I am an artist (painter/sculptor/jeweler) and very interested in history so I find the idea of Assassins' Creed fascinating but I feel like they haven't pulled off what they could with the idea, and I begin to doubt that they even know what they have in terms of potential for an amazing game anymore, which is why a series that has until now prided itself on creating vivid simulations of the past with fidelity and insight has now resorted to "pirates." What's next, "ninjas?"


The only AC game I finished was II (skipped all the feathers/flags, completionist nonsense), then tried to play brotherhood but had to put it down. Twice. By the time Revelations came out two things happened that started to kill the franchise for me. One was that I started to realize that the story was either becoming a garbled mess or that they were going to keep doling it out in convoluted teaspoonfuls to get me to keep buying sequels every year. The other was that, under an avalanche of yearly content that made me feel like I was always behind and made everything about the games feel like something I had to get through to catch up, I just stopped giving a crap.


I bought ACIII, hoping that a new setting, and one as pivotal in world history as the American Revolution, would open up new avenues for an interesting story. I also thought it was very brave of the devs to go with a time period whose history is so well-known. I thought, well, they must have some great angle on the Assasins' and Templars' struggle to fit that into the context of this time and place. 


I had to swallow the preposterous characterizations of the principal cast: the wizened freed slave Assassin mentor- basically a Morgan Freeman character- and the disenfranchised native american Assassin- who his mentor renames "Connor" so he can pass as a Spaniard or Portuguese- what?! Then there were the glaring omissions in the narrative, such as Connor first looking at the wall of portraits of his main Templar targets, including his father, who is his main reason for being and the driving force of his vengeance. They jump to this scene after the introductory scenes with the old mentor, and a passage of time is clearly implied, but these two characters have never been shown having a conversation about who Connor is or why he's trying to become an assassin, or who he's after. He and the old man look at the portraits and Connor comments, like it's old news, "There's my father," or something along those lines. Total anticlimax. They go on, keep talking about gathering personnel or some such. A chance to flesh out the two main characters and their relationship, and to set the tone and context for their mission is rendered a footnote. 

Then we get to the Boston Massacre. For some reason the Templars are there, presumably to start the Massacre, or to buy a broadsheet and a cup of tea, who knows? Connor and the old man (whose name I've forgotten- some Roman name as slaves were often given) "happen upon" the incipient scene and decide to investigate. Somehow Connor, who the Templars are only vaguely aware of at this point, and have no reason to expect at the Massacre, is double-crossed into starting/preventing the Massacre by the templars, who instantly identify and blame him for the events, and then call in a force of endless numbers of British Regulars to catch him.

For those who don't know, a big contributor to the Boston Massacre was the fact that the handful of soldiers trying to pacify the increasingly hostile mob were the only authorities in the area. It's freaking clown shoes, it's just that silly. I just couldn't go on.  

I'm all for creative license. I'm also completely OK with fictionalizations, especially in a universe where the established history (as we know it) is a misinterpretation of the events that you're participating in the game, ostensibly, "what really happened, " but there is a limit to how far they can take creative license with a historical event or setting before it becomes ridiculous, and better treated as a pseudo-historical alternate world (see Dishonored, for example). What is the point of setting a story in a particular time or context if that time or context is no more relevant to the meaning of the story than window dressing? If you want that American Revolution feel but don't really want to "get into the weeds" of the actual events, why not clearly delineate that by intentionally fictionalizing and adapting the ideas you're interested in? What's interesting about this setting, the clothes? The ships? Take that and forego the urge to be more literal than you really want to be. 

It's a problem writers and artists can run into, where you're interested in rendering a particular thing but you don't really want to render it completely or exactly, there's just something you like about it. You have to learn to take only what you need and not literally render the entire subject. But then again, Assassins' Creed is supposed to be about actual history, isn't it? So you can't create an alternate maritime/imperial/colonial culture that feels right, you have to set it in actual historic context. But the real history doesn't really fit all that well, so..... well, screw it, just do whatever the heck you want. It's too hard to write something that actually speaks to the real, and arguably extremely relevant ideas and struggles at play in the American Revolution to the Assassins and Templars' struggle, so just throw lots of soldiers at players so they know who the bad guys are.

Now they're going with pirates. In some ways this is a better solution for the story problems with this franchise. Pirates never existed. At least, not the way they do in Hollywood and apparently in AC's universe. But in other ways it's even more of a cop- out than the mess of AC III. They couldn't even make up something appropriate to their existing meta-fiction, they just went with a very well-trod trope and had at it. 

The problems with AC aren't just in the writing, although for me that's a big deal- why I do things in a game is almost more important than what I do or how I do it, but a game that is fun to play can still hold my interest even if it's devoid of content or rather stupid. Case in point, FF XIII and XII-2. But AC's gameplay hasn't substantially changed in years. Sure, they tack on new busy-work mini game side quests, and they are increasingly tedious in each iteration, but what do you get for participating in them? What does it matter if I've hunted all five types of beasties in a particular sector of the Frontier, and how does that impact on my quest for vengeance and/or rebuilding of the Assassins' order? Why the heck would a disenfranchised Native American character even give a rat's ass about what to him must be a white man's organization, anyway?! But I digress again...

The stalking/stealth/assassination/traversal mechanics are the same as ever, slightly too automatic to be less than frustrating when your character jumps off a cliff or starts very slowly climbing a building instead of going around it to break line of sight with his pursuers. The combat is still wait, counter, counter, try to killstreak, fail, get hit, wait, counter, so on, until you take out all ten guys who all patiently attack in polite turns.

What it comes down to is this: They're trying to put out a game every single year. They're not innovating overmuch- can't say they're lazy- they keep those guys pretty busy, but they don't shake things up too much because, if it ain't broke... and how much can they really change with such a compressed dev cycle? But they also don't really know what to do with the IP. Neither the Templars nor the Assassins can win because, then what? Well, they could go there, but they'd have to use their imaginations and figure out a new direction. They can't come too far forward in time because that'll change things too much- an AC game with cars is GTA. They did 4 games in the Renaissance, with one protagonist. They tried on Revolutionary Era North America, but meh... how about pirates?! There were pirates in the Revolutionary period, right?! Well, sort of.. well, they didn't really exist, but..... 

Maybe cowboys next....nope, Red Dead. Ok, I got it: PREQUEL! Let's tell the story of how it all started. Biblical times maybe. No, wait, we did that. Ok, what's before that......

Dinosaurs! AC Cretaceous!!!! Air assassinate off the back of a T-Rex!!!!! Awesome! 

This franchise is a total let-down in wasting its own potential to be fun, smart, unique and imaginative by going for dumb, pretty, empty and repetitive. It's a shame, but I just can't drop another sixty bucks or hours on AC.sTheyer