I have a complicated history with Assassin’s Creed. The first two games were amongst my favourites of all time. I was very late to the PS3/360 generation, being a mainly Nintendo gamer who was content with his Wii for the longest time, but eventually there were too many games I was missing out on and I convinced my dad to get a PS3 to use as a Blu-Ray player. Just in time to play Red Dead Redemption. Score. The Assassin's Creed series was one I was excited to get into. I still remember the two things that fostered this excitement. The first was a GameFAQs Top 10 List, about plot twists in gaming or something. It detailed the way the plots of the past and the present intertwined in the Assassin's Creed games as you learn about the conflict between the Knights Templar and their adversaries the Assassins, and eventually realise the modern day knights were coming after you in the present. It sounded amazing.
The other thing was... PlayStation Home. Yeah, PlayStation Home! Holy shit is that a blast from the past. It was basically a Second Life-lite where you could create your own avatar and explore virtual social spaces with other players. It was used quite frequently for some neat cross-promos, like having virtual E3 show floors for you to walk around, watching trailers and picking up virtual merch. One of the most memorable tie-in spaces was one based on the Abstergo labs from Assassin's Creed. I hadn't played the games yet but I loved exploring the lab and solving puzzles to earn some cool sci-fi furniture. I loved this sci-fi historical mystery vibe I was getting from this game and I had to play it.
I got the first two Assassin's Creed games for Christmas one year, and fell in love immediately. The freedom of running around, up, and down buildings was exhilarating and the plot lived up to the hype I'd built up. I loved the first game so much that I dived into the second almost immediately after I finished it... and somehow it was even better. I did absolutely everything there was to do in Assassin’s Creed II, delivering every letter and collecting every stray feather across the maps to ensure I got my first Platinum trophy. I loved exploring the series’ lore, finding out all the clever ways they worked real life history and conspiracies into the battle between the Assassins and Templars. I bought the collectors’ edition of Revelations specifically to get the big encyclopedia of every character and event in the series so far. The mix of historical epic and sci-fi conspiracy thriller was so unique. I’ll never forget the ending of Assassin’s Creed II where you break into the Vatican in 15th century Italy, get into a fist fight with the Pope, and find a projection of a primordial super being hiding in his basement who addresses you in the present time. It was such a mindblowing ending that had me excited for what was to come.
Here's a younger Josh excitedly talking about Ezio being in SoulCalibur V (From 1:14 if the timestamp doesn't work because Wix doesn't like them)
But the allure began to fade. Brotherhood and Revelations were ok, but they didn’t fill me with anywhere near the awe that the first two did. I was hyped for Assassin’s Creed III but I couldn’t shake the feeling that any vision for the series’ story that was originally there had been thrown away in favour of milking the cash cow. There’d been so much build up to what was meant to be the finale of the modern day plot with Desmond, but at the same time there was no real plot thread set up to follow up on. The games kept telling you something was coming and Desmond would need to do something but it was starting to feel vague, as if nobody on the team actually knew where the plot was going. And Ubisoft weren’t going to stop releasing games in their biggest franchise, there would need to be more plot to continue with. I was getting worried that this big conclusion would just be another cliffhanger and the games would never actually go anywhere. I was at a fan event at Gamespot AU HQ where some guys from Ubisoft were there for a fan Q&A and I actually asked them if there was going to be closure to this modern day plot and their answer was basically confirmation that this was just another step in a never-ending journey. But I held out hope.
And then I played Assassin’s Creed III. Hoo boy. I got plenty of marks in my game design course at uni by breaking down just about everything wrong with this game in various assignments. It was the game that shattered my appreciation of a series I loved to death, and removed the veil from my eyes in regards to the AAA industry. Looking back I can see a big shift in how I got hyped for games and which ones I played and enjoyed. I could tell that the Assassin’s Creed series had plenty of problems but I could stomach them in order to experience the greater whole of the franchise, and the modern day framing plot that they effectively discarded was a big part of that. Then ACIII not only doubled down on stale elements of the franchise but it also brought in broken mission design, a terrible plot, and a ridiculous amount of glitches. It made me realise that I just didn’t like this style of game anymore. For the longest time it was the most disappointing game I’d ever played (only recently surpassed by Red Dead Redemption 2).
I swore off Assassin’s Creed. I remember that year my family got me a heap of Assassin’s Creed merch for Christmas because they knew how much I loved it and I felt bad because some of it was specifically ACIII merch and I didn’t really want to wear or use it because of the effect this game had on me. I rolled my eyes when the next game was revealed and it was focused on pirates because it felt like a desperate attempt at refreshing a franchise on its way out. But people lapped it up and the hype got me curious. It couldn’t actually be that good could it? My curiosity got the better of me and I bought Black Flag a few months after release. I thought at the time I was being open-minded about it, but on reflection I think I was going in with the hopes it would be bad so I could finally have the grit to cut ties with the series once and for all and pass off all the praise as unfounded. I didn’t enjoy it though I forced my way to the end to try and see the gem everyone else saw, but I never found it. And that was it. Bye bye Assassin’s Creed, I’m done. Gone. For good.
I kept watching the franchise from afar, feeling vindicated by the disaster that was the launch of Assassin’s Creed Unity and laughed at Ubisoft temporarily retiring the franchise when people finally got tired of it. But when it was reinvented as an open world RPG I was actually a bit sad, because it was clear the games I loved were never coming back. That spark that made the series so special was gone, and now it was just a generic RPG stuffed to the brims with content and having no greater goal than selling a craptonne of copies to the mass market. And they seem to have had no real impact on the gaming community at all. They release, they sell a lot, and then you never hear about them again. The only real things I know about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey are that:
But lately I’ve gotten curious. Call it having an appropriate distance, a quarantine cabin fever delusion, whatever you want - I’ve felt like playing Assassin’s Creed games again. There’s probably been the same number of games released in the series since I stopped playing them as the number of games I played through before I stopped. That’s wild. Since then the series has gone to the French Revolution, Victorian England and ancient Egypt among other settings. It’s changed genres. I’ve read weird stuff about time travel and Egyptian mummy monsters and things. There was a co-op focused game. I wanna know what I’ve missed. And to be honest, the idea of a grindy checklist I can just switch my brain off to charge through sounds real appealing right now. So I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna play Assassin’s Creed again.
And what better place to start than the fourth game, Black Flag? The last one I played. It would be good to see how I feel about it after a few years with some distance from the franchise. Will I still find it unappealing, or will I finally see what everyone else did at the time? And I figured since I’ve always had such strong thoughts about this franchise I figured I could do a series of blog posts as I played through them and eventually completely lose track and stop. Wait, no, let’s make this a thing. I’ve bought the massive franchise pack on Uplay and I’m gonna get through each one. I can see through the games I never played and then circle back around to the ones I have, seeing whether they hold up after all this time. So keep checking back, and follow my Twitter because I’ll probably pop the odd tweet up every now and then with some quick thoughts on each game as I play through them. I hope you enjoy this! I hope *I* enjoy this! I have no idea what I’m getting myself into! Let’s go!