I remember one day in 2007. I was watching CNN news for a change. I was staring at a man wearing white robes with a hoodie climbing ancient-looking buildings. He climbed a tower. Behind him, the view expanded – a city, living, bustling and breathing, stretching out as far as the eye could see. He reached the top of the tower.
I knew nothing about the game, but I was hooked.
I first got my hands on an Xbox 360 version of Assassin’s Creed. The game featured two protagonists – first a present-day character named Desmond Miles. Using a machine named the ‘Animus’ built by Abstergo Industries, he became that white-robed crusader of the past, Altair Ibn La Ahad, a highly skilled assassin during the Third Crusade, living in a shadow world of death.
For the first three days, I roamed a huge world situated around the Mediterranean region which offered a new level of freedom. Open-world games were already famous at that time – especially SL’s all-time favorite GTA: Vice City. But this was something else. I had the time of my life climbing tall towers and jumping down to haystacks. The Leap of Faith became iconic.
“Stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent, hide in plain sight and never to compromise the Brotherhood” the game told me, and I obeyed.
Two years later, in 2009, Ubisoft followed this with an announcement of Assassin’s Creed II. Creed II gave us a new hero: Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a nobleman and an assassin of Italy during their Renaissance. Ubisoft made us see Ezio from the moment he was born till his last breath in a trilogy which makes him a special character for our lives. In doing so, Ubisoft cemented their success. Ezio was lauded far and wide as one of the best characters to come to life in a videogame. The intense reconstruction of Italy even earned Ubisoft a reputation as a history teacher.
A downside of Altair’s story was that it was repetitive. Ubisoft tackled this with both story and gameplay. Ezio could row a boat and swim (yes, our master assassin Altair was afraid of water). There were many weaponry additions. There were side missions to keep you occupied even after you finished the main story. ACII was a landmark hit.
“Ezio! I think I’ve figured out how to make a man fly!” cried Leonardo Da Vinci in Assasin’s Creed: Brotherhood.
Brotherhood, which touted some dramatic improvements to multiplayer, continued the tale of Ezio. In fact, Ezio’s story didn’t stop there: it extended into the next game, Revelations, alongside a yet-unplayed part of Altair’s history.
The three “Ezio” titles took me across Italy, from the tip of Venice to Rome, from sea to air. We wielded sophisticated guns, blades and even pseudo-tanks. For a while, it seemed as if Ubisoft had hit an almost Activision – esque hype – one after the other, one after the other.
Assassin’s Creed III proved to be yet another jewel in the crown. Leaving the Renaissance behind, Ubisoft, capitalizing on novelty, brought in the American Revolution, weaving into it a myriad of shadow-plots. Creed III started off with Haytham Kenway – father of our main protagonist Connor Kenway, an assassin in a more modern world: altogether, it gave us three lives – including a sizeable chunk of the man who’d been undergoing all of this: Desmond Miles. It brought out plotlines stretching over generations.
The biggest addition of III was naval combat. We all had doubts of the big deal Ubisoft made out of naval combat before its release, but we were doubtlessly impressed. Then there was a new type of “roofs” for us to jump on – namely, trees. That alone gave Connor a plus point over both Ezio and Altair while opening a whole new path for players to make smoother approaches. Then there was hunting and petting, another set of add-ons for the series. Till III, we lived in a world with only eagles and horses. Now you never know when a bear or wolf would jump at you.
However, it polarized fans. Some said “it’s my favorite”; others said “this killed the series”.
Regardless, where the Creed of Assassins truly lost track is… Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Going from a crusader to a nobleman, then a liberator and finally to a rum-drinking pirate? Yup. Forget the dark seriousness of Altair. Black Flag is almost as a new chapter of the whole franchise, taking on the story of Edward Kenway (yes, grandfather of ACIII’s Connor) in the Caribbean Seas. You find yourself in a new ambience even before you enter the game’s main menu.
Even the story is different. Edward is not an Assassin per se: he’s a prate with a tenuous relationship with the Assassins. You’re not Desmond – you’re a technician in the video-game arm of the Templar’s organization. That said, I will go no further into spoilers than saying this is a new chapter altogether.
It’s not to say there isn’t an Assassin’s Creed storyline, but Black Flag by itself is so different and so vast that it dwarfs the story and turns into one of the most entertaining titles ever.
But the biggest change is the open world and the amazing and massive naval system. Imagine three huge cities with every-inch being occupied with something to interact followed by an ocean about five times their size fully open for exploration! Naval combat! Piracy! Jack Sparrow never had it this good.
What a journey! We saw Assassin’s Creed evolve from a white robed man who couldn’t swim to a fearless pirate conquering the seven-seas. Of course, there are number of spin-offs going parallel to the main series focused mainly for handheld consoles, which I haven’t covered here. But it’s been an epic tale, with perhaps an occasional misstep here and there.
Now we have Assassin’s Creed: Unity to look for. For now, Ubisoft is promising to take us on a French tour. For the first time, you get to play co-op up to 4 players as well. Would it be bien or très bien? As a fan of the series from early days, my bet is that Unity would be similar to II and hopefully, even better than Black Flag.
Either way, the Creed is not going to die. By the dawn of 2014, 10 million copies of Black Flag were sold, making Assassin’s Creed Ubisoft’s #01 franchise of all-time. And that’s with a total of 73 million sold units. We can expect loads of more assassins free-running in our future – Ubisoft won’t kick away a treasure like this that easily. There’s no bad news in this for the fans – everything’s a silver lining.
But if you’re new to Assassin’s Creed, you have time till October to catch-up with the games – basically a few months to catch up with the love affair we’ve had with Ubisoft’s gameworld since 2007. It’s been seven years of epicness and rooftop slaughter. Just remember: kill or be killed.