For those of you that have been coming here to crash for a while now (thank you!), you may have picked up on the fact that I have a sort of soft spot for the Assassin’s Creed franchise. For me, it’s something about how Ubisoft is able to weave actual history into a fictional narrative that really pulls me in. I mean, getting the chance to run around places of interest like Paris, Rome, Venice, and other major centers of history has always been a huge selling point for me.
For as much as the series has gotten right over the years, there’s been a few missteps as well. With that, I figured it would be kind of fun to look at each of the main titles in the franchise to see what I liked about them, and what kind of fell flat in my eyes. This will be a lot easier for some games than others, but here we go.
The list is pretty long considering it covers all the major games in the franchise, so make sure to hit the jump to see the complete list. Have a favorite memory from the Assasisn’s Creed series? Let me know in the comments below.
The game that started it all, players took up the hoodie as Altair, a member of the Assassin Brotherhood in the year 1191 during the height of the Crusades in the Middle East. Being the first game in the series many of the innovations and gameplay mechanics players have come to expect wouldn’t start to appear until the second game. Even though this title may be rougher around the edges compared to the others, Assassin’s Creed was the starting point for which all other games would evolve from including the widely celebrated Assassin’s Creed II.
The Good: The Setting
I absolutely loved being able to run around in a fully realized world set in the Crusades. Taking in the historical sights in places like Jerusalem and Acre, and interacting with dealing with real folks like Robert de Sable, Richard the Lionheart, and Grand Master Sibrand was an absolute treat. Plus the fact that each of these targets were real and died in the specific year depicted in the game showed almost an unreal level of historical detail by Ubisoft Montreal. As someone who loves history, this was like my dream game.
The Bad: The Missions
This game has some leeway in my eyes purely because it was the first of its kind. The series had to start somewhere right? While the assassination missions were creative and cool, the missions to get you to that point were very basic and involved things like sitting on a bench to eavesdrop on a conversation or stopping a civilian from getting harassed by an enemy. Compared to games that followed, these missions are incredibly simple and used mainly to advance the plot. Not only that, the gameplay structure was essentially the same where players would perform these actions in order to locate the main target.
Assassin’s Creed II
I’m going to be a little biased on this game because it’s my favorite entry into the series to date. Assassin’s Creed II introduced the world to Ezio Auditore da Firenze, an Italian assassin dealing with the Templar threat during the Italian Renaissance. The game not only fixed many of the main issues from the previous game, but offered us a deeper look at the main character this time around and why he embarked on his quest. Players also got to interact with historical figures like Leonardo da Vinci.
The Good: Ezio’s Story
While Altair came off as cold and kind of a douche bag, players got to see Ezio right from the beginning, taking in the world through his eyes. The tutorial missions introduced Ezio as a teenager, roughhousing with his brothers and really establishing a strong family vibe. That set up the eventual downfall and call to action for Ezio to pick up the hoodie and embark on his quest. As players complete each chapter, the timeline advances, letting us experience Ezio’s personal and professional growth.
The Good 2: Gameplay Enhancements
As I mentioned, the first game had some really basic gameplay elements. After hearing the criticism, Ubisoft completely reworked how missions worked in ACII, giving the player actual missions and unique gameplay moments throughout the story. Thankfully, satisfying assassination missions remained, almost as a reward for making it to the end of a chapter.
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
The second part of Ezio’s trology, Brotherhood continued the same momentum that ACII started, adding more historical characters, new gameplay elements with the Borgia Towers, and introduced players to the new Brotherhood mechanic which would become a featured element in future games. Players would also be able to run around a fully modeled and detailed city of Rome, which on a personal level, was a massive highlight for me.
The Good: Open World Goodness
While Assassin’s Creed II introduced multiple large play spaces, Brotherhood really tapped into the traditional open world space by giving players the city of Rome to use as their personal sandbox. In addition to some great side missions, players could also help Leonardo da Vinci test his inventions, discover the history of Brutus within the Assassin Brotherhood during the height of the Roman Empire, recruit people to build the new Brotherhood, and take down Borgia Towers to name a few things. There was plenty to do outside of the story and all of it was a ton of fun.
The Good 2: Multiplayer!
For the first time in the series, Brotherhood introduced a PvP element to the franchise, something I was vehemently against when it was first announced. To my surprise, Ubisoft handled the inclusion well, opting to create a mode that tapped into the core aspects of the franchise so well with Wanted. Players essentially tried to blend in with NPC characters around the map while taking out other players as well. The more you acted like an NPC, the better chance you stood of surviving. It was a unique and interesting take on traditional PvP, and one that continued with the franchise for a number of games later on.
Assassin’s Creed Revelations
The final part of Ezio’s journey, Revelations brought players to Constantinople, capital city of current day Turkey. Revelations played on the fact that Ezio was no longer the spring chicken he once was and sought to learn more about the Brotherhood’s past using the knowledge from the original master, Altair. The game took many of the ideas established in the previous Ezio entries and added a few of it’s own including the hook blade for quicker city navigation and the new Assassin Den gameplay mechanic which was more or less a re-imagining of the Borgia Towers from Brotherhood.
The Good: Dual Protagonists
Revelations centered around Ezio’s journey to discover Altair’s legacy and because of that, Ubisoft brought back Altair in flashback sequences. While Ezio continue to act as the lead character, every so often, players would be transported back to play out significant moments from Altair’s life outside of what was shown in the first game. I have to admit, it was really cool not only to see the original assassin back in the lime light, but it was great getting to see more of Altair’s personality and story this time around.
The Bad: The payoff wasn’t there
The marketing hype for AC Revelations was that the story would reveal a ton of things about the franchise. Ezio traveled to Constantinople to find Altair’s secret library which promised answers to many secrets. Sure, they had some moments in the story, but for me, that big “revelation” never really came. I never felt like I was hit by a ton of bricks or sat there dumbfounded by a massive reveal as promised.
Special Mention Dislike: Assassin Dens
Taking a page out of Brotherhood’s playbook were the idea of Assassin Dens. Like before, players were challenged to take these sections of the map to gain control over the area. Unlike Brotherhood, Templars could try and reclaim these sections over time along with the gameplay forcing Ezio to be more of a general, issuing orders in order to stop Templar attacks. Being a general just wasn’t nearly as much fun as actually doing things yourself.
Assassin’s Creed III
For me, ACIII is where the wheels started to come off a bit. Taking place during the American Revolution in 1776, players took up the hidden blade of Connor Kenway, a native American turned assassin after his village was burned to the ground. The major hook with this game was that Connor would be living through and experiencing all of the major American Revolution events such as the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party. There were some really good ideas here but for the most part, the experience was pretty flawed.
The Good: Haytham Kenway
Acting as the character players first utilize, Ubisoft teases players with this Ezio-lite version of a main character, only to have the rug pulled out as it’s revealed that he’s actually the antagonist. Haytham comes off as everything that a player would find interesting: confident, witty, and a character with a really interesting story arc. Ubisoft must have felt this way as well because Haytham reappeared in Assassin’s Creed Rogue as an important figure.
The Bad: Connor Kenway
Unfortunately, the actual main character just didn’t carry the same charm. Coming off of a trio of games headed by the charismatic Ezio Auditore was a tall order indeed, and Connor just couldn’t match that. I found him to be pretty unlikable mainly because his personality was more of a no-nonsense type. Being someone who lived outside of modern society, he was constantly confused by what he saw, didn’t react to common sarcasm or jokes, and ultimately, I found the character hard to relate to in any way. Acting as the character players would be using for 10+ hours, it’s not a good situation to be in. For more on this title, check out my final impressions of the experience.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
With ACIII not fair so well with the critics and consumers, Ubisoft went back to the drawing board a bit and came up with Black Flag, a game that focused on the 18th century Caribbean which was rife with pirates. They took the great sailing sections from ACIII and expanded upon it to extreme lengths, essentially making Black Flag a game focused on island hoping and battling other ships through cannon fire and boarding. It was a different take on the franchise, almost a breath of fresh air that the now annualized franchise needed.
The Good: Open World Freedom
One of my favorite aspects from ACIII was the sailing aspects and thankfully, Ubisoft tapped into that for Black Flag, making it a core component. The entire Caribbean sea was now open, as players customized their ship, engaged in naval combat, and sailed to remote islands to plunder for treasure. The world was densely populated with things to do outside of hunting for treasure or sending enemy ships to the bottom of the Atlantic, allowing players to explore everything at their own pace. Black Flag really did represent a pirate fantasy, especially considering all the major pirate personalities of the time like Blackbeard, Charles Vane and a host of others were heavily featured as well.
The Bad: Didn’t Feel Like an Assassins Game
You could certainly argue that this point isn’t a bad thing. Black Flag was a great experience for sure, but if you were looking for a tried and true “Assassin’s Creed” experience, this one missed the mark. Edward Kenway began the game as a pirate and essentially stole the assassin’s robes off a character he killed early on. He had no intentions of giving up the pirate way of life until the very end of the game when he kind of “fell in line” with the assassin’s way of thinking. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but Ubisoft could have easily made this game a new IP and it would have still been great. Many people today want Ubisoft to develop a great pirate game and after playing Black Flag, they absolutely could.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue
The forgotten man in the franchise, Rogue released around the same time as the much hyped Assassin’s Creed Unity. Another stumbling block for Rogue is that it launched exclusively on now “last gen” consoles, ensuring that a good portion of gamers would miss out on this underrated game. Starring Shay Patrick Cormac, the major twist here is that he essentially switches sides from being an Assassin to a Templar. It’s a story line that has never been explored previously and offered a unique take on what Assassin fans are used to.
The Good: The View From the Other Side
The thing that I found most intriguing was essentially getting to see things from the other side. How a member of the Assassin Brotherhood falls from grace and joins up with the Templars. Shay’s perspective was extremely complex and was more than a good, bad, take on things. Ubisoft did a great job establishing his motivations and viewpoints on what he felt was right. Plus, hunting down familiar characters players once viewed as allies across multiple games was an interesting twist.
The Bad: Been There, Done That
While I found Shay Cormac’s story to be very cool, the gameplay didn’t quite hold up. I mean, it was fine and very solid, but while playing I had a big case of deja-vu. You see, the core gameplay was essentially taken right out of Black Flag in that players had access to a ship that they could customize and upgrade while sailing to various towns or islands. The big difference was that the setting was essentially moved north out of the Caribbean and into Northern New England and Canada. Again, if you liked Black Flag’s core mechanics, there’s a lot to love about Rogue, but just be aware that the ground it treads feels pretty familiar.
Assassin’s Creed Unity
Ubisoft’s first major foray into the current consoles, Unity offered the franchise a brand new graphics engine along side the much requested co-op modes. While the game sounded amazing on paper, in actuality Unity had one of the worst launches in franchise history, releasing with a host of online issues, bugs, and technical glitches that would plague the game for a couple of months. While Unity may have tarnished the franchise in some fans eyes, the game itself was a fun experience with some neat ideas.
The Good: Blackbox Missions
One of the key talking points for Unity was the idea of these “Blackbox” style missions. Essentially, these were the traditional assassination missions from the older games, only placed in a contained area where players could decide how best to take down the target. The game would provide a few different opportunities to help the player such as stealing a master key which would allow unrestricted access into the building, taking out a NPC who had a scheduled meeting with the target, or many other opportunities. These missions allowed the player to decide how to get the job done instead of forcing one particular way. These missions would eventually make their way into AC Syndicate as well.
The Bad: Observing the Revolution From Afar
Getting to explore 18th century Paris was an absolute treat and one I had been hoping to see for a long time if I’m being honest. However, even though the game takes place during the French Revolution, I never fully felt like an active participant. Sure, some big events happened during the timeline in the game, but I always felt like a distance spectator rather than a full participant. For the Assassins and Templar, the Revolution seemed to be more of a distraction, as the two groups worked behind the scenes on other things rather than focus time and attention on the actual revolt. Marketed heavily with the French Revolution, this fact was a little disappointing for me.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Having finished Syndicate, I can honestly say it’s one of my favorite entries Ubisoft has created. It doesn’t quite reach the excellent ACII or Brotherhood, but it’s not far behind. Ubisoft managed to tap into the personality well of Ezio Auditore for both Jacob and Evie Frye who are so engaging and likable that I really hope Ubisoft continues using them for the next game instead of making Syndicate a one off like they have been doing with each character. If you want to know more about Syndicate and why I’m such a fan, make sure to read my previous thoughts on the game here.