If you’ve followed the last couple of TBoD podcasts (what am I saying – of course you have!) then you’ve noticed that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag has been given the thumbs up by both Quim and Crim.
So since we’re all in the Creed-y mood, this is the perfect time for me to sound off about my recent play-throughs of the first four Assassin’s Creed games (Assassin’s Creed through Revelations).
While not exhaustive, this is a list of what stuck out to me during these last few months of protecting humanity from the shadows. I hope you enjoy, and many thanks to the Teabag Or Die crew for letting me be a part of this site!
It builds character
I’ve really enjoyed getting to know a character again – I haven’t spent this much time with a single protagonist since my NES days when I was stomping Koopas. Altair (from the first game in the series) stayed distant, but it’s Ezio Auditore (Assassin’s Creed II through Revelations) that has really pulled me into the story of the series.
Through his multi-game story arc I have the chance to follow Ezio from (literal) birth through the course of his adventure-filled life, and my experience is richer each time I revisit the world because of how far I’ve traveled with this character.
For me, Ezio’s personal story carries more weight than Altair’s for one simple reason – family. While Altair’s opening loss in Assassin’s Creed is a loss of pride, Ezio’s opening loss of family gives his journey a stronger cord that pulls you deeper into the gameplay and story.
Besides the main assassins of the series, the supporting cast have enriched the game world as well. Niccolo Machiavelli, Leonardo Da Vinci, a host of other historical notables, and family members of the Auditore family have made me care about the protagonists – and the goals they set – as the games have gone on.
It’s easy to forget how important secondary characters are, but they can strengthen a good plot or save a poor one. For the Assassin’s Creed series, so far it’s been the latter.
The Matter of Maps
I couldn’t have appreciated the maps of these games without first playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. While I still plan to go back to the land of Cyrodiil, I was incredibly frustrated with how the map was set up in the game.
The Oblivion map has two settings – you’re either looking at the entire world or the immediate area around your character, and it’s difficult to get a true sense of where you’ve been or what’s in your immediate area. While the differing map function may reflect the different styles of the two series, I’m a fan of how Creed does it.
I originally thought the thing I loved most about games was exploring, but it turns out that’s only half right. I love exploring, but I also love to be able to see where I’ve been – to have a sense that I’ve conquered a world, every nook and cranny. A map is the chief way I can see that happen, and the Assassin’s Creed series does a great job of making me feel like I’ve investigated every inch of the world.
A Family Affair
Playing through the series with my family is something I’ve been blest with over the course of these five games. Thankfully my wife knew what she was getting into – in our first year of marriage she watched me play through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – so to jump into these games with her has been fantastic.
But she’s not the only one – this is one of the first games the kids have been able to watch me play through. No, they don’t watch all of the gameplay, but I love introducing them to one of my favorite pastimes in bite-size chucks.
To illustrate, here are what the games involve as far as my children know:
- You get to ride a horse, but not only that – you can whistle for it anywhere and it will come to you
- Climbing is not really dangerous because there is always a pile of hay to soften that sudden stop at the end
- Guards, while only doing their job, are to be avoided. When a group of them start to get close, I was instantly warned to be careful
- Did I mention you get a ride a horse? That’s all they need to know – game of the year
Nothing is true except this statement
Assassin’s Creed is postmodernism in game form. “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” is not only the assassin’s maxim but a tidy summary of what postmodernism (in general) tries to say.
Assassin’s Creed Revelations went deeper into what the creed means as Ezio looked back on Altair’s motivations for why he did what he did, and the commitment to this line of thought is commendable.
It’s not a dish I prescribe to, but it’s good to know what you are served with any time you’re consuming media – and the fact that the game has a message is one of the reasons the story stays strong throughout the series.
When I take on a fiction, I’m usually all in. How many ion cannons did the second Death Star have? Tell me. The USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) was build above Mars in the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards? I need to know about it. Aragorn was the sixteenth Chieftain of the Dunedain, the title taken by the Heirs of Isuldur after the last kingdom of Arnor was destroyed? I’ll remember that quicker than my own address.
This is why I’ve enjoyed the extras Ubisoft has added to the universe in order to give those who want more, more. Lineage, Ascendance and Embers (especially Embers) are three films that not only added to the story but also to its impact.
The more character development to you supply, the more power the story can have through continued connection with the gamer. The films I mentioned – as well as comics and other resources – take players deeper into a world they love, and I don’t take that for granted.
Sounds from the Rooftops
Not since the Halo Series has a soundtrack fed so well into the gameplay. The great Jasper Kyd composed from the first game through Revelations, and his music … wait for it … hits all the right notes.
Giving you that epic feeling at just the right time, pulling on the heartstrings when the drama kicks in, and the intensity punch when you’re discovered and have to run for your life – Kyd does it all fantastically.
First Person Perspective
Playing through the games back to back (as opposed to the year most people had to wait) made me realize I missed a feature I didn’t initially know was there – first-person perspective.
As I was playing Assassin’s Creed II I happened to hit the joystick down and WHAM – I’m looking right out the eye-holes of the main character. And once I found that out, I couldn’t stop doing it. Taking in Venice from every rooftop, gazing up from a gondola at night and watching the moon rise, climbing the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and being able to stare out at the city as dawn approached – having the first person perspective allowed for much more immersion during these memorable moments.
In Assassin’s Creed Revelations, the ability to see through eyes of Ezio was taken away – and my game experience suffered because of it. The vistas of Constantinople didn’t have the same opportunity to wow me as previous settings had, simply because I had to looking past my character’s shoulder.
Of course the landscapes are still spectacular, but they could have been even better in Revelations if the ability to look through your assassin’s eyes would have been left in tact.
Seeing the Layers
When playing a game you accept that certain things happens off screen. As a plot carries on, you’re usually given cutscenes or flashbacks that give the player the sense of a larger game afoot, of other things happening.
What I feel the Assassin’s Creed series does so well was is to show you those layers, in all there reaction and indifference. When you fail a jump and land on top of a crowd, they scatter and your actions from that moment on affect the surroundings and game flow. But if you keep your balance and stay above, you need never interact with the ground level.
The citizens of Acre and Monteriggioni would never know the drama happening right above them, of your important missions or how so many things hang in the balance. The Creed games literally show you that instead of explaining or montage-ing it, and it’s another positive in the immersion category.
Speaking of landscapes, the vistas of the Assassin’s Creed games often adorn my desktop background at work, and that has lead to several comments of “where is that?” from coworkers, who are seemingly disappointed when I tell them it’s a game I play.
But I had an unexpected surprise from one coworker – she returned from a trip to Italy, which coincided with my play-through of Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood, both set in The Boot.
It was amazing to hear about her experiences and see her photos from Rome, Florence and other cities, and feel like I had been there as well. Yes the cities are not an exact replication and the well-known landmarks of each city are brought closer together in the game world, but the general feel – the grandeur, the bustle, the sense of history – is all there.
To be able to share my enjoyment with the games with someone who’s never played them was something I didn’t see coming – two people brought together over the same place, the only difference being how that location was represented.
(As an added bonus, I also found out she’s played through Ocarina of Time. Respect.)
The Bleeding Effect
Embracing a franchise means my time with the game doesn’t just involve me playing through it, but thinking about it off screen and seeing different aspects of it pushing out into other parts of my life.
Those “other parts” include but are not limited to the following:
Books – reading The Knight in History by Frances Gies was one of the reasons I started playing through the first Assassin’s Creed, and it certainly enhanced the experience by providing a factual background to the medieval world of a knight.
Leonardo’s Notebooks also caught my eye in a local bookstore, and the entire period of the Italian Renaissance is something I find myself wanting to learn more about. I have Assassin’s Creed II to thank for that.
Parkour all Over – after playing these games, every surface around me suddenly seems the ideal surface to vault over or perch on. Water towers, ladders, random boxes – no longer just everyday objects, they now seem the perfect place to get a lay of the land if need be.
Not that Impressed – I recently watched The Bourne Identity, and there’s a part early on the film where Jason Bourne escapes pursuit by climbing down the wall of an American embassy.
While the Bourne Trilogy is one of the best collection of action movies around, I found myself not that impressed with the wall-scaling of the hero. “I’ve done that” came to mind and while unfair, it’s interesting in just how many ways games can affect the way we see other media.
Many Doll House
The Assassin’s Creed series brings you into history, but it also lets you own a little part of it.
Emphasized in Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood, you home base was place you could invest in – spruce up with art, view portraits of past targets, see the tombs of previous assassin’s, etc. Throughout the games it was a place I always loved to come back to – it really made you feel like it was where you belonged … and that’s just what home should be.
Back to the Colonies
I’m (predictably) currently playing Assassin’s Creed III and still enjoying the series – there’s an adjustment period when moving to a new main character (Altair to Ezio, now Ezio to Connor) but after a slow start I’m hitting the sweet spot.
And then it’s onto more Pirate-y things!