Special Playthrough; Assassin’s Creed
In this, the finale of FBT’s epic playthough, he chooses his favourite AC, argues which is the true Creed and picks the best Assassin - all he has to do is go on an Odyssey …
Part Ten, Odyssey
And I thought Origins was epic at 50-plus hours. Those are rookie numbers! This makes Origins look like a DLC. But the end is in sight. Oh, no, that’s not the ending, it’s another twenty missions. Okay, now the end is in sight! Oh, no …
This! Is! Sparta! Modern-era Layla recovers Gerard Butler’s spear and finds DNA for her uber-Animus. Hold up, that spear is thousands of years old and DNA is still on it? You dug it up out of the ground! We could be about to relive the life of a passing earthworm. It’s not Leonidas’ DNA either, it’s two siblings but the same memory. How does that work? We’re a long way from Altair’s ancestor being an ex-barman.
431 BCE and we’re Kassandra, a Rhona Rousey-looking Misthios, or mercenary. Offered a contract to assassinate a Spartan general during the war with the Athenians, Kass is thrust into an epic journey where she chooses between her Spartan heritage and carefree life as a Misthios, chooses to reunite her family or not, chooses who wins the war, chooses to ignore or destroy a Cult manipulating events, chooses to embrace her Isu-related legacy or not, and we chose to ignore how we influence the outcome of a memory.
The AC story was always just an excuse to run about in the past, but it had rules, logic; if we didn’t follow history, we desync’ed. But this is a choice-driven RPG so the AC structure becomes jarring, and when we reach the end of this Greek tragedy and it tries to tie into the AC narrative, the whole thing disappears up its own arse. And it takes so long to get there.
And if you wanted proof this isn’t an AC game, we don’t have a hidden blade. That was kept for one of Odyssey’s DLCs (what, we have to pay extra to see the origins of the series’ most iconic image?) Instead, we have the Spearhead, an Isu artefact. Kass uses it for some brutal kills, easily pushing it through then pulling it out the other side of hapless guards and a perk lets you fling it like a mid-range sniper rifle and chain kills; it’s beyond cool but it ain’t a frickin’ hidden blade is it! But we’re not an assassin either.
As a Misthios, you roam the lands doing deeds, but it doesn’t resonate like Bayek’s wandering Medjay because his need to help, and desire to avenge his son kept you satisfyingly committed and distracted. Plus this isn’t an AC story, it’s background and it’s so far in the past to have no real relevance to what we did in prime AC games. Kass’s journey is a lot more slow-burn, and the world is just overwhelmingly big it becomes a slog. This is a gigantic Far Cry meets Jason and the Argonauts. Black Flag had a similar approach, in that Edward got pulled into the Assassin’s world and away from a Pirate’s life, but there’s no Creed for Kass, just tons of plots pulling her every which way. So much going on.
And at sea it’s even bigger. Kass gains a ship, the Adrestia and you can hire lieutenants - as in pressgang them, offer safe haven or blackmail them into joining. I was asked by a woman to off her ex-girlfriend, but I offered the ex a spot on the ship instead. Returning for my reward I invited the woman aboard too. Awkward. Each has a perk to aid the Adrestia, which has upgrades that would make Kenway proud.
Ship battles are insane close-quarter mayhem with arrows and javelins flung about, collisions sending the crew flying, smoke and fire, wood splintering everywhere – get up enough speed and you can even cleave ships in two. Once you’ve bested a ship, your crew will do a shield and sword slamming ‘hurrah!’, leap across and beat the shit out of everyone.
The ships are swaying, the commotion draws sharks and everyone’s hacking and slashing. You can even board ships you’ve not yet crippled to take out the crew – during one heated battle, I leapt over and was busy swashbuckling before realising my crew hadn’t joined me. A mutiny? No, I’d jumped aboard the wrong ship.
The water is beautiful but, sharks. They’re huge and attracted to anything in the water; whales, dolphins, boats, blood trails, me swimming back to my ship. There’s rafts to navigate between islands, but they can break apart in the huge waves. I’m staying on land.
So. Much. Land. The islands and mainland take days to rinse, thanks to tons of exploration, distractions, rewards, treasures, countless side quests, random encounters, time-sensitive missions, side-story missions, an arena to fight in, animals to hunt, hundreds of locations to be awed by and statues to take inappropriate selfies with.
Taking over forts, camps and killing a local leader weakens whichever side owns the region. Then you pick Sparta or Athens and get an epic battle. Half the time I don’t even know who’s side I’m on but they’re worth doing just for something definite happening. The war is just the background to something bigger. Much bigger. So goddamn big.
Let’s concentrate on the Cult first. Pre-Templars, we encounter them in two subplots, the first is their connection to her family and the Isu, the other is an AC-esque hunt, where we stop their vague plans and off them all. Side missions and clues identify lower-level members, offing them reveals their bosses, and killing them reveals clues about the Grand Master. You can accidentally discover them too; I once robbed a house and got spotted by the owner. I ‘defended’ myself and got ‘Cult member defeated’. One down, over FORTY to go.
Those guys aren’t even up to much. Haytham and his ilk were terrifying because they thought they knew best, manipulated from the shadows; the battle through the ages for control vs freedom was clean and effective but this lot are a bunch of mask wearing, self-serving idiots and Kass just blasts through them.
They’re all no-mark baddies aside from their ‘champion’ who we choose to either turn or kill, and their connection to the Isu is practically an afterthought. For all this game’s size and plotting, everything is as a shallow as I dare wade into the sea. It’s all tied to Kass’ family give or take, making this a sort of revenge thing, but you make no connection to their larger goals, even as Kass yells “that’s for my family” after a kill, it doesn’t resonate.
Talking of which, I went to Sparta to reclaim my family home - I expected the usual ‘first do this’ mission, but this is Odyssey. I got two missions; one, repel Athens. Big ask just for an abandoned bungalow, but fine ... Second mission - find an Olympian champ for Sparta. But I wind up having to enter myself. Win the Olympics?! I just wanted my house keys.
A third narrative pops up, revealing Kass’ ancestors and the Cult have been warring for years and it’s even implied the Greek Pantheon might have been surviving Isu; it’s all heady stuff, but again, frustratingly under-developed. Combined with the RPG tangents and seafaring, by the time it gets around to explaining something that happened 20 hours ago you’re like ‘What? Who? Waa?’ Oh, and now Layla wants a subplot. It’s too much.
While the main mission(s) are a slog to keep up interest in, the side quests and random encounters are perfect bits of mercenary work that Kass excels at and other 'spin off' missions provide welcome relief – freewheeling Alkibiades had me deliver ‘his package’ to a woman’s husband; yup, it was a cast of his dick. At a meeting to discuss the war, I instead joined his orgy and can be heard noticing a goat (I was assured it just watches …) – after that he starts to call me ‘little goat’, which is unsettling … We even tangle with mythical beasts like the Minotaur who’s maze we have to navigate. This is one of those games where the world is way more fun than the plotlines, and while repetitive, it is extraordinary; it’s a true RPG in that “what’s that over there” way, you never get where you intended to go.
And our fellow traveller, ‘Little Goat’ Kass is perfect for all this long-range rambling. I
ronic, sarky, easily annoyed, often bemused and always up for trouble; she distracts a warlord by nicking his glass eye and sticking it up a goat’s bum. Never skip cut-scenes; Kass is often hilarious, and evolves from selfish merc to caring crusader. I might be a little bit in love. She’d eat me alive though. We get romance options but it’s not Mass Effect. One quest had us looking for a family heirloom to avert a prophecy that said the man’s father would scream in agony. I slept with a guy to get the heirloom quicker, and it turned out that was the man’s father. Kass just shrugs and says “well, he did scream …”
She gets more experienced as you go, auto-dodging arrows and not getting damage from a fall – finally an Assassin who parkours perfectly, and she’s the one that doesn’t get hurt from falling?! We get a horse, Phobos and an Isu-sense eagle, Ikaros will attack animals and harass soldiers, even at sea. Weapons can be upgraded and perks added, the skill tree is wild and it all helps you find your inner Misthios; I’m Xena Warrior Princess, but all this pales next to the Sparta Kick – kicking hapless soldiers off cliffs, waiting for one to clamber all the way up a ladder just to boot them off again (or into shark mouths) … I can’t stop doing it. I just run about Sparta’ing people. Pisses them off though.
Once you become notorious, other Misthios’ will come looking for you. They’re solid fighters but Kass can more than hold her own, and when you throw in the perk abilities and additions like poison or fire-tipped weapons it gets tasty, and Misthios often have similar perks and abilities. Offing a Misthios above you in the ranks lets you move up, eventually becoming the top Misthios. I finished something! Oh, I’m now at the bottom of the elite league.
Eventually, after some serious focus and slog, I bring peace to Greece, stopped the Cult, reunited my family, and uncovered my ancestry, all of which drag themselves out further than The Hobbit did, and it’s got more endings that Lord of the Rings. Not one of them was really that satisfying; in the case of the ancestry plotline which ultimately ties in with Layla, it’s nonsensical and throws up a huge plot hole that undermines the entire series, never mind the multiple-choice nonsense. After breaking Kass from AC tradition, shifting the series into an all-new plot device where Layla’s Animus could send us into any DNA’s memory, why pull it all back in? Odyssey couldn’t get further up its own arse if it Sparta Kicked itself.
Odyssey took 85 hours; I could have toured the real Greece in less time. I get a game-plus mode and ‘congrats, now see what else Greece has to offer!’ See what it has to offer?! No more, please. And then the DLC takes us to Elysium, Hades and Atlantis … and another 3-partner explores the Hidden Blade and leads into Origins. Oh god, it’ll never end. Which it seems Ubisoft wants - they constantly update Odyssey with new content, seasonal challenges, and a story creator mode lets you build adventures for others - it’s practically an MMO. And I realise, I don’t want it to end either. Odyssey is a bloated drag of an insult to AC, but it’s a brilliant RPG, an amazing game. I’ve had so much fun being Xena Warrior Princess. I load up the Game Plus and start again as Hercules. Malaka!
Assassin's Creed: The Playthrough
So that’s it. I can’t quite believe I’ve done it, and it’s going to be hard to go back to ‘regular’ gaming after this. Botched assassinations, ‘reduce distance to target’ warnings and eavesdropping, I’ll miss it like an assassin misses a really obvious jump. It’s been an epic journey through time and those humble beginnings with Altair and Des seem so long ago compared to Odyssey. But playing from start to end means I saw AC has evolved, changed, refreshed and refined itself while getting bigger and more immersive, yet still keeping the core gameplay of living out historical moments. It’s an extraordinary series.
All that remains is deciding which is the definitive AC game, which is my favourite and who is the best assassin of all time. This is going to be tough. I realised there’s been two kinds of AC games all along. One, the Assassin experience – AC, the ACII trilogy, Unity and Syndicate. And AC RPG; ACIII, Black Flag, Rogue, Origins and Odyssey. This is just an excuse to get out of naming one winner.
I think the definitive AC Game is … Revelations. Unity, the black sheep of the family came close but Revelations has a definitive assassin, a great AvT story, a solid Isu plot, Templars manipulating events and backstory on why all this is happening. Exactly what we signed up for. And Ezio understands it doesn’t end with him; he leaves a message for Des, tying into the Modern era. Great missions, story, fights and parkouring, a believable world and it’s fun to play. Undoubtedly, Revelations is the best example of Assassin’s Creed.
For the ‘RPG AC’ … Black Flag still wins it. There’s a shocker. Origins and Odyssey more than had their moments, and were bigger, more complex, and that was their downfall. BF was just the right side of epic. The ship battles, tropical islands, living by your wits; BF’s world is a pirate’s life for me, but themes of responsibility pull you back to the plot, which is pure AC. It just all works. Most RPGs have a silent hero for you to play yourself, but in Edward you play to his strengths. And weaknesses. The best AC RPG is Black Flag.
Best Assassin. I have to discount the RPG leads; they weren’t Assassins. The obvious choice is Ezio, but he had three games to mature; Arno? He is an Ezio clone but he grows, exposes the Brotherhood’s hypocrisy, ruins the Templars, and finds his own Creed - and beds a Templar. Arno deserved better than Unity, but does he deserve the top spot? This is gonna be controversial, but my money is on … Desmond. Stay with me...
I hated him in ACI, just a prop, a framing device. But in the Ezio Trilogy, he gets with the programme. He learns the skills, accepts his place, confounds the Templars, becomes an Assassin, and his own man. By ACIII he’s leaping about all over the world, kills the Templar’s prime scientist and makes the ultimate sacrifice. Des was the series’ focus, its anchor, and it’s been adrift ever since. He represented us. Long live Desmond.
So if Black Flag is still my favourite AC game am I back where I started? No. I saw the Renaissance, the American Frontier, the Golden Age of Piracy. I witnessed the French Revolution, London at its height. I saw the fall of Egypt and the rise of Greece. I met the Borgias, de Vinci, Washington, Blackbeard, Capt. Cook, the Marquis De Sade, Queen Victoria, Cleopatra and I bantered with Socrates. I lived real lives.
AC was often uneven and clearly making it up as it goes, but it’s such a brilliant concept from start to finish to start again. And it’s still not over. The AvT war rages on; a (maybe debunked) rumour claimed the next is set in Viking times. While we're a long way from Des' time, Layla’s DNA trick really opened the series up; just DNA to jack into a story. I always fancied the 80s. I bet Gordon Gecko was a Templar. Layla, find Charlie Sheen's DNA, that’ll be fun. The hidden societies, the Precursors, the conspiracies and playing in key moments of history have made up an amazing adventure; I started this as a Pirate, but now I’m an Assassin. Long may it continue - there’s enough past to play in.
To read the rest of FBT's epic playthrough, check our our AC page here.