would come out, when the gaming industry was presumably finally alright with the idea of playing as a Muslim character), and the actual mechanics of the game were, at best, “functional.”
All of that aside, however, the game was still a whole lot of fun when it originally released in 2007. Surprisingly enough, too, the assassination missions were much more open to interpretation than later entries in the series, placing the player in a relatively open area and allowing them the freedom to figure out how best to dispose of the target. Also, sitting on a bench and waiting for a conversation between two NPC’s to play out might not exactly scream fun, but I’ll personally take that over a tail mission any day of the week.
Overall, while Assassin’s Creed was a flawed game in many ways, it ultimately showed promise. See Watch_Dogs for more on that.
Assassin’s Creed III
The fact that Assassin’s Creed III managed to be so severely underwhelming despite everything it had to work with perhaps speaks more to what fatigue can do to a franchise than to the actual quality of this particular game. As a standalone product, Assassin’s Creed III had a lot of cool stuff going for it. Unfortunately, this game doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and the gameplay itself had become so predictable at this point that a lot of it was hard to look past.
Side quests are, of course, a thing and – OF COURSE – seldom rewarding, collectibles are abundant enough to occasionally make you stop and wonder if you’ve actually been playing a Banjo Kazooie game for the past three hours, and full synchronization in missions makes a return, once again limiting your freedom to assassinate your targets your way, which is perhaps somewhat ironic for a game whose themes tie so closely to freedom (the game takes place around the American Revolution if you didn’t get that).
Of the new additions, some things work and some things don’t. Combat is either extremely simple and boring or super awesome and a welcome change, depending on whether or not you like to be challenged and how much you care about feeling and looking like a total badass capable of single handedly taking on dozens of enemies at a time, respectively. In short, press the counter button once when an enemy attacks and then spam the attack button to chain-kill everyone around you. Stealthy, huh?
The game’s frontier area is also an interesting idea that ultimately falls flat, as I eventually found myself tired or running back and forth quite a distance to – AGAIN – deal with those side quests.
Naval combat is perhaps the most significant addition to Assassin’s Creed III, and while it would go on to lead to one of the best games in the franchise, even that feels somewhat out of place in this game.
When Leonardo da Vinci showed up in Assassin’s Creed II, players were genuinely surprised and excited to find that the legendary inventor would be aiding you on your quest for vengeance, but by the time Assassin’s Creed III rolls around and you’ve got the hero completing fetch quests for Benjamin Franklin, one cannot help but think, “I see what they’re doing here, sure.”
More than anything else, Assassin’s Creed III needed to shake things up. People needed to care enough about this game to dive back in for a fifth time, and while there’s certainly plenty of “new” in this game, nothing feels meaningful enough to shake the feeling that you’re just going through the motions once again.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity
Assassin’s Creed: Unity is a broken mess even when it’s not a broken mess. When originally revealed at E3 2014, the game promised to be something grand for the franchise, and coming off the spectacular Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, players were inclined to believe it. Assassination missions looked more open ended than ever before, a completely redesigned parkour system made traversing the city look effortless and exciting, and, holy shit, four player co-op?! Upon release, however, the game proved to be nothing more than a rusty old bike hidden beneath a still wet coat of paint.
At launch, the game was a bug-ridden nightmare. Players on consoles experienced abysmal frame rate drops, making the game borderline unplayable at times, your character would sometimes fall through the in-game floor for no apparent reason, and I’m sure we all remember those horrific face glitches going around. A faceless protagonist somewhat makes sense, though, when you realize fairly shortly into the game that Arno Dorian, the charming, charismatic Frenchman with a super out of place English accent, is nothing more than an Ezio clone. People liked him, right? Let’s just do that again.
The combat, too, is another disappointment. At best, it feels sluggish and boring. At worst, it does that and also drops the frame rate to tremendously low levels. The developers once said that a whole new emphasis had been placed on stealth, but one cannot help wondering if they maybe had something else in mind. Regardless, that most definitely did the trick, as I constantly found myself doing whatever I possibly could to avoid direct confrontation.
Despite all of these faults, though, tethered to a ridiculous plot, Assassin’s Creed: Unity is not the worst game in the franchise, only because Assassin’s Creed: Revelations will never cease to exist.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
If Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood set out to show players that annual Assassin’s Creed games – even ones where you play as the same protagonist – can still feel fresh, and innovative, and important, then Assassin’s Creed: Revelations successfully proved to them that, no, they fucking can’t.
Uninteresting Portal-esque platforming/puzzle sections, a painfully simple and uninspired bomb crafting system, and a poorly realized tower defense mode that literally showed up completely out of nowhere are just some of the many features in this game to never actually return in any future iterations of the franchise.
One cannot help but wonder what the developers were actually thinking while they were making this game. New for the sake of new, that’s what they were thinking. Let’s just toss a bunch of shit at the wall and see what actually sticks. Unfortunately for them, however, the players who purchase these games – even those who choose to do so year after year – are at least slightly more intelligent than the rooftop guards scattered throughout the in-game world.
And that’s the list! Comment below if you would like to scream at the author about how the first Assassin’s Creed game should be significantly lower. Omitted from this list are both Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, as the author has not played nearly enough of those games to speak to the quality of them.
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