The Assassin’s Creed series moved away from the European and the Middle Eastern setting which had served as the backbone of the original game to Revelations for the second main segment of the franchise beginning with Assassin’s Creed III. This game moved the series to North America, which would also make up the backbone of later titles including AC Black Flag and Rogue. AC III was the first entry in the series to divide players and critics with many feeling its story and gameplay failed to deliver on the settings promise as it was one of the most visually impressive to that point. It was marked for its deviation from the parkour nature of the previous entries with significant devotion to the wilderness and encounters with bears and other wild creatures a key part of its appeal.
Possibly struggling to follow in the footsteps of fan-favourite Ezio, Ratonhnhaké:ton (Connor) has an arc which falls short in an otherwise solid game. The historical aspects of this entry are welcome with events including the Boston Tea Party with encounters with figures including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Samuel Adams.
In its review, IGN noted “Assassin’s Creed III is very enjoyable overall, but it’s not consistently brilliant. Not everything about the game gels together convincingly and the missions’ unnecessary prescriptiveness sometimes undermines the sense of freedom that the rest of the game works so hard to create”. To this day AC III remains one of the series’ most divisive entries, perhaps rivalled in this department by 2014’s Unity. One of the upsides of AC III is its introduction of naval combat which would be a prominent factor in the success of its follow-up Black Flag.
Black Flag is one of the most acclaimed entries in the series outside of the Ezio series. It was a refreshing deviation on the formula being more pirate driven with is Caribbean setting and developing upon the more positive elements of AC III, namely its naval system which really forms the games’ backbone. Hearing sea shanties on the Jackdaw is a heap of fun as is exploring more coastal locations such as Havana, which offer such stark contrast to the heavy city setting of prior entries. It was noted that Edward Kenway, the grandfather of AC III’s protagonist Connor, was much more fun and brought renewed life into the franchise.
While it did receive overwhelmingly positive reviews, one of the drawbacks for Black Flag was its repetitive nature and gameplay which some deemed not to have progressed enough since the series beginning. This would perhaps be one of the factors behind the shift in direction in Origins and Odyssey. GamesRadar noted “Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is an incredible pirate adventure. No other game in memory–the mighty Sid Meier’s Pirates included–slides you so snugly into the boots of a brash buccaneer and demands that you collect booty with as much stylish aggression”.
One of the outliers in the series is perhaps Rogue which sits somewhat as a coda to the story started in AC III and Black Flag while offering a direct link to Unity. While Unity allowed gamers to play AC on the next-gen of consoles, Rogue was designed purely for previous generations and as such perhaps didn’t get the recognition it deserved at launch. With some of the glitches that affected Unity’s launch, Rogue initially perhaps received the better reviews of the pair. One of Rogue’s biggest strengths is the moral murkiness, seeing both sides of the Templar/Assassin divide more than in any previous or subsequent entry. It received some criticism for its derivative gameplay but was praised for its story choices and it does a fine job connecting the dots within the franchise’s overarching narrative.
Assassins Creed Unity is by far one of the most underrated entries in the franchise. Perhaps due to some launch glitches and following hot on Black Flag’s heels it didn’t get its dues upon its 2014 release, however, the game boasts some of the most stunning city locations with revolution-era Paris, offering a sense of huge escapism and opportunities to truly immerse yourself with iconic locales, it really never gets tiring visiting Versailles, Notre Dame or a plethora of Paris’s other landmarks. As ever with the series we encounter a series of historical figures, these including Napoleon and Madame Tussaud.
Having Unity focus on the relationship between protagonist Arno and Templar Elise gives both characters more depth as we see them grow from children to adults, as well as adding some stakes to the main storyline. The simmering undercurrent of the revolution offers glimpses at one of the most tumultuous moments in French history and the story and side-quests allow players to dive into various aspects with a series of engaging locations that continue to surprise. The more industrial side of the game is a welcome departure from the Renaissance era Ezio entries and builds upon a side of the universe first glimpsed in AC III
The second wave of the Assassin’s Creed franchise is perhaps overlooked when put in the context of the series at large. It is perhaps a case of fatigue with the modern-day story beats and gameplay mechanisms setting in but it is still worth fans attention as we are introduced to some intriguing locations and time periods and a mix of protagonists and antagonists.
Words by Chris Connor
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