An Assassin’s Creed Retrospective

At this point, I have played most of the Assassin’s Creed series. I never buy these games unless they’re discounted to about $20 or less, and even then only if I have nothing else to spend the money on. Money has been particularly tight recently, which means I still haven’t bought Syndicate or Origins, and I still haven’t gotten around to Unity. I think I’ve played enough of this series to offer a retrospective on where exactly things went wrong, as it is generally agreed that things went wrong. Also, rambling about video games is relatively easy content, so here we go.

Assassin’s Creed

Assassin's Creed 1

The first Assassin’s Creed was almost a different series from what came later. The basic bones of what would become the stock Ubisoft open world game where there, in that there were towers you climbed to reveal sections of the map and lots of little side quests to complete, but in addition to having invented this style of gameplay, Assassin’s Creed had also clearly invented it for assassination. The side quests were directly related to gathering intelligence on a specific target, which gave the feeling of scouting out a city for opportunities, gathering intel, and then striking at the target before running to hide in the city and then escaping to safety. Later games in the series removed critical components of this arc, which completely ruined the feel of assassination. The side quests were no longer at all relevant to the targets you were killing, but were instead just random things you could go do if you thought it would be fun. The main missions weren’t necessarily to kill a guy, and were often the same kind of “follow a guy around to eavesdrop on him” content that used to be gated into side missions. Side missions which, I might add, you only needed to complete a fraction of. If you really hated eavesdropping missions, you could skip them. The only necessary content was the part where you actually stabbed a dude and ran away. And the nature of the stabbing dudes missions pretty much required you to reveal yourself when you pounced, which then led to the frenetic chase (or later in the game, possibly a sword fight if that’s what you were down with) until you lost your pursuers and returned to safety. In later games, while this conceit was occasionally recreated in story missions, it’s often without any need to actually return to a specific safe location and with the guards only on high alert in a small area, which removes the feeling of slowly creeping back towards safety through a city on edge after you’ve lost your immediate pursuers.

Altair is also a very different protagonist from the rest of the series. While almost every other protagonist has been a mostly generic do-gooder dedicated to the assassin cause for backstory reasons that have almost no impact on their character arc at all (notable exception being Edward Kenway, star of one of the best games of the later series, notable missed opportunity for an exception being Ratonhnhaké:ton/Connor, star of one of the worst). Rather than giving Altair some childhood need for revenge as is the default, Altair simply is an assassin, and his character arc is driven by his own flaw: The hubris that led him to forsake the way of the assassin to make a direct assault on the Templars, thus allowing them to get away with the Apple of Eden. It’s worth noting that this kind of hubris is the kind of thing you can totally get away with all the time in later Assassin’s Creed games. Altair is initially proud and resentful of the humiliation delivered to him for the catastrophe brought about by his arrogance, but later on admits to his faults and apologizes to the person most harmed by his actions. It’s not a stunning character arc or anything, but it’s compelling at all, and as we’ll get to, later Assassin’s Creed games can almost never manage that. The whole thing is delivered with a few conversations with mid-ranking Assassin officers, too, without the benefit of the cinematic cut scenes later games would rely so heavily on. Usually to their detriment.

Further, the first Assassin’s Creed game didn’t set up one side as the good guys and the other side as villainous, but rather had Templar infiltrators amongst all of them. This was probably done out of political necessity to avoid making one side or the other of a religious war the good guys, but it was a great idea. Whereas later Assassin’s Creed games paint historical conflicts as the Rebel Alliance vs. the Empire with occasional nods towards shades of grey, the first game depicted a historical reality of two armies clashing largely for the ambition and gloryhounding of their leaders, fraught with conspiratorial intrigue as the Templars sought to secure victory by placing infiltrators on both sides so that no matter who won, they would be in control. This conspiratorial intrigue would decay in Assassin’s Creed II before collapsing completely in III.

The first Assassin’s Creed also sets up what is going to be the series’ enduring strength through all of its installments: Historical tourism. Although the Holy Land during the Third Crusade isn’t a super fun place to be in, it does feel like you’re in that place. A war zone caught between two armies, both on edge and looking for an excuse to stick someone to relieve some tension. People complained about the strict enforcement of the medieval speed limit, but it made the place really feel like it was at war and you really didn’t want to draw attention from the armies fighting it. There was a fast travel system that allowed you to bypass it anyway, so if you really disliked the feeling of trying to avoid drawing attention while passing through a heavily militarized countryside, you barely had to interact with it anyway.

Assassin’s Creed II

Assassin's Creed 2Assassin's Creed BrotherhoodAssassin's Creed Revelations

Assassin’s Creed II was actually a trilogy, but I’m going to cover them all in one section because these games were infamously not very distinct from each other, especially Revelations, which was basically a reskin of Brotherhood. Assassin’s Creed II brings us Ezio Auditore, a protagonist who, rather than really being an assassin, is a Florentine noble who has been trained in the assassin arts. This distinction is all-pervasive in the game. Instead of side quests offering intelligence on a target, they offer money, that can be spent on restoring a dilapidated estate. Instead of assassinating a conspiracy of infiltrators across two warring armies as part of an ideological conflict between the Assassins and the Templars, you assassinate a conspiracy attempting to amass power for themselves because they killed your family and you want revenge, I guess. Instead of a character arc revolving around the actual creed of the Assassins and the protagonist’s loyalty or lack thereof to it, we have a character arc revolving around a bog standard coming of age story in which the protagonist happens to have assassination skills.

I appreciate the game making some effort to make us care about the family by having us spend any time at all with them at the beginning of the game before they’re killed (unlike, say, Dishonored, which kills the Empress almost as soon as we meet her), but the section of the gameplay where we meet our family is so interminably dull that I still don’t care that much. The ideological conflict between the Assassins and Templars in the first games was actually quite viscerally compelling when you saw just how depraved and cruel the Templars were in their pursuit of their goals. The Templars weren’t mustache twirling super villains, but rather ideological extremists who believed their ends would justify their means, but their actions had a clear human cost. In Assassin’s Creed 2, the Templars kill your family and say “bwahaha, mine is an evil laugh!” and that’s the last real villainy we ever see from them. Sure, they attempt some assassinations and declare some wars, but so does Ezio. Whereas the first Assassin’s Creed game went out of its way to make Altair seem like a goddamn hero despite some seriously shady actions (he would execute ground-level pawns of the Templar after interrogating them to prevent them from letting the Templars know any information had been leaked – in one case, even one who was only working for the Templars under duress and was happy to divulge information to their enemies), the second game shows the Templars and the Assassins behaving in exactly the same way as one another, with the only difference coming down to our personal stake in the matter that it was our family, specifically, who got harmed by the Templar conspiracy, and the fact that the voice actors and character animators for the Assassins are friendly while the Templars are sinister. In fairness, we do see the Templars hang a child at the beginning, which is a level of villainy to which the Assassins never stoop, but in a game that spans a decade of time we never again see them do anything other than fight a war with the Assassins.

It’s an extremely shallow conflict, and it’s just as shallow in Brotherhood and Revelations, where, again, Templars are vilified mainly just for fighting their war against the Assassins using means almost identical to what the Assassins do to them (just like in Assassin’s Creed II, we occasionally hear of Templar agents doing legit awful things before we kill them, but it’s pushed far into the background compared to the emotional core of the fight against Templars that it was in the original). Apparently we’re supposed to be horrified because they kill people with unique character models, unlike Ezio, who knocks off hundreds of Templar pawns and agents, but hey, this guard is identical to that one so who cares?

The shallowness of this character arc comes to a head in the climax of Assassin’s Creed II and subsequent intro to Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. After winnowing the Templar conspiracy down to just one guy, Ezio goes to confront the final member, who has just become pope. He ambushes the Templar pope at the Basilica, defeats him in combat, has the pope at his mercy, but decides to spare him. This is apparently supposed to be Ezio’s heroic rejection of base revenge as a motivation? Bear in mind, we killed like eight people on the way in, each of whom was a grunt-level Templar pawn with no idea they were working for a conspiracy and who are, to our knowledge, guilty of no particular crime other than guarding VIPs from assassination attempts. Now, talking to the leader of the Templar conspiracy, the one responsible for every bad thing the Templars have done for the whole game, Ezio lets him go. Not because he’s been removed as a threat, mind you. The dude is still the pope in Renaissance Italy and has massive influence to continue doing harm. No, Ezio lets him go because he wouldn’t get any personal satisfaction out of killing him, so why bother? What’s even the point of doing things if you don’t personally benefit from them? Our hero, ladies and gentlemen. And then in the next game the pope immediately retaliates and destroys everything Ezio holds dear! So not only is Ezio a colossal jackass in the climax of Assassin’s Creed II, he’s also an idiot.

This trilogy is also where the repetitive nature of the games began to really take off. Assassin’s Creed had a bit of a problem with this already. Different side quests were often similar enough that once you’d done one, you felt like you’d done every other one of that type. This wasn’t true for all of them – the race side quests in particular felt fresh- and for some of them it wasn’t a big deal – saving people from abusive guards feels great even if you’ve done it eight times already – but it was a problem. Assassin’s Creed II added a few new side quest types that breathed a bit of fresh new life into the gameplay (many of them gated behind DLC, though coming into the game years after release I got just about all of it at once anyway), but by the end of the game it was running into the same problem of “we’ve done all this before.” Brotherhood and Revelations largely used the same assassinations and races as II had, even though by now we were all pretty damn sick of it. Revelations in particular was so similar to Brotherhood that it felt like a reskin, with the only meaningful new addition being a tower defense game that was so poorly made that I was really glad it could be safely ignored in favor of just recapturing every neighborhood the Templars took. I play Assassin’s Creed games to shut off and recharge, and even by that standard of “just put some gameplay in front of me so my hands have something to do while I listen to a podcast,” Revelations was dull and repetitive.

It’s also pretty telling that I can barely remember the plot of Revelations. We’re in Istanbul, and there’s…some kind of conspiracy going on. I’m pretty sure we’re trying to preserve the reign of the current Sultan against a conspiracy to depose him and install, like, his nephew or something. I forget the details, or why there was a conspiracy against the Sultan, or who the conspiracy was by. I guess probably Templars of some description, but I can’t even remember that much. Was this just a regular succession crisis? Probably not. You can’t throw a golden precursor space apple without hitting a Templar in the Assassin’s Creed games, but I can’t remember any specific Templar enemies from the game. The janissaries had cool masks, though, I remember that.

Revelations was also a bit of a let down in terms of historical tourism, which is a huge missed opportunity, but the trilogy in general was very good at it. Florence, Venice, and Rome are all great cities and all feel meaningfully different from one another. Florence feels like Renaissance Italy. Going to Venice from Florence, it really feels like we’re now in a new place, even if only because Venice is full of waterways which changes the way you parkour around town. In Brotherhood, they introduced the restoration of shops and landmarks around the city as a game mechanic, and with the number of awesome landmarks in Rome to restore, this made the city feel different from the others, like exploring a new place. Istanbul at the height of the Ottoman Empire should have been easy to distinguish from previous locations considering that it had “being Turkish” to go on right off the bat, compared to three Italian city states we’d just got off of, but instead it’s a reskin of Rome. You have to get yourself ferried across the Bosphorus, which is too wide to swim, but other than that, it’s Rome. Istanbul and Rome should not feel like the exact same city.

Revelations is the point where the Assassin’s Creed games went from a promising new IP and began to seriously stagnate. The problems for which they would eventually become infamous set in here, and unless Origins did something mindblowing I haven’t heard about yet, they were never solved.

Assassin’s Creed III

Assassin's Creed 3Assassin's Creed Liberation

This is the point when it became clear that the history of the Assassin’s Creed series was going to be summarized as “and then it got worse.” Assassin’s Creed III wasn’t as bad as Revelations in terms of sheer repetitiveness, although it’s close, but it’s the point when the series fully embraced Autobots vs. Decepticons as its narrative arc, when any sense of depth or nuance to the Assassin vs. Templar conflict was lost. In Assassin’s Creed III, you play as an Iroquois during the American Revolution. Here is a brief summary of the opinions of the Iroquois held by the two sides of the American Revolution:

Loyalist: The Iroquois served as a valuable ally and buffer against French Quebec leading up to and during the Seven Years’ War. In honor of our alliance with them during the war, we will guarantee their independence and the sanctity of their territory.

Patriot: We are constantly skirmishing with natives on our western border and should be able to push westward as far as we damn well please to put a stop to it and to acquire more land for our growing population. The Iroquois specifically aren’t really engaged in any significant raiding against us – in fact, two of the six tribes in the Iroquois Confederacy are actually on our side – but all natives are basically the same, right?

Thus, naturally our Iroquois protagonist sides with the Patriots. This isn’t unrealistic, because, as mentioned, two Iroquois tribes did side with the Patriots. What it is, though, is a huge missed opportunity. Occasional lip service is paid to how the Iroquois got their shit completely wrecked by the Continental Army in 1779, but it’s one scene and the protagonist’s unwillingness to fight for the Patriot side afterwards is completely token. You’re still storming British forts to claim them for the Continental Army and there’s no major battles in the North (where the game takes place) to refuse to participate in until the 1781 Battle of Yorktown…in which you fight on the side of the Patriots anyway! Hey, Washington, after you declared war on my people I’m not going to win your battles for you anymore, but I’ll totally sink half the British fleet on my way into the Chesapeake to confront my father.

There is an attempt to return to the original game’s nuance with Haytham Kenway, Ratonhnhaké:ton’s father, who does a reasonably good job of selling the Templars as seeking to bring order and stability to the world. They even do a callback to the first game in a couple of places by having Haytham refer back to the Assassins’ original goal in that game, peace, rather than the one they’ve got now, freedom, and having Haytham execute interrogatees when he’s finished with them, something Ratonhnhaké:ton takes exception to. You’ve kind of got a dynamic whereby Haytham is basically the same as Altair, but time has marched on and in the modern day that makes him a Templar, not an Assassin.

Unfortunately, just like with Ratonhnhaké:ton being Iroquois, they don’t really do anything with it. Haytham wants to bring order to the colonies by installing secret Templar Charles Lee as their ruler in place of George Washington (side note: Charles Lee? Really? The incompetent guy whose only major action in the Revolution was totally botching the Battle of Monmouth? Not Benedict Arnold, the guy who kicked ass in Quebec and then actually changed sides specifically because he was passed over for promotion in favor of George Washington?), but we never see him do anything particularly evil in pursuit of it. What happens when Haytham wins? Why would that be bad? George Washington was a pretty awesome president and not having him could have been bad for the stability of the early republic, but if we’re willing to assume that Haytham Kenway’s an effective leader and strategist (we’ve been given no reason to believe otherwise), we can presume that America is in no danger of imminent collapse even if Washington is removed from power. Since we can reasonably assume that America will succeed with Haytham ruling from the shadows, the conflict must come down to what Haytham will do with America when it is successful, and it’s never really established what that is and why we wouldn’t want it. There would be some nebulous infringement on freedoms, but it’s completely unclear exactly which rights Haytham wouldn’t be protecting. We do get a what-if DLC where George Washington is possessed by an Apple of Eden and becomes an evil tyrant, and maybe Haytham would end up the same way, but it’s not really clear, and in any case that’s DLC. Even for someone like me, who got all the DLC at once by buying several years late, the stakes for the main conflict should not be established after the credits.

Assassin’s Creed III had an opportunity for a conspiracy intrigue story about Templars on both sides of the American Revolution, trying to maintain control over the Colonies by infiltrating the Patriot side so that even if the rebellion succeeded, the Templars would still be in control. This would allow our hero Ratonhnhaké:ton to go around knocking people off from both sides of the conflict, and by not explicitly aligning him with the Patriots he can have an arc where he has to put the concerns of his people aside for the sake of the greater ideology of the Assassins, rather than stabbing them in the back by openly supporting their enemies. You could still have the scene where he has to fight his friend, but this time you could use it as a thematic conflict between Ratonhnhaké:ton’s loyalty to his people and to the Assassins, where he’s forced to choose between one and the other. As opposed to in the game we got, where the Iroquois are being manipulated by evil Templar Charles Lee (the same guy, mind you, who has been nothing but cruel to them for the duration of the game) and Ratonhnhaké:ton has been fighting directly for the Continental Army for years, so lip service to the greater Assassin/Templar conflict does basically nothing to change the fact that Ratonhnhaké:ton is clearly choosing to side with the Continental Army over his people.

Assassin’s Creed III does have some fun innovations in gameplay. While the homestead is just the estate from Assassin’s Creed II with more busywork, the game has stripped a lot of upgrades from Revelations out, which helps a lot with the problem earlier games had of one character’s steadily expanding arsenal becoming difficult to design challenges around, because Ezio had so many tools and so many of them were practically instant wins against enemies who weren’t specifically immune. Ratonhnhaké:ton can add some new tools like the rope dart and give players an actual reason to use them by removing some of Ezio’s ranged attacks that did basically the same thing, but better, and flintlocks were incorporated into the game well by having them be fast firing but have long reload times, rather than Ezio’s early firearms, which took forever to aim even at point-blank range but had no reload time at all. The really significant addition for the series was, of course, the ship fighting, which was a mini-game in this one but would become a much bigger deal in Black Flag.

Oh, also, Liberation was a thing. There was a fun mechanic where you’re light-skinned enough to pass for Mediterranean brown as a high society lady, dark-skinned enough to pass for African brown as a slave, and also you can put on your Assassin outfit for maximum murder potential, but the two civvy outfits are so rarely useful that there’s little reason to do anything but stay in murder mode except when absolutely required to be otherwise. There’s a thing where your mother figure is secretly a Templar that’s probably supposed to mirror Ratonhnhaké:ton and Haytham’s conflict in III, but the revelation comes so late in the game and said mother figure has been so absent from the story so far that it all means basically nothing. There’s an Assassin mentor who defects to the Templars in there somewhere, but I forget why, which is a pretty bad sign. Slavery is a big theme, but it’s not really clear how, if at all, the Templars are involved with it. At one point they take advantage to “liberate” some slaves by taking them to a dystopian cult compound where they’re free to do exactly as the Templar cult guru tells them to, but outside of that one scheme perpetrated specifically to excavate one Precursor ruin, it’s not clear what the Templars stance on the issue is in general. Do they profit from the slave trade? Do they intend to end it, since they’re ideologically opposed to petty tribal conflicts and oppression just like the Assassins are? That would actually be super cool, because you could have a thing where the Templars are all “only overwhelming force can bring these slave owning savages to heel” and the Assassins are all “that’s barely any different from what the slave owners are doing in the first place, though” and there would be an actual philosophical hook to hang the allegedly ideological conflict between the Assassins and the Templars on. Instead we just get the Templars twirling their sinister mustaches with their dystopian archaeology camp and also the protagonist doesn’t like slavery, what with her being black and all.

III and Liberation were both good for historical tourism, though. The new system that allows you to parkour through wilderness opened up some very different looking environments, and Boston and New York are pretty different from one another, even if only because there’s a war on and the latter is a wreck by the time we get there. New Orleans is basically the same as Boston except for architecture, but the bayou is very different from the wilderness, and that was cool.

Assassin’s Creed IV

Assassin's Creed 4Assassin's Creed Freedom CryAssassin's Creed Rogue

Assassin’s Creed IV is generally accepted as being the point when Ubisoft finally breathed some new life into a stagnating franchise, but I think it’s more accurate to say that Assassin’s Creed III was actually the point when they started recovering from their gameplay stagnation, but nobody noticed because the process was slow and also because III had a confused, nonsense plot, something which people care about even when they claim they don’t. If you serve cut scenes up to people, they will watch them, and they will notice when they suck. The first Assassin’s Creed gave us stakes. It showed the Templars being seriously evil before we killed them. The third game tried to tell a nuanced story of ideological differences between Assassins and Templars, but by failing to actually establish what exactly Haytham was doing wrong (other than being friends with the guys who have villain-coded voice actors and character animations), it mainly just set up a story in which it was totally unclear why Haytham was even the bad guy. Not in the sense that he might be right, but in the sense that the only difference between his and Ratonhnhaké:ton’s stated goals is a few buzzwords.

Assassin’s Creed IV, by simple expedient of not doing that, allowed its ongoing gameplay iteration to shine through a lot more. The fun new ship combat was now front and center, the hunting system had been expanded upon to include harpooning sea creatures for fun and profit as well as shooting hapless land animals, and while the plot wasn’t super memorable, it got out of the way. We’re back to Assassin’s Creed II levels of plot, where the protagonist has a personal goal that’s not especially compelling, he can advance that goal by fighting the Templars, so he does, and it’s not really clear why the world is better off with Assassins in charge rather than Templars, but whatever, at least it’s not asking us to betray our people over a conflict with unclear stakes. IV even addresses how Edward’s personal goal isn’t really a worthy one, and that is part of an arc where he eventually becomes dedicated to the Assassin cause, which kind of falls flat because it is still not clear what the Templars will actually do if they win, except that it would vaguely be bad somehow (and remember: the first Assassin’s Creed was really great at showing why a Templar victory would be very bad).

Like, you’re trying to stop them from finding a Precursor site that would let them spy on world leaders and determine which ones are loyal to their cause and which are not. I can see how that would help them win, but it doesn’t sound like any kind of panopticon, since they don’t seem to have any means of monitoring more than one person at a time, so other than helping Templars win, why is that bad? And why exactly is a Templar victory bad? If you tell me it’d be bad because they’d kill any dissenters or ban all education and cultural venues that aren’t part of their propaganda machine or whatever, I’d believe you and that would be a thing I’d like to prevent, but Assassin’s Creed never bothers to actually say that. The only campaign against freedom we see in Assassin’s Creed IV is a campaign against pirates, who are using violent coercion to take wealth from anyone they think they can overpower. I don’t see why that makes them the bad guys? That sounds like a pretty good thing to me.

Again, though: The game just kind of quietly assumes that fighting Templars is the right thing to do, which means this lack of solid motivation at least gets out of the way to let you enjoy stabbing people in the neck and firing broadsides at the Spanish. And that’s fun. The Caribbean is a fun place to explore, and the game has some of its strongest historical tourism in this installment, which is the one thing the series has consistently (well, almost consistently, we’ll get there in a bit) been good at. There’s a good reason why this is remembered as one of the better games in the series.

Freedom Cry runs into the same problem Liberation did, in that it is another spin-off game that is almost the same as its mainline equivalent but this time the protagonist is black and there’s themes of slavery. Freedom Cry does a much better job of interacting with those themes by placing a slave revolt front and center of the plot, and I’m pretty sure the Templars are on the other side, but I can’t really remember why. For the most part, it’s just Black Flag but more, but since Black Flag is gobs of fun I’m pretty much okay with that.

In terms of gameplay, Rogue is more of the same. We’re much further north, but it’s still a game where you sail around, shoot French ships to take their stuff, and stab people in the neck to advance your side of the Assassin/Templar conflict in pursuit of a vision of the world that isn’t really clear at all, but this time that difference in vision is highlighted even more strongly by the fact that you’re working with Haytham Kenway this time, but all of his sinister-sounding Templar lackeys have been swapped out for more friendly sounding Templar allies. You are literally working for the exact same guy who is the main villain of Assassin’s Creed III, and by the simple expedient of swapping the friendly animations and sinister animations around, he is now the good guy. Haytham was always supposed to be the type of villain who kind of has a point, but he never actually makes a point one way or another. All of his philosophical differences with the Assassins are vague, high-level stuff about freedom and order. There is never a specific Assassin action he points to and says “see, if we had less of that, the world would be a better place.” The Assassins are just the bad guys now, because now all the growly jackasses work for them and the friendly soft-spoken people don’t. The entire Assassin/Templar war is a centuries-spanning generational conflict about whether it’s okay to be kind of a dick to the protagonist.

For gameplay, there’s some fun new stuff about hunting Assassins who are waiting around to rooftop/haystack ambush you the way you’ve been doing for like nine games now, and that’s kind of fun, but mostly it’s just Black Flag but more, and also with an international trade minigame that’s way more poorly balanced. These minigames have always been kind of dumb, in that you take captured ships and then send them to trade abroad, and a few real world hours later you get free stuff. You can play it like a Facebook game if you want, popping back in every two hours just long enough to collect your stuff and ship out again. This has always been a kind of weird thing that you turn on and then forget about until a pop up informs you that you have shipments waiting to be collected, at which point you collect your goodies and send them off again, but at least in earlier games you generally unlocked most of the shipping lanes before the end of the game. Even doing all the side quests, at the end of Rogue I still had nearly a dozen shipping routes locked. There’s unlockables for getting all the shipping routes unlocked, too, so for people who really want that awesome hat, this is an issue.

The main issue, though, is that in terms of historical tourism, we’ve been here before. Like, really, we’re in colonial New York. Again. And the colonial wilderness. Again. And also we can now sail up north to where it is cold, and that’s new and interesting, but less than half the game takes place up there. Revelations was a failure because it took us to a new city that felt exactly the same as an old one, but Rogue does you one better: It takes us to literally the same city we’ve already been to.

 

It’s hard to talk about the overall direction of the series when I haven’t played its three latest mainline installments. From what I can gather from Unity and Syndicate, however, neither appears to have any significant gameplay innovations. Unity’s basic arc and plot seem to be identical to II’s: You have a personal motivation for revenge against the Templars, so go stab them in the neck and don’t worry about why we’re even having this war in the first place. None of the bold new features touted by either Unity or Syndicate seem particularly exciting the way Black Flag’s ship combat and focus on piracy were. Origins does seem like it might be going new places, but the dust has yet to settle on that one.

Overall, the Assassin’s Creed series is a story of gameplay iteration slowly building up to fun and new ideas while the overall plot totally stagnates, and really, someone should let Ubisoft know how much they suck at this whole “conspiratorial intrigue” thing and tell them to please shut up about it so we can just stab people already. It’s sometimes said that you should only play every other Assassin’s Creed game, and this is fundamentally why: Ubisoft is pumping these things out so damn fast that full games get used as alpha builds for gameplay features they’ll add in completed form later on.

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