November 5th, 2007. Gamers lined up to grab their copies of the newest Ubisoft game, which was said to take history and tweak it a bit based on centuries-old stories of secret cabals & conspiracies. The game’s plot would center on a millennia-long war between two clandestine groups, each operating behind the scenes of human society. One of the organizations fights to assume control and instill perfect order in the world through the manipulation of politics & religion, while the other fights for humanity to retain its free will by killing high-ranking members of the first. Mysterious objects would be sought, real-life historical figures would be encountered, and secrets about the origins of humanity would be revealed.
On that day, we gamers got our mitts on the very first Assassin’s Creed game, and the franchise quickly garnered a fervent fan base. With ten core games, 23 spin-off games (not including compilations), several novels, seven screen (big and small) adaptations, a line of comic books, two board games (Arena and AC Monopoly), and a ton of memorable characters, the Assassins Creed franchise has captured the hearts & minds of countless gamers. This coming Monday / Today marks the tenth anniversary of the release of the first Assassins Creed title, and while the franchise has had its share of issues (the Assassins Creed community on Reddit has many opinions on that), the rich story and engaging characters are what keep gamers coming back to explore Assassin’s Creed’s special version of history. That being the case, we thought we would take a Leap of Faith into what this series has brought us over the years, and look back on a decade of hidden blades, historical settings, Templars, and Assassins.
Let’s start with one of the most obvious things about this series that has so readily captured the attention of gamers: the creative storytelling. Assassins Creed takes real history, and combines it with legend (coupled with a few tweaks) to not only make it fantastical, but still retain a modicum of believability. The characters (mostly) feel real, and leave the gamer wanting to know more about their lives, while the idea of a secret war between two factions operating behind the proverbial curtain makes for a real attention-grabber.
Another one of the things that I feel makes the Assassins Creed universe so successful, is the homework that the crew from Ubisoft do for the games’ settings, and the lengths to which they go in order to get them just right. With the historical portion of the story having taken place over thousands of years, in settings like ancient Egypt, the Middle East during the Crusades, Colonial America, Revolutionary France, England in the 19th century, and of course, the Italian Renaissance, the Ubisoft team has traveled to the real modern-day locations in order to be as accurate as possible. They’ve taken photographs & drawings of the architecture and landscape, and put those images into their games so that we the gamers can really get a sense of those wondrous settings.
Assassins Creed has also introduced us to some colorful, engaging, and interesting characters over its decade-long run so far. For the most part, Corey May (the franchise’s lead writer) has done some spectacular work with giving us relatable and very human protagonists, and some really great supporting characters. The protagonists in each game have all, at their core, been people with their own internal struggles and flaws. Never has there been one Assassin about whom I would say, “There’s a character who knows exactly what he/she is doing and why”. Giving these characters their own unique personal demons makes for more interesting stories, and serves to really humanize them. Sure, there have been some misses in the writing from time to time (the unlikeable nature of Connor Kenway comes to mind). Overall, however, the Assassins Creed universe has brought us protagonists whom we have grown to love & identify with, and even given some of us a newfound (or renewed) love of the real-life historical figures in the series.
Finally, there’s one of the most intriguing (and in my opinion, creative) aspects of the Assassin’s Creed story. The creative teams behind the franchise never come right out and say that one side are the villains and one side are the heroes. The motivations & goals of both factions are left open to the interpretation of the individual gamer, reader, and/or viewer, and there have been several times where discussion about identifying with one side over the other have gone on and fans have made some very interesting points (I’m a fan of the Assassin ideology, myself). Several of the games have also explored this ambiguity by showcasing a grey area where a member of one faction shows understanding, empathy, or even support for the members or dogma of the opposition. However, let’s just say that doesn’t always turn out the way they would hope.
On a more personal note, Assassins Creed has worked its way into my heart, and become my favorite game franchise ever. I’ve had more fun playing this series than most any other games I can remember. The memory of sitting down to play Assassins Creed II when it was first released back November of 2009 sticks out in my head, for instance. I was BLOWN AWAY by the ability to run along the rooftops of the beautiful Italian architecture, all the while stalking soldiers in the streets below. Then there was the myriad of ways in which you could take out your prey…That first Air Assassination kill was Just. So. Satisfying! Making Ezio Auditore leap down on top of some low-level grunt (who was just doing his patrol thing) was amazing to me. Similarly, getting into a fight with multiple guards at once, and parrying their attacks in order to take them all down with smooth, unrelenting flair was so cathartic. I’ve always been able to count on being able to flip on a game from the series in order to vent any frustrations I’d had from a rough day at the office, and lose myself in that world.
Over the past 10 years, the Assassins Creed franchise has become one of the more widely known IPs in gaming, with Ubisoft having made it one of their flagship properties. With each new game that’s released, fans have a chance to visit new and amazing places, meet new & sinister antagonists, and kill them. What does the future hold for the iconic series? Well, Ubisoft has been pretty good about keeping their plans for the franchise under wraps. However, they have said that the team has an idea of how the story will end. However, we gamers will have to wait & see what the developer has in store for the war between the Templar and Assassin factions.
Now excuse me, while I step back into ancient Egypt to visit with Bayek, Cleopatra, and the Order of the Ancients in Assassins Creed Origins on my PS4.