Assassin’s Creed Retrospective: Part One
By Kimberly Kuxhause
Chances are you’ve heard of Assassin’s Creed – whether you’ve played it on console, on your mobile, or have seen it on the big screen. It would suffice to say the franchise has skyrocketed since its humble beginnings of a lone assassin climbing the ranks of an ancient order. Yet as we venture further into the world of the Templars and the Assassins, with the release of the movie starring Michael Fassbender, it’s just as interesting, and important, to look back at the beginnings of the franchise to see what prompted such great success. What of the story’s original “leap of faith” into the gaming world? What did the first game really bring to the table? As it turns out, the game, simply called Assassin’s Creed, began not with fanciful storytelling or unprecedented success but with a solid foundation that not only brought players into the gameplay but also introduced them to a world that’s not always black and white, where “nothing is true and everything is permitted.”
I must start by saying that if you haven’t had the pleasure of playing Assassin’s Creed: 1. What’s taking you so long? and 2. There will be spoilers and a short summary ahead so if you need to, stop reading, pick up the game, and play to your heart’s content.
As previously mentioned, Assassin’s Creed does not start fantastically. Rather, it begins with a single mission as an assassin, Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, attempts to retrieve a piece of Eden, a powerful object that must not fall into the hands of the enemy, the Templars. In his attempt, he flouts the sacred rules of his order and is reduced to a novice rank. The main action of the story occurs as the player completes missions to advance Altaïr’s rank while picking apart the Templar order. Here is where the game simultaneously shines and falls short.
There are effectively nine blocks of gameplay which occur in Acre, Jerusalem, and Damascus. Assassin’s Creed succeeds in constructing a paced timeline for these blocks as each one brings Altaïr closer to his former rank and destroys a piece of the Templar resistance. These blocks are familiar and can be taken at the player’s own pace. You can either be a completionist, like me, by climbing every viewpoint and fulfilling every side mission, or you can do the bare minimum and complete only two of six tasks without any extra milling about. In this way, Assassin’s Creed’s pacing depends on the player and allows unusual freedom in a game where all you have to do is cross items off a list. These missions become intuitive. You know what’s coming and what’s expected of you. While these blocks do have the positive of becoming intuitive their nine predictable repetitions suffer the drawbacks of becoming tired and boring. Within a block these missions are varied, but on the whole you can expect the same missions over and over again. However, I find it wise that the creators did not overextend their reach. As an introduction to a game style and world, it provides a solid tutorial and does the job of enveloping the player into the game, which is all you really need.
A counterargument might be that to stave off a player’s boredom, there are miscellaneous missions that include collecting flags and killing Templar agents. There are several dozen of flags and Templars in each map area, none of which are marked. As it occurred at the advent of the “trophy” achievements system on Xbox and ps3, there isn’t any benefit in collecting them all. These extra exploration missions attempt to add a little more to the gameplay, but without incentive they ultimately fall short as all the player receives are bragging rights. Instead of decreasing boredom, it merely increases the tedious nature of the game.
Yet the best part, and why I advocate for Assassin’s Creed so strongly, is because of the storyline. Altaïr’s story is somewhat of an exploration of characters and ideas. The plot interlaces history and fiction with a dramatic flair. The player experiences the crusades in a first person narrative which serves to intrigue and provoke thought. Each segment of the story presents rights and wrongs which mirrors the complications of current societal issues. The story details the problems that come with great power and those who abuse it, eventually revealing that the assassin’s themselves aren’t perfect and that they’re subject to the same chaotic power struggle as the rest of the world. The situation is only as good as you make it.
Desmond’s story is far slower paced, but it draws you in for the eventual payout in later games and is my favorite part of Assassin’s Creed. In subsequent replays, I’ve always found something new in Desmond’s story that I hadn’t realized existed before. Whether it’s finding the secret access code for his bedroom door or stealing Warren Vidic’s key, there are numerous secrets to unfold should you wish to enter Pandora’s Box. You learn about the Templars through a biased source, Vidic, but also learn of the skeletons in his closet by snooping through old emails thus allowing the player to realize the true villainy of the Templars. You learn that Desmond is a not so normal guy, who simply wished to escape a war he did not choose to join. Players loyal to the first game also received quite a pleasant surprise in the recent movie, as Alan Rikkin is mentioned in several emails in this first game. While I’ve previously thought the movie and the games operated in different assassin universes, the inclusion of Alan Rikkin sent chills through my spine and I salute the creators for harkening back to their beginnings and tying the stories together with this tidbit.
Ultimately I find that Assassin’s Creed did not repel or astound me. It intrigued me, as if it was the bait in the proverbial trap. I found the story so compelling I knew I needed to finish the series and the gameplay was solid enough to merit further exploration. I will forever treasure my copy of Assassin’s Creed as it is a game that marks the beginning of a journey, a journey to discover the difference between right and wrong. It signals the start of an era, of beautiful storytelling and graphic excellence in the video game world. And that, my friends, is why I will always fondly remember Assassin’s Creed.