The Evolution of Assassin’s Creed

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The months and weeks have now turned to days, bringing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey so close to us that the butterflies have began to swarm in the pits of our stomachs. The review copies have been sent out; meaning a short trip to YouTube will bring you a spoiler-heavy surprise. For those wanting to experience the game as a fresh experience we would recommend going YouTube silent for a couple of days. Either way the release date of October 5th is just days away, and with what we have heard from the review copies, this game is shaping up to be one for the ages. Perhaps Odyssey will finish what Origins started, and bring the franchise back into the mainstream spotlight.

At one point in time Assassin’s Creed games were one of the most anticipated games every year, and after the release of the first two games, this series quickly became Ubisoft’s most profitable franchise. They turned a once Prince of Persia spin-off into a juggernaut, expanding from games to novels and comics, and they even made a freaking movie (For better or worse)! In this piece we will outline the Evolution of Assassins Creed.

[Editors’ Note: Most major plot points are discussed during this article, and as such there are several spoilers about the series in the text below. If you intend to play through the series with a blind eye to major events, we’d recommend doing so before reading this article. If you do not mind having story prior to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey spoiled, we would love for you to read on!]

Assassin’s Creed’s Humble Origins:

Art showing what the cancelled title may have looked like!

In 2004, work was starting on a new spin-off to the popular Prince of Persia series. After the release of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time the series was at an all-time high. With demand from fans spreading like a wildfire. The concept, commonly referred to as Prince of Persia: Assassins, would see a female mercenary or assassin trying to find and rescue the kidnapped royal prince (who you normally played as in previous games). The assassin would be his bodyguard, and the game would also feature a co-op mode, although no more details were released.

As the game was chugging along the concept of playing as an assassin seemed to grow more and more on the creative staff behind the game. So much so that the Prince of Persia name was eventually scrapped all together giving birth to the first Assassin’s Creed in 2007. The game wound up being heavily influenced by the 1938 novel Alamut written by Vladimir Bartol. Go check out the plot points and see the eerie similarities for yourself. Little did Ubisoft know, but the original title turned out to be a surprise hit and even though the game was plagued with a few bugs, and got really repetitive after the first few hours, Assassins Creed was a breath of fresh air! From the realistic movement of the main protagonist Altair, to calculating the perfect time to plunge your hidden blade deep into an unsuspecting foe’s juggler. Then there was the combat, mostly the swordplay which is a mimic of real one-on-one combat, continuously looking for a perfect strike or countering for a deadly killing blow. We haven’t even mentioned the parkour; the climbing mechanics are second to none, blending what its predecessor Prince of Persia brought to the table with other games such as Tomb Raider. You can climb ANYTHING, from church steeples to people’s homes, if your mind asks “Can I climb that?” chances are you probably can.

The Original protagonist Altair in Assassins Creed

The open world was something of its own, this is where the fan-favorite (insert wink here) tower climbing started. Although the three towns of Jerusalem, Damascus, and Acre weren’t as populated as later cities, they brought to life a time period that hasn’t been visited much in games.

The modern day storyline introduced us to the main protagonist, Desmond Miles, throughout this early sect of the series. After being abducted by the modern front of the Templar Order (the main antagonists of the entire franchise) Abstergo Entertainment, he was then thrown into a crazy machine called the Animus. We are forced to play through the memories of his assassin ancestor Altair, all the while searching for pieces of exotic technology left behind by the remnants of an ancient civilization, the Isu.

The Next Big Thing:

From L-R. Young Ezio in AC II, Slightly Older Ezio from AC Brotherhood, and a much older Ezio from AC Revelations

After the crazy success of the first Assassins Creed, Desmond’s story was continued with the super-popular Assassins Creed II. Assassins Creed II saw us take control of yet another of Desmond’s ancestors this time taking control of Ezio Auditore Da Firenze literally from his birth. This is the game that nearly every fan will tell you hooked them on the franchise. The game took the foundation that the original title gave us and built an empire upon it! Everything was revamped and refined including the custom-built game engine that was created just for this franchise.

We had left behind the Holy War with the Third Crusade to roam the bustling cities of Italy during the Italian Renaissance. The cities are teeming with life, with more than double the amount of NPC’s, and the fantastic open world experience left such a mark that many fans still believe that this was the peak of the series, even after all these years.

Ubisoft saw this and had no intentions on taking their feet off of the gas pedal, quickly releasing two more games in quick succession; Assassins Creed Brotherhood and Assassins Creed Revelations. These games continued the story of Desmond and his historical counter-part Ezio. With Brotherhood showing us a slightly older Ezio and his interaction with a fully rebuilt Assassin brotherhood. Thus giving him the ability to call his fellow protégé’s into battle for help. Revelations however, gave us a much older Ezio who relied more-so on gadgets and technology (including his Apple of Eden) than on his brute strength/cat-like agility like we had in previous installments. We also were treated to the return of Altair in some short game play segments. Ezio searched for Altair’s codex and came under the realization that he was only a conduit to his far-away ancestor Desmond. He finally found Altair (or his skeleton) located in a special vault. The members of the Isu told Ezio/Desmond of an oncoming world-wide catastrophe and the means in which to stop it, but more on that later. After Revelations Ubisoft released Embers, a short  animated movie that showed Ezio later in life and his death, Making Ezio the first and only character to be fully shown from birth to death, making Ezio’s life some of the most fun we have ever had in a video game.

Moving On:

Connor Kenway surrounded by a host of other characters from AC III

After the death of Ezio, the time came to complete Desmond’s story, and what we received was the much debated Assassins Creed III. We were introduced at first to Master Templar Haytham Kenway, another ancestor who after meeting a native woman, conceives the main protagonist, Connor Kenway, a half British/half Native American man who after meeting Achilles Davenport becomes a member of the Colonial Brotherhood of Assassins. The Solar Flare doomsday scenario was prevalent in this installment, with the game ending with Desmond sacrificing himself for the fate of humanity.

The game play mechanics were overhauled with the controls changing to make for a smoother gameplay experience. As a result of these changes, players now could chain attacks like never before, making Connor (along with his hatchet) one of the deadliest assassins to date. The problem with Connor was his personality. Ezio was a charming, charismatic, hell of a guy, whereas Connor was very serious in his goals, rarely smiled and never made a joke. In his defense Connor was fighting the entire game for the fate of his people.

Overall the game was pretty good, bringing the setting to America, and the Revolutionary War proved to be a game changer. This was by far the most relatable and one of, if not the  best setting perhaps the franchise has ever had. Standing beside of General George Washington, Riding through Lexington and Concord with Paul Revere, you can’t make this stuff up!

Too Much of a Good Thing…

Arno Dorian looking over the broken remnants of his game…I mean Paris, He is definitely looking over Paris!

It has been said that “Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be a Bad Thing”. Apparently Ubisoft didn’t abide by this concept because starting with Assassins Creed II; they released 9 games from 2009 to 2015! Stagnating the franchise and wearing out their welcome. Yes we love Assassins Creed, but with all these games in the pipeline the quality suffered with the games becoming a repetitive mess, and some even being unplayable (we are looking at you Unity). Although not all were bad, Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag is a true delight that I find myself still re-playing to this day.

Black Flag took the side game ship mechanics from Assassins Creed III and turned it up to 11! Giving us a full-fledged Pirate game more than an Assassins Creed game. Connor’s grandfather (Haytham’s Father) Edward Kenway was a return to form in the type of protagonist we all loved with Ezio.

Assassins Creed Rogue built upon our time with Master Templar Haytham Kenway, and gave us a game where we took control of an Assassin turned Templar named Shay Patrick Cormac. Most fans skipped this game because Ubisoft did the unthinkable; they released two main entry games of the same franchise in the same year! With Rogue releasing on the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and their first game built for the next generation, Assassin’s Creed Unity releasing on PC, PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One.

Unity begins where Rogue left off, with Shay Patrick Cormac killing Master Assassin Charles Dorian. This left his son (our new protagonist) Arno Dorian an orphan who is took in by the local Templar Grand Master, but Arno still manages to become an Assassin. Confusing, right?

Unity is set during the French Revolution, which on paper sounds amazing, but what we got was a barely playable game, with Arno climbing structures that weren’t there and only the eyes, hair, and lips visible on some NPC’s faces during cut scenes. It was clear that the empire Ubisoft had built was starting to crumble and the façade had more than a few cracks. Ubisoft responded by offering the planned Dead Kings DLC for free, but by then the damage was done and fans were revolting more than the NPC’s in Unity!

Ubisoft went ahead the following year with their next installment Assassins Creed Syndicate, but the wound left behind by Unity was still festering, Syndicate saw the lowest sales figures of any Assassins Creed game yet. I’m not knocking the game because it actually was pretty good, as was Unity, after the bugs were fixed. After the release of Syndicate the writing was on the wall, and it was very clear that drastic changes needed to be made regarding the franchise’s release cycle.

The Future Is Now:

Bayek of Siwa zipping down the slope of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Ubisoft has always been a company that takes risks, bets on the long shot, and is unafraid to change. They halted all production and announced for the first time since 2009 we would not have a new Assassins Creed game in 2016. Instead we would get three short 2.5 dimension games in the Assassins Creed Chronicles mini-series and a feature film starring Michael Fassbender. Both flopping upon release, with only Assassins Creed Chronicles: China receiving praise. Around this time it was leaked that Ubisoft was working on a new trilogy of games with the first to launch in the fall of 2017. This game, code-named Empire, would have a new protagonist and a setting that had been requested for years, Ancient Egypt. The trilogy which had been named by fans, the Antiquities trilogy would also see the next settings as Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.

At E3 2017 Ubisoft unveiled Assassins Creed Origins to the world. The game looked new, and seemed like a breath of fresh air for the franchise. Players assumed control of Bayek of Siwa, an ancient sheriff so to speak, although his official title was Medjay. After a tense 2016 with nothing to hold us over but Nikolai Orelov and Michael Fassbender, Origins released to critical acclaim with major gaming outlets giving it top honors and high praise. Origins started a trend of shifting the game from what it was to what it is today, by adding some RPG elements, and completely re-doing the combat system, giving us a hit-box style system more akin to Dark Souls than the previous Assassins Creed style of fighting. We also could choose our own skills, the Eagle Vision ability from past games was changed to an actual Eagle (named Senu) allowing us to now locate objectives, target enemies, and scout locations all through a literal birds-eye-view. We now had to search tombs for special loot now classified by levels and rarity. And, the first thing every fan most likely accomplished? Climb the Great Pyramid of Giza!

Origins also had a deep post-launch schedule, giving us two DLC’s. Although, The Hidden Ones DLC felt more like cut content it, coupled with The Curse Of The Pharaohs, brought new life to a franchise that’s core mechanic is death. Well, causing death! We also got daily missions that mostly felt like playing fetch with your dog (but still it was new to the series) and the highly regarded Trial of the Gods, which pitted Bayek against three larger than life gods from ancient Egypt. Lastly, for the first time since Assassins Creed III we were treated to a new, voiced, playable modern day protagonist in Layla Hassan.

Alexios with his sidekick Ikaros

Now here we are in 2018 with another Assassins Creed game launching in just a few days time. Although, Ubisoft has already announced that we will have no main series entry in 2019, it still has been less than a year since Origins and its DLC’s wrapped up. This was also prior to the announcement of no new game in 2019. It seemed as if Ubisoft were up to their old tricks. Man we have never been more wrong!

Assassins Creed Odyssey took what Origins built upon and jumped right off the proverbial cliff. Origins began the trek into a more RPG style game, and Odyssey finishes with a full on RPG experience. For the first time ever we get to choose between a male and female protagonist and, unlike Syndicate‘s the Frey twins where you could interchange between them throughout the game, once you decide at the beginning of Odyssey, your fate is sealed. I’ll not go into too much depth with this, as we already have an article regarding the changes coming in Odyssey, which you can read here.

Conclusion:

Everyone is here for the Party, even Desmond Miles!

Has Assassins Creed had its faults? No one doubts it, but when Ubisoft is good, they are great! From the Holy War to the collapse of the French monarch, the Assassins Creed franchise has been giving us a unique perspective on history for over a decade now. Ubisoft has etched itself into eternity and, after said decade worth of titles, I’m still looking forward to what the series does next. The future looks bright for Assassins Creed, but the past looks even better!