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The Assassin’s Creed Franchise – IN RETROSPECT

Assassin’s Creed is one of the better-known brands in gaming. The first game in the franchise was released back in 2007, and the series has since seen numerous iterations, with fascinating historical settings and has undergone its share of overhauls.

While the series has garnered plenty of critical and commercial success, it has also seen been through some rough roads. With Assassin’s Creed Valhalla on the horizon, now would be a great time to look back at the highs and lows of this iconic franchise. Let’s dive in.

Born from The Shadow of a Legend

Out of all the big publishers out there, Ubisoft needs to be given credit for their constant attempt at new IPs and shaking things up with their existing franchises. One of its franchises that had seen immense success and popularity back in the early 2000s was Prince of Persia.

Ubisoft had successfully brought the DOS game in 3D format complete with a great story and fun gameplay. The series soon became one of the most loved single player games among players thanks to a strong finish to an excellent story in the series’ third game. With the story now complete, Ubisoft still saw potential in the brand and wanted to make more Prince of Persia.

But this time they wanted to go for a more grounded approach, with a realistic setting leaving the fantasy elements behind. A concept was born where the story focused on one of the prince’s guard instead of the prince himself.

The parkour and stealth element seen in the first Assassin Creed was also part of this concept. While this concept was shaping up quiet well as game, it stepped way too far from what the audience would expect from a Prince of Persia game. So, with some tweaks to the plot and setting the concept took form as game of its own and would be later known as Assassin’s Creed.

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An Odyssey Begins

Revealed in E3 2006 by Jade Raymond, the original Assassin’s Creed instantly had the attention of gamers with its promise of mixing parkour and stealth in an intriguing setting, along with the then jaw dropping visuals. After plenty of hype in the following months, the game was released in 2007 to some mixed reception.

While the game was praised for its visuals and the scope it presented through its massive open world,  many were put off by the repetitive gameplay, and  by the fact that the game actually took place in present day, while the protagonist lived through the events of the games third crusade setting through the eyes and body of rookie assassin Altair.

Assassin Creed launched when the PS3 and Xbox 360 were the hot new next generation consoles, and through that lens it showed what a modern open world game would look like. It easily superseded what we had seen as open worlds in the PS2 era. This game in some ways created the template for future open world games to come in that generation. And naturally, despite the mixed reception Assassin’s Creed was a commercial success which made way for its far superior sequel, Assassin’s Creed 2.

The Ezio Saga

Perhaps the most beloved Assassin in the franchise yet, Ezio Auditore Da Firenze was a much more charismatic protagonist than Altair from the first game. Assassin’s Creed 2 served as the origin story for Ezio’s venture into the world of assassin’s and their war against the templars. The game threw most of the flawed gameplay philosophies from the first game out of the window, while keeping what worked, and presented those elements in one of the series’ best stories about revenge and redemption.

AC 2 was a massive success both critically and commercially and this success made Assassin’s Creed as one of the tentpole franchises from the Ubisoft library. The company had invested various studios to work on the franchise and series would now have yearly iterations. Something that ended up working towards its detriment in the long run.

For as great as Assassin’s Creed 2 was, the best game in the Ezio saga would come in the form of the next game in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. Expanding on all things that worked well on AC2 and adding even more mechanics like recruiting fellow assassins, Brotherhood was an even better experience and is still considered as the best game in the Ezio saga.

Ezio’s story was capped off by an equally great Assassin’s Creed Revelations, but by this time the gameplay and mission structure felt all too familiar, despite the addition of a hook mechanic that let you zip through conveniently placed ziplines. The mildly setting franchise fatigue aside, Ezio’s story went a long way into cementing the Assassin’s Creed brand in the gaming scene.

The Legacy of the Kenways

With Ezio’s story completed, the series then moved on to the American Revolutionary War which served as the setting to tell the story of Father and Son, Haythem and Connor Kenway. While the series introduced much more fluid gameplay, a robust combat system and a fresh new look thanks to its shift to a new game engine, Connor’s story was more or less forgotten. The game, while commercially successful, also had mixed critical reception. But this did not matter as the best game in the old school Assassin’s Creed line-up came in the form of Black Flag.

Now chronicling the antics of Connor’s grandfather Edward Kenway, AC Black Flag was set during the golden age of pirates. Edwards journey from a military man to a swashbuckling pirate and his rather resentful ties to the world of assassins and templars made for a great story and extremely fun gameplay. Most importantly Black Flag introduced naval combat to the AC franchise. A template that is followed even now in the newer RPG focused games in the series. Black Flag also stepped into the 8th generation of consoles and made way for future (then) next gen Assassins Creed games.

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Lowest of lows

Perhaps the lowest point for the franchise that no one saw coming until the game’s release was what came with the release of Assassin’s Creed Unity. This was a game made with love, no doubt. As is evident in its setting which was the French Revolution this time around, and the way France was meticulously crafted on a 1 to 1 scale.

But it was the execution that dropped the ball hard. Unfamiliar with the new engine for next gen, the team that worked on the game clearly needed more time to finish the game, but Ubisoft still released the game. What followed was a barrage of negative reviews and internet memes thanks to the games lack of polish and various bugs. The release of AC Unity not only tainted the legacy of the franchise but also that of Ubisoft.

The negative buzz surrounding the game even impacted sales of the next game AC Syndicate, which lead Ubisoft to drop prices sooner than any game in the franchise. Syndicate, which was arguably a much better and well put together game struggled to see success despite the positive reviews. But perhaps the biggest victim to the Unity fiasco is also arguably the most underrated game in the franchise, Assassins Creed Rogue.

Released alongside Unity for the Xbox 360 and PS3, AC Rogue served as a refinement to the already great AC Black Flag. Rogue was indeed Black Flag with a fresh coat of paint, but it was intriguing in its own right as it told a story of an Assassin turned Templar which was unlike anything the series had seen. To this day AC Rogue is considered the most underrated game in the series and a better version of Black Flag.

Big Changes

With the controversy of Unity and the commercial struggles of Syndicate, the franchise was at a crucial crossroads. The series needed a reboot and a fresh direction. The team behind Assassin’s Creed Black Flag took on the challenge and their efforts brought fruition in the form of Assassin’s Creed Origins.

The first game to since AC2 to be released after a year’s break, Origins took inspirations from modern action RPGs like the Witcher 3 and presented it in its own flavour. Origins, as the name suggests, told the story of protagonist Baek, and how his journey made way for the origin of Assassins.

This new approach was met with mostly positive criticism, while purists felt that the series had lost its identity. Despite the conflicting views the game was considered successful and served as the new template for upcoming AC games.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey followed the footsteps of Origins and expanded on the RPG elements with deeper combat mechanics and was met with critical acclaim along with commercial success. And that leaves the door open to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Yet another game in the series that is being released after a year off. We will get to Valhalla after addressing two rather important aspects of the franchise.

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The Modern Day Setting

Considered the double-edged sword for the franchise, the modern-day segments have mostly been met with little fanfare, but it is something that the franchise is tied to thanks to the Animus. Perhaps the best of these modern-day stories was that of Desmond Miles, which capped off in Assassins creed 3.

The series has since played with various ideas to varying degrees of success. Here’ s hoping that the new modern-day arc started in Origins is fleshed out and given a proper treatment in the next game.

The Various Spinoffs

From 2D side scrollers to standalone DLCs to games on portable machines, the series has seen various spinoffs, but none have emulated the success of their full-blown console cousins. These games may lack significance to the stories in the mainline games, but they were fun while they lasted. That said it has been quite a while since a proper spinoff has been released.

AC: Valhalla – Odin is with Us!!

Say what you will about the new AC formula, it did succeed in bringing rejuvenated energy into the franchise. AC origins was a solid reboot to the series and Odyssey was quite a lot of fun despite the grind. Valhalla is being developed by the same team that delivered AC Black Flag and Origins and is set to be a far more refined experience than Origins and Odyssey.

The fact that the creators acknowledge the grind in Odyssey and have made a more narrative focused game this time around instils confidence and excitement. And if history is any evidence, the team working on Valhalla, who have delivered the best games in the series, will once again deliver one of the best games in the series. Holiday 2020 cannot come soon enough.

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About the Author

Ishaq Ali

Ishaq Ali

Ishaq is a Senior Test Engineer and Games enthusiast with 8 years of experience. He breathes videogames and when doesn’t play he likes to talk or write about them.

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