My first game review in the series which will follow is dedicated to Assassin’s Creed I & II. In all honesty this review should have been dedicated to Assassin’s Creed II – Revelations, since that is the last episode of the franchise I played, and indeed, most notes will refer to it; however, I want to comment a bit on the fine progression of the franchise from the first title to the best so far (Brotherhood) and then to Revelations.
When you play a game, especially a series, there’s no point in playing the games starting from the middle of the series. There are a few reasons to do that, sometimes the first game of the series is too far behind, like it’s the case of Tomb Raider, or Doom. But almost every modern series usually has a story to back it and that story might be quite good from time to time.
I think this is the reason why, while playing the first Assassin’s Creed, acquired at a super-low price on Steam, I fell in love with the game. It was not the novelty of the game, or the action itself; Assassin’s Creed is definitely not novel, Tomb Raider used the same concepts and mechanics. Sure, there was no assassin’s blade, there were guns. There were puzzles, climbing, and everything.
But where Assassin’s Creed excels is the atmosphere, and the amazing details cannot but captivate you. The story follows the battle between The Templars (aka the evil ones) and the Assassins (aka the relatively good guys). Desmond Miles, a present day Assassin caught by the present day Templars, is forced to use the Animus, a piece of hardware that allows him to relive the life of his ancestor, Altaïr Ibn La’Ahad. So you’re caught in this parkour law-breaking killing spree in order to restore Altaïr’s rank in the Assassin Order, coordinated from a castle in Masyaf. By the end of the first Assassin’s Creed title you are left not with the conflict resolved, but deep in the conflict, with tons of questions and the titles rolling. In the PC version, if I remember correctly, Desmond says exactly what you will say as a player “What. the. f***?”.
Assassin’s Creed II revolves around the Assassin Ezio Auditore, born in Firenze in 1459, and his struggle from avenging his family’s death to fighting the conspiracy led by the Borgias. Unlike the first installment, AC2 gets a bit more time in developing a character, from a naïve young man to an assassin. Brotherhood, the second major installment of AC2 continues the story, places the hero in a single city, Rome, and extends the gameplay tremendously.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is a polished version of AC2, reusing a lot of elements, and polishing a lot of the stuff which maybe didn’t make much sense with the introduction of commerce and money in AC2. The story makes Ezio Auditore the mentor of the Assassin’s Guild in Rome, and the head of an expanding Guild all around the known world.
In the mean time, Desmond Miles, our intermediary for knowing Ezio Auditore and Altaïr, grows from a young man running from responsibility to a man who already shoulders the hard burden of fighting the superior and resourceful Templar conspirators.
This is where we find the characters in AC: Revelations. Desmond has to fight his decaying mental state, affected by his reliving the lives of his ancestors. We find Ezio around his 50s, in a better shape than all the teenagers who play the game.
Revelations pushes the story forward, and finally adds some nice touches to concepts from previous games. However, there is an inescapable feeling that game as a whole suffered in quality. The game is shorter, but the story is amazing, adding some really nice details to the main conflict, and giving a nice round shape to the most complex hero of the series, Ezio Auditore. If you ask of me for one reason to play the games, that reason is definitely the interactive story and the overall atmosphere.
There are a few technical glitches that are new to the series, and while still a lot of fun to play, the fact that the makers of the game insist on forcing the player to use their new mechanics is annoying. In Revelations, the new mechanics is represented by bombs, and they are so annoying I actually ended up using them in a single mission.
But the most annoying bug of all is the fact that repeating certain subsequences of a mission doesn’t reset your mission status. So if in one subsequence you fail the mission’s secondary objective you will be punished even if you repeat the subsequence. Not only that, but you also lose all the consumables used in that subsequence, which really makes the game a frustrating experience. Also, I add to the frustration pool being forced to achieve absurd and unattainable objectives, in which the makers expect you to perform certain actions which make little sense in the context.
Also, the franchise is famous for the most annoying non-playable characters: the beggars. If you finish the first Assassin’s Creed without killing one you are one extremely patient person. Their presence is an abuse against the player, and it’s something I hope AC3 drops from the game.
I love how certain concepts grow with each installment. For example the use of coin didn’t make much sense in AC2, but it started making sense in Brotherhood, where you started restoring buildings in Rome. In Revelations, you also use coin to support missions in a lot of cities around the Mediterranean Sea. However, like any newly introduced concept, it’s half done; You can’t control the cities completely. Also, the introduction of a minigame where you battle for ‘dens’ and for Templar attention is really strange, and definitely an incomplete concept. If they choose to pursue it, I hope it gets better in AC3.
Also, there’s two more annoying things: there are cut-scenes for almost everything, so when you buy a shop you are simply blocked to see a 15-20 seconds scene where you can do NOTHING. This is annoying. The second thing is the fact that there’s little incentive to complete all objectives, to 100%. I mean, why complete the buying of all shops, why restore all buildings? Restoring buildings does absolutely nothing. They just say they are yours. And That.Is.It. It doesn’t really make sense. Show me something. Improve the model, or something, show some detail, make it colorful! Because, yes, AC: Revelations is so color-biased, that you feel after playing it that you can distinguish between 1000 shades of “mud-gray”. It’s definitely a step back from the colorful Rome of Brotherhood.
The game is definitely fun to play, but it went down from Brotherhood. Also, as a Romanian, it is really fun to play missions where you have to catch “Vali cel Trădat”, or to recruit “Ionela Gîlcă” as an assassin. Seriously, there is an assassin named “Ionela Gîlcă”. Not only does she exist, she also has dedicated fan fiction!
All in all, the games are worth playing for the story. Sure, they are fun games, and they stand on their feet, but the story is really nice, and I am not sure if the films compiled by Andy Gilleand tell the full story about how fun it really is to play them. I hope that I covered the state of the Assassin’s Creed franchise so far fairly; and I will come back with a review of AC3 and, finally, AC4 as soon as I finish them.
But yes, AC is the sort of game you don’t want to start from the middle. You definitely want to start from the first, and grow with the game, and get the proper progression of gameplay as well as story. After you play Brotherhood, the first Assassin’s Creed will seem bland and restrictive, and the graphics weak, but if you play them in their natural progression you will get the nice feeling of a well rounded story. And more.