At the beginning of 2008, I purchased my first PlayStation 3. The eighth generation of home video game consoles (specifically Sony’s PS3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360) had begun delivering experiences that were truly new. The prices of high definition televisions were beginning to drop. And I still had enough free time to devote embarrassing amounts of time to playing video games. It was an extraordinary time to be a gamer.
I was excited to play this new game called Assassin’s Creed, which takes place in the mid-east during the Crusades. It was a unique setting for open world, full of interesting characters and built around a novel parkour mechanic.
Certainly, Assassin’s Creed was far from a perfect game, but it became the prototype for what is arguably the most ubiquitous genre in the current crop of blockbuster games. It’s a shame that Ubisoft moved so quickly turn Assassin’s Creed into an annual series. Year after year, new entries were released with similar formula. Though each new game came refined this formula and added new things to do, the games began to feel uninspired.
By the time Assassin’s Creed: Revelations was released in 2011, I had played 3 of these games in 3 years. I opted to not play the game… and I never went back to the series.
Until this year.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is the final act in a trilogy of games about Ezio Auditore. Actually, this was part of the reason I didn’t play the game: what more could be gained by revisiting the same types of locations with the same character.
But this is not the same Ezio that was kissing girls and punching boys in Assassin’s Creed II. He’s older and harder. It seems as though he’s finished with his life of making history by silently murdering evil people. Revelations could have been an agricultural simulation game where Ezio spends his golden years running a vineyard.
But obviously, that isn’t what happens. Instead, old man Ezio gets pulled in for one more adventure.
Though the gameplay is similar to previous games, the story strikes me in ways it hasn’t before. Ezio seems more human than I remember. Or perhaps he is more relatable to me at my current stage of life. Ezio has wearied on any grand attempts to set the course of the world. Rather his quests contain new goals seek out the hidden knowledge of the order (a macguffin-gathering quest, though it may be) and use it to mentor the next generation of assassins.
Much earlier in my life, I wanted to be powerful enough to make the world—the whole word—a better place. That never quite happened for me, but I also was never imbued with special powers. Over the years my focus has narrowed. How can I make the small corner of the world that I encounter a better place? For me, this means being a loving father and an excellent English teacher. But perhaps I sell myself short. Perhaps if I can do that well, the effects will ripple outward to indeed set the course of the world.
In playing Revelations, I rediscovered a long-lost love for the series. I needed more. Luckily, I had Assassin’s Creed III waiting in that embarrassment of riches that is my Steam account. Almost immediately, I jumped into the next game.
The bulk of AC3 centers around a native American man named Connor, who joins the assassins seeking revenge against his biological father, a British Templar named Haytham Kenway. In the process, he finds himself wrapped up in the events of the American Revolution in the late 1700s.
Connor is a very different protagonist than the Ezio of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. He is angry and impulsive. His righteous indignation makes for strong motivation, but haste clouds his judgement. This means that he tends to make careless decisions that have unintended consequences. Connor’s story may be a cautionary tale, but I was still happy to be along for the ride.
Though I may be a bit biased toward this game.
I’ve taught American Literature for half a decade, and I’m quite partial to the setting and characters. I felt like a tourist running around the neighborhoods Washington Irving and Herman Melvile and Ralph Waldo Emerson; though the events of this game predates the first wave of great American authors by a few decades.
And also, I played this game in short bursts while my newborn baby girl was sleeping or cooing softly beside me. Things that might otherwise be insignificant are often endowed with meaning when seen through the bleary-eyes of parenthood. If I was climbing buildings in Boston or running through the streets of New York or hunting in the frontier… then everything was going well.
Objectively speaking, though, AC3 certainly benefits from Ubisoft iterating on their open world formula year after year. The result is likely the most polished of any Assassin’s Creed game up to that point. I was having a great time and the game held up very well… even in 2018.
In the end, going back to Assassin’s Creed was a pleasure. I got so sucked into the worlds, the characters, and the gameplay that ended up playing through 2 games before I could even think about playing anything else. Actually, I think I might have Assassin’s Creed IV sitting in my Uplay account…