Assassin’s Creed – Ranking the franchise up to Origins

The world and their dog are all over Assassin’s Creed: Origins right now (at least in the gaming community), dissecting every inch of Ubisoft’s epic ongoing adventure series about a brotherhood of Assassins across thousands of years of secret human history. It’s a gaming series almost without equal in terms of scope, magnitude and how it struck a chord with pop culture, but not every entry from the games studio has necessarily been a winner.

We’ll be giving some initial thoughts about how Origins looks and feels later in the week, but we thought we might muse and break down the previous entries in the series from ‘eh’ to ‘wow’, in descending order, so if you are doing a play through, you know which ones to prioritise!

Assassin’s Creed: Rogue (2014)

Though none of the Assassin’s Creed games are objectively bad (though some may disagree when it comes to Unity), Rogue is an example of one that just didn’t need to exist at all. After Unity made the transition to the new Playstation 4, Ubisoft still wanted a piece of the PS3 pie and Rogue was made as little more than a bulked up sub-game to cash in on that market, working as a light tie-in to Unity and an addition to the universe in its own right.

It actually has an interesting hook, given it concerns Shay Cormac, an Irish Templar agent who’s story we witness before he ends up killing the father of Unity‘s main character. Set roughly in the mid-1700’s, it bridges Unity and the world of AC3 to an extent but while its interesting to see a story on the other side of the fence, the game was utterly forgettable and way too slim to be worthy in its own right. It should have been a PS4 Store add on.

Assassin’s Creed (2007)

Where it all began. It almost seems churlish to put the original Ubisoft game so low, because its not remotely a bad piece of work; indeed, given the format it spawned and a world with such a rich and fascinating mythology, Assassin’s Creed stands as one of the most iconic gaming experiences certainly of the last decade, if not this century so far. It’s just been eclipsed so deeply by the competency and depth of subsequent sequel games, playing it now would feel like a barren experience.

That being said, Altair Ibn-la’Ahad, the 12th century assassin who establishing the visual iconography of the series, remains one of the most interesting protagonists in the series, while the setting of the Crusades in the Middle Ages, with haunting Middle Eastern towns such as Acre, lend it a very specific and unerringly strange feel in places, especially flanked by the modern day story introducing Desmond Miles and Abstergo Industries. Jesper Kyd’s score, too, is terrific.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (2011)

Following the rampant success of Assassins Creed II, Ubisoft simply couldn’t let go of their (admittedly excellent) main character Ezio Auditore da Firenze, and over the next two years decided to release smaller ‘sequel’ games, extending ACII into a trilogy set during the Renaissance of the late 1400’s into the early 1500’s, charting the life all the way from Ezio’s birth to his old age. Revelations, the final part of the trilogy, is arguably also the weakest.

From a mythological standpoint, it’s interesting, given how it moves the action to Constantinople and ties Ezio’s world into that of Altair, allowing us to learn our first assassin’s fate (and play as him too for part of it), but it was just far too quick and threadbare. Not pointless in the same way as Rogue, and it deserves to exist for allowing a beautiful end to Ezio’s story alone, but again – should it have been a full game release? That’s debatable.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014)

Surely the most controversial Assassin’s Creed game of all time? Not for the content, as Unity is honestly pretty milquetoast in that regard. Rather, Ubisoft majorly dropped the ball with this one, angering many fans by releasing a glitchy, substandard game which took advantage of the new PS4. They rushed it, basically, and had to spend ages releasing patches and apologising to fans that Unity just didn’t work properly. A real fustercluck in PR terms, and it almost sank the franchise.

The game itself is probably better than people gave it credit for, though, blinded as they were by glitches. Set during the French Revolution, it presents a stunning, massive 18th century Paris in all its glory, riven with detail. Yes, our hero Arno is a bellend and despite the size of the city its lacking that same expansive, world-spanning scope of other entries in the franchise, but when it works it looks and plays really well. A touch underrated.

Assassin’s Creed III (2012)

Speaking of underrated… Assassins Creed III deserves more love. This had a tough act to follow, after how people dug Altair and then fell massively in love with Ezio and the Renaissance setting. Ubisoft strove to create an epic in telling the story of the American War of Independence, and the conflict of Connor Kenway, an Assassin torn between British and Native American roots, while in the future, the apocalyptic story of Desmond Miles and his attempts to destroy Abstergo reach a conclusion.

Many people were fixated on the admittedly foolhardy cliffhanger ending of the Desmond story by the end to miss how ACIII really tried to push the envelope; a major chunk of the formative United States was playable, you could negotiate ships in battles and you would need to hunt and skin animals to stay alive. Many of the elements we take for granted in future AC games had some genesis in ACIII and though they were successfully built on, this third, difficult child deserves some revisionist love.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010)

The middle game in the Ezio trilogy and it’s a pretty stone cold winner. Brotherhood in many ways could have been a significant fail, playing essentially as a sequel (or more like, coda) to ACII, but its expansive and innovative enough to feel like a game in its own right, and genuinely can’t be much smaller a piece of work than its predecessor. It was also immensely playable, with a strong storyline as an older Ezio hunts Cesare Borgia in his attempts to stop the Templars.

Another reason Brotherhood worked so well is how it introduced the opportunity for Ezio to cultivate his own unique team of assassins he could deploy to help him in the field, and take on associated missions to build up XP. It worked like a charm in the huge, beautifully realised Rome setting. Plus, it has one hell of a whopping shocker in the modern day Desmond storyline no one saw coming. Easily the best sequel game in the series so far.

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015)

If Unity almost put to rest the Assassin’s Creed franchise, you can credit Syndicate (previously known as Victory), for giving it a much needed kiss of life. With a gorgeous, detailed and electric Victorian London setting, Syndicate brings the franchise as close to the modern day as its probably ever likely to get – especially given the clever Animus warping sojourns into the First and Second World Wars you get to experience along the way. It’s a game which utterly takes advantage of the PS4 in a way Unity struggled to, never feeling rushed in the same manner.

It also allows you, at last, to play as a female Assassin in Evie Frye, who alongside her brother Jacob forms one half of a unique double protagonist who you can flick between at various points of the game (similar to the innovation of Grand Theft Auto V). They’re cheeky Cockney Assassins in a world of high and low class, a brilliant fusion of old and new ideas, and a great story to boot. Syndicate proved there was life in the old dog yet.

Assassin’s Creed II (2009)

For many years, Assassin’s Creed II was untouchable. It’s still, in terms of story, the true epic of the series and almost certainly will never be bettered. If Altair is the most iconic visual Assassin of the franchise, then Ezio is the most well rounded, fully realised protagonist the series has ever delivered. His story is magnificent, and Ubisoft take us from his very first steps through to his journey to defeat Rodrigo Borgia aka Pope Alexander and his Templar schemes of world domination. It’s a stunning achievement.

It still looks and plays remarkably well too for a PS3 game almost ten years old. Who can forget the joy of lapping up Venice while sailing around it in a gondola? There really was nothing like it. Equally, the glyphs which uncover a tantalising video across the game only serves to deepen and mythologise the bigger Precursor ideas which start to become apparent in Desmond’s ongoing storyline here. The whole thing is just glorious from start to finish.

Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag (2013)

We have a winner, ladies and gentlemen. Black Flag really is Assassin’s Creed at its best. Firstly – pirates. Show me one person who doesn’t love a pirate and I’ll show you a three-headed monkey. Edward Kenway, our buccaneer throughout and grandfather of ACIII‘s Connor, isn’t the greatest protagonist of all time but he’s a joy to play as he sails around the Caribbean taking on missions, pillaging, stealing, exploring and just having a whale of a time. Much like us.

Black Flag was the first game that truly felt like it made the most of the expansive world possibilities. It built on everything ACII & III had developed. Origins is probably the first game to surpass it for size, it took *months* to do everything on that map. Months. And it never became boring, not once. Yes, doing away with a modern day narrative was a bit of a shame and the actual Precursor mythology stuff is thin, but for a pirating experience on the high seas, there hasn’t been a more involving and engaging game yet.

Where would you place Assassin’s Creed: Origins on this ranking? What is your AC game ranking? Let us know!

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