The Assassin’s Creed franchise has been a constant on the gaming circuit for 13 years following the release of its debut title in 2007, its fortunes have somewhat fluctuated in the years since but it has developed a devoted legion of fans over the years. With a new Television adaptation lined up at Netflix and the 12th main game in the franchise Valhalla now available, it seems an appropriate time to dive into the saga’s timeline and history.
The first game in the series is the eponymous debut, this lays out many of the franchise’s hallmarks. We are introduced to the two warring factions, the Templars and Assassins who will feature throughout as well as the timeline hopping mechanisms.
This entry was focused on the Middle Ages and Crusades, with Assassin Altair Ibn-La’Ahad travelling between locations including Jerusalem and Damascus. Altair exhibits many attributes that the later Assassins would come to perfect with a hidden blade and his iconic hooded outfit. Altair is perhaps not the most iconic of the series central protagonists and the gameplay of this first entry can feel clunky but it set the template the next few entries would come to perfect.
We are introduced to our present-day protagonist Desmond Miles, who would form the backbone of the game’s contemporary story until Assassin’s Creed III. The present-day storylines have proven somewhat divisive for fans and can feel tonally jarring with the various eras of Assassins encountered.
With Assassin’s Creed II through Revelations, the series firmly hit its stride as we follow the life of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, who is arguably the most iconic Assassin in the franchise to date. We follow Ezio from Renaissance Italy in ACII and Brotherhood to Constantinople for his final story, Assassin’s Creed Revelations. IGN wrote that of the sequel that “Assassin’s Creed II transforms a middling action game into an intriguing and consistently entertaining open-world adventure”.
This segment of the series offers one of the first opportunities for players to visit some iconic landmarks and historical figures including St Mark’s Basilica, The Sistine Chapel and The Grand Canal. Among the historical figures encountered include Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci. It is a treat to use Da Vinci’s flying machines and interact with figures of the Italian Renaissance.
The gameplay mechanics of II onwards really began to flow more effectively with both combat and free-roaming feeling less clunky and more engaging.
This segment of the series arguably works so well as we are given three games with Ezio, which allows his character to develop more than some of the other Assassins who are often afforded just the single game. The contrast between the youthful Ezio of ACII and Brotherhood, and his older more gruff character in Revelations is one of its greatest triumphs as well as the contrast in locations allowing for a variety in terms of world interactions and roaming.
Giving the Renaissance Italy storyline two games is also a wise move as it means we are given a greater chance to familiarise ourselves with its environments and interactions. It is such a distinctive and iconic period in history and two games do Ezio’s story the justice it deserves.
The Turkish bazaars make Revelations distinct from its predecessors set in Italy and the city defence side quests are fun if repetitive. The draw of playing as both Ezio and Altair is perhaps misleading as this is still firmly Ezio’s story. As with ACII and Brotherhood, we engage with historical figures in Revelations, in this case including Niccolo Polo and Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire.
Leaning more heavily in favour of the Ottoman aspects of this game helps to differentiate from its Renaissance predecessor. While both contain Ezio, they do feel narratively distinct. The Ezio trilogy has successfully been remastered for next-gen consoles to keep this most iconic part of the storied franchise relevant with new gamers.
The first four games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise do a fine job serving up the potential of the series and offer a perfect introduction to many of the franchises basic story beats and gameplay elements.
The series has arguably struggled to shake off the shadow of Ezio in its latter iterations but remains a fantastic and eclectic series, now across three generations of gaming platforms.
Words by Chris Connor
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