McMillan’s Codex 47 by C.T. McMillan
Me, Myself, and Assassin’s Creed
Did you ever like something when you were young then feel embarrassed at an old age? Some look at Star Wars or pop music and realize how stupid they were as a kid. I remember all the Dragon Ball Z I used to watch, and I cringe.
In terms of videogames I lost interest in the Assassin’s Creed (AC) series, but not from growing up.
AC grew up too fast for me to keep up. What was the progenitor of the aggressive stealth genre has become a cavalcade of inconsistent successive content and deliberate narrative retardation. My aversion to the series started after just three games and since abandoning AC, nothing has changed.
The basic conceit of the series is what drew me in. The first Assassin’s Creed takes place in present day, but you play in a virtual simulation of Altair, an Assassin during the Crusades. You travel across the Holy Land killing targets of the Knights Templar and their sympathizers. The Assassin/Templar conflict has been going on for centuries and your character, Desmond Miles, is the captive of the Templars in the present using the simulation to find a weapon by tapping into your lineage.
Assassin’s Creed was the first game to experiment with aggressive stealth, a sub-genre of regular stealth with an emphasis on speed and power. Instead of sneaking, you run and climb your way to approach a target before landing the killing blow. This sets off an inevitable chase where you must evade pursuers and hide out in a number of designated spots. Line-of-sight plays an essential role: as long as you are not seen, you will not be detected. Hiding and running are your only options because the game’s combat is not very good.
The historical fiction aspect is why I got into the games with the use of real people, places, and cultures. I like history, particularly ancient Rome, and the Crusades are a great setting. As the series progressed, the period gimmick persisted with Assassin’s Creed 2 taking place in Renaissance Italy. As Ezio Auditore you become entrenched in the Assassin/Templar conflict after your father and brothers are wronging executed. Visiting Florence, Milan, and Venice you track down Templar operatives embedded in the Catholic Church while unveiling the legacy of the Assassins.
Assassin’s Creed 2 was like the first game, but bigger. The number of people you kill is extensive, the cities larger, and your range of abilities increased. You now have two hidden blades that pop out of your wrists, meaning you can kill two targets at once, and use them in combat, which was easier to manage. When performing a combo you could switch targets and engage another, something you could not do in the last game because enemies were so aggressive. You can also disarm targets and use their weapons or shoot them with a wrist-mounted pistol.
Then came Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, a spinoff of 2 that was the same game, but scaled back and with notable additions. Set in Rome, the story follows Ezio battling the House of Borgia, a prominent family from the 15th Century. You also become friends with Leonardo Da Vinci and prevent his inventions from becoming weapons. The titular brotherhood is an army of Assassins you can employ and train by sending them on quests throughout Europe. In combat they can be used to take targets out from a far or engage in melee.
Brotherhood was my Revenge of the Sith before Force Awakens. I thought this was the end of Ezio’s story and the follow up would take the series in a new direction. On top of that, the present-day story ended at a pivotal moment that opened up a lot of narrative potential. I wanted to see where Desmond would explore next in his lineage and then came Revelations.
To be totally clear, Brotherhood was the last AC game I ever played because of Revelations. The story focused on Ezio (for a third time) in Constantinople investigating his ancestry, while Desmond was in a coma experiencing a virtual hallucination. As a result, the overarching science fiction story stops so the writers could make up things they obviously did not plan out the first time.
This was also the start of AC becoming an annualized series. Since 2011 there has been a new entry that adds and takes away content. Your Assassin army and fancy gadgets are gone in Assassin’s Creed 3 where you play Desmond’s Mohawk ancestor Connor in the American Revolution.
My biggest problem was how the present day story purposefully negated making progress. The narrative reaches a point of relative no return because of what happened in Revelations. To keep the series going, the writers added a deus ex machina that made no logical sense and was a poor excuse to continue an already dying series.
Had the writers not painted themselves into a corner AC could have gone to more interesting places. I expected the Assassin/Templar conflict to become this Illuminati war where governments, corporations, and religious factions battle for control of the world with ancient weapons whose origins are telling of our origins as species. That and the use of historical simulations was why I fell in love with AC and that did not happen. Instead, three more games came out.
Assassin’s Creed has been dead to me for a long time. The stagnation, Baywatch levels of narrative choices, and the gutting of content proved too much. The once unique action adventure series that grabbed me as a history buff has become a hollow shell with age. I would have said this was the end of my affinity if developer Ubisoft did not announce they pulled Assassin’s Creed off the annual circuit. How much time they will take is unclear, but I have hope that a whole year will be enough time for a proper realignment, and maybe my faith will be restored.