With the reveal of Assassin’s Creed Unity coming this Holiday 2014, I began to look back on the series as a whole. While I can praise Assassin’s Creed for delivering a unique experience that is akin to a “history simulator” with an engrossing story of a war between Assassins and Templars, I felt incredibly let down by the “modern” aspect of the game. The story of Desmond Miles began as an incredible premise but left many dissatisfied as it went on. What started as a big bang culminated with a quiet whimper. Let’s discuss.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR ASSASSIN’S CREED SERIES
Back in 2007, Assassin’s Creed was released and began its quest to take over the gaming world. With a premise that crossed between history and sci-fi, the game showed us the lives of modern-day bartender Desmond Miles and the proficient yet reckless assassin Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad. While the former acted more as a framing device for the high-profile assassinations, the initial idea behind it was actually rather interesting, especially from a sci-fi viewpoint. Desmond Miles was a former assassin in training who was kidnapped by the very faction he was trained to fight and is forced into a machine to live out the memories of his assassin ancestors in order to reveal locations of “Pieces Of Eden” – treasures that hold powers to control the thoughts of mankind. Convoluted? Kinda. Interesting? Very much so.
Fast-forward to Assassin’s Creed 2 and Desmond escapes from the Templar’s facility with the help of his assassin allies. The whole set up for 2’s modern day story is that Desmond must train again to learn to fight for the inevitable battle between the Assassins and Templars. Fair enough, I thought to myself. Desmond would have to eventually learn to combat the Templars because the story is going to lead up to a modern day Desmond using his assassin skills to help even the odds, right? I was sort of right. By Brotherhood, Desmond was certainly using his proficient gifts of agility, parkour and combat for the greater good… by turning on the power for the Animus machines to work. Wow.
It was at the point of Brotherhood that the intentions of Desmond’s role were becoming painfully clear. He was to simply act as a tool to move the plot forward instead of being a globe-trotting assassin finding Pieces Of Eden and stopping the Templars like 2 foreshadowed. Nothing more, nothing less. The 50/50 plot of modern setting to historical setting was thrown out the window. No longer was Desmond’s story of any real importance in comparison to the new assassin Ezio and his origin story, but rather an optional adventure to take part in. I could almost hear the developers saying “It’s there if you want to play it, I guess. I dunno. You don’t have to. HOW ABOUT THAT EZIO AUDITORE THOUGH?” Brotherhood had a strong moment at the end where you were let loose with Desmond’s exploration as you traversed the Colosseum ruins. It was actually pretty cool and offered a glimpse of what I imagined the modern day setting of Brotherhood could have been like. I understand that it is up to the developers and not a fan to decide how to story progresses but it really felt like Desmond’s story had taken a back seat. When Ubisoft showcase a new title in the Assassin’s Creed franchise or there is a review of the games, most of the time it is regarded as necessary to mention that the “modern sections” are optional or really brief. Isn’t that odd? What was once a strong focus of the series has been tagged as “optional”. The modern setting was always a “framing device”; a sort of narrative path to allow for the stronger story of Altair and Ezio to be told but by Revelations, was stripped back to a bare-bones minimum.
The modern day portions of Assassin’s Creed has definitely left the fanbase divided. Some loved the idea behind Desmond’s story, others felt it was needless and interrupted the flow of the other story. Whatever your opinion, Desmond’s story was practically all build up. The training, the Eagle Vision, all of it was a preamble to what many imagined would be a modern day setting with Desmond as the main character. Had this happened, this would have left fans in uproar as one of the strongest points of Assassin’s Creed is the journey to the past, to experience a simulation of a culture that has been long forgotten. That’s why I believe the ending of 3 was so abrupt. The story of Desmond just ended poorly. All that build up was for practically nothing, there was no satisfying end. They wanted to do away with the idea that there could be a modern day Assassin’s Creed by doing away with the modern day protagonist and starting fresh for Assassin’s Creed 4. Desmond Miles’ story began with such promise and had such a good build-up before performing a leap of faith, missing the haystack completely and landing flat on its face.
So there you have it. The story of Desmond Miles began as a build-up for a modern Assassin’s Creed but the series’ success was his own downfall. His story suffered to make room for the more interesting characters of Altair, Ezio and Connor. Desmond, for the most part, was not regarded as anything but bookends for the story. While those who hated the modern setting rejoiced at his departure, I lamented at the loss of seeing him go in a less than satisfying exit and also felt saddened at the prospect of seeing a modern day Assassin’s Creed fade away. While many say that Watch_Dogs will satisfy the urge to see a modern day Assassin’s Creed, I can’t help but wonder what could have been. With Assassin’s Creed Unity coming this year as well as another untitled project, it will be interesting to see how the modern day setting will feature. Will it have another faceless and voiceless character like Black Flag? Or will it bring about something more substantial than a simple “framing device”?
Were you a fan of the modern settings in Assassin’s Creed and Desmond Miles’ adventures or were you glad to see him leave? Did you feel dissatisfied with his departure? What do you think Assassin’s Creed Unity will do with its main “modern protagonist”, if there is one? Let us know in the comments below what you think!