by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 13th October, 2018
Ever since the release of the now cult Assassin's Creed in 2007 (whoa, more than a decade passed since the series started), Assassin's Creed games were always technical marvels. Huge open worlds, top-notch technology utilized in all graphical departments, and blockbuster level production values. Sure, gameplay (especially combat) and story elements weren't always up to the high-quality levels set by the tech but in most cases, games were good enough to play them from start to finish.
But the same core gameplay formula, which used the good old acrobatics of Prince of Persia games, improved upon them and created a parkour-heavy core which was (and still is) one of the best things about Assassin's Creed games, is what launched the series to the AAA stratosphere. The combination of latest graphics tech, open-world cities filled with thousands of climbable buildings, techno-thriller story about end of the world, thousand years old conspiracies, secret societies, hidden world history, and Sci-Fi technologies, parkour gameplay, and cool assassins who are always the good guys, resonated perfectly with gaming crowds making Assassin's Creed one of the most recognizable (and most profitable) video game series ever.
Also, there's the story of main characters in Assassin's Creed games, which fluctuated from uninteresting to extremely likable and back, often ultimately deciding a particular game's faith among its series' peers. And there are lots of them. After the first game achieved tremendous success and after Ubisoft managed to create a perfect open-world game (which the publisher unsuccessfully tried recreating in their other video games series) with Assassin's Creed II, the publisher started using the good old one game per year money grabbing formula.
This led to mixed results, churning out some bland sequels (Assassin's Creed 3) some proper catastrophes (yes, we talk about Unity), some games that have no reason to exist (Liberation, Rogue), and a couple of proper pearls (Black Flag). Most other titles are set somewhere between being bland sequels and being worthy additions to the series. But when it comes to picking the best ones, the choice is relatively easy because, while most games proved to be fun enough to be played from the beginning to end, less than half (and there are 12 of them that are part of the main series) ended up being truly amazing games. In fact, we had a hard time ranking the bottom six then we had problems ranking the top six. But, enough talk and let's present you the best and worst Assassin's Creed games, starting with the weakest one and slowly climbing to the top. Do mind that we included solely games from the main series, you won't find any Chronicles or mobile titles here.
This one started as a PS Vita exclusive but after Liberation received praise from gamers who tried it, Ubisoft decided to release it for PC and big consoles. And that was a big mistake. While the game looked amazing on the handheld console, it couldn't match its siblings once ported to the PS4 and Xbox 360. The visuals were decidedly average and the map was small compared to any other Assassin's Creed game. Again, the map and the world were huge when played on the Vita, but when ported they looked small and uninteresting.
Further, while the story was solid for a handheld game, it couldn't match the story of Assassin's Creed 3, which the game was tied to (the original Liberation was released the same days as the Assassin's Creed III, and played the role of the first full Assassin's Creed game for handheld console). And the same story happened with gameplay. The original game used all the unique controls systems of the PS Vita such as the console's touch bar, touchscreen, camera, and gyroscope, which gave players cool new gameplay mechanics. The port for big consoles carried none of these features, offering a simple bland gameplay with zero upgrades and new features compared to Assassin's Creed 3. The only thing Liberation will be remembered for is being the first Assassin's Creed game to feature female main protagonist. Which is a shame because Aveline de Grandpre proved to be an interesting protagonist, who never had a chance to shine because the game ended up being average at best.
This one got caught in its own grand ambition. The first full sequel after the famous Assassin's Creed 2, the game had to do three things, and each of those was extremely hard to pull off - it had to become a better game than the Assassin's Creed 2, to end the original trilogy story in a big way, and to come up with a main character that is at least likable as Ezio. It failed miserably at each attempt. Firstly, the game introduced some cool new stuff like hunting and ship battles, but it tried to take players down from roofs and to the ground city levels, which was a sore mistake. These games were never (until recently) about exploring the world at the ground level, they were about being an unseen phantom who took to rooftops whenever possible, and Assassin's Creed 3 tried to force playing at the street level, which didn't go well with fans of the series.
Next, Haytham Kenway, Connor's father ended up being the most interesting character in the game and Connor got remembered as one of the blandest and one-dimensional leads in any Assassin's Creed game. This didn't help the game and in combination with the aforementioned notorious gameplay changes, made gamers to not care about the main protagonist and to find the game bland and uninteresting. And finally, the ending of the original trilogy's story was rushed and it felt bland and uninspiring. Desmond died, Earth was saved and Juno's consciousness became free. At least the game detailed about the first catastrophe that brought end to Isu civilization and introduced naval combat, which would be the basis for the Assassin's Creed 4, one of the best games of the series.
Unity is a classic example of a rushed game. New consoles just appeared and Ubisoft needed a killer launch title that would utilize all the power of the PS4 and Xbox One and use it to display unprecedented visuals. Well, the game does look beautiful (and it uses advanced tech that was scrapped later because it was simply too demanding) and has by far the biggest crowds seen in any Assassin's Creed game to date, Origins and Odyssey included, but it was heavily marred by bugs upon release. Busted visuals, mission-specific bugs, problems with asset streaming leading to all sorts of glitches while parkouring your way across 18th century Paris. And while the game got heavily patched with most bugs killed, poor optimization, awful performance on consoles and aggravating PC system requirements remained.
The story is relatively interesting and Paris is probably the prettiest city seen in any Assassin's Creed game ever, but the game kept its chore-like side missions and despite Arno being one of the better main characters we saw through the years he isn't likable enough to see past the game's many shortcomings. And the modern-day part of the story showed that what we saw in Black Flag is here to stay. In other words, ending of the original trilogy starring Desmond Miles ended all hopes we would be offered a compelling and interesting modern-day narrative in future Assassin's Creed games.
The third and final part of Ezio's story is the weakest because with Revelations we simply didn't receive anything new, anything worth the third game starring the most famous assassin of them all. Sure, Istanbul looks gorgeous even today and many mechanics introduced with Assassin's Creed 2 and Brotherhood were still interesting in Revelations (like leading your own group of Assassin's and managing your Creed along with excellent fortress defense system) but others weren't that compelling. Bombs, for instance, never should've found their way to an Assassin's Creed game, but they did.
On the other side, the modern part of the story was amazing. Desmond really shines in Revelations, with the plot revolving around his past. We finally get to know more about him, his past life, his New York days, and motivations behind the character. And those Desmond puzzles were one of the better parts of the game. Overall, the game was more than solid but as its aging main protagonist (Ezio, not Desmond), Brotherhood shouldn't have embarked on its journey and should've simply stayed at home, in Ubisoft offices.
Rogue was intended to be a farewell letter to old consoles (The PS3 and Xbox 360), with Unity being the main protagonist that was to make all gamers stare in awe of its next-gen wonders. In the end, Rogue ended up being the better of the two, with the game eventually finding its place on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Imagined as the third and final part of Kenway trilogy, it kept ships but offered much humbler open world map, and not so interesting cast of characters.
But that didn't count for Shay Patrick Cormac, one of the most original main characters we ever led in Assassin's Creed game. Former Assassin turned Templar, he was motivated by revenge and during his journeys players are able to see the other side of the war, as seen from the eyes of Templars. This made Rogue an unusual entry in the series, but that didn't mean the game isn't good.
Pirate stuff was excellent, the story was solid, and it was fun hunting for assassins and their former brother, employing all those stealthy techniques by a Templar. On the other side, the modern-day story was dull and forgettable. Assassin's Creed Rogue would be a better game if only its budget was higher and if only Ubisoft didn't put all of its eggs in the Unity basket.
Oh, Syndicate with its twin protagonists and the second best city in the series. The industrial era London is a sight to behold, with its extremely detailed buildings featuring rich texture work and true to life architecture, smoke covered rooftops depicting the coal-powered industry of the time, more than busy Thames filled with coal-eating boats, and huge districts filled with side quests and other activities. Jacob and Evie are excellent protagonists, filled with life and hope they can indeed change the world they are living in. They both lived through harsh childhood and their introduction to the Assassin order finally gave them a reason to live in the harsh world of 19th century Britain.
Story missions are great and the always-perpetual train feature gave Syndicate something the game will be remembered for, aside from the incredibly handy grappling hook which should've been featured in every Assassin's Creed game and the cool ability to drive carriages, which gave the game some of the best chase scenes ever. On the other side, we have excruciatingly dull side missions, lots of repeatable activities that you simply start hating after a while and too many city districts in need of liberation. Even the river is filled with bandits and other scum, making the traversal filled with unnecessary combat which can be avoided only if you work your way and liberate each district, which will make you hate the game after a while. And yes, the modern day storyline could simply be skipped and not included in the game, it's that uninteresting.
After the massive success Prince of Persia games achieved during the PS2 era, Ubisoft wanted to continue the series' homerun strike but instead, they decided to introduce a new franchise that would coexist with Prince of Persia and that would boast the company's new and fresh Scimitar engine created for next-gen open-world games. The result was Assassin's Creed, a game that focused on parallel story arcs happening during the present era and ancient past, technothriller plot involving secret societies and conspiracy theories, huge open-world environments, and parkour-heavy gameplay that was an evolution of tried and true Prince of Persia formula.
The game came out in 2007 and it was a graphical wonder by all standards. Huge cities (for the time) of Acre, Jerusalem, and Damascus, filled with large crowds of people in combination with freeflow parkour gameplay that allowed players to seamlessly traverse city roofs, cool and hip synchronization sequences that happened when climbing on tall buildings that were mostly showoffs of the new engine, adrenaline pumping leap of faiths, and stealthy assassinations proved to be a winning combination for video games market, with the game amassing huge sales and creating instantaneous cult following.
Sure, the original Assassin's Creed suffered from poor side activities (we won't call those side missions because they were too simplistic in nature) meaning that aside from story missions the game didn't have much to offer in terms of content. Its gruesome combat also left a lot to be desired but the story and the promise of future titles that would deepen the tale of the ancient battle between Templars and Assassin's and that will explain from where those strange Pieces of Eden artifacts are coming from have to be acknowledged. The game made an entirely new genre of open-world action adventures and it became one of the most famous video game series of all times, so adventures of Altair Ibn-LaAhad are the obligatory literature for all true gamers.
Origins presented a kind of a soft reboot of the series. The plot, that wandered all around the place, was put back in times of Ancient Egypt depicting the birth of the Order of Assassins, which fought secret society that will become known as the Templar Order in the future. The world, which usually revolved around one or a couple of large city environments, transformed into a tremendously large open area made out of a couple of main cities, a large amount of smaller settlements, and a huge number of locations dotting the map, introducing a scale never seen before in an Assassin's Creed game. And the series, which already flirted with RPG elements in the past, finally introduced radical gameplay changes that made it closer to a classic RPG title than never before. Combat also saw a major overhaul making it more fluid and challenging, and allowing players to switch between melee and ranged weapons whenever they like.
These changes and updates to the series' formula gave Assassin's Creed and a new breath of freshness, a new desire to play the game, and a massively improved variety when it comes to side activities, something that the series desperately needed. The game kept its signature free-running gameplay and cool synchronization scenes, but this time we get down from roofs to the ground level without the change feeling artificial and forced upon. Interesting plot and likable main character embodied in Bayek just improved the game's chances of becoming another bestseller. All this made Origins one of the best games of the series and one of the most enjoyable Assassin's Creed experience ever. And yes, modern day story portions can be completely ignored.
Odyssey is a subtle improvement over Origins, and while the game got released just a year after the previous title, it captures audiences with its story and extremely detailed world of Ancient Greece. We now have finally the choice of picking male or female protagonist and the game dipped even deeper in RPG waters with the addition of choices during conversations and side quests. The combat feels even better and the return of ship battles is a welcome one. Graphics are still mind blowing and the map is bigger than ever, making the game a huge journey that can take 100 hours or more to complete. And the game includes even better side quests that really make difference and create that sweet addiction only the best RPG games can offer.
Odyssey is one extremely addictive game and the game's main protagonists are multilayered characters filled with charm and human-like characters that make them likable from the very beginning, especially Kassandra. While the game (aside from the reintroduction of naval combat) doesn't include any groundbreaking changes and improvements over Origins, it is an excellent title that's ever so slightly better than its predecessor. Modern day story is not worth mentioning, again.
Assassin's Creed 2 was a fantastic game but it ended with lots of plot holes that simply have to be filled before a proper sequel would come out. And Brotherhood perfectly played its role and then some. The game further improved the investment and develop feature introduced in the previous game, but it offered the whole Rome to upkeep instead of a whole castle. And it was fantastic to see the whole city changes and develops thanks to your contribution, something we never have seen since the glory days of Ezio trilogy The assassin recruits could be sent to various missions, coming back with much-needed resources and this mini-game was incredibly fun and addictive. And the ones that survived and leveled up were an excellent backup during story and side missions. Multiplayer modes were also excellent and provided the game with a lasting value.
And Rome was a magnificent city, one of the best virtual depictions of any city in any video game and it would be amazing to see how it would look like with updated texture work and even more detailed buildings. New gadgets (especially the cooler than life parachute) gave players a huge number of ways to solve any situation and stealth gameplay improvements made this part of the game best there ever was. And the story finally put the light on mysterious "alien" race we encountered in the previous game, closed all Ezio-related plot lines, and prepared ground for the upcoming sequel (which would be put on hold with Revelations taking its place, unnecessary prolonging Ezio's story). And as for the modern day story, Desmond was able to freely explore the castle of Monteriggioni, which was a welcome addition. He also met June for the first time and opened a new plotline that will be resolved in sequels and we couldn't wait to see will he be able to save the world.
Brotherhood was an amazing Assassin's Creed game and it offered some of the best moments in the entire history of the franchise. Ezio was older and more experienced, showing the evolution his character gone through during the Assassin's Creed 2 and making it even more believable. In short, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood was a superb game that deserves to be placed among top 3 Assassin's Creed games ever.
While Assassin's Creed 3 was to introduce a bunch of new additions and to launch the series forward as the second game did, it failed miserably. Instead, Black Flag was the title that managed to give Assassin's Creed franchise a second youth, reinventing the series and making fans fall in love with it after the disappointing Revelations and Assassin's Creed 3. The map was gigantic and cities were so different than before, smaller but filled with life and exotic architecture that was a mixture of cultures which colonized the Caribbean archipelago. Naval combat and the possibility to take care and upgrade your own pirate ship resonated well with fans, making travel enjoyable and sea combat the best part of the game.
A huge number of islands players could visit gave the game a huge diversity and made it impossible to feel limited while traversing its gorgeous world. And visuals were top notch, intensified by the bright sunshine of the Caribbean that made everything look even prettier than it really was. The story was different and this time we didn't lead someone who is predestined to become an assassin. Edward Kenway was a castaway turned pirate who managed to infiltrate Templar Order and later became an Assassin and did the right thing, despite the temptations in form of gold and riches. He was an amazing character who, similarly to Ezio, went through a believable transformation during the game, becoming a completely different man by the end of it. And finally, Black Flag was the last Assassin's Creed title that featured modern day story worth mentioning. Overall, Black Flag was the biggest evolution of the series and it deserves to be the second best Assassin's Creed game ever.
This simply has to be the best Assassin's Creed game of them all. Looking from a distance of almost ten years, Assassin's Creed 2 still holds its ground when compared with other titles of the series because firstly it managed to fix all of the shortcomings that marred the first game and secondly it was an amazing game on itself. Its story was perfect and the transformation of Ezio was one of the best depictions of the main character in any video game ever, worthy of praise and compared with best novels and films. His transformation from happy go lucky vagabond to the leader of Assassin's who lived by following the set of rules of the order of Assassins is worthy of the highest praise. Next, the game's cities feature the surreal beauty of Renaissance Italy, perfectly reflecting culture, architecture, and society of the times and creating a magnificent background setting for the game.
Side missions were enjoyable and roofs weren't filled with guards like in the first (and most other sequels) so you could traverse freely across cities. Story missions had incredible dialogue and a cast of best characters in any Assassin's Creed game ever. Borgia family made for believable villains and they stayed the best enemies found in the series. The main plot taking place across decades was a joy to watch from start to finish. And that mysterious hunt for secret marks that slowly unlocked the Adam and Eve escape video sequence was one of the best side quests in the entire history of video games.
The castle of Monteriggioni was a cool addition and it allowed players to develop their own base, giving them another piece of content that evolved and changed during the course of the game. And we finally learned more about Desmond Miles and the whole culture of Those Who Came Before, one of them called Minerva warning Desmond about the upcoming apocalypse and taking the story to another level. This game had it all. Excellent plot, lots of believable and well-written characters, one of the best main protagonists ever seen in video games, beautiful world, lots of mystery worth uncovering, and amazing gameplay. The only weak point of the game was combat, that was still rough around the edges and in dire need of modernization. But everything else was astounding, making Assassin's Creed 2 the apex of the entire series.