Assassin’s Creed has been running around in cloaks and hoods with hidden weapons since 2007. Although the whole hood thing may be out the window in favor of plumed helmets this year, the sentiment stands. The series began in 2007 and from 2009-2016 had fairly uninterrupted content on an annual basis. Prior to the break before 2017’s Origins pushed the Creed into a new direction and breathed some new life into the semi-faltering saga, there were plenty of overused ideas and tropes that came to be anticipated and expected of each year’s title. This particular post is going to explore some of the interesting ones- for better or worse in terms of how they fared, in every title from the original to Odyssey.
Assassin’s Creed (2007): Ironically my choice for the innovation in the very first historical fiction game depicting the shadowy war between Templars and Assassins is the story/lore itself. For the most part, the integration of the modern day and past settings into each other (some times more seamlessly than others) stood the test of time from AC1 through Syndicate, prior to the semi-reboot of logic and lore with Origins and Odyssey adding their own ancient ideas to the mix and already intriguing but confusing story. With Assassin’s Creed 1, we were first introduced to the Assassin and Templar orders and also to the concept of a ‘precursor’ or first civilization. It was unexpected and it was cool. Until Desmond had to go ruin it all for everyone later.
Assassin’s Creed II (2009): Like any good sequel, Assassin’s Creed II is grander in scope and scheme and builds upon the foundation, lore, and innovations of Assassin’s Creed in quite literally every single way. It is very much the series’ best interpretation of ‘Empire Strikes Back’ in that sense and although some could argue that its follow-on Brotherhood is the highest point (or Black Flag for other reasons), I disagree. Outside of directly building upon all mechanics in the series and diving fully into the lore and intrigue while getting the whole assassin thing kick-started from the get-go in memorable fashion, Assassin’s Creed II’s biggest addition to the series is the overall world. From architecture to sprawling countryside to the amount of people and fascinating backstories and evidence available, Assassin’s Creed II was the first to truly create an immerse and large, believable and living world. It wouldn’t be the last game to do so.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010): Ezio Auditore is a name that is synonymous with the series as a whole and for good reason considering he is the only player outside of Desmond Miles to span several core installments as a significant character. His second game built in many ways upon the Italian’s first adventures and show him in his prime as a tried and true Assassin Grand Master operating his newly built network in the hub city of Rome. Brotherhood didn’t build upon ACII as much as the former did upon the first title, however the additional tweaks that Brotherhood brought to the core formula make it one of the most highlighted games in the series and also most critically acclaimed. Perhaps its biggest innovation, at least in terms of lasting effect and impact (for better or worse) was the introduction of a multiplayer mode that had surprising depth and unique gameplay. It would later be seen across several other games in largely similar format- from Brotherhood to Black Flag.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (2011): Although Revelations is the end point for Ezio Auditore as a series protagonist and capped off the so-called ‘Ezio Trilogy,’ is it also the black sheep of the family for many. Revelations actually has quite a few contributions to the series however many are so experimental that they haven’t ever quite come back and were met with mixed reviews from the start. While den defense ‘tower defense’ like mechanics might be perhaps the strangest and most unique, they don’t operate well enough to be classified as perhaps the “best” mechanic or idea in such a game. What I will say however is that in terms of adding necessary new content, Ezio’s new hookblade weapon/tool is a sweet addition in both locomotion and combat. It has a multitude of uses and upgrades and can be combined with devastating effect during fights as well as escapes. It may seem like a simple gimmick such as bombs were, however it drastically changed the game in a way that hadn’t been done since parachutes and counter kills.
Assassin’s Creed III (2012): Many would regard this moment as one of the darkest for the series because of the initial outcry over bugs and quality of content. I actually disagree and think, even more so in retrospect, that ACIII stands as one of the most unique games in the series for its new ideas (many of which have since been iterated into games since). Although it features one of the least memorable or interesting main characters, the supporting cast, time period, and overall gameplay make up for that along the way. The particular innovations I’d like to highlight here are something which Black Flag and several subsequent titles build up and effectively hone in on: the sailing and frontier mechanics respectively. Black Flag especially dives into the survival aspects in the wild and on the high seas and ACIII is to thank for coming up with those ideas. Crafting takes on a whole new meaning and navigating deadly waters as you build your crew and upgrade your ship play into it as well as farming loot and resources on land does.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013): Desmond’s story largely played out across the first five games and while it’s arc had finished by the time we arrived at Ubisoft’s first pirate excursion, the lore and backstory still stood strong after. Black Flag builds upon nearly every aspect of Assassin’s Creed III and is ironically seen as the modern pinnacle for what the series can be and is known for. Who would’ve thought that ironically the least ‘Assassin’ of the Assassin’s Creed protagonists would be the most popular assassin by user and player consensus? For it’s innovation I’d have to highlight the much broader and richer combat experience which is in some ways a more developed build of both Brotherhood and ACIII in a weird sort of way but in others an entirely new concept as well. Familiar aspects as always with this series make a return but fighting more as a pirate than as an assassin makes for a wildly different experience from any title prior. It may even be one of the most gruesome and violent entries in the series as well.
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue (2014): Just as its very title would suggest, Rogue is perhaps the rogue game in the series and also the most likely to be forgotten. Although you could argue Revelations could take that title, Rogue came out in conjunction with Unity which was released for the then-next generation consoles while Rogue was destined for the back burner on current generation consoles. Rogue is not a bad game and in terms of launch actually fared far better than the mess that Unity initially was. However it, like Revelations, is the victim of fatigue and doesn’t have much new content or ideas to thrill us with. It instead opted for combining characters from ACIII and Black Flag into a narrative that bridged the gaps and provided some backstory as to their motivations later on as well. It also marks the first time we truly get to see things from a Templar perspective, which is conveniently its major innovation. This would of course also be semi done with Unity in the same cycle and has since been done through Odyssey now as well. Shay Cormac through no fault of his own is one of the most forgettable characters in the series and outside of being truly wronged by the Assassin order, he has no purpose in it.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014): Unity was a mess upon launch but over the span of several months it grew into something that I actually found myself immensely enjoying. It has since become one of my favorite ugly ducklings in the series despite still having several mechanics that just don’t age well and weren’t great to begin with. It’s world (of Paris) is still one of the largest and most interesting time periods we’ve yet to visit in the series and also one of the most compelling in terms of exploration. Although Arno Victor Dorian isn’t the most capable or memorable of assassins, the sheer level of customization and ability to influence his growth is admirable and well thought out. One of the most unique aspects of this title is its brand of multiplayer which is actually cooperative heists. Being able to work cooperatively with assassins in such as way that we have yet to ever see again is memorable even though now it is largely impossible since the game is several years old. That is just one of the many things that Unity did that other titles have yet to build upon, but another fundamental change would be to the free-running system which they rebuilt to be even more fluid and believable.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015): While many saw the series running itself ragged and were growing fatigued with its overused tropes and same old ideas, Syndicate simultaneously provided a little respite and also allowed Ubisoft to refocus on what to do for the future of one of their flagship titles. It marks the last installment that went further into the future than titles before it and also the last annual installment, although we’ve since had Origins and Odyssey released back to back (despite there being no sequel planned for 2019 since Odyssey will be continually supported). Syndicate does a number of fresh things for the series: it marks the first time there are two playable protagonists, it marks the first time that such technically advanced weaponry and gadgets are available to assassins, and it also utilizes a complex yet navigable ‘mob’ system of gangs and crime bosses that you can build up or take down. It did many things right, built upon old ideas well, and also pushed the quality back up after a few perceived ‘down’ years.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins (2017): Origins is not a reboot but it stands as a stepping on point for a new generation of players should they wish to start now. Between Origins and the games that came before, there are a multitude of differences but there are also the same similarities that will probably persist in the series until its death. Origins is so-called because it depicts the first time we see a shadowy order of assassins come together to combat the period’s version of the Templar order. It adds a bit of fan service in traveling to Egypt and it changes the scheme of the game to a degree that it plays more like an open world RPG than it does an outright action-adventure game at times. Perhaps the most unique element of all is that it features all of these things that directly overhaul the series as we’ve come to know it. And although Odyssey follows in mostly the same stride, Origins is also the first time we’ve seen a progression system with the depth it has as opposed to the sort of progression system featured in Syndicate previously.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (2018): To the naked eye, Odyssey was developed largely as a clone of Origins it might seem and you may already worry that the next five years worth of Assassin’s Creed games will all be clones like the previous core installments seemed to be turning into of each other. However there are still plenty of fresh ideas to be found in Odyssey despite the elements introduced in Origins being cloned to a degree as well. Odyssey embraces role-playing much more than Origins did and dives deeply into that side of the adventure saga spectrum. It looks almost akin to Destiny in the loot, gear, resources, and weapons respect there as well as having a fully realized skill tree (or three). It also features a rich world not unlike Origins’ Egypt, however the setting (if you couldn’t tell) is Ancient Greece this time around. The newest elements may be unique in aesthetic only but they are unique nonetheless- there is a dynamic weather system, city state / leader system that you can fully impact, and also a truly living world with people and animals fulfilling their daily tasks as they see fit. It’s the first time we’ve seen this attention to detail in this series pretty much.
Honorable Mention: It wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed post without also mentioning one ‘game’ tied largely to lore and one tied to piggybacking off of Assassin’s Creed III. First I’d like to address Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation which combines elements of ACIII and Black Flag in terms of story and world building (and mechanics), but started as a port prior to becoming a console version of the title. Liberation has one of the most intriguing characters in terms of backstory but is also largely forgotten despite having an interesting conflict of Templar/Assassin ties. In terms of lore, I’m actually speaking of the Facebook game ‘Project Legacy’ which was an interesting deep dive into memory and intrigue back in 2010. It embellished upon some backstories and crafted others for characters we would actually later see as well.