Introduction to Assassination
Every Assassin’s Creed game has been met with huge anticipation and AC: Origins is no exception. Origins explores ancient Egypt and the roots of the Assassin Brotherhood. It’s one of the few times the AC series has gone chronologically backwards, and definitely the first time it’s been set BCE.
But while AC: Origins is about where the Assassin’s Order starts, it’s not where it all kicked off for us. That story began in 2007, with a game that started life as a Prince of Persia sequel. A game that would be crafted into a classic.
It’s easy to see why Assassin’s Creed is popular. It mixes the best parts of ninjas, extreme parkour, and The Da Vinci Code (almost literally in the case of AC2). The mystique and intrigue of the Brotherhood mixed with supernatural circumstances and, frankly, some of best character design in gaming, makes for singleplayer heaven.
Including Origins, there have been ten main storyline games in the past ten years. Each successive game has made changes to both gameplay and style, adding their own DNA to the mix. In this way, Origins is less of a beginning than a culmination of previous works.
I decided to do some simulated time travelling of my own and trace the path of the series and relive the history of Assassin’s Creed, game by game. I played each game in the order they were released. I have played a lot of AC over the last couple of months. The only ones I skipped were trio of platformers, called Assassin’s Creed Chronicles.
As I went along the differences were sometimes stark and at other times subtle. It’s interesting to see what has remained from the first game, to the latest version. (For a quick note, I have listed the console I played the game on).
Before I get into each game though, what is the Assassin’s Creed? What do the assassins stand for? The short answer seems to be freedom. The long answer is more confusing.
The first game, which I’ll get to shortly, describes the Creed in the opening scenes with Altaïr. It’s all about who they can and cannot killm being secretive, and rules for being an Assassin. But you can’t base a Brotherhood on rules about killing people.
The following “Ezio games” only lightly touch on the Creed. It’s about stopping the Knights Templar because they’re bad and want to control the world – which is more of an end goal than a Creed.
Oddly one of the worst games in the franchise, Assassin’s Creed 3, was the first to try and delve into what the actual ethos of the Assassins is. How is running around killing people to get the “Pieces of Eden” (the MacGuffin’s of AC) any different to what the Templars are doing?
But it took until the pirate-assassins of Black Flag before the series really got deep into the Creed. It’s all about free will.
The Assassins fight and kill to keep people free from the yoke of tyranny and oppression – free to choose to do whatever they want. This is perhaps why the very next game was set during the French revolution; why in Syndicate the Frye twins freed child laborers; and in Freedom Cry, Adewale created a freed-slave militia in Haiti.
Once this creed is set – the Assassin Brotherhood fights for freedom, the Templar Order fights for control – it’s easy to see the theme flow back through the games that never mentioned it. Altaïr never fought for philosophical freedom, but literal freedom when his mentor enslaved the Assassins with a Piece of Eden. Ezio freed Rome and Florence from control of various power hungry forces. And so on.
Quite a big theme for a game that’s mainly about jumping off tall buildings and stabbing people.
While Assassin’s Creed is my favourite game franchise, I had never played the original. Every other game talked about Altaïr, the master assassin, with such reverence that I assumed the game would be mind blowing. And perhaps it was in 2007, as a new title, with a new storyline and no reference for what was to come.
Playing it, with the benefit of foresight, was awful.
The game feels claustrophobic. The cities Altaïr visits are tiny. The roads between them are narrow canyons. There are no real soaring towers or open spaces. Everything feels enclosed and cramped, the opposite to the freedom the Assassin’s Creed is supposed to encapsulate.
Altaïr is not all he was promised either. The first time you see the legendary assassin he is murdering as an innocent old man, and breaking the first part of the Creed. He then goes on to botch a mission. That’s a bad introduction.
He also has a jarring American accent.
All the basics of Assassin’s Creed games starts here. Altaïr can climb almost anything. He can conceal himself from pursuers in haystacks and other hidey-holes. Those haystacks are also useful for landing in when jumping off buildings. There are the viewpoints around the maps that fill in detail. And he can blend into certain crowds.
As well as learning who the Assassins are and what they do, this is when we first meet Desmond Miles.
Desmond is the person who is really controlling Altaïr, and we control Desmond. As such the control layout is cleverly called “puppeteering.”
I had always assumed that Desmond’s backstory was laid out in a cutscene or something at the start of the game. Instead we are oddly told Desmond’s history through a voice over – distancing us from him. I don’t care about a guy who whines a lot and spends most of the game lying on a table.
He’s an Assassin, but only in name, and he doesn’t know who the Templars are, or why Abstergo (the modern Templars) are making him relive his ancestor’s memories. He spends most of this game not really knowing what’s going on and whining about it. It’s a real mess.
It also sets a precedent for future entries, where playing as Desmond is always the worst part of the game.
In a nice piece of voice casting, Kristen Bell plays the character of Lucy, who is (spoiler alert) actually an Assassin working inside Abstergo. Alongside Nolan North voicing Desmond, they make the boring sections of the game a little more bearable.
The first Assassin’s Creed shines when you’re in cities, running over rooftops. But sadly it keeps pulling you down to the ground to fight. It would take an Italian to really make the series soar.
Assassin’s Creed 2 is a true classic, outshining its predecessor in every aspect and is possibly the biggest step up between AC games. From its cities and characters, to the storyline; AC2 is the game that set the bar. It also added something missing from the first one: fun.
While the first game set-up the guts of how Assassin’s Creed would work, the second game found its heart. Ezio is a charismatic rogue, with a charming smile and a happy-go-lucky attitude. This is what the players wanted. More swashbuckling than angst.
Unlike Altaïr, he isn’t an Assassin when we meet him, and has to be inducted into the Order through his family. After an inevitable tragedy (the murder of his father and brothers) opens Ezio’s eyes to the “real” world around him, his uncle steps in to teach him how to do the Assassin-y bits.
As a quick aside, the game’s tone is firmly locked in when, after a short battle, Ezio’s uncle introduces himself by saying: “It’s-a me, Mario!”
The biggest change is the establishment of a single, large explorable city. You do travel to other towns but the large city of Florence is as much a supporting character as anyone you encounter.
In the first game the locations felt generic. Less like actual cities than designed game levels. This was especially the case with the roads between them.
AC2 required players to explore the cities properly to collect items. Unlike the first game, where you could collect hundreds of flags for no reason, the collectables actually unlocked extras. Most notable is Altaïr’s armour, gained by collecting six seals.
As another aside, there is a statue of Egyptian assassin Amunet in the vault with the armour. The statue’s plaque says that on 12 August 30 BCE, Amunet infiltrated Cleopatra VII's palace and killed Cleopatra using a venomous asp. Cleopatra is in AC: Origins, so that might be interesting.
Clearly AC2 is the true origin of the series. More from this game has flowed through to newer titles. The first game felt like a bunch of interesting ideas, but AC2 sharpened them up. This continued in the next two titles.
Continue reading on page 2.