The evolution of Assassin's Creed

The evolution of the Assassin's Creed series, the gameplay, the stories, and how it all evolved over the years...

The Assassin’s Creed franchise is mostly known for two things—being set in time periods and locations that hardly any other game has explored, and having a batshit insane conspiracy theory story. With the recent unveiling of the next game in the series—Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag—this may be the perfect time to look at the history of the series so far. Keep in mind, though, that we're only looking at the major multiplatform games for now. As a result, all the games on the PSP, DS, 3DS, and PS Vita haven't been mentioned.

Assassin’s Creed - 2007
The first Assassin’s Creed was originally a proof-of-concept for a new Prince of Persia game, but, for whatever reason, Ubisoft decided to make it its own game. It takes place in 1191 AD in the Holy Land. You play Altaïr ibn La-Ahad—an assassin who has been disgraced and must redeem himself by eliminating nine men who are prolonging the Third Crusade. While this may describe most of the story, it doesn’t end there.

The franchise turned out to have science-fiction and conspiracy theory trappings. You actually play everyman Desmond Miles. Miles was kidnapped by megacorporation Abstergo and was put into a machine dubbed the Animus where he is forced to live through the events of his ancestor Altaïr in order to help Abstergo find a hidden ancient relic. It is through this portion of the story that we learn about the ancient war that has been taking place between two factions—the Templars and the Assassins.

The evolution of Assassin's Creed

The Holy Land was a great place to kick off the mythos


The first game laid the foundations of gameplay for the rest of the series. You could move around in two modes – high profile and low profile. When in high profile, you can run, scale buildings, jump on and off obstacles, with the tradeoff being that you seem more suspicious to guards. Low profile had you move slower, but you could blend in with similarly-robed scholars who roamed the Holy Land at the time, thus giving you a great way to stay hidden till you got the perfect time and place to strike.

All of the primary antagonists of the game turned out to not be as evil as you were led to believe. The Templars always believe that they are doing the right thing, but are curiously either blissfully ignorant, or straight out don’t care about the implications of their actions.

The game ended with a hook for a sequel, and was quite successful. It was praised for its innovative (at the time) take on stealth, but was criticised for repetitive gameplay and having too many action sequences towards the end of the game. Needless to say, though, it did manage to get a sequel.

Assassin’s Creed II - 2009
The next game in the series was Assassin’s Creed II. With it, we saw a major shift in the setting of the game. Instead of the Holy Lands during 1191 AD, we went to Italy a few hundred years later to the Renaissance era. The character this time around was Ezio Audiotore da Firenze. The game starts out in Florence with the birth of Ezio. His parents are inadvertently killed right as he discovers his heritage as an assassin, and he sets out for revenge.

In the present, the game picks up immediately after the end of Assassin’s Creed. Desmond and Lucy have to escape from Abstergo to an assassin hideout. The main aim, this time around, is to have Desmond learn Ezio’s abilities through the “bleeding effect”, so that he’s better equipped to fight the Templars, aka Abstergo.

Ezio was a very popular character

Ezio was a very popular character


Assassin’s Creed II managed to take all the criticisms leveled against the first game and fixed them. Instead of having a repetitive mission structure of having to find information and kill the target, ACII followed a more linear path where everything happened in the story missions. The game also brought secret missions through messages hidden by Subject 16. These missions served to fill in a lot of the backstory of the modern world, even leading to somewhat frightening implications because of parallels in the real world.

The game, along with Ezio, was a major hit… so much that the next couple of games stuck with Ezio and filled out his life’s story.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood - 2010
The next game, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, started off immediately after the events of ACII (notice a pattern here?), as Ezio escapes from Rome in the aftermath of his battle against the Pope. The game tells the story of how Ezio becomes the head of the assassin brotherhood, and brings some new gameplay elements.

Desmond is living through Ezio’s memories this time around to find out where he had hidden a secret relic, called a piece of Eden. For Ezio, the story revolves around driving the Templars out of Italy to keep them away from the piece of Eden. The new gameplay element revolved around the central theme of Ezio becoming the leader of the assassin brotherhood. It involved you finding people who are willing to fight against the tyranny of the Templars and training them. They could come at any time to help you at the touch of a button.

Ezio becomes the head of the Assassin's Brotherhood

Ezio becomes the head of the Assassin's Brotherhood


Another new feature that Brotherhood brought to the franchise was the inclusion of a new and rather innovative multiplayer game mode. The multiplayer was framed as Templars practicing their Assassin-killing techniques by using the Animus. Maps were set around Italy, and the games involved each player getting a target. Players were rewarded for stealth with higher points, and by extension, higher XP gains.

Once again, the game was a huge success, and both the brotherhood system and the multiplayer modes were lauded by fans and critics alike.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations - 2011
This brings us to Assassin’s Creed: Revelations—the final chapter in Ezio’s story. The developers had promised that this would tie up all the loose ends left in the plot from the previous games, and it managed to do it in grand fashion.

The story, once more, picks up immediately after the end of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. The events of the end of the game have put Desmond in a coma, and have left his mind shattered. He has been put into the Animus, and is tasked with putting the fragments of his mind back together. To do this, he must live out the last chapter in Ezio’s life, and his journey to Constantinople and Masyaf—the primary location of the events of the first game.

The definition of back-to-back badasses

The definition of back-to-back badasses


Ezio sets out to find the secrets hidden by the old leader of the assassin’s brotherhood Altaïr, which have been locked behind a safe in Masyaf. To unlock the safe, he must collect a series of discs. These discs allow him to relive some of the moments of Altaïr’s life, and fill out a lot more of the universe’s backstory.

Along with multiplayer and a more fleshed out brotherhood system, Revelations brought with it a new tower defense minigame. The minigame, dubbed Den Defense, had Ezio defending against waves of Templars by strategically placing certain assassins in their path. This wasn’t as well received as the multiplayer and the brotherhood system, though.

It was by this time that players began feeling some fatigue with Ezio, but it was about the right time, as the next game in the series was set to feature a new protagonist.

Assassin’s Creed III - 2012
After the events of Revelations, Desmond’s mind has been healed and he is armed with all the abilities of Ezio. This is the time to take the fight to the Templars. Desmond takes on the memories of a new character this time around—Connor Kenway. The setting shifts from Renaissance era Italy to America during the country’s fight for independence against the British rule.

Connor is trying to save his home village and exact vengeance upon the man who killed his mother, while at the same time trying to stop his own father, who is a Templar. In Desmond’s story, he’s trying to find a way to stop the inevitable destruction of the earth, which far surpasses the importance of the war between Assassins and Templars. The game spells the definitive end of Desmond’s story.

Connor took on the Templars on all sides

Connor took on the Templars on all sides


Assassin’s Creed III uses an entirely new engine for its gameplay. Combat has been drastically changed and has more in common with the Batman: Arkham games than with any of the previous games in the series. It also brought a major change to traversing the environments. While there are still rooftops you can jump around on, most of the game world is the frontier, where you can run around on trees and hunt animals for their pelt.

It also brought to the franchise the almost-universally praised naval battle system. You have to captain a ship and complete some missions while battling other ships in the sea. You could also board other ships for a more hands-on approach to combat.

The game, once again, was a success. While it was criticised for having the weakest story in the series, it was praised for the new gameplay, the frontier, and the naval battles.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag - 2013
We don’t know much about the game right now, except for the fact that we’ll get to play Connor’s grandfather Edward Kenway. It’s going to be all pirates this time around, and we’ll get a more fleshed out naval battle system. There will also be cities to explore on foot, and forests to hunt animals in.

It’s worth keeping an eye on this, mostly to see if they still stick to the sci-fi trappings of the previous games. Considering the end of Assassin’s Creed III, it’ll be difficult to use the same plot device this time.

Hopefully, Edward won't be as boring a character as Connor was

Hopefully, Edward won't be as boring a character as Connor was


The game marks a number of firsts for the series, the most notable one being that this is the first game to have a number as well as a subtitle. Previous games have either been numbered, or had a subtitle. It is also worth noting that Connor hasn’t seen much in the way of expansion through more games in the III series, like Ubisoft did with Ezio and Assassin’s Creed II.

Considering all the things we know, though, this looks like it’ll be one hell of a game. It’s going to have vast oceans to explore, dual-wielding in the combat, and best of all… PIRATES!

Stay tuned for more information on the game, which is set for an October 29 release.