Assassin’s Creed is now 15 years old and there’s more games on the horizon. The franchise has many highs and lows and as a fan of the series, I wanted to rank the series based on my time with the games.
Rogue is a strange game. I haven’t played much of it, to be clear, but something about it felt lacking. Which is odd, as it feels like an expansion pack to one of the best games in the franchise. What is interesting, from a storytelling perspective, is playing as Shae, an Assassin turned Templar. But mechanically, not much changes in the end. What’s more, the maps just feels barren and uninteresting. I want to like Rogue, but I can’t get behind it.
Valhalla, in many respects, felt like a spiritual sequel to Odyssey. It had the same mission design, a massive open world with way too much to do in it and a story that went on for far too long. But I liked Eivor more as a character when compared to the leads from Odyssey and the lack of supernatural abilities was a plus for me. It just felt so bloated that by the end, I just lost interest completely. Plus the leveling system was just…bizarre. Combat felt repetitive, as did mission design and I don’t have any interest in replaying this one anytime soon.
I wanted to love Odyssey, but I just can’t. I love Ancient Greek history and being tossed into the Pelloponean War was right up my alley. However, Odyssey was bloated to the point where I think I’ve only seen around 50% of the content-excluding the expansion packs. What’s more, is that I wasn’t crazy about the over-the-top magical powers, I like the more grounded historical gameplay sprinkled with a science fiction story. Teleporting across the map? No thanks. The grind was also an issue and the mechanics and animations took a beating to compensate for the humongous world. But it wasn’t all bad, I enjoyed many of the missions, especially ones that played with choice and expectations. One such mission, given by Socrates, was great because the obvious choice ended up being not the best outcome and the philosopher made a point of highlighting this.
The game that started it all. The first Assassin’s Creed was revolutionary at the time, but the series as come a long way since Altair’s debut. Set in 1191 against the Third Crusade, the player ventures to Damascus, Jerusalem and Acre to undergo various assassinations of historical figures. The stealth gameplay is great and pure here, but the story is seriously lacking and the sword combat feels like it’s missing something, especially by today’s standards. But seeing Altair climb a tower for the first time was jaw-dropping back in 2008 and the series would go on to change the face of gaming in the years to come (we’re looking at you, map revealing towers).
Assassin’s Creed Revelations acts as the conclusion to the Ezio arc and is one of the less inspired entries in the franchise. I’m not sure if it’s the city, Istanbul, that feels lacking or the gameplay, which includes a weird tower defense style mini-game. The game also includes chapters where you resume control of Altair in flashback segments. That being said, it did wrap up Ezio’s story quite nicely and isn’t a bad game by any means. It just doesn’t have the same impact as its predecessors.
After the wonders of the Renaissance, we went forth to the American Revolution. We played as Connor, born Ratonhnhaké:ton, a half Mohawk, half British Assassin stuck in the middle of the war. He’s on the hunt for Charles Lee and will rub shoulders with the likes of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Connor is much more stoic and, well, bland, when compared to the charming Ezio. As such, III feels very slow at times. But there is no doubt that the world is alive and full of history. Combat got a bit of a facelift here with the tomahawk and rope dart and they were very fun to use. Likewise, the story had some great moments, such as the opening with Haytham Kenway and hunting targets in the woods high up in the trees.
Unity got a very bad rep when it first launched due to all the hysterical bugs. But once you look past that-and the British accents-you’ll find the last great stealth game in the franchise. Unity actually boasts some excellent gameplay and the dense and vibrant city, full of thousands of NPCs, feels alive in the midst of the French Revolution. Stealth is crucial in this game but the fencing-inspired combat feels flashy and deadly. The game also introduced a decent button for the parkour mechanics, which greatly changed the flow of running. The animations here were also tweaked and included many more variations. I’d like the series to return to this particular format at some point. It’s also worth noting that this game looks and controls much better than Odyssey even today.
The spiritual sequel of II and part two of the Ezio trilogy, Brotherhood largely continues that narrative and gameplay thread and introduces the brotherhood mechanic, where you can recruit citizens into your little faction. The story involves Rome, the Papacy with the Borgias and other historical figures like Macchiavelli. The game didn’t push any boundaries as it very much feels like AC 2.5, but more of a great thing isn’t bad. Brotherhood may not be as groundbreaking as II, but it’s still incredibly fun.
After the misfire that was Unity at launch, some people were understandably a bit skeptical about Assassins’ Creed Syndicate. I think many people didn’t give this one a chance because of the damage that game did and thus, missed out or didn’t give this one enough credit. Because Syndicate was awesome. This is the most modern Assassin’s game at the time of this writing and as such, the world is much more different. You can’t walk around the street holding a weapon like you could in older games-this is Victorian England! As such, the mechanics were changed to reflect this. Stealth became more crucial as open combat was limited to fisticuffs and blades. The brotherhood mechanic was tweaked to feel more like a street gang, as Jacob Frye was itching to take over London Gangs of New York style. His twin sister Evie, was more in line with a traditional protagonist of the series. More stealth driven mechanically, she was a more traditional experience while Jacob pushed the envelope a bit and being able to switch between two playstyles on the fly made the experience feel fun. Plus the city was so rewarding to explore thanks to the density and hyper detail. We haven’t had a great city to parkour through since this game and I hope the franchise goes back to big open cities to explore soon, rather than open countrysides.
The jump between the first game and the second game is light and day. The first game set the stage but II gave us a more layered narrative, a character so lovable he got a trilogy and a setting so rich and alive. ACII was set in the Italian Rennaissance and weaved a grand tale of betrayal, revenge, deception and political maneuvering pulled straight from the history pages (with a fair bit of embellishment). But that doesn’t change much about the Borgias, the Medici and the overall scene in Italy at the time. Despite the riches and sense of progression, the religious and political scene was seedy and corrupt. Contrast that against the fashion and the art and it’s a wonderful experience.
After doing a lot of similar things game design-wise since the debut of the series, Origins decided to change things up quite a bit. Gone was one giant open city and instead, we got a whole country. At this point, this was the furthest back in time we had gone, meaning there were no major cities like London or Paris before it. But the attention to detail was out of this world, as well as a sense of place. Despite the huge desert, Egypt felt lived in. Not only that but it felt grounded. Part of why I didn’t like Odyssey was how crazy the fighting got, the leveled loot and enemies and the sidelining of stealth. In Origins, it still felt like the core DNA of the franchise was there but that it was dipping its toe into something new. It struck a great middle ground between RPG and classic. I hope Valhalla is more like Origins, as it’s the same team.
IV: Black Flag
It’s ironic that the game that is the Black Flag expansion of sorts is the worst entry on this list while its big brother is the crowning jewel. Black Flag, made by the same guy who made Origins and Valhalla, shook up the formula a bit by not only introducing the series’ favourite sailing mechanics but by giving us a lead character who had no connections to the Assassin Brotherhood. He’s just a pirate, doing pirate things, who gets brought into the greater narrative of Assassins and Templars. Edward Kenway was rough, a bit cheeky and earnest. The stealth mechanics remained but the combat was also ramped up, especially during ship boarding scenes. Historical figures were woven once more into the plot, only this time they were the Caribbean’s most wanted and those trying to bring piracy to an end. Like the ocean breeze, it was a breath of fresh air.
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