***UPDATE – 5/19/13 – Ubisoft has released a new “Golden Age of Piracy” trailer. See our response HERE***
Oh what sweet period tale of stealth and existential conflict is THIS!?!?! A new Assassin’s Creed game, and this time it’s with PIRATES! Oh, this will be absolutely DELIGHTFUL!!!
But then…..why am I so apathetic to it’s news?
To fully understand where we are (and where I suspect we are going), lets first take a look at where we’ve been. Also note that this blog was written with the assumption that you have also played through the Assassin’s Creed (AC) series. This entry is going to be plenty long enough without the history and explanation of Desmond and Abstergo!
Assassin’s Creed, 2007
Set during the 3rd Crusade, we are introduced to Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad. A hooded man with a secretive past and a massive ego. From the trailer, we can clearly see what the game will be focusing on. We are at a public execution, an eagle tilts it’s head and flies up to a church bell tower. Timed with the loud rings, a hooded man vanishes only to reappear in the crowd. As he pushes his way through to the front, no one pays him any mind except to be annoyed at this man shoving them aside. Then, the guards on the platform realize who he is, only too late. in a matter of 6 seconds (some of which in slow-mo) the 3 guards fall dead, with the last one dying in a most serene lament. As our anti-hero scampers away in a Spiderman-meets-Aladdin fashion, he comes to the door of a grand cathedral and hides away in a crowd of scholarly monks exiting in to the courtyard. As expected, this game is heavily steeped in stealth and cunning, albeit quite repetitive once you get deeper in to the game. Still, the plot line is fantastic,the dialogue is thought provoking, and the scenery is absolutely breath taking.
Assassin’s Creed 2, 2009
Ahhh, the Renaissance! Here, we are greeted with the celebration of the Venetian Carnival! As two courtesans lure away an unsuspecting bodyguard (which by the way, it’s amazing how tactical those girls can be!) in to the din of the night and twirl him in to a joyus stupor, just before our new anti-hero Ezio Auditore Da Firenze sends him to his maker. Once again, the assassin leaps away in a Spiderman-esque pursuit through the city, over buildings and across a few gondolas. Once face to face with his real target, Ezio shows us that he’s got a new trick up his sleeve, so to speak. Twist zoom down to the dying masked man, and close up on the Templar amulet.
In this rendition of the game, our anti-hero is not brought up in the ways of the Assassin’s order, but adopts it to avenge his father who had been murdered by the Templars. in time, Ezio learns more of the ideology of the Assassin’s and their sacred mission to protect humanity’s free will. As seen in this trailer, we begin to move away from working exclusively in the shadows, but still maintaining secrecy.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, 2010
Still in Italy, we make our way to the Capital: ROME! In the background we see the symbols of the papacy, and Ezio makes his way through the Vatican’s courtyard. However, rather than dealing with the guards himself, they all seem to fall or be shot down by some unseen comrades. Much has happened since the previous game, and Ezio is working his way up the theological ladder and is battling against the Borgias. At the very end of the trailer, we see that Ezio has, infact, brought a few friends along with him.
This is the beginning of a new direction for the franchise. Here, our anti-hero is no longer working alone, having recruited new members to the order to aid him. Ezio is still fighting for the independence of humanity, but is clearly doing so much more openly. By now, Ezio has his own estate and is considered a nobleman, becoming a not-so-secret Bruce Wayne. I will admit, the addition of the Assassin understudies made for a completely different combat dynamic allowing for much larger brawls in the streets. I fear now, however, that this may have become the beginning of the end of stealth for the series…
Assassin’s Creed: Revalations, 2011
Ezio is an old man, but he’ll still kick your ass! We now make our way to Istanbul and take on the Byzantines. As the reduction of stealth and the conversely proportional increase in mass combat continues, we see Ezio essentially walk right up to the old outpost (Masyaf from the original AC) and start face-stabbing soldiers. The remainder of the game is much like this, with progressively fewer and fewer actual stealth missions. They even play on Ezio’s age by having a few side missions where he must race through the cities against younger thieves just to prove he’s still got it! In this game we are introduced to bomb crafting, which I’ll admit I rarely utilized. Once this game is completed, we are given a fitting fairwell to Ezio as he visits the library of Altaïr to uncover lost secrets. Once again, we are able to recruit new members to the order, and send them on missions to tend to other business that the Assassins are dealing with (known)world wide.
Assassin’s Creed 3, 2012
AMERICA! Well, technically not yet. This game takes place on what will become American soil. We see a new assassin, by the name of Ratonhnhaké:ton or simply “Connor” for those of us that cannot speak Abenaki. He is half british, half Mohawk, and easily the most brutal of the main storyline assassins. This is a completely new environment that is devoid from much of the glamour and romance of earlier settings, yet still critical in historic significance.
This game held so much potential, but has generally failed to live up to elevated expectations. for this game, I will go in to deeper detail:
Throughout the AC series, we have been acting out the story of an assassin who has committed their life to the ideals of the Assassin Order. They have been continually struggling against the Templars who are wishing to usher in a New World Order in which the world will exist under their rule. It is in this game where Connor and his father Haythem Kenway have a very deep conversation regarding this conflict of ideas. Connor, citing the ideals of the Assassins, claim that humanity should be free to choose their own path regardless of the consequences. Haythem claims that when humanity is free to choose, the general populace ultimately chooses it’s own demise through selfishness and greed. By taking control of humanity, the Templars will actually be saving them.
This time period in American history is steeped with all sorts of controversial hearsay. In our American history books, we are told the story of an oppressive government which the colonists honorably rose up against. Through in-game discussions with your modern day friends and conversing with the characters of history, it raises the possibility of a completely difference reality. These concepts can be fascinating and enlightening, and play an integral role in the development of Connor. As we run across the rooftops of Boston and New York City, we have a very immersive view of how the revolution came to be.
I have read several reviews of this game and other people’s opinion on how Connor is or isn’t committed to the ideals of the order, but I’ve noticed that they’ve missed out on key plot points: Connor trained in the order of Assassins as a means to an end, not out of a higher calling. His village was destroyed by the British, and he vowed revenge. Jump came to him in a dream, and told him to seek out the Assassin symbol. Through all of his dialogue, you can constantly hear him question the motives of both the Loyalists and the Patriots. Through all this, the central theme persists: He doesn’t care who wins this land as long as his people are safe. If his best bet is with the British, so be it. If it is with the Patriots and Washington’s army, he will aid them. It is not the order he is loyal to, it’s to himself and his people.
In this most recent rendition of AC, the concept of stealth is all but completely gone save a few instances in reconnaissance missions or eavesdropping for information. The combat mechanics have been revamped for increased mob fighting, which make for great brawls in the streets. However, Connor makes no effort to keep his identity secret nor to exist only in the shadows.
We get to recruit more friends to our cause, but rather than committing them to the Assassin Order, they are more swearing their allegiance to us and pledge to aid us in anyway upon a moments notice. My favorite being Stephane Chapheau, the angry french chef that comes to battle with a meat cleaver! Each recruit has a special tactical ability as well, such as creating a distraction, inciting a riot, or posing as British Officers to help you get by military checkpoints.
In this game, we are also introduced to Naval battles and mercantile trading. These take place generally up and down the east coast and in to the Caribbean. These are a great change of pace from the rest of the urban street fighting, and almost feel more like a mini-game within the main campaign. once these naval battles are won, mercantile trade routes become less risky, and you can trade goods that you manufacture on your homestead and find in the wild frontier.
So, one would think that with all these new additions I would be thoroughly giddy about the total experience, right? Here are the problems: in creating such an expansive experience, each aspect of the game felt completely disconnected. There was no incentive for me to discover and complete all the recipes for manufacture other than to say I did it. Much of the hunting on the frontier felt like monotonous waste of time. Also with the weapons available, I felt no need to collect them all or to purchase new ones at any point in the game because I was able to kill virtually every soldier with either my hidden blade or hatchet. The only difference using a war hammer or new axe would make is seeing a different death animation when I inevitably take them out with a counter attack. Much of what I liked of the original games was the quiet reserve of sneaking past a host of armed guards to retrieve a trinket or assassinate an official and retreat out of a castle without a single inhabitant knowing of my presence. While I did enjoy the brutality of Connor, this wasn’t my main draw to the franchise.
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, October 29th, 2013
Assassin’s of the Caribbean? Don’t get me wrong, the game looks like it’s going to be fun as hell, but dual pistols? Dual swords? Launching himself between Galleons? Becoming a Man of Legend? Yes, Ezio reached legend status, but only within the Brotherhood. Here, Edward Kenway is now the talk of the taverns apparently. It’s looking like I should just abandon all hope for methodical stalking and precision operations, and just go in with the flashiest of combat styles for all to see. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be reminiscent of the old beat’em up games of the 90’s, but with less electronica.
But this is where my disagreement ends. Yes, it’s getting flashier as the need to keep upping the proverbial ante to keep gamers entertained. Yes, they’re just responding to market demands for higher energy gaming and faster paced action, I accept all that. I just hope that they don’t abandon the Assassin vs Templar ideological struggle.
For as flashy as the Caribbean can be, let’s not forget why that area is famous for pirates. There are more than many sunken ships at the bottom of that sea. Gold is still being discovered today in expeditions. Those islands where home to all sorts of new world exploration, and powerful nobles eager to stake their claims in unsettled lands.What artifacts are still to be found? What religious relics are still sunk in the belly of a Spanish hold? Perhaps another piece of Eden? Did Juan Ponce de León actually find the Fountain of Youth?
By the way, I also noticed that at the end of the trailer it stated that it will also be available for Nest Gen consoles as well……C’mon Microsoft, just announce it already!!!