Replaying the entire series from the start has been a fun and quite eye-opening experience. Only when you play these games back to back can you see the scope of improvements. Knowing where these changes lead (Origins! Odyssey!), it’s also easier to appreciate all the risks taken, and even some of the failures.
If you haven’t read the first article in this series: The Era of Altair and Ezio.
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Desmond wakes up and then goes back to the Animus to live through different ancestors’ lives (more than one: Haytham and Connor Kenway aka Ratonhnhake:ton) to find a way to stop the impending doom.
I will state this right off the top: previous entries were pure joy for me, but with this one, I have a few gripes. The biggest is how the plot is ran. Don’t get me wrong, the first few Sequences are awesome, however, once we get to Connor being an Assassin, often there are noticeable plot gaps that made it difficult for me to follow the story. Often I thought: “Did I skip a part of the cutscene by mistake?”, but no, I did not. I double-checked.
Also, for me, the protagonist got beat up in cutscenes way too often with not-too-overwhelming odds. It is always a cheap move, and since the previous entries‘ build-up about this lineage of nearly super-humans (Ezio being commended on his fitness despite his age in Revelations, friggin‘ Eagle Vision), I had even more trouble buying it. One more plot related thing: there is a scene where the scriptwriters want to show you how evil your enemy is. Instead of releasing his prisoners, he kills them. How could he. The elephant in the room is: akhem, what were YOU doing the whole game, Assassin?
I cannot say I am super fond of the setting, too. I know the American Revolution has its fans, especially on the other side of the Atlantic (I am European myself), but the game evidently showing how even “big events” of the period were overblown in then-present media coverage does not help me get engaged (with “a massacre” being 6 people killed and “a battle” being a squad standing before an army and fleeing after the first shot).
The next big problem of mine were the surroundings. I had the most fun in the Frontier, while Boston and New York were blocks of gray and brown with no interesting architecture (maybe the latter is saved a bit by the ruins present in it). Speaking of which, “forts”, especially in the otherwise solid Frontier, is again too big of a word to describe what these are in the game (military camps at best).
One last thing I will complain about is that some of the side activities are clearly unfinished: courier missions, delivery requests, and, the most painful for me, “Assassination Contracts” (tagging 5 guys, “templars”, on the map for you to kill, with them neither showing a challenge or being protected in any way).
Enough bashing, now for some praise. First of all, the character of Haytham Kenway. Without spoilers, I would say he shows us a different philosophy in a believable way (sometimes more so than Connor). While I have not played the subsequent game yet, I know there is more of him in Rogue, and that is one of the reasons I can’t wait to put my hands on this entry.
The second solid thing, probably surprising even to the developers, but clearly commonly praised, are naval battles. A complete novelty to the series, offering an entirely different gameplay – you switch between a person to the ship, facing various enemies: gunboats, schooners, frigates, men o’ war.
Thirdly, the free run abilities are expanded to facilitate travel in a more natural environment, not only cities (making the Frontier as fun as it is).
Now for some dry facts. As I have said, this game does some things a bit differently: hireable allies are ditched, with their skills implemented into Assassin recruits. Firearms are more common, with basic enemies having a bayonet rifle. They can form firing lines, from which you can protect yourself using a human shield. As such, the gun is no longer a secret of the Hidden Blade, now we carry a flintlock (or two). The controls have been altered for the first time, from what I have read, on every platform. There is a seasons system – some Sequences take place in snowy winter, other in a golden-brown fall. Animals are added: you can pet domesticated ones for your pleasure (and a notable easter egg) and more importantly, you can hunt wildlife. Also, you can play board games.
This entry fully embraced the cynical tone. Connor acts without any long-term planning, and the result of the war for his kin, the native people, is known in advance. The Templars claim to be working toward a peaceful end of the hostilities – a noble goal, but also historically doomed. Let’s just say Connor is shown to have a hand in both. He has an objective, given by Those Who Came Before, and he accomplishes it, enabling Desmond to save the world. However, both of the protagonists’ missions play out differently than they would have imagined.
A final note regarding the game’s DLC. The absurd Tyranny of King Washington. It is aware of its absurdity, and while it has received rather mixed reviews, I found it fun. It adds superpowers for Connor – the most interesting way a “grappling hook” was ever presented in a game. As always with the addition of a supernatural power, it marginalizes the standard mechanics: why hide when you have invisibility? Why parkour when you can “fly” from roof to roof? Why fight normally when you can end the encounter much faster? But the player knows it’s just toying with the premise, so you can simply enjoy it without thinking too much about it.
I know I did.
You did not expect this title on the list, did you? It’s an attempt to bring the wealth of the Assassins’ story and gameplay to PS Vita, later, by popular demand, remade for Uplay.
While obviously smaller in scope, I would not say it is worse. Due to the developers being able to be throw less things in, much more attention was given to what is here, which is especially noticeable in comparison to the, a bit rushed, part III.
The story of the first female protagonist in the series, Aveline the Grandpre, takes us to New Orleans, its surrounding Bayou and the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Many complain the first two were too similar to the accompanying main entry’s cities and Frontier, but I would argue it is not so. New Orleans, while having similar architecture overall, is ridden with balconies and decorations, for me being more of a merge of III’s Boston and II’s Florence. As for the Bayou, I do not see the similarity at all – the old growths, the water, the gators – all different than the Frontier. And the Spanish fort there – leagues above what the British have shown us. I found even the Bayou’s large trees much more interesting to climb than the III’s woods.
Aveline is of mixed descent, not unlike Connor. She’s a daughter of a wealthy land owner and his placée (slave wife). Thanks to this, she can pose as both a Lady and a Slave in the game’s unique Personas system. It is comprised of three guises to choose from, the aforementioned two and the titular Assassin, each with different abilities and mechanics. Lady cannot free run or carry full-fledged weapons, but she still has the hidden blades, later obtains a parasol gun (to shoot poison darts from) and can blend in very easily. Slave also has some blend ability, can free run (which, however, results in notoriety increase), has a machete and can use most of the protagonist’s utility equipment (blowpipe, whip). Assassin boasts the full combat equipment and can climb about with no penalties, however is inherently notorious, always being a suspect sight for the guards.
Plot wise, the game is framed as an “Abstergo Entertainment” product (including in-universe credits), created from genetic memories of Subject 1, not Desmond (the 17). The bits of current day Assassin-Templar conflict are smuggled in as “censorship” of the source material, which you can clear with the help of hacking from someone called Erudito. Again, the outlook is a bit cynical, with the resident Assassin Mentor being a bit detached and distrustful, the protagonist sometimes lost within her convictions (which is highlighted in the “censored” version) and most of what she loves being destroyed. However, in the “true” end, she stands triumphant.
On a final note, I want to say that I loved the trading company economy system. It has much depth and allows to make truly big bucks. When you think “it has all opened up now” it surprises you, showing even more ports and goods in the next Sequence. Also, nights are too damn dark!
The last entry with a number in the title. The “mediocre Assassin” but one of the most critically acclaimed pirate games ever made. The first one that made a step back historically in regards to the previous entry, being set in the “Golden Age of Piracy” (1716 to 1726), with the protagonist being Edward Kenway, the father of Haytham, the grandfather of Connor.
The setting is not the only place where the game took a step back. Hireable allies return, though only in two varieties: the courtesans and “drunkards”, a merge between thieves and mercenaries. You no longer have Assassin recruits too.
But the game has also made many a step forward. The controls were again revamped (at least on PC). You can aim your gun and blowpipe directly with a reticule, no longer having to rely on auto-aim. Much more importantly, naval combat was also rearranged and refined. You can no longer change your broadsides’ ammo, shrapnel was fully cut. Broadside cannons are limited to round shot only (medium or heavy, which is similar to fire shot). Instead, you select weapons with your camera rotation – looking at the side of the ship: the broadsides, the front: chain-shot shooting chase cannons, back: mine-like fire barrels. There is also a powerful long-range mortar, usable when using your spyglass. The ship becomes your second skin here: unlike previously, you can free-roam the map using it.
Speaking of stepping forward and being a good pirate, bad Assassin game: the main character, along with a sizeable number of cast, is uninterested in this ages old conflict, not being a member on either side. That’s right, the title character of an Assassin’s Creed game is not an Assassin. Still, he does come into possession of Assassin robes, later passed on to Connor. Edward, at times, is amicable to the Brotherhood, but he also happens to assist the Templars, which can happen if your war is secret and suddenly a skilled person starts unknowingly meddling in it. He‘s far from being a hero. He is not motivated by “doing good” but, fittingly for a pirate, by wealth. That said, he is not amoral.
The current-day part, after the last game’s events, understandably, no longer follows Desmond. You are now an Abstergo Entertainment employee working on their new would-be product and also investigating the DNA Sample 17 genetic memory for what the Templars are interested in. The rather bland, anonymous character is however soon entangled into helping the Assassins. The way it is executed, though… The player, especially a veteran of the series, can help them wholeheartedly. However, the “character” is extremely gullible and an absolute tool about it. Many reviewers felt that this part is breaking their pirate fun with the “wonders” of a corporate job.
Back to the pirate fun then. The game is set in the Caribbean: the cities you visit are Havana, Nassau and Kingston (with remains of Port Royale). But that is far from the full list of places you see. While sailing through the open sea, you will find many islands to plunder. There are chests to loot, bottled letters to collect, underwater wrecks to scour, plantations and smugglers’ dens to steal from… The list of pirate-y activities can be concluded with treasure maps, indicating chests waiting to be dug up.
Combat wise, you have many a ship, both Spanish and English, to attack, then sink or board. There are four boss fight-like Legendary Ships to defeat for those who seek a bigger challenge. You also have naval forts to capture (controlling regions of the sea, not unlike the Templar Towers of yore) and privateer contracts. Our pirate has up to 4 flintlocks on hand and carries not one but two swords. As per Assassin tradition, he is surrounded with the icons of the era: Ed “Blackbeard” Thatch, Charles Vane, Ben Hornigold, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts, Mary Reed, Stede Bonnet… There is also a “cheat” that peppers Edward’s speech with extra pirate words. Also, my favorite set of sails is Ezio’s Sails.
This is as far as I have managed to get for now. Once I finish Black Flag’s main plot, its DLC Freedom’s Cry, about the Jackdaw’s quartermaster, awaits me. After that, the final entry of the “Kenway Trilogy”: Rogue.