Assassin’s Creed III: Evolution of the Templar Order

by Matt Bertz on Mar 23, 2012 at 11:30 AM

If you’re a series newcomer interested in jumping into the fray with Assassin’s Creed III, a lapsed fan who missed one of the games, or a dedicated follower who just wants a refresher course, this article will catch you up on the era-spanning conflict between the Assassin Brotherhood and the Templars.

[Note: This article contains spoilers for each of the Assassin’s Creed games and the extended fiction. If you wish to experience these reveals firsthand, I suggest skipping this article.]

Getting To Know The Templars
Founded historically in 1119, though said to be active in various forms since the 5th century BCE according to the Creed lore, the Order of the Knights Templar is a secret organization that strives to achieve the betterment of humanity by exercising control and influence over the masses. Unlike the Assassins, who embrace free will and oppose such a rigid system of development for humankind, Templars believe that order is the only way for our species to realize its ultimate potential. The philosophical gulf between the two shadow organizations has led to centuries of bloodshed. 

Since the 12th century, most of the central disputes between the Templars and Assassins have revolved around artifacts known as Pieces of Eden. These advanced technologies left behind by the First Civilization possess the abilities to heal the wounded, communicate telepathically over long distances, and bend the thoughts of the masses to the will of the artifact’s owner. To the Templars, having these items in their possession greatly aids their goal of using subjugation to achieve world peace. The Assassins vehemently oppose the misappropriation of these powerful instruments and seek to stop their acquisition at every turn. 

The Pieces of Eden have already left their mark on world history. Many believe they have played a role in major world events like Joan of Arc turning the tide of the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, the creation of the Napoleonic Empire, and Germany’s rise to power preceding World War II. 

The Modernization of the Order
When we last left the Assassins in the historical timeline, Ezio had all but eradicated the Templar influence throughout most of Renaissance Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Though crippled in Europe, the Templars retained their strength in other regions in the world, even helping Emperor Jiajing secure his power in China. 

During the Age of Enlightenment the Templar Order re-examined its organizational structure and decided that after years of controlling seats of power directly and using religion to exercise dominion over the masses, it would be wiser to influence world leaders like puppeteers. The Templars also shifted away from religious doctrine and embraced forward-looking concepts like science, technology, and trade to further its cause.

Not much is known about the Templar activities during the discovery of the New World, and for good reason. To avoid spoilers, Ubisoft wants to keep the identities of the American Revolution Templars under wraps for the time being, but the dev team was willing to divulge how the Templars have evolved over the years since the reign of the Borgia. 

“I think early on one of the fun things in [the first] Assassin’s Creed was that the Templars weren’t mindless villains,” says Assassin’s Creed III creative director Alex Hutchinson. “They were kind of misunderstood – there were a lot of gray zones. Then over the course of the sequels it become more villainous and it also became very entrenched in the Borgias, in very specific characters who were really evil. With Assassin’s Creed III we want to get back to that notion that they think they are doing the right thing. We as players disagree completely, but they honestly believe they are doing the right thing.”

Coming out of the Ezio trilogy, many of the fiction stewards felt the game stopped being about the shadow war between the Assassins and Templars and started to focus too much on the rivalry between Ezio and the Borgias. Assassin’s Creed III returns the focus to the global conspiracy, and emphasizes the moral gray zones this war is waged in. Things aren’t as cut and dry as Assassins/Americans versus Templars/Brits, and the discussion between the two groups won’t be confined to the post-assassination pow wows in the Animus white room. As an assassin, you will target people on both sides of the war.  

The Freemason Connection

One interesting real-world historical event to note is the public death of the Knights Templar. In 1307, King Philip IV of France arrested the leaders of the Knights Templar to take possession of their wealth. During this crackdown, the last Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake. According to Assassins lore, before he met his fiery death he imparted the knowledge of the Ancients to his nine most trusted men with instructions to spread their influence throughout the world. Some historians speculate that they stayed underground until re-emerging in the 1700s as the Freemasons. 

Why is this worth nothing? Prominent figures in the Freemason secret society during the American Revolution include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Joseph Warren, and Paul Revere. From what Ubisoft has told us, Assassin’s Creed III protagonist Connor associates with both Washington and Franklin, so how this version of the Freemason history fits into the battle between the Templars and Assassins remains a mystery. 

“We have a very accurate depiction of the Masons in our game, and that’s all I can say,” says lead writer Corey May. 

As one of the glyphs left by Subject 16 in Assassin’s Creed II intimated, Washington eventually gained possession of an Apple of Eden. 

The Modern Era
We know much more about the Templar Order in the contemporary era than we do about its involvement in the 13 colonies. In 1910, the Templars devised The Plan, a new directive strategy built around using the capitalistic market to further the organization’s larger goals. High profile Templars like automotive pioneers Henry Ford and Ransom E. Olds, help shaped the new strategy, which equally controls workers and capitalists and eventually led to the formation of the Federal Reserve System. The Plan's masterstroke was the formation of Abstergo Industries in 1937. This multinational corporation still serves as the front and the central research facility for all modern Templar activities. 

Since the formation of the company, the Templars have been on a roll. They successfully used the fear and devastation of World War II to further their cause, assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy over a dispute about the mission to the moon (where the Templars eventually uncovered another Apple of Eden), and helped Boris Yeltsin transform Russia into a free market more easily manipulated by Abstergo’s many capitalistic endeavors. 

As outlined in the comic book Assassin’s Creed: The Fall, in late 2000 the Templars executed the biggest blow to their chief rivals in centuries when a sleeper agent named Daniel Cross successfully infiltrated the Assassin Brotherhood, murdered the Mentor, and revealed the locations of several secret Assassin compounds to the Templars. This confidential information enabled the Templars to initiate the Great Purge, a systematic eradication of the Assassin organization. They subsequently sacked Assassin bases in Arizona, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Texas.

With the Assassins in shambles, the Templars are working diligently to recover the Pieces of Eden. Their plan is to gather as many First Civilization artifacts as possible and incorporate them into the Eye-Abstergo satellite, which is scheduled to launch on December 21, 2012. Coincidentally, this day also marks the end of an era in the Mayan long count calendar. The Assassins believe the Templars will use the satellite to brainwash the world and usher in a new world order.

When we last left modern day protagonist Desmond Miles at the end of Assassin’s Creed Revelations, he had awakened from his coma and reunited with his father William, who ostensibly serves as the de facto leader of the Assassins now that the Mentor is dead. The father-son tandem is in possession of one of the Apples of Eden, but only Desmond has the DNA makeup that lets him wield it without succumbing to its power. Why they have traveled to upstate New York remains a mystery, but the location must have some significance in relation to the First Civilization because Ezio and Leonardo found the geographical coordinates in the Brotherhood DLC “The Da Vinci Disappearance” before shrugging them off as meaningless.

At the end of the Assassin’s Creed Revelations multiplayer story, Abstergo located William Miles and was prepping an assault on his location in upstate New York. Thus, the stage is set for a thrilling cap to Desmond’s story. We can’t wait to find out who the Templars are in the American Revolution and to see how Desmond’s story comes to a head.

To learn more about the Templar order, check out the Assassin’s Creed Encyclopedia or the excellently maintained Assassin’s Creed Wiki.

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