DISCLAIMER: This article contains spoilers from the entire Assassin’s Creed franchise including Syndicate. So be forewarned.
*Immortan Joe is the antagonist of Mad Max Fury Road. In which he controls one of the last ‘cities’ of the world, by ruling its water supply with an iron grip, but refuses to share except for a certain amount every so often. The comparison comes in that Assassin’s Creed’s Modern Era storyline has been drip fed to the community fanbase in a similar way, and they just need to open the floodgates already and let us bask in the cool refreshing waters of a Modern Age Creed game. This also serves as the TL;DR & a round-up synopsis for anyone who hasn’t played every entry in the franchise.
I now feel some semblance of shame for calling myself a fan of the Assassin’s Creed games, which really annoys me. For bordering on a decade now, the Creed games have been dragging out the same storyline barely giving it a spoonful of storyline with each game. Originally Desmond was a secret, and the modern fictional era was full of intrigue and mystery, and for any story loving gamer, finding out what happens next is the crux that brings us back, somewhat obviously.
The original Assassin’s Creed wasn’t exactly the best game ever made, it was a new IP and anybody with a sense of open mindedness can see that, but it had a fantastic storyline with a great twist, and a protagonist who was so capable he was arrogant, before being made humble for his failures in the prologue. Once you rebuild Altair, he was quite frankly the best character in a game for a longtime from his memorable quotes, his iron will, high intellect and the voice actors amazing voice I haven’t heard again since. Couple that with Nolan North as Desmond Miles in the modern era timeline and the storyline there. It just made for an intriguing game, all capped off by the mysterious artefact the apple of Eden which showed the locations of all the other pieces dotted around the world.
Assassin’s Creed 2 comes along and naturally progresses everything, it’s what a sequel should do. The modern age goes along great, Desmond is learning to accept who he is, and gameplay elements are used as osmosis to progress his story, while the player is introduced to Ezio Auditore da Forenze the latest assassin and the one who will mess it up for Ubisoft. Because while he is the best character arc. He is also the only character arc (birth to death). Ezio is so beloved by the majority of the Creed fanbase, not because of who he is personally, but the journey he took us on. His life was in the shadow of Altair, but in spite of it he shone beyond it, seeing far deeper than Altair dear dream as smart as he was portrayed to be. Talking directly too Desmond, despite not knowing who he was. He goes from young brash kid, through the horror of watching his father and brothers be hanged for crimes they didn’t commit. To become an assassin just as it is mirrored with Desmond in the modern era. Still not the best game it could be, but the improvements upon the original stand out, and that is what you expect as a consumer.
Then Brotherhood arrives a year later, a little surprisingly, as it’s only been a year and there was a nice break between the first two games. Yet rather than multiple towns or cities in one country, we get simply — Rome. It is a natural progression for an Italian protagonist, we even have the Modern Era advance to exploration of the town Monteriggioni in current times rather than being shoved in a box dressed as a factory. We could barely be happier, especially as this is the first entry to introduce its multiplayer. It’s twist as playing as Templars for the first time along with its own miniature storyline with Warren Vidic the games antagonist throughout was a nice touch they didn’t have to do, but it made you want to play more and see more. Cesare Borgia was a fantastic villain, as he was formidable as he was imposing. Plus add on his real life history as one of the great generals of the pope during his day, and it makes Ezio feel like he has a worthy opponent. Even the modern era storyline ends on a shocking cliffhanger of Desmond killing his original ally Lucy Stillman. Kristen Bell nor Ubisoft have ever truly commented on the matter of the character being written out due to contract disagreements or more likely schedule conflict, as it comes out from left field only to be retconned into the story later to paint her as a traitor and swept swiftly under the rug with a ‘no one shall mention them ever again feel’. The kicker to explain why you can still play the game after completion though is Desmond is now in a coma.
Now Revelations took Ezio toward the end of his life and possibly some fans love for the series. I’ve had friends who previously loved everything up to brotherhood fall off here, after what now amounts to three straight years of annualisation. What I liked best about this is, isn’t even in the game. As certain versions of the game came with Embers a short film which laid out the last days of Ezio’s life, with a poignant message summing up the trilogy that has been Ezio’s life and seeing his family, late-life protege Shao Jun, (who would start a fanbase rally cry for Assassin’s Creed set in China/Japan (ball thoroughly dropped Ubisoft)) and how Ezio actually died. A part of me wishes I stopped playing the series here. Now with Desmond in a coma, he is taking a page out of Neo’s book from The Matrix in that he is secretly accessing the Animus without needing to be in it. though, his body is placed back into it just in case, and he finally meets Subject 16 his predecessor test subject from Abstergo. However Desmond no longer looks like he has previously in fact he shares a shocking resemblance to GTA IV’s Niko Bellic. There is a room for yet another dispute for the original male model no longer wanting his exact image being used for the franchise, adding a bit more fuel to the random fire of certain groups not liking the Desmond angles anymore. Where it’s not hard to see why. While we get story for Desmond, it doesn’t make sense to anyone who might have casually played the previous games. Subject 16 may have been just a passing reference for many, while only the few like myself who have a compulsive need to 100% everything know just how much of a mystery he is/was at the time. But the story is weaker now, and Desmond has been reduced to solving platforming puzzle rooms with a ‘reward’ of tiny insignificant flashbacks in picture form of his life before being kidnapped by Abstergo. His presence is only required for the simple reason of merging his digital entity with subject 16’s as they escape this backdoor island realm of the animus. If this was the future for Desmond it didn’t bode well.
Roll up Assassin’s Creed 3, the series most controversial entry yet. Not only would this be the entry that has caused the Modern Era to flounder in the void of giving its actual storyline in future installments. It’s also one which has the series biggest gambles in it. As it introduced naval gameplay. If you imagine that this mode sucked, Ubisoft would have a hell of a mess on their hands with it’s next title Black Flag which this mode was essentially the bread and butter of the entire gameplay’s focus. It was billed again with a underlying secret, Haytham Kenway is who you start as, Who it shows grows enamered with a native American woman, who he has an affair with and she becomes pregnant with Connor Kenway. For a moment it seems like we get back to the roots of the series from Ezio’s time as we play as Connor as a child, his story is set up as a giant revenge plot with the American Revolution as it’s backdrop, and goes all the way through to Haytham’s death and a little beyond all in the search of a medallion. The modern Era story has us back in a bunker though, and while we can explore it and learn some secrets it’s ultimately about getting beyond a giant doorway to a secret from the First Civilization. But when you do get beyond it, they story plays into the modern tinfoil hat hysteria of the end of the world in 2012 and Desmond dies after making a choice to save the world. For all intents and purposes, the modern era could have ended here. Ubisoft would have had the perfect excuse to drop the angle of the modern era all together and just focused on it’s primary content without adding the modern day storyline they are slowly not giving an equal effort too.
Apparently a lot of people disliked Connor Kenway I don’t know why I personally loved his straight as an arrow sense of Justice and Honour. He didn’t have a creed of followers. He had a creed he lived by. Looking after his tribe, and getting training from Achilles amounted to one and the same goal for him in the end. But Ubisoft had made out more of his story, but after a vocal minority had their say his story was dropped.
While Liberation was first to introduce us to Abstergo Entertainment, I sincerely doubt a lot of the fanbase played it due to its initial handheld only release before being ported to PC and last generation consoles. If it wasn’t for Aveline Du Grandpre I would have had major sexism issues with Syndicate, As ‘twins’ it may say on the script, but while it’s obvious they were two different eggs at conception. They look nothing alike. To which I wonder if Jacob was used as the ‘mascot’ or Evie was added as a avatar for a now scrapped co-op system which wouldn’t have been finished in time (or was, but was no where near the standards of playability players want to see) and to wipe the muck off Ubisoft’s faces for the mess Unity released in the previous year. As to me Evie was by far and away the better character of the two and could easily have stood on her own. But it wouldn’t have made sense because of Aveline, who was a strong character in herself who while lucky enough to avoid the slave trade for her time, had to use outfits to mask not only the fact she was an assassin, but also her freedom, and was done with a really fine balance as to not top it toward a more shocking realistic portray of the times, yet keep it on message. Which is mildly ironic as her entire story adds up only for an audio a message which tells how Eve was chosen in the Old Civilization time to lead the rebellion. Ubisoft also laid the groundwork for what looks like a love story and co-op missions with Connor and Aveline but due to the aforementioned feedback this was all dropped)
So when Black Flag is introducing us to the HQ of Abestergo Entertainment, clearly a play on a game development studio. But switched to use portable animus systems, all working on blood sample of Desmond Miles. Who you’ll learn more about his final moments from hacking the various computer terminals around the facility in time. But the twist is much milder here. As rather than playing a descendant, you play an ancestor of Connor Kenway, in his Grandfather Edward Kenway, who through, a good 90% of the game is not even an assassin, but a pirate. It tries to play him as the assassin but he isn’t. While he rubs shoulders with practically every pirate legend of his age, when he finally does become an assassin the game is all but over, and it’s just ends rather abruptly. One letter ends the entire adventure, and it’s off back to England, but a humorous twist is that it starts exactly how Assassin’s Creed 3 begins just with Edward in the theatre, instead of Haytham. The Modern day element while completely changed to a first person mute avatar, (likely used to portray the actual gamer playing) fits in with the actual storylines main focus the Sage, an new character fitted into the world, that is born in every Era as the exact same man, who has perfect recall of all his previous lives. While Edward is distracted by the Observatory, the Sage comes into play while his identity is hidden from the player in the Modern Era until the twist is revealed as he tries to kill the player, once they have fulfilled their purpose of locating the now released Juno thanks to Desmond’s previous sacrifice. But Juno is about as straightforward as a maze with no exit as per usual for the cryptic Old Civilization people.
Rogue chronologically comes next. However it wasn’t advertised as well as Unity for obvious reasons. But Rogue is actually vital to the Modern Era’s storyline if you want to make hide or hair of the already convoluted plot going on. As it introduces key Templar characters like Juhani Otso Berg the modern day leader of the Templars field teams. Along with Violet da Costa who plays a role in the finale of Syndicate which will add up all the clueless people who never played rogue or syndicate. Not to mention the conclusion of this first person story arc in a ‘offer you can’t refuse’ style in becoming a Templar of the Order. Even the main storyline from the History of Shay Cormack is not only interesting as hell as he runs through Lisbon’s catastrophic earthquake of the day, but how he goes from an Assassin to Templar through no fault of his own. He is akin to Altair, but stands up not because of arrogance but in effort to save the world from this blind madness, which only leads him deeper into it, but on a course that can’t be corrected, and leads directly into the prologue of Unity, making them perfect bedfellows. Giving greater context to the introduction, but the problem with Unity is, it was pointless!
At no point does Unity provide anything useful to the overall arc of the storyline. Everything is lost. The focus was a secondary Sage, in fact very pointedly so, as the new assassin ‘initiate’ handler known as Bishop is introduced directly to you through the guise of a personal animus system renamed ‘Helix’ over an animus, which if memory service acts as a ‘home console’ to make the whole Abstergo Entertainment angle as an entertainment business have a point. Arno may very well get the Sword of Eden but the focus of the Sage ruins any connection Arno had. To the point, the ending dialogue you get is a phoned in voice message amounting to ‘oh well this is a dead end.’ As the camera pans out from a host of skulls from the catacombs of underground Paris assuming the original was zoomed in on the skull of the sage, as you then get 2 hours of credits (time exaggeration, more like 35 minutes) from everyone who so much as signed a Ubisoft registration form from the company’s inception, to the guy who brings in the tea in the morning. From every single country they are based in. I’m amazed I didn’t see my own name scrolling by the list goes on forever.) Unity amounted to a love story with no purpose. As Elise, Arno Templar lover dies in an act of stubbornness propelled by a Romeo & Juliet angle in which a Templar cannot love an Assassin. But it could have gone on to play the Arno versus Shay showdown angle and yet again Ubisoft dropped the ball. in fact if Ubisoft were asked to go fetch water they’d have brought a siv! to the level of failure Unity was for them. From Quality Assurance testing, to every aspect of story.
So now we’ve come full circle. By the point of Syndicate the Modern Era storyline has come to a screeching halt. There was an attempt in Black Flag to include Shawn Hastings and Rebecca Crane the only two character still in it from Assassin’s Creed 2. Everyone from the original is dead or written out as dead. And now we get literal phoned in storyline segments. I kid you not. In fact the entire Modern Era clocks in at about 10 minutes worth of total cutscenes or lack of them in some cases. Where you stare at a blue background and white Assassin’s Creed logo while your handler Bishop talks to Shaun over the headset. It’s quite frankly an insult that they are even trying to justify a modern era storyline at this point. All you get is about three cutscenes including the ending. One is simply Shawn staring out a window while reminiscing about Desmond, it adds a pinch of character to him, but it’s focus is to remind people of the plot of why you are even seeing these cutscenes in the first place in case you might have forgot.
Ubisoft quite clearly need to shit, or get off the pot, right now. Sorry, but they do. All signs point toward Assassin’s Creed V being set in World War II Berlin, Germany. Unity teased World War II, and Syndicate does the same, if not stronger by putting the player a further 47 years into the future having you play in World War I London as Lydia Frie (assuming daughter of Evie Frie) and dealing with German & Templar spies under the command of Winston Churchill. It’s a brief taste but it seems likely to be the case.
Syndicate’s Modern Era is so poor that what they deemed to include that is anywhere close to on point, is the Assassin’s locating the shroud, in which it’s a Templar vs Assassin’s showdown in which the Templar’s come out on top taking the shroud, and the story leaving Rebecca shot, and possibly lingering in the limbo of videogame death. The scene would then cut to an underground Templar lab full of clone chambers like I was secretly watching either Resident Evil or Alien Resurrection. as the characters introduced in Rogue give a scientist the shroud, to help make his project about cloning/resurrecting Old Civilization test subjects, and Violet addresses the digital apparition /projection of Juno who eludes to her resurrection likely inside one of the bodies in the test chambers. Which amounts to your spoon full of story for the entire game, to which you have no interaction with as a player, you might as well be watching a movie for the level of interaction you have in it.
Luckily Assassin’s Creed 3 & Black Flag show the truth. As in AC3 the naval missions were added and it was like a test bed to get feedback on the gameplay featured, and by the time Black Flag released any kinks or bad features were worked out or reworked to the near flawless nature of Black Flag. Showing assets used in a previous game are used for a future title in the franchise.
So logically why even go to the trouble of creating all these war assets and in game scenarios for the past two games if you aren’t going to that time period? Not to mention with Hitler’s cyanide suicide it’s hard not to go there under the premise of a historical game about assassins. I can already envision the save the Jewish population side missions. Not to mention the justification for killing Nazi Templars. I wouldn’t be surprised if Oskar Schindler himself was a historical figure you help out for this express purpose. Weather it’s exactly World War 2 Berlin, Germany clearly remains to be seen, but it would make sense in terms of a development team researching how it used to look and recreating buildings which no longer exist, and Nazi-esque facades which only exist in pictures now. This could also be Ubisoft’s first foray into a destructible sandbox too if you consider the state Berlin was in by the time Russia rolled in. See it go from the fascist regime in it’s perfect order, to by games end a devastated crumbling ruin of a city.
So I find it weird I know more about where Assassin’s Creed V is going, than the entire Modern age storyline. Though if Black Flag’s not so subtle hidden ploy of ‘Assassin’s Creed Rising Phoenix’ poster’s dotted throughout the office work space is any clue, included in a game where it assures the player Desmond Miles is dead, and subsequent games still mourn his loss along with the ending of Syndicates modern era story point. I am not going to be shocked if recreating Desmond Miles in one of those clone chambers is also going to be a thing along with recreating some Frankenstein’s Monster First Civilization clones. The inspiration for such a thing can be found in Aliens 3 & Aliens Resurrection. Where they use the deceased Ripley’s DNA to engineer a clone of the Alien impregnated inside her. Desmond clearly has a link which culminates with him as his bloodlines tie from Altair on his father’s side an Ezio Auditore on his mother’s side. It’s suggested he’s special because he was the only living person to have links to have ancestors who saw every Piece of Eden at some point and he was used, and his DNA is being trawled over to find there last known locations.
So while Ubisoft drip feed us game after game with yet another piece of Eden, it has to inevitably conclude with what happens when all the pieces are gathered together and the bad guy has them all? Let’s face it, it won’t ever be you holding the pieces in the end because you have to stop what is either going to be insert Templar megalomaniac here, or a resurrected Juno to the point of you either stop them right here and now or Ubisoft start creating their own alternative future timeline and we end up in a new Call of Duty situation because they just can’t let the money cow die and get a new one.
So in conclusion I feel foolish for even holding out on hope to be swimming in modern era storyline again come Assassin’s Creed V next year, (previous trends lent to two subtitles, then a numbered entry). Anyone would think they don’t have Watch_Dogs or Splinter Cell to spread alternatives over. Though I dread them using the time travelling premise of the Animus to simply send us back into the BC era, to start this whole charade over again from a different angle. The franchise should end on the modern era dealing with the outline laid out above in some sense, while making major headway into sending us back into a playable Old Civilization and the collapse. It shouldn’t take a decade to tell a single story. Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings in this amount of time and he had a four year gap between writing that, because there was a War in-between it. Even one of the best revenge stories of all time A Count of Monte Cristo was written in less and that was serialized over multiple years in a newspaper.
Ubisoft need to finish this particular angle, as it has been dragged out far too long. Then come up with something new which doesn’t touch it. or forgo the entire modern era and focus purely on it’s historical angle with no excuses for a Modern Era, and inject all it’s storyline into a series of trilogies or one off’s focusing on era’s or cities. This way it stops the current bleed effect Assassin’s Creed plot is having on its audience. Syndicate didn’t see a drop in sales purely because of the first few weeks of troubles it had to resolve, but because of it’s weak plot and pointless ending in a game franchise currently clinging onto plot continuity. This way, stories can have a grand finale or showdown. Letting Assassin’s Creed stand alone on it’s own so people can either comeback to it, or leave it a year because it isn’t to their particular tastes, but come up with one another year, and not have to worry about previous games plotlines because they are completely standalone. Even TV shows at least have the courtesy of adding a ‘previously on’ segment. “Its a small sacrifice, to save many.”