Assassin’s Creed Franchise, Part 1 – I, II, and III

1716 wc

I’m going to attempt to write a blog post now. I don’t really want to, but I feel like I should at least try to get one post out about something every month. But honestly, who gives a crap about blogging right now? Not me, that’s who.

Anyway, after I reached a stopping point with No Man’s Sky, I turned to the Assassin’s Creed franchise. I didn’t really plan to, but after I saw the reveal trailer for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, I thought, “Hey I want to replay that first Assassin’s Creed game and get a good recording of it. It was one of those seminal, ground-breaking games in the history of gaming that needs to be remembered.”

I certainly didn’t intend for it to turn into a project of playing through and recording all of the Assassin’s Creed games in my Steam backlog in the order they were released, but that’s what happened. It has been the one and only constructive thing I’ve been able to focus on “in these troubled times.”

Now I will employ the classic, time-honored writing technique of copying-and-pasting tweets from Twitter into a blog post. Twitter is now apparently where I draft blog posts one sentence at a time.

Backstory

It all started when I saw the announcement of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.

What in the wide world of sports happened to the Assassin’s Creed franchise? Pretty soon I expect they’re going to slap an “Assassin’s Creed” label on some superhero game or maybe a space game where people fly around in jetpacks.

By my count I have seven Assassin’s Creed games to play before I get to Valhalla. That’s 147 hours of time if I stick just to the main story, according to howlongtobeat.com.

Assassin’s Creed (2007), May 3

Altair and Al Mualim at Masyaf. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

For context, Assassin’s Creed launched on the PC in 2007. That was a big year for Nolan North, but nobody remembers him for playing Desmond. Uncharted launched on the PS3 in 2007 as well.

I played through the first memory block of Assassin’s Creed last night and it’s impossible to overstate how big of an influence that game had on the gaming industry. And I only last night learned that Kristen Bell voiced Lucy in that game.

Lucy, Desmond, and Vidic. The real story of the first five games.

So the fact that Assassin’s Creed crashes quite frequently combined with the checkpoint system being pretty lame is somewhat hampering my nostalgic enjoyment of it. Also there are large swaths of gameplay that involve simply riding a horse from one side of the map to the other side, but you have to slow to a crawl to go past guards. [It turns out you can simply gallop past all the guards and largely ignore them.]

One of the other fun things I forgot about from the first Assassin’s Creed game is how roughly 75% of the time while running across rooftops Altair decides to jump in some random direction that leads to death or some other terrible outcome. [A persistent problem with the franchise that exists in every game. It becomes nearly unbearable starting with Assassin’s Creed Unity.]

I’m in memory block 5 of Assassin’s Creed 1 now so I’ve reached the point where I don’t really want to play anymore but I’ve come this far so I feel like I need to finish it anyway. I haven’t quite yet experienced the full range of ways that assassinations can be ruined by randomly jumping in weird directions that wreck everything. Fortunately you can complete every stealthy assassination mission by charging wrecklessly into the middle of the crowd and killing everyone in sight. [Sadly that strategy becomes less effective with each successive game.]

In summary, the story of Assassin’s Creed 1 is one of my favorites in video game history, and it far surpasses any of the subsequent games I’ve played so far. This was a revolutionary game that influenced the entire industry to this day. Gaming technology leaped forward in 2007 and I don’t think there’s been any comparable leaps forward since then.

Assassin’s Creed II (2009), May 14

Ezio Auditore, who thankfully doesn't have an umlaut.

I previously wrote (briefly) about Assassin’s Creed II when I first played it in 2013 here and here.

I started Assassin’s Creed 2 the other day and I’d forgotten how much of a shift in tone there was from 1 to 2. I also forgot 95% of the game entirely. The franchise went from deeply impactful to fast food in one game.

Finished Assassin’s Creed II. Watched the cut scenes for Brotherhood and Revelations. Now on to Assassin’s Creed III! Then I’ll be ready to … probably get burned out and stop.

Desmond moved to another Animus in the second game and Lucy got a makeover.

I didn’t have much to say about Assassin’s Creed II apparently. As I’m sitting here writing this blog post, I have very little memory of Ezio’s story in this game at all, even though I just played it a month ago. I recall that they set it up as a revenge tale and then concluded the revenge tale almost immediately afterward, but then there was a whole lot of story afterward that was just tacked on to give you an excuse to keep going places in the game world. The modern-day story was cut to the bone so that plot barely moved in the entire game, until the end credits.

Memorable additions to the franchise: Shaun and Rebecca! The First Civilization?

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood (2010), Revelations (2011)

I did not replay these, but I watched the cut scenes on YouTube to refresh my memory of the story before continuing. I wrote a little bit about Brotherhood and Revelations in 2013 when I first played them.

I still might go back and replay them to add them to my video collection. I seem to recall that the Brotherhood story was fairly meh except for the shocking twist at the end, and Revelations had a pretty good story overall. I remember thinking the way they brought Ezio’s and Altair’s stories to a close at the end of Revelations was very well done.

Assassin’s Creed III (2012), May 22

Haytham Kenway and Charles Lee, the two best voice actors in the game.

I wrote a fair amount about Assassin’s Creed III here and here.

Playing through the first three Assassin’s Creed games is like tracing the history of modern third-person open world video games.

Assassin’s Creed III is better than I remember it but it’s still pretty dern buggy. You’d think they could fix at least a *couple* of things in all this time. I might be speaking too soon though. My memory is that I liked it at first and then it fell off a cliff and I had to struggle and force myself to slog through the end of it years later.

Oh hey the first rage-quit-inducing mission occurred just a little bit later in sequence 3. Way more focus on stealth than in previous games. The instant-fail-if-you-make-one-tiny-mistake-and-go-way-back-to-the-beginning kind of stealth. [That was Sequence 3, “Execution is Everything.” A very annoying mission.]

Got through sequence 6 of Assassin’s Creed III and I’m definitely remembering all the story and gameplay problems now.

Connor, the actual protagonist, and Achilles, his mentor. This could have been a fantastic character relationship but it felt rushed and poorly written.

There’s one point in Assassin’s Creed III where Conner is doing a voiceover and he says “these are troubled times” and I kind of laughed. [You know, because that is the exact quote we hear in every ad right now.]

Now in sequence 9 (of 12) of Assassin’s Creed III. I fully understand why I gave up on the Assassin’s Creed franchise after this one. It’s not quite as bad as I remember, but it’s close. Just a lot of jankiness and odd choices in gameplay and story. Feels factory produced.

Things like “hey let’s do a cut scene where the greatest assassin superhero in the history of everything, who can kill people with his hands in 50 different ways, is casually knocked out and taken prisoner.” [The lead in to Sequence 8, “Bridewell Prison.”]

And other things like an NPC telling you “you can’t go through that door and tell those people this stuff,” and you thinking, actually you’re right that does sound like a bad idea, and then the game forcing you to open the door and do the bad thing anyway. But then when you open the door something totally different happens that seems completely unrelated, and you’re like, wait what? The guy I wasn’t supposed to tell this stuff isn’t even in here? [That was a cut scene following Sequence 8, “Public Execution,” where Connor wasn’t supposed to tell Washington about the Assassins and Templars, but it turned out Washington wasn’t there anyway.]

Desmond and company and the real story I wanted to see more of.

Done with Assassin’s Creed III and completely caught up to where I left off with the series. Now only some 10 more games to go before I can get the new one! [A slight exaggeration. It’s seven.]

Overall, Assassin’s Creed III was a very ambitious game with big story ideas that they didn’t quite land as well as I would have liked. In my opinion, it was a great game right up until the point where we left Haytham’s point of view, and then it went right off the rails and crashed headlong into a ravine. There’s a lot of meaty subject matter in there though, and it’s probably the most “adult” of the series so far. It definitely reflects American politics of the 2012 era. Some of the dialog sounded like it was directly copied-and-pasted from political comment sections of the day (eg. conversations between Desmond and Shaun in particular). In other words, this game unapologetically did not “keep politics out of games.”

Memorable additions to the franchise: More simplified and familiar control scheme. Ships, unfortunately.

Next up: The games that were new to me! The franchise’s descent into abject mediocrity! The most unlikable protagonist of the entire series!

P. S. I know there’s supposed to be an umlaut in “Altair” but screw it.

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