Assassin’s Creed’s killer history

Still a towering giant of a franchise over a decade since it started, Assassin’s Creed is perhaps Ubisoft’s greatest success of all time. This isn’t a high octane shooter, either: the series is a stealth-themed vaunt through human history. It started in the middle east during the crusades, went through Renaissance Italy, the American Revolution, the Golden Age of Piracy, the French Revolution, Victorian London, Ancient Egypt, and its latest entry has brought us to Ancient Greece. That’s just the main entries too. It highlights, though, how much ground this series has covered. It’s fantastic stuff.

Assassin’s Creed isn’t all history, though. The series also covers a fictional secret war between two factions across millennia: the freedom-craving Assassins of the title and the order-seeking Knights Templar. Usually, this is framed from the present, where a modern day descendant relives the past through their ‘genetic memory’. On top of that, there’s an ancient civilisation that predates mankind, and with their advanced technology, essentially gave birth to most of humanity’s myths and legends. This stuff? Absolute rubbish.

It’s not the pseudo science of the framing device that bothers me so much, though the modern component really is an unwelcome interruption to the historical adventures. Really, it’s the secret factions and ancient civilisation malarkey that brings the series down. Because the series is well researched (and big-budget), the attention to detail Ubisoft have shown is nothing short of breathtaking – they even made Discovery Tour for Assassin’s Creed: Origins, an educational mode that was built with classrooms in mind.

Yet all that ends up filtered through the prism of the series’ own absurd, simplistic mythology. Where an exploration of history should embrace the messy complexities of the times, Assassin’s Creeds prefers to boil everything down into two neat camps at every opportunity: the goodies and the baddies, with all grey areas carefully removed. While there’s plenty of facts to soak up as you run around incredible recreations of ancient cities, the spirit of those ages is all but lost.

Less of this sort of thing please, Ubisoft.

Of course, times (and franchises) change. As the series has gone on, Ubisoft seems to have responded to its critics. The modern segments have shrunk with each instalment, and by Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, they barely factor at all. The Ancient Civilisation, now called the Isu, still feature, but in a much reduced capacity. But best of all, the Assassins are gone. So are the Templars. There’s still an underlying conspiracy, but it feels much more closely tied into its historical setting.

The end result is that Odyssey doesn’t feel like another Assassin’s Creed game wearing a new costume – it feels like its own thing. Your character is a product of their surroundings, their story weaving through historical events and figures like before, but in a way that feels so much more natural. No discovering Socrates was a secret assassin or templar here, thank the gods.

Ubisoft could go further, though, and I hope the praise this trend has received will encourage them to ditch their own fiction all together. When your historical stealth-murder-adventure’s as good as Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, who needs sci-fi conspiracies, anyway?

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