Who would have guessed that stealthily scaling a building with a trusty hidden blade would become an annual tradition, but back in 2007, the exploits of Altair in Assassin’s Creed were practically revolutionary.
Assassin’s Creed has taken players to exotic locations including Syria, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Paris, and England. Not only that, but these settings depicted important eras in time, including the Holy Crusades, Italian Renaissance, the American Revolution, Victorian Era England, the Age of Piracy, and the Viking conquests.
These settings help tell an epic story that revolves around two competing factions: the Assassins that fight for free will, and the Templar’s who fight to maintain order through mind control. Although the locations and periods are rooted in reality, the stories are fictional. The series tells these stories across different timelines thanks to a device called the Animus which lets users experience the memories of their ancestors and thus, characters in this long-running Assassin-Templar war.
Story aspects were inspired by a novel from the 1930s titled Alamut by Vladimir Bartol including the spoken creed of the Assassin Order: “nothing is true, everything is permitted.” However, the free-running open-world gameplay was an evolution from the popular Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, an action-adventure game with platforming elements that inspired a movie of its own.
There are 12 main Assassin’s Creed games and 12 spin-off games, spanning almost every platform and three console generations. Let’s take a look through some highlights over the 13 years the franchise has been around…
Assassin’s Creed (2007 – PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Setting: Holy Land During the Third Crusade (Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus)
Protagonist: Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad
Assassin’s Creed gained plenty of attention after an impressive 2006 E3 demo with the game release coming in 2007. The game hooked gamers with many layers of authenticity. Level design, voice acting, and animations stood out as being worthy of a next-generation game title.
Developers at Ubisoft worked hard to create large crowds in which the protagonist, Assassin Altair Ibn-La’Ahad could mingle and hide in, a huge departure from past stealth games that encouraged hiding in the shadows. Back in 2007, watching Altair place his hands on the shoulders of those in the crowd as he slipped by seemed like a revolution in terms of interactivity.
Adding to this was the verticality of the game, as the main character can parkour and climb buildings in the cities of Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus to hunt down his prey. It wasn’t just like Spider-Man sticking to the walls either, the character grabbed and used nooks and edges on the buildings to navigate the walls realistically. A major part of the game was scaling towers to get a better view of the city, then performing a death-defying leap of faith into a haystack.
The game wasn’t perfect though, some criticized the basic combat mechanics, which seemed to emphasize one-on-one encounters, and had a lot of delays and waiting for actions. The story was a bit linear and short, even for an open-world game. Overall though, the game was a success thanks to the incredible attention to detail, setting up a new standard for Ubisoft and the game industry as a whole.
Assassin’s Creed had a mobile prequel and half sequel on the Playstation Portable called Bloodlines.
Assassin’s Creed II (2009 – PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Timeline: 15th and 16th century
Setting: Renaissance Italy
Protagonist: Ezio Auditore da Firenze
Two years after the original Assassin’s Creed — and about a year after the Windows release — came the sequel, allowing Ubisoft Montreal to give 15th and 16th century Italy the authentic, high attention to detail treatment that the last game received. While much of the mechanics remained the same between the first and second games, they were better polished which led to fewer glitches and better control of the Assassin Ezio.
The developers added far more side quests giving players more content through their playthroughs. There were three additional downloadable sequences available, letting gamers spend more time in Ubisoft’s carefully crafted rendition of renaissance era Italy.
The game was met with universal acclaim, netting perfect scores from several high-profile publications, and being applauded for maintaining the level of quality from the first game while taking the gameplay and story up a notch.
However, ACII still had its issues and critics, as PC versions of the game featured a digital rights management system that required a constant internet connection to play. If gamers disconnected from the internet while playing, their progress wouldn’t get saved. Furthermore, a denial of service attack showed the issues of using such a system, as many gamers weren’t able to play when the Ubisoft servers were unavailable. Ubisoft has since updated the DRM software used by the game to only require a connection upon launch.
There was also a mobile spin-off of Assassin’s Creed II for the Nintendo DS and Apple iOS devices called Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010 – PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Timeline: 16th century
Protagonist: Ezio Auditore da Firenze
A year later, Ubisoft delivered a direct sequel to Assassin’s Creed II, called Brotherhood. Featuring the same characters and a similar setting within 16th century Italy, Brotherhood spends a lot of time in and around Rome. The game featured some new mechanics including the opportunity to train and recruit Assassins and send them out on missions or get them to help you out on current missions. There’s also a system that allows you to invest in certain cities to help them grow and develop.
The game introduced new enemy types and ways to dispatch them, allowing Ezio to engage multiple enemies at once. The variety of weapons and tools expands with new throwable weapons like spears and axes and even a hidden pistol.
Multiplayer was finally added, letting players compete against each other in a variety of game modes, like a free-for-all style setup, or object-based scenarios as well. The multiplayer mode included a leveling up mechanic that allowed for unlocks and new abilities, perks, and characters.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (2011 – PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Timeline: 16th century
Protagonist: Ezio Auditore and Altair Ibn-La’Ahad
Revelations was the next step for the franchise and played it safe by giving gamers control of the former two protagonists in the series, Ezio and Altair. New weapons like the hook blade added more options for players to get around the city, a detailed and authentic-looking Constantinople.
The ability to recruit and direct Assassin initiates is still here, as well as a whole new mechanic revolving around holding off Templar forces in a given location through a tower defense style minigame.
A crafting system also allows for new bombs and new ways to deal with enemies, and gamers were encouraged to see and hear the final chapters of the former protagonists. Multiplayer returns but with a more developed plot of its own, furthering the appeal of the game mode. Unfortunately, the game didn’t seem to match the constantly evolving standard from previous iterations, and the critical response was a bit milder than before.
Maybe the game engine was getting old, or the expectations were too high, but the game seemed too similar to the previous entry, which left it feeling less impressive overall.
Revelations included a few first-person sequences, a first for the series. Console versions of the game could also be played entirely in 3D, with a supported TV.
Assassin’s Creed III (2012 – PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U)
Setting: America – Boston, New York,
Protagonist: Ratonhnhaké:ton aka Conor
In order to address the criticism of the last game, Ubisoft brought in a new engine for the next entry in the series. Now running on AnvilNext, Assassin’s Creed III sends players to the 18th century, depicting the conflict between Templars and Assassins in America, primarily during the American Revolution. Interestingly enough, the single-player game lets gamers play as a Templar character early on and later gives them control of the half-English, half-Mohawk protagonist Assassin, Ratonhnhaké:ton also known as Connor.
Like previous entries in the series, the game featured detailed level design, depicting Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and the frontier, which allowed for a more fully-featured hunting and crafting system.
The gameplay was expanded significantly, with more weapons, a rope-dart, axes, and muskets, which all added up to allow for more fluid combat that could let Conor take down multiple enemies at once. The game even lets him use other characters as human shields, or hide in tall grass and other natural elements.
A significant part of the game includes some naval exploration and combat, which opens up another aspect of the open-world game. Additionally, Assassin’s Creed III included parlor games like bowling and darts, which helped to develop the overall atmosphere.
A point of controversy with this game was about the marketing promoting the aspects of American nationalism and the evils of the British empire, but when gamers and critics got their hands on the game, they found it to be a pretty mature, nuanced look at what was going on through the American Revolution. This game was also remastered, making it one of the first Assassin’s Creed games available on the Nintendo Switch.
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation (2012 – PC, PS Vita, PS3, Xbox 360)
Timeline: 1765 and 1777
Setting: New Orlean, French and Indian War
Protagonist: Aveline de Grandpré
While Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation isn’t a main entry in the series, it is worth pointing out for a few quick reasons. It’s the first game with a female protagonist, the African-French Assassin Aveline de Grandpré. Like Assassin’s Creed III, Liberation takes place in North America, focusing on New Orleans and the French-Indian War.
Originally, Liberation was designed for the PS Vita and was included in a bundle with the portable gaming console. A remastered version of the game for home consoles arrived less than two years later. While the reception wasn’t great, the introduction of a female main character shows that Assassin’s Creed continues to explore underrepresented stories, be it setting, gender or race.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013 – PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U)
Timeline: 18th century
Protagonist: Edward Kenway
Black Flag was the next main game in the series. This time around you play as Conor’s (from Assassin’s Creed III) grandfather, Edward Kenway. Set during the golden age of piracy in the Caribbean, Assassin’s Creed IV takes on a slightly lighter tone. In many ways it strays away from the core gameplay loop from before, reducing the emphasis on stealth and assassinations.
Instead, a core part of the game revolves around naval combat, exploration, and piracy. Gamers can explore the seas, finding treasures in shipwrecks or deserted islands. Hunting includes fish and whales, and you can capture and control an entire fleet of ships to control the sea. The naval portion of the game matches (or exceeds) the game’s land-based settings, putting some distance between Black Flag and the original Assassin’s Creed, but the cities of Havana, Nassau, and Kingston are still full of details and life.
Fans loved the naval theme, suggesting that the game is a far better pirate game than an Assassin’s Creed game, but overall the title was well received. Multiplayer returned for this game but was land-based only. Furthermore, the Freedom Cry DLC was a huge success earning writers Jill Murray, Melissa MacCoubrey, Hugo Giard, and Wesley Pincombe a screenplay and story nomination in the Writers Guild of America Awards.
There was a Japanese manga adaptation of the game, written by Takashi Yano and illustrated by Kenji Oiwa. It began serialization in Shueisha’s Jump X magazine on August 10, 2013. Ubisoft also helped finance the exhumation of the remains of the Spanish corsair Amaro Pargo, so they could use his likeness in the game.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue (2014 – PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Setting: Seven Year War, America
Protagonist: Shay Patrick Cormac
In late 2014 it was clear that the new consoles were becoming more popular, so Ubisoft had to decide which platforms to launch the next Assassin’s Creed titles. Instead, they made a game for each generation with Assassin’s Creed Rogue meant for sixth-generation hardware like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, while Assassin’s Creed Unity was exclusively on seventh-generation consoles like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Both games had the same release date of November 11, 2014.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue is the direct sequel to Black Flag and is set during the Seven Years’ War. This time gamers take control of a Templar character for the whole game. Playing as Shay Patrick Cormac, an Assassin turned Templar, the game features plenty of character development. What used to be a violent and secretive war between Assassins and Templars for world peace is also experienced through internal and moral conflict. Shay may be a bad guy, but his actions still have players rooting for him and relating with his actions. Shay exhibits fears and regrets as he hunts down his former Assassin associates.
It’s clear by now that Assassin’s Creed games cover new ground by taking place in different settings. There are countless WWII games out there, but very few games that take place during conflicts like the Seven Years’ War like this one.
The same can be said about the characters. Sure we’re used to buff, no-nonsense Yankee soldier who can do everything, but few games feature Irish-American characters struggling to find their place in two orders with contrasting viewpoints. Like Black Flag, Rogue featured naval exploration and combat, though Shay’s ship is smaller than Kenway’s. An icebreaker is used during the arctic settings.
The gameplay is more or less the same as previous entries. Gang hideouts can be taken away from other factions, like in Brotherhood, and sidequests revolve around preventing Assassins from completing their tasks. For example, Shay can track down a messenger pigeon carrying an assassination contract, to stop an assassination from occurring.
The Multiplayer mode was cut for this title, but Rogue did support eye-tracking accessories.
Assassin’s Creed Unity (2014 – PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
Timeline: French Revolution 18th century
Protagonist: Arno Victor Dorian
Assassin’s Creed Unity launched on PC, PS4 and Xbox One at the same time as Assassin’s Creed Rogue which targeted older consoles. This time, the series returns to Europe, more specifically 18th century France, during the French Revolution. Gamers take control of Arno Dorian, the son of a member of the Assassin’s Order, whose father was killed by Templar Shay Patrick Cormac (from Assassin’s Creed Rogue). Dorian is then adopted by a grandmaster of the Templar Order. However, that ends with the adopted father getting murdered, too. Set out to find out more about his father’s death, Arno joins the Assassin’s Order.
In addition to playing as Arno, gamers can be joined by three other Assassins controlled by other players, marking the first co-operative gameplay mechanics in the series. The large open world is full of life, and the updated engine allows for over 30,000 non-playable characters to appear on the screen simultaneously. Sometimes the crowd will have an interactive event: for example, someone gets pickpocketed, and you can help the victim out.
Unity lacked the naval combat and exploration of past games, and some critics claimed that the game scaled things back a bit from the grandness of games like Black Flag. The critics were harsh, citing the size of the game as a sticking point, in addition to some technical issues and bugs.
Ubisoft Montreal CEO Yannis Mallat had to apologize. “I want to sincerely apologize on behalf of Ubisoft and the entire Assassin’s Creed team,” he said back in 2014. “These problems took away from your enjoyment of the game, and kept many of you from experiencing the game at its fullest potential.”
This marked the first time the reception to an Assassin’s Creed game was so harsh that an apology had to be issued. The next mainline game had to be delayed, ensuring better attention to detail.
A less discussed but thoroughly interesting aspect of Unity are the time anomalies, which provided a new setting and game. This sends Arno to other periods within Paris, including the Belle Epoque around WWI and its occupation by Nazi Germany in WWII.
To ensure the authenticity of the virtual setting of France, the Notre-Dame Cathedral was modeled right down to the brick. This process took Ubisoft artist, Caroline Miousse two years to complete. Following the fire in 2019 that damaged the cultural landmark, Ubisoft donated €500,000 to the reconstruction and gave Assassin’s Creed Unity out for free.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles (2015: PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS Vita)
Settings: China: 1526, India: 1841, Russia: 1918
Protagonists: China: Shao Jun, India: Arbaaz Mir, Russia:Nikolai Orelov
Three spin-off 2D games were released between 2014 and 2016, telling smaller stories than the usual Assassin’s Creed games, though still in unexpected settings. The Chronicles games went to China, India, and Russia, but had limited appeal, with sub-average scores on Metacritic. However, it showed just how much power the Assassin’s Creed franchise had, expanding from massive big games to short films, manga, novels, 2D games, and eventually a movie, which debuted in 2016.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (2015 – PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
Timeline: Victorian Era (1868)
Setting: London England Industrial Revolution
Protagonists: Jacob and Evie Frye
Next for the series was London, England during the Industrial Revolution. Taking place through the mid-19th century, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate starred two main characters. The twins Jacob and Evie Frye each had a different set of skills to unlock and learn, as well as different missions to complete through the game.
The game introduced more tools and weaponry, but perhaps the biggest additions were the ability to hijack or pilot carriages around town or use a grappling hook, which can propel the Frye characters to rooftops or let the zipline across them. The game features a gang-war mechanic as well, where the main characters can complete side-quests in a given location to take it over for their gang.
While this game lacks the popular naval combat from previous titles and doesn’t feature any multiplayer element, one surprise was the addition of another time anomaly that takes place during World War II, as players take control of Evie Frye’s daughter and help the British forces identify and take down a master spy.
Critics were lukewarm on the game, but it was a clear return to form after Unity.
Assassin’s Creed Identity (2015 – iOS and Android)
Timeline: 12th century
In 2015, Assassin’s Creed made the jump to smartphones. And while there have been other mobile Assassin’s Creed games in the past, Identity was in full 3D, and played from a third-person perspective, much like the main-line games.
Assassin’s Creed Origins (2017 – PC, Xbox One, PS4)
Timeline: 49–43 BC
Protagonists: Bayek and Aya of Siwa
The franchise went to Egypt in 2017 with Assassin’s Creed Origins but during the Ptolemaic Period, just before the Roman Rule. The game shows the start of the Assassin Brotherhood, as well as the Order of the Ancients that eventually turns into the Templar Order.
At first, Origins doesn’t seem like an Assassin’s Creed game, with limited buildings to traverse, and a greater emphasis on role-playing, like leveling up and completing many side-quests. However, the game shows a smart progression from the writing and development team, mixing a personal story of Bayek and Aya of Siwa, along with the greater conflict between those encouraging free-will and those demanding order.
Gameplay includes land and naval exploration, and there are sequences of naval combat as well. The main character can not only explore underwater for treasures but explore tombs, find stone circles, attack outposts, and even avenge other players’ deaths. Gamers can also participate in chariot racing and gladiatorial combat.
Other changes to gameplay include the use of an eagle named Senu to help Bayek scout out locations, an adrenaline meter that allows for an extra powerful attack, and new weapons of different sizes and ranges. Furthermore, the combat system was transformed from what was previously defined as a paired animation setup, to a hit-box oriented arrangement.
The game was a hit, showing the benefits of taking a bit more time to release a game than before. Critics loved Origins, especially the level of authenticity, sense of wonder, vibrant cities, and overall game design. It also looked awesome and pushed some PCs to the limit. Some criticized its pacing, but generally, the game was very popular, selling over 10 million copies.
Origins is the first Assassin’s Creed game with difficulty settings. Fans had been pushing for Egypt to be the next setting for an Assassin’s Creed game for a long time. The developers added a few small Easter eggs like mirages if you spend too much time in the desert heat.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (2018 – PC, Xbox One, PS4, Stadia)
Timeline: 431–422 BC
Setting: Greece during the Peloponnesian War
Protagonists: Alexios or Kassandra
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey takes place in Greece during the Peloponnesian War. The game allows to play as either a male protagonist, Alexios, or female protagonist, Kassandra. There are some sci-fi and fantasy elements to be found throughout all of the Assassin’s Creed games, so it should come as no surprise that some mythological history finds its way into Odyssey.
This game furthers itself from the typical Assassin’s Creed gameplay, focusing more on open-world RPG elements, with selectable dialogue, multiple endings, romance options with non-playable characters, and branching quests.
The game expands upon Origins’ combat, adding more abilities rather than just the one overpowered attack in the preceding game. Naval combat is a bigger focus in this game, and success in the sea will change how factions behave in a given region.
Odyssey was met with critical success and plenty of praise for its ambition, scale, and immersion. It has sold over 10 million copies to date.
A story creator mode was released, allowing players to create and share custom-made quests, although that could be used to exploit the leveling system.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (2020 – PC, Xbox One, XSX, PS4, PS5, Stadia)
Timeline: 873 AD
The latest game is the series so far is Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, released for PC and a multitude of console platforms including PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and cloud gaming via Google’s Stadia. The game takes place during a Viking conquest of Britain, taking place in 873 AD. Gamers take control of Eivor, who can be either male or female, as they tackle the kingdoms of Wessex, Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia. In the process, they meet the Hidden Ones first introduced in Origins and help to fight against the Order of Ancients.
The setting itself is said to be inspired by Michael Crichton’s novel Eaters of the Dead, which is a retelling of Beowulf. Narrative director Darby McDevitt described the overall tale as being a recap of all the prior Assassin’s Creed games, connecting them in non-trivial fashions and being a completely new way to tell an Assassin’s Creed game.
New options for combat include more weapons to dual wield, as well as new weapons altogether like a flail. Players can also pretend to die or use their raven companion for distractions.
Social stealth has returned, allowing Eivor to blend in with the crowd and avoid detection. Furthermore, the game progression has characters returning to previously explored regions, and some areas can be conquered through diplomacy rather than combat. The game also includes settlements, like in Black Flag, which can be developed and improved using resources gained from raids. As in past games, non-quest activities include hunting, fishing, drinking contests, a dice oriented game called Orlog, and constructing Cairns.
The game was met with positive criticism and is lauded as being a smartly designed next step for the series. Reviews suggest that the game balances the new and old mechanics, and incorporates exploration activities to deliver an entertaining and engrossing game for Assassin’s Creed veterans.
In an interesting change to the usual presentation of games with customizable characters, you can choose to play as a male or female Eivor, or let the game alternate between the two throughout. Assassin’s Creed tries to dive deep into the timeline and characters, and a podcast was released to help discuss the Viking history within Valhalla.
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