Assassin's Creed II

Assassin's Creed II Features for Xbox 360

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9Out of 10
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Warning: Contains plot spoilers for pretty much all the Assassin's Creed games

Assassin's Creed screenshot

As weird as it is to start an opinion piece on a video game franchise by slating a TV show, I hated Lost. I bought into JJ Abrams' mind-bending take on Castaway big time when it first aired. I even stuck with it for the entirety of the first season, but I rage-quit before the second series got underway.

The reason for this was, as much as I admired its strong writing, its barmy setting and its positively David Lynchian feel, I couldn't shake the feeling that the screenwriters on Lost didn't have an endgame in sight. It seemed to me that they were relying on the willingness of an audience to be led by intrigue alone for as long as possible before falling viewer numbers demanded they deliver a plot arch that something tangible.

Just for the record: before the end of the first season I serendipitously tuned into a radio talk show where they were discussing Lost's first season and what it all meant, and an American ex-pat confirmed my worst fears.

"I totally get where your listeners are coming from," she said. "I sympathise completely that UK viewers are confused about what's going on in Lost. I live in the US, and we're nearly done with season two, and we still don't know what's going on."

At that point, I cast Lost into the proverbial rubbish skip. I can forgive a storyteller who doesn't know where they're taking their yarn from the outset, and I accept that the writing process isn't an exact science. I know that sometimes a writer needs some time and space to work out where they're taking the plot of their story, and depending on the medium they're working in, this can take the form of a couple of dross TV show episodes, or some subpar comic book issues.

What I refuse to accept – what I viscerally reject – is the notion that its permissible for a writer to string their audience along indefinitely with the empty promise that there's any form of denouement, catharsis or closure somewhere down the line. This, to me, is a false contract. At some point, as a writer, you have to render unto your audience something beyond empty platitudes. This is true for even the most esoteric of authors; readers who accuse the likes of Burroughs and Pynchon of not playing with a full deck should've done the research before they plonked down cash for one of their books.

This brings me to Assassin's Creed, a series of games containing a narrative that I believe is beginning to err on the wrong side of the Lost with regards to its central plot.

Before my inbox explodes with hatemail from the AC faithful, allow me to make my position clear: I love Assassin's Creed. I could expound at length about the aspects of the series that both explain why I own every major iteration of the series, and why I've pre-ordered both Assassin's Creed III and Assassin's Creed: Liberation - but I've got limited space here and a lot more to say. So just trust me when I tell you I have a statue of Ezio Auditore da Firenze on my mantelpiece next to a picture of my family, and there's a reason for that. I'm also the only journalist I know who can type the name 'Ezio Auditore da Firenze' without having to look up the spelling for his name on Google, and there's a reason for that too. And it's not just because my wife would leave me for him if he were real. Bastard.

It's also because Ezio Auditore da Firenze is one of the greatest characters ever created in the history of gaming. If you've never played an AC game, I can't do much to convince you of what fans of this series know to be an irrefutable truth, save to say, play Assassin's Creed II. If you aren't interested in playing AC: Brotherhood after that and spending more time with Ezio, there's clearly something wrong with you.

Over the course of Assassin's Creed II, Brotherhood and Revelations, players can't help but engage with Ezio as if he were a genuine human being. In II, we watch as his family are executed in a petty political power play, and we share in his rage and thirst for revenge. In Brotherhood we walk in emotional lockstep with him as he hunts down the source of corruption in Italy that led to his world being turned upside-down, and his remaining loved ones having to flee to safety. In Revelations he feels tired and battle-scarred, fulfilling his mission stoically and grasping at pockets of human companionship as befits a man who has lived his entire adult life as a killer.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood screenshot

Ezio is the current lynchpin of the AC franchise, which may explain why Ubisoft has done so much towards laying the groundwork for his successor, Connor Kenway - a grim-faced half-British/half-Native-American freedom fighter. Right now he seems a bit one-note compared to Ezio, but admittedly it's early days yet. At any rate, he's more interesting than the series' original protagonist, Altair, who was only really distinguishable because he seemed to be the sole individual in the Medieval Middle East who had a 20th Century American accent. That having been said, in Revelations (and Bloodlines), players were offered a glimpse of Altair's personal side, and while it didn't set forums buzzing with fanfic, it certainly made Altair more compelling than in his original outing.

There's just one small problem. Assassin's Creed's central plot isn't about Altair, or Ezio, or Connor – or even Aveline, the female protagonist of the recently-announced AC: Liberation for the PS Vita. It's about Desmond, a bartender from the 21st Century. Seriously.

And this is where I return to my original concern about writers stringing their audiences along. Recently, Ubisoft announced plans to wrap up the narrative involving Desmond, and quite frankly, that comes as no surprise. Over the last couple of entries in the AC series, while players have been thrilled by the exploits of Ezio and intrigued by the revelations in Altair’s story, the central plot with Desmond has been allowed to stagnate, to the point that it's difficult to surmise that the game's writers had any clear direction for the character.

To be honest, the plot involving Desmond has been pretty uninteresting from the get-go. By the end of the first game we knew no more about him than we did at its outset. In Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood he was involved in some platforming levels, which were admittedly quite fun, but aside from the confusing death of one of the story's supporting characters, there wasn't much to get excited about. Assassin's Creed: Revelations was the absolute nadir for this narrative strand; players were forced into playing a rubbish first-person platform game while Desmond droned at length about his life. Surprisingly, for a man who was raised by assassins and then hunted by Templars, Desmond made his existence sound about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Now, this would have been fine if Desmond were some tangential character who players aren't meant to care much about – which, let's face it, is what the writers have allowed him to become over the last four games. But he wasn't. At the time his narrative strand completely fell apart, he was the character who powered the entire series. His battle with the Templars and his quest in the Animus to find the pieces of Eden were meant intrigue and enthral players. The problem is, because the plot involving him had become so unfocused, and because it had moved at such a glacial pace, players were hard-pressed to care about it at all.

Now that news has arrived that Desmond's story is about to be junked completely, his inclusion in the AC universe looks more like a mechanical concern rather than one that deals with the overall story. Looking back, it feels like both Desmond and the Animus were only ever created so the developers would have a convenient excuse to jump the action in their games between different time periods. If this was the case, then Desmond is the most superfluous character in all of gaming. Players are a loyal bunch; if you entertain them, they're more than prepared to follow a developer who wants to change the setting and evolve the mechanics of their IP while keeping a recognisable brand name stamped on the box. Just ask Ken Levine.

There's another reason the developers may have decided to cut Desmond out of the AC universe, other than the fact that his narrative strand has become so lousy and plodding. This may not be the case, but as a long time fan, I'm beginning to come around to the idea that Ubisoft never had an endgame in sight for his story. What they do have, however, is a desire to see up to 10 Assassin's games roll off their assembly line, and they know that if any sort of closure occurs in the Creed universe, their franchise is dead.

Assassin's Creed III screenshot

As things currently stand, without Desmond to power the Animus there will be no more trips to the past that involve playing with antique weaponry and leaping into bales of hay. The only way out for Ubisoft is to get rid of Desmond and introduce a new character, meaning fans will have to invest in a new lead - the fact that Assassin's Creed: Liberation is slated to have a female protagonist may provide some inkling as to who this replacement will be. Still, some chronic rewriting of the franchise's lore is necessary, as Desmond has been presented from day one as a confluence of important bloodlines. As such, his exit will require some explanation.

But if, as players, our investment in the story of Assassin's Creed is to be rewarded by something other than a gigantic slap in the face, at some point, the writers on the Assassin's Creed franchise are going to have to serve up an engrossing conclusion to Desmond's story. And while it may sound presumptuous of me to say so, I feel it's something they owe us. What I expect, what I want
as a paying customer and fan of this series, is for Desmond's exit to give me some shred of evidence that the writers on Assassin's Creed have always had some sort of clear path for the his story to follow.

What's more, if Ubisoft are planning to introduce a new character to power the Animus in the future, they may wish to ensure that the plot surrounding them is better written and less convoluted than Desmond's has been. I'm not saying that if they fail in this that I or any other Assassin's Creed fans will walk away from the series. However, I do think that if the writers don't have a decent idea about where they're taking the story set in the future – and evidence so far suggests this – they're better off doing away with it altogether, and sticking to the narratives set in the past.

Oh, and if they could call time on greeting players who sink around 15 to 20 hours into their games with a cliffhanger ending in every single entry in their series, that'd be nice too.

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Highest Rated Comment

Indecisive's Avatar

Indecisive

"I'm also the only journalist I know who can type the name 'Ezio Auditore de Firenze' without having to look up the spelling for his name on Google"

You misspelled Ezio Auditore Da Firenze.
Posted 16:25 on 26 June 2012

User Comments

Ipwnu678's Avatar

Ipwnu678

actually i see wat the apple is, and how desmonds story is the most important. this is why there is more desmond in AC3 than the previous games. if you dont see wat i mean see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jySyHryIp8


and i think its been hinted by ubisoft that AC4 will be based in colonial india - desmond surly isnt part italian, british, native american, middleeastern AND indian? thats a bit too far. this must only mean there will be a new character in AC4
Posted 04:35 on 01 July 2012
BC_Animus's Avatar

BC_Animus

"Assassin's Creed: The Desmond Years" TV series, from the producers of "LOST" - with "Assassin's Creed 4" as a tie-in game for the series. Ubisoft, you can pay me now in advance for that idea.
Posted 13:47 on 30 June 2012
p0rtalthinker's Avatar

p0rtalthinker@ Indecisive

Hahahah nicely done :thumbup:
Posted 20:30 on 26 June 2012
rbevanx's Avatar

rbevanx

Off topic but I can spell Prometheus without google but for the life of me still can't spell Geogerphy...Geherpohy...Nope, I will never be able to spell it without cheating.

On topic

@thedanyrand
I agree there are a lot of plot devices in the game (well series) but you could say the same with Inception for example and many other forms of media.
As long as it's enjoyable to play and it doesn't interfere with the gameplay I couldn't care less personally and to all credit the series has been very enjoyable with it's characters from Cristina in Brotherhood to Ezio's last moments in Revelations, just fantastic writing.

My fav moment was Ezio's opening speech in Revelations, just brilliant.

"Should anything happen to me, Claudia... should my skills fail me, or my ambition lead me astray, do not seek retribution or revenge in my memory, but fight to continue the search for truth, so that all may be benefit. My story is one of many thousands...and the world will not suffer if it ends too soon...."
Posted 18:35 on 26 June 2012
thedanyrand's Avatar

thedanyrand@ p0rtalthinker

Im totally ok with the animus not being in the game and it being more focused on the assassins story. I think of Desmond as more of a storytelling device than the main draw of the game. Just would lose things like the glyphs but Im sure they can replace it with something else or lose it all together.
Posted 17:34 on 26 June 2012
mydeaddog's Avatar

mydeaddog@ Indecisive

Yeah, that was a particularly bad place to have a typo!

I tweaked the spelling earlier, or at least I thought I did. Should be changed now - cheers!
Posted 16:56 on 26 June 2012
SGlen's Avatar

SGlen

I know what you mean about Desmond feeling like a meaningless link between protagonists but I think they've been planning to get rid of him in the 2012 AC game since the first AC. Everything else, such as what happens until then and how they get rid of him, seems made up along the way.

Also, I'm confused by what Desmond is actually trying to prevent. In AC2 they said something about the magnetic poles reversing and massive tectonic shifts (like in the film '2012'). In Brotherhood they talked about preventing an evil satellite launch by the Templars (like in almost every James Bond film) and in Revelations they showed a huge solar flare (like in 'The Knowing'). I hope AC3 makes sense of this but like the ending of Lost it probably wont.
Posted 16:51 on 26 June 2012
squidman's Avatar

squidman@ Indecisive

omg.
Posted 16:39 on 26 June 2012
Indecisive's Avatar

Indecisive

"I'm also the only journalist I know who can type the name 'Ezio Auditore de Firenze' without having to look up the spelling for his name on Google"

You misspelled Ezio Auditore Da Firenze.
Posted 16:25 on 26 June 2012
p0rtalthinker's Avatar

p0rtalthinker@ thedanyrand

There is no animus stuff in Liberation, or so I've heard. There isn't a character reliving her memories.

@Sleeper_6: Lucy was a double double agent (not sure if I got that right haha). She was working for the assassin's to spy on the Templars but really all along she was sided with the Templars. I didn't suspect this either until I played The Lost Archive dlc for Revelations where it's fully revealed. If you look back on the other games though it's hinted (for example: subject 16's message to Desmond after finding all the glyphs in Brotherhood).
Posted 04:08 on 26 June 2012
Sleeper_6's Avatar

Sleeper_6

I felt like I got a slap in the face at the end of Brotherhood.

I'm 20% of the way through revelations, and the voices that Desmond hears on the Animus island confirmed that Lucy is indeed dead. This sucks so terribly, because while the main story was about Ezio, you are reliving those memories through Desmond, and the fact that the Apple of Eden forced him to kill the one spark of light in his currently gritty reality just killed my interest, and I almost didn't pick up the next game.

While I love that they are fleshing out the characters of Ezio and Altair. I feel that the small amount of empathy and interest we had developed for Desmond was immediately squashed. I have not yet seen a reason for killing off Lucy! Did Kristen Bell want too much money? Or did they just want an excuse to rail off on another resolution-less tangent a la lost?

Do they really have a Satisfactory resolution in store for Desmond? I sure hope so. I don't usually let myself get emotionally invested into TV Shows or video games, and I feel that I have been taken for a ride here and agree 100% with the Author.
Posted 02:40 on 26 June 2012
thedanyrand's Avatar

thedanyrand@ Batmamerc

Never have to apologize to me for loving LOST lol.

I know enough about AC that it follows the world ending in 2012 storyline, but I cant see them ending it entirely. The ideas on this forum alone about Victorian England and Feudal Japan warrant a game and honestly they can put an assassin in either of those for whatever story and id be in. Desmond isnt what makes people buy the AC games its the assassinating through time so keep that going and the series will go on.

Just though of this but seems like this is happening with the Vita game or else Desmond is taking place in the female assassins story too.
Posted 00:15 on 26 June 2012
Batmamerc's Avatar

Batmamerc

@thedanyrand Sorry to go on bout lost as well didn't see all your post on the iOS app
Posted 22:58 on 25 June 2012
Batmamerc's Avatar

Batmamerc

@p0rtalthinker I agree with you and Nick Cowen totally, but I do think this should be last game in the franchise, since the ending in AC2 were the end of the world (2012) plot was really revealed I don't think they could continue after 2012 anyway as we should be dead after this if he doesn't stop the end, so they will be nothing left for another protagonist to do except revisit the past for a school project or something. The character may be poor but the underlying story line is fantastic and it's worth dealing with his whiney voice and boring personality. 

Also dude watch LOST from start to finish episode 1 again till the final episode, I, just like you, watched the first Series and half of the second and then gave up thinking same as you, they don't know where they going here, but after catching a couple of series 4 and been intrigued by wot the hell was happening n how the hell things had changed from a plane crash on a beach island I decided to start again from the beginning and never looked back. watching them pretty much back to back (a few episodes a night) made it all make sense more, it's possibly the best show ever made and there will never be another like it again, and now it's finished you know there is an ending too, everything gets answered and tied up, it's brilliant I have now watched it twice and when I retire in 60 odd years I'll watch it all again lol. By series 3 you will be hooked and by the end you will be very sad that it ended. it's one of the things to do before you die just like playing AC from the beginning and Mass Effect. 
Posted 22:57 on 25 June 2012
p0rtalthinker's Avatar

p0rtalthinker

The accusation that they didn't have a clear progression for Desmond is true, but that's not a bad thing. They had no idea how big of a hit the series would be, so naturally they had to add in some extra bits and pieces to keep the games happening. But that's pretty much like every story ever created. While writers for TV shows and Movies and Books do have a clear vision for where they want to go, a lot of times its the feedback from the fans or a natural progression of writing the story that actually evolves into something different over time. It's called revising and it's a good thing; I'm SURE you've never heard of it :p

This is exactly the problem I see with AC III and my only worry with the game: how are they going to juggle this new Connor character when whats most important for Desmond at the moment is finding the temples and stopping the end of the world basically, not hob doddleing in the animus again. It's been hinted at that his state with the animus, aka the "bleeding effect" has gotten so severe he probably shouldn't be taking any extended trips with his ancestors for at least a little while. While I'm excited at the prospect and setting for AC III, I'd have been much more happy if they had just dedicated AC III to Desmond and fleshing out both his story and character. After all, he's the bloody reason for all the training and long hours spent on uncovering all the secrets of his ancestors. Anyways yeah I'll stop blabbering. I just hope they don't shaft Desmond completely in this next game and at least give him a good send off if this is indeed his conclusion. Cause contrary to popular opinion,l I don't have a problem with his character. A little dull at times but I think it's something that they could work with and improve.
Posted 17:48 on 25 June 2012

Game Stats

Technical Specs
Release Date: 20/11/2009
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Action
No. Players: One
Rating: BBFC 15
Site Rank: 1,095
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