Ask anyone who owns an Xbox, PS4 or any kind of gaming PC and they’ll have heard of Assassin’s Creed. It’s one of the most successful franchises around and has been for a while, spanning seven main games and a variety of spin offs. But lately, there’s been complaints. Ignoring the obvious launch flop that Unity turned out to be, they just seem to have lost their magic. The game play improves title upon title and the graphics are so far beyond other titles out there it’s not even comparable, so what’s going wrong? We have our ideas, but first, we need a little back story…
Wind back the clocks to 2007. The world is introduced to our protagonist; Desmond Miles. A man with little ambition and even less to his name.
But Desmond has a secret.
He’s a member of a secret fraternity of Assassins who are waging a thousand year war with the Templar order, a group hell bent on world domination via powerful artefacts left behind by a precursor race of unimaginable intelligence.
We join Desmond as he’s kidnapped by Abstergo Industries; a multinational corporate conglomerate and front for the modern day activities of the Templar order. Here we meet Dr. Warren Vidic, lead researcher for Abstergo Industries and the father of the Animus project – a device which enables the user to explore the genetic memories of their ancestors. To literally relive their lives.
He forces Desmond to relive the memories of his ancestor, Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad, a master assassin living in the time of the Third Crusade, in order to discover the location of a precursor artefact known as the ‘Apple of Eden’ – an object of immense power believed to be able to control the minds of others.
The game progresses and we track the fall, and eventual growth of Altaïr within the Assassin ranks. Mixed in with the Animus action, we see Desmond beginning to learn from Altaïr and put his skills into action. He starts small, pick pocketing objects from Dr Vidic to gain information, but as the game reaches its climax Desmond gains the ability to use ‘Eagle Vision’ – a technique that allows the user to extend their senses to notice things that normal people are oblivious to. Altaïr locates the Apple of Eden and Desmond’s usefulness runs out. Dr Vidic orders his execution, and we leave Desmond in his cell as his Eagle Vision, at this point uncontrollable, flickers to reveal mad scribbles on the wall forecasting an oncoming catastrophe that will wipe out all of humanity.
Fast forward to 2009 and we rejoin Desmond as he’s broken out of Abstergo Industries by Lucy Stillman, an Assassin mole posing as an Abstergo employee. They retreat to a safe house where they have their own fully functioning Animus and she drops a bomb shell.
There’s a reason Desmond can use Altaïr’s skills, and it’s called the ‘Bleeding Effect.’ Altaïr’s skills were literally ‘bleeding’ through the Animus and being absorbed by Desmond. Given the right subject, he could cram a lifetime of Assassin training into a matter of days, turning him into the ultimate weapon against the Templar order.
Cue the right subject. Ezio Auditore da Firenze; Italian, charismatic, quick witted and absolutely lethal with a hidden blade. He’s the second ancestor Desmond explores, this time tracing all the way back to the Italian renaissance. We see him struggling with the loss of his family, the confusion it bears as he realises they weren’t who he thought they were and his quest for revenge against anyone that had anything to do with their deaths. We watch as he gets caught up in something much bigger than him, joins ranks with the Assassins and discovers the motive behind the deaths of his family. Another piece of Eden.
All the while, Desmond is learning. Honing his skills and step by step becoming the weapon the Assassins need him to be.
Assassin’s Creed II comes to a head as we find Ezio facing off against Rodrigo Borgia (now declared Pope) in a battle to claim both the Apple and the Staff of Eden. Ezio walks away, forgoing killing Rodrigo as he wants him to live with the knowledge that he lost. He finds himself stood in front of a being he cannot possible begin to understand.
Minerva. A member of the precursor race who’ve been extinct for millions of years. But Minerva isn’t interested in Ezio, she sees him as a pawn. She wants to talk to Desmond, and left messages throughout time knowing that he would find them through the Animus. Through the Animus Minerva tells Desmond that her people, the ‘First Civilisation’ created humanity to serve them, but were subsequently destroyed due to an unknown catastrophe. Humans and the First Civilisation worked together to prevent it, but ultimately failed. They did however, leave plans, as they knew that this event, what ever it was, would happen again. She tells Desmond that he is the only one that can prevent it from occurring again.
So, what does this tell us?
Simple. This game revolves around Desmond Miles.
For 95% of the game play he isn’t present, granted, but that’s not the point. He’s the driving factor, the reason the game progresses, the reason you feel like you need to push on. He’s the weapon they’re building to fight the Templar order and the one prophesied by the First Civilisation to save all of humanity. The only reason you’re even in the Animus throughout the game is because of him. He ties everything together. There’s no other way to put this, he is the game.
Now we can start to see the problem.
Fast forward again to 2010 and we’re greeted with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – the second in the Ezio trilogy. It’s at this stage, we believe, where we start to loose the thread of what Assassin’s Creed really is. Desmond and Co travel to Monteriggioni, the very same site that Ezio made his lair. Their task, is to find the Apple of Eden. Again.
Not much development is made in the way of Desmond, but we do learn a lot about Ezio, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it simply lacks the most crucial element, progress of Desmond’s story. By the end of the game you’re introduced to Juno, Minerva’s counterpart, whose less fond of humanity. She threatens Desmond and Co and takes control of Desmond in order to kill Lucy, who we later find out has been working for the Templar order all along. Apparently.
So, no real major developments in story. Let’s keep going.
Onwards to 2011 – We return, yet again, to Ezio. This time, Desmond’s in a coma, stuck within the Animus itself and needs to piece together Ezio’s memories in order to bring himself back out. This time, however, we do learn something new. Subject 16 and the location of the First Civilisation vault. Now, we’re back on track. After two games.
We see the culmination of Ezio’s story and watch as he speaks directly to Desmond, wishing him luck and acknowledging that the purpose for his own life has simply been to deliver information to Desmond. Sad, but slightly true.
We make our way to the vault and discover we need a key to get in. Perfect. Better make another 40+ hour game just to get into the building then.
It’s finally 2012, the very year that Minerva prophesied the world would come to an end and we find ourselves yet again in the company of Desmond and friends. This game should have been it. The game of all games for Assassin’s Creed fans. And it so nearly was. Nearly. Instead, in our opinion, it brought the series crashing down.
Desmond finally puts his assassin skills to use, collecting power bricks from all around America in order to unlock the temple and reach the technology located within that can stop the oncoming disaster wiping out humanity. Meanwhile, in the Animus he’s reliving the life of Connor Kenway, son of Haytham Kenway, Grand Master of the Templar order.
Connor struggles with daddy issues and the colonisation of his people, and to be honest, produces one of the best in-Animus stories to date. The game play received a much needed update and became an all round fantastic game to play. Yet again, it was ruined by the devastating job Ubisoft did with Desmond’s story.
Everything finally feels like it’s coming together. The end of the world is nigh, Desmond’s finally the Assassin they needed him to be, Lucy’s dead (still not sure why,) Desmond gets revenge on Vidic for kidnapping him, and we’re heading to a climactic ending.
Then they kill Desmond. No really they do.
Now that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the way they did it, and it can only be summed up in one way. Rushed.
Desmond gave his life so that humanity would have a chance to fight for themselves, but in doing so releases Juno into the world, the same lovely lady we mentioned earlier who isn’t too fond of humans. It should have been brilliant, but it wasn’t.
There are no words to explain it, you just have to play it yourself. One second he’s there, then he’s not. There’s very little build up and practically no emotion to go with it. They just kill him off.
Because Ubisoft realised that they have a money maker on their hands. The very concept of Assassin’s Creed can go on for ever. They can pick any time, any place, any story and weave it into that franchise, but with Desmond alive the story would have to end at some point.
And there in lies the problem. It needs to end.
Very little has actually happened since Assassins Creed III – We spent two games searching for ‘prophets’ and one looking for another, yes another piece of Eden, like we haven’t done that before. And the kicker, you don’t even find it.
There is no driving factor anymore. There is no reason to push forwards in the game aside from the slightest bit of information you receive concerning Juno’s actions, usually right at the very beginning and very end of the game.
Now that isn’t to say that the games aren’t enjoyable, we just find ourselves finishing one and saying ‘what was the point?’
We want to love them. We want them to be great. We just can’t.
All the greatest stories we know of are made up of three very crucial elements. A beginning, middle and an end, and that’s exactly what Assassin’s Creed needs to have. Without it, we play endless stalking missions and Ubisoft wonder what went wrong.
This year, for the first year in who knows how long, they’ve held back from releasing a major AC title, going back to their previous (and profoundly better) model of releasing a game every two years. Maybe, just maybe, they story weavers at Ubisoft will salvage the damage that’s been done and we’ll learn to love them all over again.
But that doesn’t change much, because in the end, it has to end.
Thomas Schnauz, one of the writers for Breaking Bad, very famously said that the reason it would only ever be five seasons was simple. The story was finished. Any more and it would lessen it’s effect.
Please Ubisoft, take a page out of his book. Salvage what you have left and hang up the Assassin’s cape.
Let it go out with a bang, not a whimper, before it’s too late.
It needs to end.