A Look Back at the Assassin’s Creed Franchise

The Assassin’s Creed franchise has been a thing for more than a decade now, and I’ve played all the mainline games that were released on PC, to varying degrees of completion. Since there’s a new one coming out later this year, and I’m currently cleaning my backlog, I thought today would be a good day to quickly share what I think about the currently available entries in the series. Please don’t take this article as some sort of in-depth review or critique of the franchise, because it couldn’t be further from that.

Assassin’s Creed (2007 on consoles, 2008 on PC)

The first entry in the series was actually pretty innovative back in 2007/2008. It looked quite good graphically, and while it got repetitive after a while, the gameplay was engaging and differed enough from other games of the time to make you think twice about it before dropping it. Social stealth, assassinations that had some Hitman DNA in them, a big open world, the works. The parkour system didn’t always work as expected and you could counterattack your way to victory even if you were facing the entire Templar Order, but thinking back on it, that was actually part of the charm for me. Aside from that, the game world was mostly empty, and I didn’t care much for the protagonist. Oh, and the “future” plot line was very interesting and it teased so many possibilities that I was incredibly hyped for the inevitable sequel.

Assassin’s Creed II (2009 on consoles, 2010 on PC)

This is probably the game that got most people hooked when it comes to the Assassin’s Creed franchise, as it managed to fix most of its predecessor’s problems, while introducing a wealth of content and new mechanics in a setting that everyone was dying to explore. Ezio was a very likable protagonist, the Italian cities represented in the game were packed full of stuff to do and collectibles to hoard, and the “future” plot line went bananas in a good way. Sadly, this game was riddled with always-online DRM and it had its fair share of bugs. Still one of my favorite from the franchise though!

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010 on consoles, 2011 on PC) and Revelations (2011 on all platforms)

It’s a little unfair to bunch up these two, as they both had unique maps and plot lines, but at the same time, when I was playing them back at release, I couldn’t help but think that Ubisoft could have released a single game instead of two. Ezio’s story got a satisfying sendoff, though we could already see weird stuff happening in the “future” storyline (a warning of things to come). Overall, two very enjoyable titles if you liked Assassin’s Creed II and wanted more.

Assassin’s Creed III (2012)

This is when things went downhill for me. The new engine was great, but the setting wasn’t very good for an Assassin’s Creed game (we went from sprawling European cities to the American frontier, and the switch was a bit too sudden). The story was all over the place, and the new protagonist could never be as charismatic or likable as Ezio, so instead the writers went for the opposite approach, and it didn’t really work out very well. I liked the ship combat parts, hated the ending with all my soul (and it soured me on the franchise’s “future” timeline for reasons I won’t discuss in case there’s anyone who wants to play through these games and is reading this). A very mixed bag, and the remaster Ubisoft released last year didn’t help at all, as it’s worse than the original in many ways.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013)

The “future” timeline was already completely screwed up, so Ubisoft gave us an Assassin’s Creed game with pirates and abundant ship combat. I loved the naval parts, didn’t care that much for the other stuff. The new protagonist was a pretty fun guy and I enjoyed the storyline most of the time. Getting booted out of the Animus for boring first person sequences set in the “real world” sucked though, since I didn’t really care for that part of the game after the ending of the previous one. To be perfectly honest, I would have loved if Black Flag was a non-Assassin’s Creed title, since I feel that the developers could have done so much more with the setting (hopefully Skull & Bones will be that game). Overall, I still liked the game a lot (the Freedom Cry DLC is also worth a purchase if you are going through the series now).

Assassin’s Creed Rogue (2014 consoles, 2015 PC)

Assassin’s Creed games are all about the titular Assassins, right? Normally you’d be right, but Rogue decided to give us a look at the life of a Templar, so we play as an Irish Assassin-turned-Templar dude named Shay Patrick Cormack, doing stuff straight out of Black Flag, but with more ice and more “hey, see, things are not always what they seem” moments liberally spread throughout the campaign. I liked most of it (once again, the parts set in land weren’t my favorite) but coming from Black Flag it felt formulaic.

Assassin’s Creed Unity (2014)

I’m sure you’ve seen the memes about this one. Weird faces with eyes floating in the air, etc… Interestingly, that’s not what I dislike the most when it comes to Unity. The truly horrifying thing this game had was its ingame map, which was so full of icons you couldn’t tell where to go in order to continue the main quest. And those icons were mostly meaningless collectibles, or fetch quests, or stuff like that. This was the Ubisoft open world formula at its worst, and it put me off the game so much that I only finished it yesterday, even though I got it day one on Steam. I truly wish they’d saved the setting of Revolutionary France for a better game, as the game’s virtual Paris is a joy to witness. Sadly, the “improved” parkour system keeps trying to guess where you want to go, doing things you didn’t want to do, and ruining the experience of exploring this beautifully rendered city. Once again, the story wasn’t really important (especially the “future” segments), and the game keeps pulling you out of the good bits in order to try to do something that’s completely unnecessary. Graphically, it still looks stunning (the crowd tech was truly great), and the combat was interesting (though it didn’t always work as intended). There’s a cooperative mode but I experienced lots of issues with it (for instance, there was this mission where I could see guards my friends couldn’t see, and viceversa, leading to a very weird gameplay experience where we had to kill targets out of sync, and couldn’t help each other out in certain situations). Overall, a mixed bag that I’d only recommend if you want to explore Paris during the Revolution, or if you are already a hardcore fan of the franchise.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (2015)

The follow-up to Unity changed things quite a bit, forgoing its predecessor’s combat (and opting for something that’s a lot more similar to the combat in the Batman Arkham games), dropping the crowd tech that featured so heavily in Unity, adding a grappling hook, and most importantly, giving us two protagonists in the “past” timeline instead of just one. This time around we played as Evie Frye and her brother Jacob, killing their way through Victorian London, meeting important historical characters, etc. Sadly, out of two protagonists, only one had a real personality (Evie), as the other was a blatant attempt to make a British Ezio. You couldn’t choose to play as only one of the two (each had their own specific missions), so I had to endure fake Ezio’s attempts at being a charming rogue for far too long. Still, I’d say that the game is enjoyable, at the very least thanks to the introduction of the grappling hook, and the Victorian setting was pretty cool to see as well (though after experiencing the Parisian crowds, London felt pretty empty).

Assassin’s Creed Origins (2017)

This one will forever be etched in my memory as “the Beta for Odyssey” which is probably a very unfair statement in my part, as I believe both games were developed mostly at the same time by different teams, and Odyssey just had more time in the oven. It’s once again a full rework of the formula, going for a more open approach, with a wide world to be explored, new tools, traversal mechanics, and even an eagle that works pretty much like a drone in Ghost Recon Wildlands. There’s even some naval combat! Credit where it’s due, the team created a very relatable protagonist with Bayek, an Egyptian lawman who has way more personality than you’d think (I’d say that he’s at the level of Ezio, though his character was probably way harder to create, since he doesn’t have the roguish charm of the Italian assassin). The new mechanics mostly work as intended, though I’m not a big fan of the combat system, and there’s way too much downtime between missions as the game world is truly huge. It’s a big improvement over the previous three games though, and I’d definitely recommend it if you are looking for an entry point to the franchise (it also starts a new “future” timeline that seems promising so far).

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (2018)

This is Sparta!

Odyssey takes all the new stuff Origins teased and turns it into a very enjoyable experience where the player gets to smack around thousands of Greeks dumb enough to challenge them. Once again we get two possible protagonists, though this time around we’ll only play as one of them (either Kassandra or Alexios, whichever you pick, the other will show up ingame as well for story reasons, which is a neat touch). I went with Kassandra and never regretted my choice as the actress who plays her did a tremendous job. The basic idea is that your character is a “misthios” (mercenary) who can take part in the Peloponnesian War helping either Athens or Sparta. There’s a lot of new stuff to do (naval combat is back, and there are field battles that decide whether a province gets controlled by Athens or Sparta), RPG-like systems that let us choose between different answers when taking quests, different endings, etc. Gameplay-wise, the game takes a lot of ideas from Origins and then refines them further, but always putting fun before anything else. This leads to some very unrealistic scenarios (for instance, you can upgrade your character so they won’t take fall damage), but to be honest, this is a series about weird sci-fi devices and magical precursor beings, so I’m not too bothered by physics being ignored in favor of fun gameplay mechanics. Oh, and the “future” story-line gets a big boost here (single-handedly reigniting my interest in that aspect of the franchise). All in all, this is the game I’d recommend the most of the bunch, since it’s really fun to play and, being new, has aged pretty well.

Where are all the spin-offs and smaller entries in the franchise? The truth is that I’m yet to beat one of them, so I’m not really comfortable talking about that. If I ever get around to beating them, I’ll add my thoughts to this page. Until then, that’s me signing off…

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