Assassin’s Creed. These two words identify what is quite possibly my favorite franchise, my love for it perhaps even bettering my love for Uncharted. But there is a problem with the series as a whole: the modern day component tying it all together is functionally dead and nonexistent, and I don’t have much hope for what Unity and Rogue have to offer, either.
***FAIR WARNING: SPOILERS FOR ENTIRE ASSASSIN’S CREED SERIES AHEAD***
You read that right – I believe that Assassin’s Creed has lost the heft and “point” to the in-Animus segments. Don’t get me wrong, I love the gameplay and storyline that the ancestor component presents in all titles of the franchise, and they make a great standalone product, but they only make sense and carry significance as part of the overarching modern-day storyline, originally spearheaded by the now-defunct importance given to Desmond Miles in the first five series titles (AC 1, 2, Brotherhood, Revelations, and ending with 3). Without the clear direction and worthwhile gameplay in the modern-day conflict between Assassins and Templars, the Animus frame tales throughout the series stand as only fun and cryptic romps through the eyes of different Assassins who all happen to in some way be related to one another (each of their children somehow linking the featured Assassin to the birth of the Assassins later chronologically-wise in the series history).
Before beginning, some basics: Desmond Miles is Subject 17 of Abstergo Industry’s Animus Project. Abstergo Industries is the public mask of the modern-day Templars, the “bad-guys,” at least at first glance. The Animus is a device allowing the user to explore genetic memories, working on the premise that Dr. Warren Vidic, a high-ranking Templar, discovered – genes carry the memories of our ancestors, and we can access, view, and relive them.
So where, when and why did Ubisoft effectively doom the modern-day story to being gutted? Well, Assassin’s Creed 2 is part to blame. The building up of Desmond’s role in the franchise is primarily in this title of the series. The documents and conversations in Assassin’s Creed 1, where players enjoyed the Crusades as the Assassin Altair Ibn la Ahad, came full circle in AC 2’s epic conclusion in terms of discovering just how important Desmond is to saving the world from disaster. What kind of disaster, you ask? Well, catastrophic solar storms released by the sun that would wreak havoc and cause turmoil and discord across the Earth. Yep, just a regular day at the office, isn’t it? All in a days work? If only that was the case for Desmond Miles, souped up as he was with Ezio Auditore da Firenze’s skills via the Animus-borne Bleeding Effect in the final modern-day fight scene of AC2.
Then came Brotherhood, making us players feel a little more bad-ass (and what’s a game if you don’t feel a little bad-ass at some point while playing it?) in the form of Desmond parkouring through Monteriggioni, as well as updating the hidden blade he used at the end of AC2 into a more discreet form minus the arm guard. This title saw the direct continuation of Ezio’s story after the end of AC 2. However, in classic Assassin’s Creed fashion, it ends with a cliffhanger where, after grasping the Apple of Eden that Ezio stored away deep underneath the Roman Coliseum, Desmond is compelled by an irresistible force to *gasps* stab and kill his romantic interest and fellow Assassin, Lucy Stillman. Desmond, understandably, falls into a coma with the shock of what he had done.
Revelations came next, bringing with it a sense of sadness and reflection. Why sadness and reflection? Not only is Desmond in a coma and placed into the Animus by his dad to stabilize him, but his mind also becomes trapped in the “Safe Mode” of the Animus. He wakes up on a seemingly-deserted island with tall arches, but is soon assailed by none other than the digital ghost version of Subject 16, Clay Kaczmarek. In addition to finishing up the story of Ezio, Desmond can also explore the story of his past through a first-person platforming experience. With the guidance and counsel of Clay, Desmond works out how to put his shattered mind back together while rounding out the story of the later years of Ezio: find the nexus where and when Altair and Ezio are linked together in order to separate the identities of his two ancestors from his own. Heavy stuff, and it gets heavier still. As part of a DLC segment, Desmond can explore the memories of Clay in a similar first-person experience to his own, where players learn that Lucy Stillman turned out to be a Templar agent even when she said she was still loyal to the Assassins, having put her allegiance with Warren Vidic. But I digress.
Finding the nexus transports Desmond’s consciousness to an extradimensional area where he converses with Jupiter, one of four members of Those Who Came Before alongside Minerva, Juno, and Tinia, a race of beings who were extremely intelligent and powerful, but ultimately mortal. Desmond learns of what he must do in order to prevent the solar storm about to be unleashed upon the Earth on December 21, 2012, as it did before, killing much of the human race and Those Who Came Before. He must find the Grand Temple and complete the projects of Jupiter and the other three TWCB, who tried to engineer ways to save the Earth from the impending solar storm of their time, in order to save the Earth in modern time.
Desmond manages to wake himself up after finding the nexus and talking with Jupiter, surrounded by his father, William, and his two fellow teammates from AC 2 and Brotherhood, Shaun and Rebecca. And I can’t help but have to mention the cheesy line he says when he wakes up: “I know what we need to do.” But it certainly set the tone for AC 3 , and AC 3 is where it all ends for Desmond.
Time skips forward a little at the start of AC 3, with Desmond and company arriving at the site of the Grand Temple, located by William, Shaun, and Rebecca prior to Desmond waking up, according to the events chronicled on the acinitiates.com timeline (by the way, the website is being upgraded right now, and does not show the above event, only the Initiates Twitter feed and some links). The time skip is evident by the change of clothes by Desmond, although I didn’t notice how long after the date of the end of AC Revelations is from the date of the first messages available to view in the modern times section of AC 3.
Desmond and company open the entrance to the Grand Temple and find much of it in shambles. However, after inserting a battery-like cube into a slot, the Temple awakened, revealing where Desmond is meant to go: a walled-off area with the butt of a bridge jutting out into an empty abyss. It is at upon seeing the lock on the wall blocking the bridge, however, that Desmond suddenly loses consciousness and begins the journey of Connor Kenway, an Assassin during the Revolutionary War, in order to learn where to find the Key to the lock. Along the way, Desmond and company visit several places in America and in Brazil to retrieve more battery cubes, called power sources, to power up other areas of the Temple and extend the bridge to whatever is at its end. Powering other areas of the Temple also opened up previously-inaccessible areas to explore. When exploring, Desmond sometimes enters a dream-like sequence where Juno explains the failed solutions that her and the other three TWCB tried to create to save the Earth.
Before continuing, it’s important I mention the story of Daniel Cross, who was Subject 4 in Abstergo’s Animus Project. Kidnapped at a young age and with both parents killed in the altercation with Abstergo, Daniel Cross, which is probably not his real name, is the descendant of Nikolai Orelov, a member of the Russian cell of the Assassin Brotherhood. He was manipulated and run through the Animus an untold number of times as part of Warren Vidic’s attempt to engineer a sleeper agent who would assassinate the Mentor of the Assassin Brotherhood, who is the spiritual and intellectual leader of the organization, when and if he met him. Unluckily for Cross, Vidic’s brainwashing program implanted in him a desire to find the Mentor, and through a series of events too long to recount here, he got that opportunity to see him personally. The sleeper agent programming, however, still kicked in 20 years after it was implanted, and Daniel assassinated the Mentor in his own office, effectively sending the Assassin Brotherhood into disarray and confusion. Daniel, in his hurt and shock at what he had done, chose to return to Abstergo, the one place with people who accepted him and who had nurtured him since he was a child, albeit in a cruel and unusual way. Cross divulged the locations of all of the Assassin cells he visited while campaiging to see the Mentor, information which the Templars took full advantage of by raiding all of the Assassin cells during the chaos in the aftermath of the Mentor’s death.
With that knowledge, we can continue our analysis. Near the end of AC 3, William Miles, Desmond’s father, is lured into a Templar trap while investigating a fake lead on another power source, and is being held captive by Warren Vidic in the very Abstergo Industries building where Desmond was experimented on in AC 1. Desmond, in a fit of rage and concern, walks into the Abstergo building and, seeing that he has no hope of staying incognito in a building full of hostiles, proceeds to use his hidden blade and a very large machete to make his way through Abstergo security to the top floor. This was perhaps the most bad-ass stand-out level of AC 3, topped with the cherry of having to kill a miserable and hallucinating Daniel Cross, who is now much older and only uses his fists and a gun, instead of the hidden blade he is seen using in the Subject 4 collection of comic books. Reaching the top floor after taking out Cross, Desmond uses the Apple of Eden (a device created by TWCB to make human slaves do their bidding) to force the guards protecting Vidic to shoot themselves, saving the last guard to shoot Vidic and them himself as well.
Having rescued his father, Desmond then completes the final portion of Connor Kenway’s story in the Animus and discovers where he hid the Temple key. After retrieving it, Desmond finally opens the wall blocking the now-fully-extended bridge. At the other side is a sphere that Juno urges Desmond to touch to save the world, but Minerva then materializes, telling him not to touch it. Minerva informs Desmond and company that if he touches it, Juno will be freed from the prison sphere that TWCB trapped her in out of fear of her ambitions to enslave the human race. But then Juno tells Desmond the cost of not freeing her: the Earth will burn, and those who survive will look to Desmond as a savior, and with him at the helm, the human race will flourish once again in harmony with nature. When Desmond’s death inevitably comes, however, his followers will twist his messages and lessons and use them to control and manipulate, sending humanity back to worship, greed, and impurity. If Desmond does free Juno at the cost of his life, then the world will be saved, and Juno will be free to do what she will with the human rac
Faced with these choices, Desmond elects to save the human race and sacrifice himself….and that’s the end. That’s the anti-climactic end. One splurge of full-assassin bad-assery, and then they kill him. One game in the franchise where we full-on fight in the modern-day storyline, and they kill the protagonist shortly after it. Dang it.
What AC 4 tried to do with the first-person Abstergo Entertainment employee was alright, but nowhere near as satisfying and developed as what Ubisoft did with Desmond. However, despite these grievances, I enjoyed the deep narrative elements hidden in conversations, emails, documents, and videos you can unlock and collect, such as what Abstergo did with Desmond’s body and DNA after “recovering” it from the Grand Temple site.
I don’t know for sure what Unity and Rogue will have to offer in terms of modern-day sequences, but if Ubisoft keeps the modern-day storyline going like how it did in AC 4, then everything won’t be Denver in Assassin’s Creed land. Th