The evolution of Assassin's Creed
The Assassin’s Creed franchise is mostly known for two things—being set in time periods and locations that hardly any other game has explored, and having a batshit insane conspiracy theory story. With the recent unveiling of the next game in the series—Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag—this may be the perfect time to look at the history of the series so far. Keep in mind, though, that we're only looking at the major multiplatform games for now. As a result, all the games on the PSP, DS, 3DS, and PS Vita haven't been mentioned.
Assassin’s Creed - 2007
The first Assassin’s Creed was originally a proof-of-concept for a new Prince of Persia game, but, for whatever reason, Ubisoft decided to make it its own game. It takes place in 1191 AD in the Holy Land. You play Altaïr ibn La-Ahad—an assassin who has been disgraced and must redeem himself by eliminating nine men who are prolonging the Third Crusade. While this may describe most of the story, it doesn’t end there.
The franchise turned out to have science-fiction and conspiracy theory trappings. You actually play everyman Desmond Miles. Miles was kidnapped by megacorporation Abstergo and was put into a machine dubbed the Animus where he is forced to live through the events of his ancestor Altaïr in order to help Abstergo find a hidden ancient relic. It is through this portion of the story that we learn about the ancient war that has been taking place between two factions—the Templars and the Assassins.
The Holy Land was a great place to kick off the mythos
The first game laid the foundations of gameplay for the rest of the series. You could move around in two modes – high profile and low profile. When in high profile, you can run, scale buildings, jump on and off obstacles, with the tradeoff being that you seem more suspicious to guards. Low profile had you move slower, but you could blend in with similarly-robed scholars who roamed the Holy Land at the time, thus giving you a great way to stay hidden till you got the perfect time and place to strike.
All of the primary antagonists of the game turned out to not be as evil as you were led to believe. The Templars always believe that they are doing the right thing, but are curiously either blissfully ignorant, or straight out don’t care about the implications of their actions.
The game ended with a hook for a sequel, and was quite successful. It was praised for its innovative (at the time) take on stealth, but was criticised for repetitive gameplay and having too many action sequences towards the end of the game. Needless to say, though, it did manage to get a sequel.
Assassin’s Creed II - 2009
The next game in the series was Assassin’s Creed II. With it, we saw a major shift in the setting of the game. Instead of the Holy Lands during 1191 AD, we went to Italy a few hundred years later to the Renaissance era. The character this time around was Ezio Audiotore da Firenze. The game starts out in Florence with the birth of Ezio. His parents are inadvertently killed right as he discovers his heritage as an assassin, and he sets out for revenge.
In the present, the game picks up immediately after the end of Assassin’s Creed. Desmond and Lucy have to escape from Abstergo to an assassin hideout. The main aim, this time around, is to have Desmond learn Ezio’s abilities through the “bleeding effect”, so that he’s better equipped to fight the Templars, aka Abstergo.
Ezio was a very popular character
Assassin’s Creed II managed to take all the criticisms leveled against the first game and fixed them. Instead of having a repetitive mission structure of having to find information and kill the target, ACII followed a more linear path where everything happened in the story missions. The game also brought secret missions through messages hidden by Subject 16. These missions served to fill in a lot of the backstory of the modern world, even leading to somewhat frightening implications because of parallels in the real world.
The game, along with Ezio, was a major hit… so much that the next couple of games stuck with Ezio and filled out his life’s story.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood - 2010
The next game, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, started off immediately after the events of ACII (notice a pattern here?), as Ezio escapes from Rome in the aftermath of his battle against the Pope. The game tells the story of how Ezio becomes the head of the assassin brotherhood, and brings some new gameplay elements.
Desmond is living through Ezio’s memories this time around to find out where he had hidden a secret relic, called a piece of Eden. For Ezio, the story revolves around driving the Templars out of Italy to keep them away from the piece of Eden. The new gameplay element revolved around the central theme of Ezio becoming the leader of the assassin brotherhood. It involved you finding people who are willing to fight against the tyranny of the Templars and training them. They could come at any time to help you at the touch of a button.
Ezio becomes the head of the Assassin's Brotherhood
Another new feature that Brotherhood brought to the franchise was the inclusion of a new and rather innovative multiplayer game mode. The multiplayer was framed as Templars practicing their Assassin-killing techniques by using the Animus. Maps were set around Italy, and the games involved each player getting a target. Players were rewarded for stealth with higher points, and by extension, higher XP gains.
Once again, the game was a huge success, and both the brotherhood system and the multiplayer modes were lauded by fans and critics alike.