ByJosh Jennings, writer at
Narratologist: all things story, plot, and arc.

Nothing is true. Everything is permitted. The bywords of perhaps the most badass creed of all time. The [Assassin's Creed](movie:437814) franchise is Ubisoft Montreal’s wildly successful take on a small snippet of Middle Ages history (and spiritual successor to their Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time series) and expanding it across roughly 70,000 years of human civilisation right up to the modern day. Not bad when your source material is a few Syrian backroom murderers blazed up on cannabis and some Catholic monkish knights running a bodyguard service for pilgrims. Needless to say, some artistic license was taken in the portrayal of the two groups, not least in making them enemies when in fact they historically both fought against Sunni Turkish lords like Salah al-Din.

Nevertheless, Assassin’s Creed has since had eight console/main instalments, numerous handheld instalments, and a thriving expanded universe to put to its name. The games are amazing (occasional gameplay issues notwithstanding), the storylines even more so, and the characters wonderfully engaging and deeply complex. It’s a series well worth getting into, no question about it, but I am wondering if it’s starting to get lost in its own historical playground. See, Assassin’s Creed, as a whole, although largely set in various time periods throughout the relatively distant past so far, has a framing device that links all the instalments together: the modern day Assassins and Templars using devices called Animi to relive the genetic memories of the descendants of their long deceased predecessors in order to rediscover lost prehistoric artefacts called Pieces of Eden.

An Apple of Eden
An Apple of Eden

Each of the instalments then, while being almost entirely self-contained in and of themselves, are bridged by a secondary overarching narrative revolving around these Pieces of Eden and where they ultimately ended up and how the Assassins and Templars are to find them again. Great, perfect even, an overarching narrative linking all the plotlines together is just what’s needed to keep the story cohesive and not simply episodic. The framing story in question is about one Desmond Miles, an Assassin descendant with a rich lineage who’s kidnapped by the Templars, masquerading as a legitimate megacorporation called Abstergo Industries, and forced to relive his ancestral memories in a prototype Animus so that they can locate Pieces of Eden scattered around the globe. He’s then eventually rescued by the Assassins and goes on to relive further genetic memories in upgraded Animi for the same purposes.

This is all well and good, if underutilised in favour of the historical plotlines, but then is abruptly cut short with the (spoiler warning) death of Desmond at the climax of Assassin’s Creed III. He saves the world, frees the ancient digitised Precursor bent on world domination in doing so, and then dies, thus rendering all of his development into a fully fledged Assassin completely pointless, aside from a couple of solo missions to retrieve power sources for the First Civilisation Grand Temple that they’re sheltering at and a couple of brief encounters with Templar forces. Then his replacement is a nameless voiceless faceless protagonist working for Abstergo Entertainment that’s aiming to produce video games based on genetic memories of the conflict between the Assassins and Templars, set in Montreal, Canada no less. Seriously? Seriously? Your goal then as this new everyman silent protagonist, outside of reliving genetic memories for mass marketing, is to collect data and fix software.

That’s it. You go around the building you’re working at and engage in some hacking minigames to bring servers back online and fix Animi databases (optionally), which occasionally yields goodies in the form of exposition about the Templar-Assassin conflict going on around you. When you’re not (also optionally) picking up sticky notes left by a lunatic and personal tablets lost by your co-workers. You do deliver valuable information to the Assassins initially and upload an apparently morale devastating piece of propaganda for the Templars (so you’re not even on any particular side), but that’s the extent of your involvement in the conflict. You’re a data-gatherer, another pawn in the conflict passively playing desk jockey for the two sides. The worst part is that you actually learn about where the real action is happening from the audio logs and emails gathered instead of, you know, being there, taking a front and centre role in the story.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity then takes it even further by not having you leave the Animus at all, as you just gather data by literally running around inside the Animus alone. You’re literally playing as someone playing an Assassin’s Creed game, with the games even called 'Assassin’s Creed' in-universe just to rub it in a bit more. Desmond’s story didn’t make the best use of its time but it was still a way for the audience to be part of the actual story, not sit on the sidelines reading the cliff notes. The expanded universe material actually shows how to do it right, in a way, with innocent people being caught up and dragged into the Assassin-Templar war against their will, such as in Assassin’s Creed: Brahman. Storylines like that have a sense of urgency to them, a sense of significance. In the current games, the modern day story plods along with you as part of the backdrop and not really involved with or even close to the conspiracy in any way whatsoever. With Desmond you had that, the sense that you were really impacting and important to the events taking place.

See? Now doesn't THAT look more exciting?
See? Now doesn't THAT look more exciting?

What Assassin’s Creed both needed and needs is either a new central protagonist, preferably one that was introduced prior to Desmond’s death, or a way to continue on Desmond’s story itself. Killing him off was probably a mistake to begin with, among a number of others, which I’ll address in part two. In the meantime however, simply put: Desmond’s dead so now what? The story just stops dead here. You become an average Joe working for Abstergo and the Assassins are scattered with nothing to show for all of their efforts. At the very least someone new should pick up the mantle, preferably someone who’s appeared in the canon beforehand and even more preferably met with and/or is related to Desmond in our hypothetical retooling of the games.

Possibility one is Jonathan Hawk, even though he’s from the technically non-canon series of graphic novels (The Ankh of Isis and Hawk trilogies), which Ubisoft have shown to use elements of in their canonical games regardless, such as the titular Ankh showing up in one of Juhani Otso Berg’s audio logs that you can unlock in Assassin’s Creed: Rogue. Or if it must be a previously unexposed civilian, then maybe Jot Soora from the Assassin’s Creed: Brahman graphic novel. Or perhaps Paul Bellamy, last seen by Daniel Cross in Assassin’s Creed: The Chain strapped to an Animus, escapes from Abstergo, or even have had Hannah Mueller surviving the Great Purge and her confrontation with Daniel Cross. Other possible candidates show up in droves in Assassin’s Creed: Initiates. It would fit too with the general arc of the historical Assassins, which, if you examine the series closely, can be split into two distinct halves.

Namely, the rise and fall of the Assassin Brotherhood, with the saga of Altair and Ezio taking up the ‘rise’ half and the Kenway family saga taking up the ‘fall’, another reason that if Desmond himself cannot continue the modern day story on, then someone related to him should.

End of Part One.


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