Assassin’s Creed, one of Ubisoft’s cash cow series, we all know it, we all loved it, we all hated it, and now we’re all somewhere in the middle. Maybe you think it’s a bit of a throw-away series with no substance or maybe you think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Either way, if you’ve ever played an Xbox360 or PS3, you’ll have an opinion about it. With Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla on the horizon, I’d like to take you through my experience of playing the entire series and catch you all up on the story so far.
The first Assassin’s Creed was released in November 2007, my first experience of it is renting it was from Blockbuster. It launched one of the most recognisable series in gaming today, so let’s see what all the fuss was about.
The overarching story is simple. In the world, there are Templars, who are the biggest corporation in the world, flying under the banner of Abstergo Industries. Obverse to them there are Assassins, a secret group that is directly opposed to the Templars. The Templars are evil and the Assassins aren’t.
You play as two people, Desmond Miles, an early walking simulator who is in the present future, and Altair in the past. Assassin’s Creed goes full-throttle right out of the gate. It opens with a sequence where everything is clearly wrong, it’s glitchy and no one has a face. Then it slams on the brakes and forces you into a mandatory tutorial, and you have to complete each arduous task inside what is essentially a placeholder area.
Following this, it cranks the throttle back to full and you’re walking around, kitted out with weapons. Afterwards, you fail a mission by being too cocksure and lose an important artifact to the templar, Robert de Sablé, before getting stabbed and dying. Except for the fact you don’t die and wake up in a laboratory on a bright sci-fi table.
A scientist, Warren Vidic, and his assistant, Lucy Stillman, explain that you’ve been kidnapped and forced into an Animus, a sci-fi massage table that digs its digital fingers into your brain and massages it so hard you trip out and start living the lives of your ancestors. Warren Vidic forces us to go back into the animus and begin living the life of Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, a master assassin stripped of his rank and forced to climb his way back up by assassinating a list of templars.
You spend the game gathering information in one of three different historical cities while killing your assigned targets. Each time you assassinate someone you’re treated to a neat little cutscene where Altair interrogates the dying target. Each one sowing seeds of doubt in Altair’s mind, no matter how steadfast he tries to be in his beliefs. The general gist of all their talking is Altair needs to ask more questions about what’s going on, which he spends most of the game not doing.
Until he does. Turns out Al Mualim, mentor of the Levantine Brotherhood of Assassins, has been working with the templars and your targets are the only people that know about it. You go to the enemy’s camp, chat to their leader, kill Robert de Sablé, and they agree to help you storm the Assassin stronghold to kill Al Mualim.
However, Al Mualim has an ancient magic ball (the Apple of Eden) which warps reality and holds the secrets of a long-dead people. He uses it to play around with Altair, making clones, causing hallucinations, and adding more lens flares than necessary. Through some plot conveniences, Altair is mostly immune to the magic ball and takes down Al Mualim claiming the Apple of Eden for himself and liberating the Assassins.
Then we learn why Desmond has been kidnapped. Abstergo is using the genetic memories of people with links to the Pieces of Eden. What for you might ask? To take over the world.
After Altair takes down Al Mualim we cut back to Desmond in the present future and Warren is whisking himself away organizing task forces to start moving, Desmond is left alone in the lab with a newly awakened sense and a lot of spooky scrawlings on the floor and walls. And that is where the game ends.
Assassin’s Creed Gameplay
The gameplay loop is simple. Go to the city, go to the assassins’ bureau, climb the viewpoints to unlock the map, do at least 3 of the required information-gathering events, go back to the assassins’ bureau, get shoved into the assassination mission, assassinate the target, escape, repeat.
There’s little else to do outside of the main loop. They rushed in some collectibles around the areas, and there are templars you can hunt, but even then, they’re just slightly more beefy versions of the standard enemies. Combat also comes down to how well you can time pressing the counter button to win fights. It’s all just dressing for the main course of the game.
Free run your way up and down the buildings of 12th century Middle East, leap off incredibly high points into hay bales, feel the wind in your hair, and wrestle with the janky controls. I’m willing to give it plenty of leeway in the parkour department, it was the first instance of it in the series and comes with its fair share of jank. Let’s say you want to jump to the next marked climbing point, but the game decides it’s out of reach or you aren’t pointing the joystick in quite the right way, you end up doing some master assassin level twerking on the side of the building. Assassin’s Creed then decides to take your incessant inputs all at once and launches you off the building into a wandering group of guards and the whole city wants you dead.
Playing as Desmond is limited. All you can really do is walk around and interact with certain objects like key cards, computers, and the Animus. The mechanics nicely complement the point of this game.
Every Assassin’s Creed game has a point. Sometimes the point isn’t very good but they all have one or two defining points that the developers cared about. In this game, it was the parkour mechanic. Aside from all the jank, you can tell a lot of time and effort was put into making it and they do everything they can to introduce it as the staple in the series.
And they did a great job of it, I started my binge at this one and it hooked me because of the parkour, the story was engaging at times, but mostly forgettable. There wasn’t an awful lot to do, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t feel good to parkour across a dozen rooftops to where you need to be.
So, that was the first Assassin’s Creed, I’ve thought about how to score the entire series and I’ve settled on ranking them out of the total number of games, 11. I’m giving Assassin’s Creed the 6/11 spot. It is not the best one in the series, but it’s certainly by no means bad. It is the perfect starting point for the series.