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Get Caught Up On Assassin's Creed

by Matt Miller on Oct 02, 2012 at 07:40 AM

Few video game stories are more involved and detailed than Assassin’s Creed. Mixing present day conspiracy theories, true historical events, and the imaginary tale of two warring organizations fighting over humanity’s destiny, it’s safe to say that there’s a lot to keep track of.

We’ve boiled things down to some of the fundamentals so you can get everything straight before Assassin’s Creed III releases on October 30. Our article is filled with SPOILERS about all the Assassin’s Creed games and  available DLC, but we promise to remain spoiler-free about Assassin’s Creed III.  We’ve also tried to leave out characters, events, and storylines that we don’t think will be relevant moving forward.

The First Civilization

To wrap your head around everything else, start with the idea of the mysterious civilization that existed before humanity. Assassin’s Creed posits that this advanced humanoid civilization once lived on Earth, but they all died off in a devastating cataclysm thousands of years ago. 

Before this ancient people were wiped out, they crafted two important creations for purposes of the Assassin’s Creed story. First, they built the Pieces of Eden, unique and powerful items of technology that offered strange powers to their wielders, from changing the flow of time to controlling minds. 

Their second important creation was humanity. The First Civilization built a new race to utilize as a workforce. The humans they created eventually rose up in revolt and through sheer force of numbers won their independence. The relatively small number of individuals that existed in the First Civilization were wiped out in the disaster, but enough humans survived to carry on and build our civilization. In some human civilizations, members of the First Civilization are worshipped as gods. 

In the events of the Assassin’s Creed games, ghostly visages of individuals from the First Civilization communicate with main character Desmond in unusual visions triggered at unique sites around the world. They detail the history of the First Civilization, its untimely demise, and warn Desmond of a similar  impending catastrophe on its  way to Earth. In the game world, that catastrophe is coming at the end of 2012, which just happens to be around the same time that Assassin's Creed III is set for release.


The uniting thread that ties together all the Assassin’s Creed games so far is a man named Desmond Miles. Born into a family of Assassins in the late 20th century, Desmond runs away from his heritage to live a life on his own, but against his will he is drawn back into the middle of the age-old conflict between the Assassins and Templars. 

Unfortunately for him, the modern day corporate arm of the Templar order, called Abstego, kidnaps Desmond for nefarious purposes. With a strange invention called the Animus, Abstergo begins to probe into the genetic memories built into Desmond’s DNA. These memories of Desmond’s ancestors offer a glimpse into historical events, but also allow Abstergo to hunt down lost Pieces of Eden left behind by the First Civilization.

With the help of a woman named Lucy Stillman, Desmond escapes from Abstergo and joins up with a hidden cell of Assassins, and with them he is able to continue his search for the truth about the artifacts and their disturbing revelations.  

Unbeknownst to Desmond or the rest of the team, Lucy Stillman has betrayed the Assassins and is working for Abstergo. When Desmond and the rest of the Team go to an ancient First Civilization site beneath Rome’s Coliseum, Desmond picks up the Apple of Eden that resides there and his body is temporarily controlled by Juno, one of the ghostly members of the First Civilization. Detecting Lucy’s true allegiances, Juno forces Desmond to stab and kill Lucy. 

This traumatic event sends Desmond into a coma and his fellow Assassins place him into the Animus to keep him alive. While he’s unconscious, they move Desmond across the world towards the next site in their investigation, which is a hidden First Civilization temple in upstate New York. 

Meanwhile, by reliving the events of his own past and those of the other ancestors he’s visited up to this point, Desmond reconstructs his fractured consciousness and awakens from his coma, ready to face what’s next. 

[Next Up: The rest of the cast, both past and present]

Previous Ancestors

Over the course of the previous console games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Desmond has explored the life of two individual ancestors.

The first was a 12th century Assassin from the Middle East named Altair Ibn-La’Ahad, who lived through the Third Crusade and went on to lead and revolutionize the Assassin Order for a new age. 

The second was a Florentine nobleman in the 15th century named Ezio Auditore da Firenze. After his father and brothers were executed by the Templars when Ezio was a teenager, he spent decades pursuing vengeance. He would eventually become Mentor to the Assassin Order, and participate in history-changing events from Italy to Constantinople. 

Of course, there’s plenty  more to know about each of these characters, but we’re keeping it short here for a reason. In the most recent installment of the franchise, Revelations, Ubisoft closed the book on these characters. Focus in Assassin’s Creed III will be on the new hero, a man named Connor who lives in the North American colonies in the latter 18th century as the area revolts and becomes the United States. 

Other Carryover Characters

A small but important cast of side characters fill out the Assassin’s Creed present day storyline, and they can be broken down by which side of the conflict they fall upon. 

Supporting Desmond’s efforts among the Assassins is a British researcher and analyst named Shaun Hastings, who has offered up extensive historical details through the Animus Database. Given that Shaun is British, he should have some interesting insight to share about the American Revolution. Rebecca Crane supports Desmond as the chief technology specialist and the creator of the Animus 2.0 that Desmond uses to dive into history. In addition, a character named William Miles has risen to prominence. He is the unofficial leader of the Assassins in 2012, and Desmond’s father. Most recently, he’s joined up with Desmond’s team as they head to New York. 

On the Templar side, Warren Vidic is the scientist in charge of the Animus project, and a senior figure in the Animus (Abstergo) leadership. In addition to his role in kidnapping and imprisoning Desmond and convincing Lucy to betray the Assassins, Vidic also plays a major role in the multiplayer storyline of Assassin’s Creed, where he directs new trainees in their Animus interactions. Another important Templar character introduced briefly in the multiplayer game mode is Daniel Cross. Daniel has Assassin ancestors, but he was planted within the Assassins as a sleeper agent after being one of the early subjects of the Animus program. Once he rose through the Assassin's ranks, he killed the Assassin’s modern-day Mentor, and sent the Order into disarray. Afterwards, he returned to the Templars and became part of that organization and its Inner Sanctum of leaders.  

The information above should be more than enough to carry you into the releases of Assassin’s Creed III and its sister game, Liberation. If you want more, a huge body of information is available to explore about the background history of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. We’d recommend the excellent Assassin’s Creed Encyclopedia, or the exhaustive fan-maintained online Assassin’s Creed Wiki. You can also check out our exhaustive cover story hub for Assassin's Creed III. When you’re done with your background research, all that remains is waiting the next few weeks for the game release on October 30.