Assassin’s Creed Retrospective Part 4: Revelations
By: Kimberly Kuxhause
Assassin’s Creed Revelations was the next Assassins game to take the stage. It received critical and commercial success, outranking its predecessors in spectacular fashion. Yet beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and compared to the relative beauty of the previous games, I wasn’t overly impressed with Revelations. So what happened to create this slight downturn?
I’ve always mentioned that my favorite part of the Assassin’s Creed series is Desmond’s story, so let’s begin there. After the climactic ending of Brotherhood, we find Desmond broken and struggling to retain his sanity. Enter the animus to save the day. As a result, we’re confined inside it. Gone are the days where we can explore the world around us, where we can explore the ruins of ancient Italian cities. However, the game offers a counterbalance – the player can now explore Desmond’s past by collecting animus fragments in Ezio’s memories. Presenting these segments kills two birds with one stone: it allows us an escape from the animus to explore and puzzle solve in a new narrative environment while also providing motivation for collecting animus shards, collection items that replaced the past games’ feathers and flags. A great decision in my book. As a special aside, we get to hear Desmond’s dad within Desmond’s past story, as well as in the quick audio clips heard of the present day Assassin team, so one might make the connection that William is Desmond’s father before they are explicitly told so (unless I missed this explanation in the beginning scenes!). We also meet the ill-fated Subject Sixteen, which adds another tragic component to an already tragic story. He perishes in the end while sacrificing himself for Desmond’s sake – an honorable death for a great Assassin. The whole first civilization plot is cleared up to some degree and the player is propelled into the next game. Desmond’s story provided all the thrills I expected from the overarching Assassin story. Count me satisfied here.
Ezio’s story gets rather complex. After completing his revenge on the Borgia, basically the entire point of AC Brotherhood, Ezio ventures to Masyaf and Istanbul (then called Constantinople) to find the legendary knowledge trove of Altaïr. Revelations is more Templar-centric, which is a great return to the themes of AC I and II. During Ezio’s adventures, we meet cheeky Yusuf Tazim who is the main supplier of comic relief, as if understanding he is the only character fighting off the tragedy seeping from every corner of the narrative. Again we meet famous historical figures in a new context, complete Assassin missions, and explore Ezio’s love life. We take brief trips back into time with Altaïr’s memories, discovering how he became the legendary modern day assassins know him to be. Fast forward through many, and I mean many, side missions and we see tragedy repeat itself. Poor Yusuf Tazim dies, heartbreaking and devastating for Ezio, and the assassin community. Ultimately, Ezio succeeds in unlocking the library and transmits his message to present day Desmond. The story took some odd turns I admit, but I’m equally satisfied with Ezio’s story as it presented some really impressive narration (I don’t think I’ve felt that kind of emotion for a character before! Rest in peace Yusuf. #neverforgotten).
Now we get to the gameplay. What we get here is more of what we’ve already experienced in Assassin’s Creed games. Crypt explorations are now hidden key missions, flags and feathers are now animus fragments, and restoration of the city is still available once Templar dens have been overtaken (and instead of burning the towers down, we ignite the tower signals – a much more rational choice). However, now assassin dens can be reclaimed and our renovations progress undone. These Assassin Den missions do add something new to the game, but can take some getting used to. Some of the actions are a bit cumbersome and I never truly understood how the synchronization bar worked or what the criteria were, even after the stats were shown. On my first play-through, I simply avoided the whole mess and kept my notoriety down, and if I’m honest, it wasn’t too hard to do. The introduction of a dual weapons wheel drastically eases selection of primary and secondary weapons which was especially needed because of the three bomb options given. Speaking of, the ability to craft and use a variety of bombs adds to our weapons options. The addition was both beneficial and…not so much. It provided interesting ways to stealthily complete missions, a great thing for an assassin, but collecting and crafting bombs took a lot of time away from the main storyline. Certain materials accumulated much faster than others and actually throwing bombs in combat proved difficult. The last important addition I’ll mention is the hookblade. Its use in avoiding guards and speeding transportation is a definite plus in a game where there was so much to do.
As an extra little bonus, the ability to walk automatically with a follower was returned to us. It’s a little aspect of the game, but one I feel is necessary for ease of play. Also, Desmond’s aesthetic was changed yet again. I understand changing graphics over time as technology progresses, and I also understand the aging process: that Ezio’s face will eventually change as time goes on. But Desmond’s face, in present day and only weeks/months apart, changed quite drastically. In AC III, we revert back to the norm, so I’m not sure what was going on with this stylistic change. It’s not a huge issue, of course, but it’s always irked me and will continue to do so whenever I return to Revelations.
So with all of the improvements I’ve mentioned, and the impressive narration I’ve outlined, why does Assassin’s Creed Revelations receive such poor marks from yours truly? Ultimately, it’s because the gameplay additions and improvements provided their own hiccups and drawbacks, which were not enough to overcome what had now become familiar and methodical gameplay. By technical standards, Revelations did everything a game should do. It provided a multi-faceted environment filled with twists and turns, creating puzzles, environment explorations, and a complex narrative. But it was more of the same. We already received those same turns and twists in the previous game. Now, we just got more of it. Much more, admittedly, but quantity does not equal quality. The side quests were interesting, but they were all things we’ve done before – like the nine block predictable series we found in the first Assassin’s Creed, the repetitive nature of the game (though somewhat masked) ultimately shows through. There were multiple narrative elements, but they didn’t push past the boundaries set by the previous game. My estimation of the series or the game did not drop drastically but this temporary lull did make me nervous. How would the next game fare? Could Ubisoft continue to transform the series into something unexpected? I waited anxiously for the answer.