Full disclosure: I was originally going to write an article ranking console Assassin’s Creed games. I’m a bit behind, though, so for it to be complete I would need to play 2014’s Unity and 2015’s Syndicate. Fair enough, I’ve got time to power through a few good open world games.
Then I started playing Unity. And my plan shattered before my eyes.
When the Little Things Stack Up
I consider myself to be pretty tolerant when it comes to bad aspects of game design. A frustrating control scheme can be worked around if characters and story are good. A bad mechanic can be forgiven or, best case, downright ignored when there are other redeeming factors. Heck, even a dull-as-wallpaper-paste protagonist can be accepted if the rest of the game works. And the Assassin’s Creed series has elements of all three. Always has.
But Unity just… nothing clicked. Stories were rehashed, controls were messed around with again, the setting didn’t hold a ton of interest for me (sorry, France). They tried to do one thing interestingly and the rest they just sorta breezed through. It didn’t feel right and after a while I realized I’d be playing the entirety of the game to write a paragraph about the size of this one in a list article. In short, it wasn’t worth me playing through it when there are so many other open world games that are better. Like Mad Max. And Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
Assassin’s Creed Games, Ranked (In Brief)
That brings me to my original article concept, I suppose. But while we’re at it, let’s look at each as a case study as to why the games are still enjoyable, despite their flaws.
I place AC IV: Black Flag at the top of my list. Controls are as ever frustrating, not always jumping where you want to and sometimes doing a monkey dance on top of a treasure chest before hopping down to open it. But the atmosphere of the game is sublime, the characters are perfect from protagonist to supporting, the ship controls and mechanics are deeply satisfying, and the plot is enjoyable, even to some extent the modern-day plot (though being Desmond was more fun.)
Under that is a tie between AC II and AC Brotherhood. Prior to Black Flag, II had my favorite story. Fixing up Monteriggioni just worked for me so well, Ezio Auditore da Firenze was an exciting character. You could swim! There were bombs! Two hidden blades! Leonardo da frickin’ Vinci! And the storyline was a great tale of two ancient orders still fighting over the world and how it affected the everyday Italian. Brotherhood wasn’t nearly as grand a scale but introduced a more complex city building system insofar as renovating Rome, and let you hire assassins that could help you out in various ways. It also introduced the combo system – when you kill someone and get to one-hit kill someone else as long as you’re chaining attacks together. Go back and play II without it. So frustrating. Still, it highlighted the idea that an Assassin should not be involved in combat in the first place. Right? Gameplay shortcoming properly explained away by story and setting. This is the kind of thing you do while you’re playing – fill in the holes in stories with the plaster of excuses, and as long as they’re small holes requiring small excuses, you’re fine.
Also worth noting is that it’s when the present-day storyline was at its finest, first in the random warehouse, discovering stuff about the Precursors, and wandering Monteriggioni as Desmond. Since then I’ve felt that the Precursors are getting played out and no way of interacting outside of the Animus has been nearly as engaging.
It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve played it but the original Assassin’s Creed probably goes next. Assassins and Templars in their original setting, tight focus on scoping out the area, being unseen, and stabbing a dude in the throat. Some side missions, admittedly a bit repetetive but working towards the goal of making that final throat stabbing easier. It was a far more focused game than anything that has followed and benefits strongly from it. Just remember that Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad is extremely hydrophobic (ugh this one Templar to kill on the end of a bunch of posts by a dockside and UGH) and you’re fine. It is in fact the only Assassin’s Creed game that I’ve done 100% completion on.
Wait, Are You Just Writing Your Assassin’s Creed List Anyway?
Shh. After those four we get to the bottom four that I’ve played, where we start to make a few more excuses.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue is often forgotten. Released the same year as Unity, it released on previous-generation consoles (Xbox 360, PS3) while Unity got the shiny new consoles. It’s very much a continuation of Black Flag and a prequel to III in both its storyline and mechanics; you are once again the captain of a ship, this time plying the North Atlantic during the Seven Years War (or, locally, the French and Indian war). It’s a great fusion of III‘s deciduous forests with IV‘s seagoing nature, and the best part of it is that you’re an Assassin-turned-Templar. It completely flips the script and introduces a lot of Assassin-hunting mechanics. All those hay bales you used to hide in? Be careful around them, and also here’s how to take care of them. That sort of thing. The downside is, I don’t remember what Shay Cormac is like as a character. What did he do? What did I accomplish in Rogue, aside from learning about the great auk, a penguin-like bird in the North Atlantic that humans hunted to extinction? Nothing, that’s what. (Also as a local it pains me that the “River Valley” area was so simplified; no, you can’t saila tall ship up to Albany or near Fort Ticonderoga but to see upstate New York represented as an archipelago hurt my soul.)
I know some people that played Assassin’s Creed III as their first AC game. As Americans, is is indeed our civic duty to play this game about the American Revolution (developed by French-Canadians), is it not? I feel sorry for those people. (Particularly you, Chris.) III is a mess. You meet such a who’s-who of famous figures that it’s embarrassing how many they shoehorned in there, the main protagonist of Ratonhnhaké:ton (heretofore referred to as Connor so I don’t break the Google, Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V sequence) is duller than a number two pencil at the end of a Scantron®, and while jumping around forests is fun you start to miss the densely packed buildings of medieval Europe. Colonial New York and Boston just don’t cut it. Plus, it loses out on a lot of the architectural history that came before. Ezio got to climb landmarks that stand to this very day (as evidenced by Desmond monkeying around the Coliseum). Connor got to climb trees and buildings that would be burned down within a quarter century.
Assassin’s Creed Revelations is just weird. Let’s go to Constantinople… but instead of a new character, let’s use Ezio again. But let’s change character models across the board so he’s unregognizable. (Let’s do that in the present day too, but also let’s make the present-day storyline so film-school-acid-trip that it hurts to just think about.) Oh, and let’s totally change the comfortable puppeteering control scheme we have to something more video game-y and arbitrary. (That last one has been vindicated by history; it’d take a lot for me to adjust back to “Y is head, A is feet, B and X are hands” scheme.) I also don’t remember the plot that well – hide an artifact. Woo, Precursor artifact. Still, the fort defense minigame was enjoyable, if a bit out of place.
And then there’s Assassin’s Creed Unity. It has exactly one redeeming factor that I’ve run into in my few hours of playing it, and that is a romance between the protagonist Assassin and a Templar during a time of uneasy truce between the factions that is about to be shattered. Everything else is just frustrating – trying to fix the imperfect free-running controls just made it more broken, Arno is walking much the same path as Ezio, and honestly now that we’re in the 19th century the whole Assassin robe getup is looking just plain silly. It worked in the Crusades because of blending with monks and they made it work for Ezio because he is a fly dude, but after that it just got more ceremonial and at this point, silly.
Baaaack on Topic
Heh heh got carried away a bit there. Sorry about that, guys, looks like you’re getting two articles for the price of one, but since either one was gonna be short, well… bonus, I guess!
So hey game series you’ve stopped playing. AC is the foremost one in my mind at the moment. What others are there? For what reasons? I never played more than the first Borderlands, for example. It was borderline (heh heh) on it in the first place, and while I enjoyed it it wasn’t something that I felt the burning need to continue. I never picked up Rock Band 4 because 3 was more than enough for me, with all of my song downloads and its own library; I never felt the need to get 4‘s song list, especially when it released without full backwards compatibility for song exports from previous discs. Meanwhile my library has songs from 1, 2, 3, and LEGO. No, I’m good with what I have for the couple times a year I still play it.
So let’s hear it. Whether you played one or half a dozen, what game series no longer holds your interest?