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Image from Assassin's Creed Unity
Still from Assassin's Creed Unity. Image taken from amazon.co.uk

Memories synced. Animus loading. Let us journey through history. Dissecting Ubisoft’s stealth adventure. Hoping to uncover it’s secrets to success.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is set to release in the near future. Given the success of the stealth franchise, let’s look back through this mammoth series and see why it’s so successful. We will discuss it’s ups and downs, hopefully gaining an understanding as to why fans keep coming back for more. Blurring of reality short lived. Hidden code is secret. Let’s jump in.

This article covers the main games. Assassin’s Creed is a huge series. Therefore, portable games are mentioned briefly, unless they’re significant.

Altaïr on a rooftop. Assassin's Creed screenshot.
Where it all started. Assassin’s Creed. Image taken from gamasutra.com

Crusader of the Holy Land

November 13, 2007. Ubisoft Montreal releases Assassin’s Creed. Open world, third person action-adventure game-play. This game offered impressive visuals and a captivating story. Essential elements for a successful video game. Did Ubisoft have their own Apple of Eden?

Starting it’s life as a Prince of Persia title. Prince of Persia: Assassin did not let the players control the Prince himself. Ubisoft were not thrilled about this. Therefore, Altaïr and a new IP was born. Prince of Persia is an essential franchise in its own right, well worth a look.

Prince of Persia Two Thrones screenshot.
The Prince in action. Prince of Persia Two Thrones. Image taken from j2games.myshopify

Releasing to good reviews, Assassin’s Creed averaged around 81% on Metacritic. The game was hailed as a “ground-breaking new IP.” Not everything is considered a success. While the story was interesting and fresh, the game-play suffered from a dose of repetition. Bland mission types, a lack of variety, and one dimensional combat brought mixed sentiments. Critics praised it’s movement system. However, they panned it’s one button combat.

Second Time Around

Assassin’s Creed II released in November 2009, the game switched protagonists to Ezio Auditore. Running on the Anvil engine, ACII received critical acclaim. The story, characters and setting were all improved. Most importantly: the game-play was refined. A greater emphasis on stealth, varied mission types, feathers to obsess over, and the ability to swim were welcomed. With an overhauled combat system, micro-management base building, new shops and vendors. ACII gave players plenty to do.

Assassin's Creed 2 Map Screenshot.
Plenty to do. Assassin’s Creed II. Image taken from portforward.com

Receiving numerous awards, Ubisoft followed up with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Brotherhood was the second game in the Ezio Trilogy. Adding multiplayer to the offerings, assassin’s can also be recruited to assist Ezio. Sending them off to complete their own missions, combat became further refined. Due to new enemy archetypes, AC: Brotherhood became Ubisoft’s fastest selling European release to that date. Selling over 1 million copies in it’s first week alone.

Interestingly I personally prefer ACII. I found the abundance of collectibles and side quests too much. Assassin’s Creed II is my favourite game in the series. 

Revelations

Following the success, Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed: Revelations in 2011. The “fourth” mainline game. Critics once again praised the story and atmosphere. However, there was trouble brewing. Players and critics were getting fed up of the rinse and repeat game-play. Combined with the underwhelming additions reviews scored lower than it’s predecessors, Altaïr makes a return. He became playable on some missions. Despite the claims of repetition, Revelations sold better than Brotherhood.

Sailing for the Creed

Following Revelations Ubisoft decided to spruce things up a bit. Set in the colonial age, Connor -the games protagonist- finds himself at the heart of the American Revolution. Assassin’s Creed III introduces Naval combat, a first for the series.

Assassin's Creed III Naval Combat Screenshot
A first for the series. Assassin’s Creed III naval combat. Image taken from gamepressure.com

This game sold well and received positive reviews. Personally, I believe AC3 is the worst in the series. There is so much to do; hunting, sailing and tons of collectibles. For me, there was too much. The story lacked interest. Looking back, let us also not forget the naval combat system.

A Pirates Life

This is the part in the article where my opinions turn slightly controversial. For me Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag didn’t strike lucky with me, shifting the focus to the aforementioned sea escapades. Whether I was burned out at this point, perhaps I formed an opinion prematurely. The Ezio trilogy were better games in my estimation. There i said it. Come at me Internet.

The game itself reviewed really well. Because the storyline was good. And, similarly, land based game-play was on point. Albeit, less assassin and more pirate. Many of my game playing friends state this as their favourite. Probable because there’s good reason to. For me however, I just could not get past the boat mechanics.

Next Generation Killer

Technically, Black Flag was a next generation game. Because it is tied to AC3, I consider it last gen. My hopes for the series lay with Assassin’s Creed Unity. Due to the return of the “typical” AC archetype, previews looked good. This game offered a refined movement system, and a huge number of “pedestrians.” With an interesting story, this game should be a guaranteed success. Right? Maybe not. Just take a look at the following compilation by NightWinGame:

Releasing in November 2014, AC Unity released and received average reviews. Many players were left with a sour taste in their mouths. This resulted in Ubisoft Montreal CEO Yannis Mallat apologizing. He stated that the “overall quality of the game was diminished by bugs and unexpected technical issues”. He went on to say that this prevented players from “experiencing the game at its fullest potential.”

In retrospect, AC Unity wasn’ta bad game. In fact, it was a very good one. Plagued by poor optimization and bad play-testing. Found buried underneath all the controversy is a solid action-adventure game. Movement was improved tremendously and the game felt like an AC game again. New features such as CO-OP multiplayer and a skill tree. Both new to the series.

“Look Guvnor, An Assassin”

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate released in 2015. My expectations were low because of Unity’s launch. Therefore, I skipped Syndicate at launch.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate Screenshot
Breath of “Fresh London Air”. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Image taken from theverge.com

After reading many positive reviews, my decision to skip Syndicate was reversed. Set in London during the Victorian age, Syndicate features a male and a female protagonist. Syndicate was filled with charm unlike previous releases. This may be because I’m British. Exploring London was incredible.

Rope Launchers, zip lines, brass knuckles, and horse drawn carriages made the AC template feel fresh. Game-play was pretty standard fare. Most importantly, I was having fun again. Critics praised its visuals. Sales of the game, however, were poor. Fans also felt burned by AC Unity. Syndicate is the second worst selling game in the series.

Assassin in Hiding

After the poor sales, Ubisoft decided to skip 2016. 8 games in 8 years. A tremendous feat. The break was long overdue. Honestly, 2016 felt weird with no Assassin’s Creed game to play over the holidays. E3 2017. Enter Assassin’s Creed Origins.

Assassin's Creed Origins Screenshot.
Rebirth of the Assassin. Assassin’s Creed Origins. Image taken from digitaltrends.com

Reworked Mechanics. Visual Overhaul. Huge immersive environment. New Features. Critics praised Origins which released in October 2017. The vacation it seems did Ubisoft the world of good. New modes such as the “Virtual Tour” ensured players of all variety found something to do. “Eagle Vision” is completely reworked, using a birds-eye view of the area. Players could plan their approach tactically. Side quests are made relevant and entertaining. For the first time, enemies would attack in groups. The games scale felt huge. Finally AC is exciting again.

Forward in Time

Looking to the future is exciting. As tech improves, so does game size and scope. There is no denying Assassin’s Creed has had a major influence on the industry. It’s impossible to imagine gaming without it. What makes them successful?

In my opinion, Ubisoft’s ability to refine and improve the series will keep it exciting and new, while keeping the fundamentals the same. You know what your getting. The weapons of an Assassin may change. However, their core function will always remain the same. Also with this series. No matter what the location, no matter what game-play tweaks and additions exist. The core mechanics are still intact. Like a good cake, no matter how you dress it, it’s still delicious.

I for one will continue to play this fantastic series. As i’m sure its millions of fans will also.

Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments.