Five years ago we had what is arguably the best season of releases all generation. We received titles like the fantastic Bioshock, the conclusion to the first Halo trilogy, Call of Duty 4 and so many more titles that went on to make a strong impact throughout the industry. Of all those titles though, one particular Ubisoft title was easily the most mysterious. At its core, Assassin’s Creed appeared to allow you to experience the life of an assassin amidst the Third Crusade with some very unique movement mechanics in an incredible recreation of Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus. However, something was off in almost all the media presented to the public. Strange flashings of numbers and overlays on top of the footage suggested something more, something far more modern than the 12th century setting would allow. The truth of the game’s nature wasn’t revealed until the game’s launch and what we received was far different from what anybody had been expecting: an ages long secret war between two conspiratorial factions vying for the future of the human race.
Five years on and four core games released during that time, the culmination of the series is just around the corner in the form of Assassin’s Creed III. It’s been a heck of a journey though and for our more fatigued readers and the newcomers to the franchise who don’t have time to catch up I thought it’d be a good idea to give a rundown of the series. Assassin’s Creed has a strongly fleshed out backstory and history so when approaching this piece I found myself questioning how far I should go into the story and the implications thereof. To that end, I have decided to give you a rundown of the series in order of release instead of chronological order as the first few paragraphs would be far too revealing.
If you couldn’t already tell: MASSIVE, NAY, GIGANTIC SPOILERS ARE EVERYWHERE BELOW.
Our story begins in 2012 in a highrise building in Europe belonging to Abstergo Industries, a powerful pharmaceutical company. So powerful in fact that it often operates outside the law in regards to extortion, murder and a number of other crimes. Desmond Miles, recently abducted by Abstergo, awakens in a laboratory inside the skyscraper. Young Desmond has been taken from his simple life as a bartender at the behest of Dr. Warren Vidic along with his assistant Lucy Stillman. Why kidnap a lowely bartender though?
The answer to that question lies in a machine that serves as the heart of the series: the Animus. Through massive research and years of testing, Abstergo has created a device that can analyze the DNA of a person and allow them to relive the memories of generations gone by. So long as the subject is connected to the device, both him and those around him can witness the actions of their ancestors all the way until the next descendant’s conception in the womb. For this and one other reason, Desmond was targeted by Vidic who believes that this new test subject’s ancestor may have witnessed a crucial piece of history lost to man long ago, something for which Abstergo is willing to kill for.
With the initial failure of an Animus synchronization test with Desmond, Vidic and Stillman see no other choice but to go deeper, into the easier to access memories in Miles’ DNA. The ancestor in question is a 12th century man named Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, a witness to the Third Crusade. Desmond, left with no other choice, cooperates with the doctor and is whisked into the boots of Altaïr in 1191AD.
Altaïr is more than just a witness to history as Desmond, Vidic and Stillman soon learn. Altaïr is a member of the Assassin Order, a group of highly trained and stealthy warriors locked in combat with the Knights Templar. Their war is fought behind the scenes as each struggle for the soul of humanity, the Templars seeking to control humanity’s free will whereas the Assassins fight to ensure its survival and continued freedom. Utilizing agents on both sides of the conflict between the Crusader and Saracen forces, the Templars are continuing the war for the holy land.
Entering the first memory, Desmond witnesses Altaïr breaking the three primary tenants of the Assassin code in a failed attempt on a Templar agent’s life. This leads to an attack on the Assassin stronghold of Masyaf. This colossal failure on Altaïr’s part leads to leader Al Mualim’s demotion of his most trusted agent, reducing Altaïr to the rank of a novice. To restore his honor, Al Mualim offers Altaïr a task: eliminate nine key figures that are burning the fires of war on both sides of the Third Crusade.
As Assassin’s Creed presses on, both Desmond and his ancestor learn more of the war and, more importantly for Desmond, its modern implications. With the aid of Lucy Stillman, Desmond is able to escape his assigned room at night after Vidic has left, allowing him to learn more about Abstergo and their goals with the Animus project. What he reveals makes him rethink his upbringing: Desmond is really a child of the Assassin Order, his father is the de facto head of the Assassins and Abstergo is the modern day front for the Templars. He is a pawn in a much grander scheme geared toward world domination by an invisible hand and all he can do is relive the memories of Altaïr, trapped within Abstergo’s laboratory.
With the death of each target, Altaïr begins to get a clearer picture of the overall goal of the Templars. After the death of the eighth target, their purpose is revealed: Robert de Sable, the head of the Templars in the holy land, plans to unite the Muslim and Christian factions in a combined effort against the Assassin Order. Altaïr is able to kill de Sable but not before learning that Al Mualim was a Templar agent the entire time. The truth comes out that Altaïr was a tool used by Al Mualim to allow him to ascend through the ranks of the Templars and take control of them.
The revelation causes Altaïr to rush back to Masyaf where the Master Assassin utilizes what is called a Piece of Eden, a sample of a long lost technology that instills illusions in the minds of humanity. With it, Al Mualim plans to end the Third Crusade and all conflicts by brainwashing our entire species. Engaging in battle, Altaïr is able to gain the upper hand and defeats his former master. Upon picking up the Apple, a holographic map appears, revealing the locations of many more Pieces of Eden hidden throughout the world.
Having obtained the map, Vidic declares Desmond’s usefulness at an end and only at the insistence of Lucy does Desmond escape being killed. As the game comes to a close, Desmond finds himself locked in the laboratory at which he begins to see strange symbols and messages painted in blood all over the walls. Their meaning escapes him as the credits roll.
Our story continues shortly after Desmond witnesses the blood-drawn pictograms. An injured Lucy rushes in the door and tells Desmond to follow her: they are making their escape. Before they can make a move though Lucy has Desmond reenter the Animus and witness the birth of another ancestor: Ezio Auditore da Firenze, an Assassin that lived during the Italian Renaissance. With the data about Ezio and more in hand, they make their way through the building. The scale of the secret war increases in magnitude as Desmond witnesses dozens of Animi, the Templars clearly are planning something big.
The duo is able to escape through a parking lot and into a nearby warehouse where they meet two modern Assassins: Shaun Hastings, a historian, and Rebecca Crane, an Animus technician. Rebecca has improved upon the original design and created the Animus 2.0, allowing for an even more thorough analysis of a subject’s genetic history. Lucy then asks Desmond to take on formal training as a member of the Assassin Order, a goal she plans to complete in days rather than years by utilizing a side effect of prolonged exposure to the Animus: the bleeding effect. The bleeding effect causes the Animus user to develop similar muscle memory to that of the ancestor being observed, something Desmond has already experienced by gaining access to Altaïr’s Eagle Vision which allowed him to see all the invisible symbols that littered the Abstergo laboratory. By witnessing the life of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, Lucy plans to give the new member of the Assassins a full training regime with minimal effort. Desmond agrees and the training begins straight away.
Desmond reenters Ezio’s life at the carefree age of 17 in Florence, Italy. Ezio’s life of leisure in 1476 quickly comes to an end however as his father and two brothers are betrayed by a family friend in a massive shift of political power. Ezio is unable to save their lives as he witnesses their hanging and, in fear, he flees with his sister and grief-stricken mother to Monteriggioni, an estate owned by his uncle Mario. There, Mario reveals to Ezio the Auditore’s true lineage as members of the Assassin Order and offers to train him.
As Ezio begins his journey to eliminate the conspirators that murdered his kin and sent his family into exile, he encounters and befriends a young Leonardo da Vinci who aids him by creating tools and weapons. Using these innovations uncovered by locating pages of Altaïr’s Codex, Ezio is able to hunt down and kill many of the Templar order who conspired against his family. His quest for revenge takes him back to Florence as well as to Venice, San Gimignano and Flori.
After exploring years of the life of Ezio Auditore, Desmond exits the Animus at Lucy’s behest and tests his newly acquired skills, delighted to see that what would have taken years of training has been learned in mere hours. Shortly thereafter, Desmond passes out suddenly and relives a genetic memory of Altaïr outside the Animus. In this state he witnesses the last memory he can of his ancestor as he and Maria Thorpe, a former enemy turned lover, make love and conceive a child.
Awakening and reentering the Animus, Desmond continues to experience Ezio’s life. In his journey however the modern day Assassins begin to notice strange symbols hidden throughout the recreated world. These symbols are actually data fragments left behind in the form of glyphs by Subject 16, the Animus tester interned by Warren Vidic before Desmond was acquired by Abstergo. These fragments reveal more of the historic conflict between the Assassins and the Templars, revealing a secret history that lies behind every major event since the Third Crusade. Each of these segments also reveal a part of an even older memory that Subject 16 was able to witness but one that Lucy and Vidic were unaware of. Lucy sadly reveals that the blood symbols Desmond saw in the laboratory were painted by Subject 16 who committed suicide while crafting them.
Sometime later, having collected all the data fragments and splicing together the memory fragments, the group learns what 16 had been hiding from the Templars. Desmond, Lucy, Shaun and Rebecca watch the compiled footage and bear witness to a earth-shattering revelation: the rebellion of the biblical Adam and Eve against an oppressive regime by stealing a Piece of Eden known as the Apple. This is only compounded by further delving into Ezio’s life when, decades after becoming an Assassin, Ezio is able to finally identify the head of the Templar plot: Rodrigo Borgia, who has become Pope Alexander VI of the Catholic Church in 1492.
In 1499, years after having fought Borgia and deciphering all thirty pages of Altaïr’s Codex, Ezio and his fellow Assassins learn what Borgia already knows: the location of The Vault, a secret location that may be the site of a treasure trove of lost knowledge and technology beneath the Vatican. Eleven years after Borgia’s ascension to the throne, Ezio is able to track down and battles the conspirator who has gained access to another Piece of Eden known that was forged into the Papal Staff. Ezio is able to fight back using the Apple, the same Piece of Eden that Adam and Even stole and one Ezio was somehow able to acquire prior to 1499, these memories remaining inaccessible to Desmond. Ezio finally defeats the Templar leader behind the deaths of his father and brothers but chooses not to kill him, proclaiming that it would not restore the damage done to the Auditore family. Triumphant, Ezio uses the staff to gain access to the Vault.
Inside the Vault, Ezio meets a holographic projection of a woman known as Minerva. Minerva turns out to be a member of what is called the First Civilization that existed long ago. The First Civilization created humanity in their own image and our species initially lived as servants but, after decades of inbreeding and slavery, the humans rebelled. The war that followed was only ended after a massive celestial event that nearly destroyed all life on Earth. With not enough members left to sustain their population, the survivors of the First Civilization worked together with the remaining humans to rebuild the world before their extinction. The two societies were able to seal away their knowledge and rebuild much of their world but, with the end of the First Civilization, much of the knowledge was lost and humanity regressed into the stone age due to our genetically-instilled, inferior capabilities. As Ezio attempts to ask questions, his is shushed by Minerva who reveals that she was not talking to him but rather Desmond Miles. With a final word of warning that the same calamity that caused their downfall was due to strike again in Desmond’s time, the Vault powers down as Ezio begs for answers.
Before Desmond and the others can learn any more however, the power to their hideaway is suddenly cut. Abstergo has found them and Vidic appears before the group, demanding that Desmond and Lucy return with them. A fight ensures and, wielding a hidden blade and the skills learned from Altaïr and Ezio, the Assassins are able to fend off the Templars and escape. As they flee, the group speculates about the foretold disaster and starts to work right away on figuring out what it could be as the credits roll.
With Abstergo’s forces only temporarily defeated, our Assassin heroes continue to flee, searching for a safe haven. After failing to access a memory that could pertain to the location of the Apple, the group arrives at an unlikely yet familiar hiding spot: Monteriggioni, former stronghold of the Auditore family. Once settled in, Demond dives back into Ezio Auditore’s life. After attempting to synchronize with a memory from 1506 at the Siege of Viana Castle in Spain, the Animus forces Desmond to revert back to 1499, moments after the defeat of Rodrigo Borgia and having left the Vault. The Vault consumes the Papal Staff and Ezio is able to escape the Vatican.
Ezio’s intent to live a peaceful life from thereon out comes to an abrupt end a few months later when, in 1500, Rodrigo’s son, Cesare, lead an assault on Monteriggioni. The town is decimated, Mario Auditore is killed, and Ezio is gravely wounded in pursuit of this new enemy as the Apple is taken as a prize. Our Italian hero wakes up sometime later in Rome wherein Niccolò Machiavelli, early ally and now the head of the Assassin’s Italian chapter, briefs a healed Ezio on what has transpired. The Borgias have seized power in Rome, oppressing the populace and attempting to build an army strong enough to lay claim to all of Italy.
To counter this resurgent threat, Ezio begins to build an army of his own. He reestablishes relations with the various guilds that litter Rome and steadily removes Borgia influence on locations in the city by taking over their military control points. Leonardo da Vinci is an unfortunate victim of this war as he is pressed into service for the Borgia to build advanced weapons based on his designs. Ezio is able to destroy these advanced war machines and rescue da Vinci, who aids Ezio in his cause.
Ezio knows he can’t just rely on the local guilds and the aid of his fellow Assassin friends though and begins to bolster their ranks by recruiting willing citizens that had been targeted by the Borgia. He acts as a mentor and sends them on various missions throughout Europe and the Mediterranean to counter Templar activities, using these actions to further diminish the Borgia’s influence. Eventually, many of them become master assassins and go on to spread the Order’s cause throughout the known world.
During the days that follow, as Desmond sees the Italian Assassins take control of Rome, the modern day crew continue to encounter puzzles and data fragments left behind by Subject 16. After encountering and deciphering them all, they are left with only a sentence: “the miracle is in the execution.” This turns out to be raw Animus data that, when accessed, allows Desmond to utilize a constructed test ground built by Subject 16 within the system. Getting to the end, Desmond is confronted by an amalgamation of 16’s consciousness who instructs him to go to Eden and find a woman named Eve. As the training program begins to end, 16 tells Desmond to find him “in the darkness.” Unable to proceed further, the crew returns to work on Ezio’s memory sequence.
The campaign against the Borgias does not come without blood. Ezio and his recruits are able to hunt down and kill several Borgia supporters and are eventually able to infiltrate the Basilica de San Pietro. Within the Bascilica, he witnesses Rodrigo’s attempt to murder his son for his failure to defeat the Assassins only for Cesare to turn the tables on him, killing him instead. Shortly thereafter, Ezio is able to coax the location of the Apple out of Lucrezia Borgia, sister and lover to Cesare, and successfully retrieves it, using the ancient device to disarm the Papal forces under Cesare’s command. As Cesare attempts to flee Rome, Ezio and his Assassins attack, defeating him but not killing him. The new Pope, Julius II, imprisons Ceasare but, in 1506, he is able to escape his confines.
Having used the Apple at da Vinci’s insistence to learn of Cesare’s plans, Ezio tracks him down at the Siege of Viana. After a prolonged fight, Ezio is finally able to end Cesare’s threat to the world, tossing him from the battlements of the castle to his death. With having witnessed this scene, Desmond and crew are finally able to synchronize with the memory they had wanted to access all along. Their suspicions turn out to be correct: they depict Ezio’s hiding away of the Apple within the Temple of Juno located underneath the Colosseo in Rome. The modern day crew quickly packs up and drives off for Rome.
The van arrives at night and they are able to break into the Colosseo. Desmond is forced to separate from the group and begins to encounter manifestations of Juno, one of the members of the First Civilization. She speaks of humanity’s downfall and the calamities to come. Desmond is eventually able to rejoin the group in the Santa Maria Aracoeli where they discover the entrance to the vault thanks to a vision of Ezio Auditore gaining access to it.
As the group descends into the Vault, Juno reappears, speaking to him cryptically about the role of the human race. When Desmond mentions it to the others though they reveal that they are unable to hear or see her, possibly another result of the bleeding effect. After entering the vault Desmond is finally able to retrieve the Apple. As soon as he touches it though, Juno takes control of his body, demanding that the scales be balanced for the final journey to begin. His struggles are in vain as Juno forces him to stab Lucy with his hidden blade fatally. As Lucy’s blood pools on the ground, Desmond passes out and falls into a coma.
Though the Assassins finally have the Apple, their situation is dire: their most resourceful agent is dead and their newest inductee lies in a coma. In a moment of desperation, William Miles, Desmond’s father, has him placed in the Animus, hoping that Desmond’s mind might be able to rebuild itself and allow him to wake up. Desmond reawakens inside a construct within the Animus, unable to reenter the real world. There he meets Clay Kazemarek, otherwise known as Subject 16. Though Clay’s body is long since dead he was able to create an artificial intelligence of his mind and placed it in the Black Box, the darkness that he had hinted to Desmond earlier. Clay tells him that the Animus is unable to return him to his body as much of the data separating him from Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad and Ezio Auditore is corrupted. The only way Desmond would be able to restore himself would be to synchronize himself with the last of Ezio’s memories. With no other choice, Desmond reenters Ezio’s life.
After reading a letter left behind by his father, Ezio travels to Masyaf in 1510, searching for the meaning of the war between the Assassin Order and the Knights Templar. There he finds that the Assassin fortress has been taken over by the Templars. Ezio is capture and quickly condemned to execution. The aging Assassin (who is now in his early fifties) is able to escape however and descends into the depths of Masyaf. There he finds the entrance to Altaïr’s library, an immense door that requires five keys to access. After tracking down a Templar captain, the same one that ordered his execution, Ezio retrieves the journal of Niccolò Polo, father of Marco Polo, which reveals that the keys can be found in Constantinople.
Arriving in the Turkish city, Ezio is greeted by Yusuf Tazim, the local Assassins chapter mentor. Yusuf tells Ezio of the current political strife that engulfs Constantinople as the city has become fractured between the Templar-backed Byzantines and the Ottomans. Using the latest innovations created locally including the hook blade, a curved upgrade of the hidden blade allowing for enhanced mobility, Ezio is able to help build the Assassin chapter and slowly begin to take control of the city.
In searching for the Masyaf keys, Ezio meets a young Italian woman named Sofia Sartor who runs a local book store. The two quickly become friends and, with her aid, is able to hunt down the first key. Upon finding it Ezio is shown a vision of Altaïr’s life, one that Desmond bears full witness to. In the vision, two years prior to his quest to calm the Third Crusade, Altaïr is sent on a rescue mission to retrieve Al Mualim who has been captured by a traitor. Altaïr is able to save his mentor and becomes Al Mualim’s greatest pupil. Upon awakening from the vision, Ezio asks for Sofia’s help in tracking down the remaining Masyaf keys, to which she agrees. The keys reveal more of Altaïr’s life, showing the events following the defeat of Al Mualim, the takeover and exile of Altaïr and his sons after Abbas, a fellow Assassin, seizes power, and their return to restore the Assassins after its fall in the hands of Abbas.
Meanwhile, the struggle for control of Constantinople continues. The Byzantines continue to lose power to the Assassins but begin work on a coup to throw the Ottoman Empire out of the city. After a series of missions, Ezio is able to defeat the resurgent Templar threat and learn of one of their primary bases of operation: Cappadocia. Ezio is able to leave Constantinople after the spectacular and fiery destruction of the chain that blocked off the Golden Horn.
In Cappadocia, Ezio is able to track down the weapons shipment that was to supply the Byzantines only to learn that they were defective. The accompanying gunpowder is just fine however and, in order to flush out the Templar agents responsible for the exchange, he ignites the entire supply cache. The resulting explosions and fires send the city into chaos and Ezio locates the Templar commander, Manuel. A chase ensues but Ezio wins, assassinating Manuel and retrieving the final Masyaf key. In his final moments, Manuel gloats that the true architect of the troubles in Constantinople is Ahmet, one of the two suns of the Ottoman sultan, and about his knowledge of Sofia. Ezio quickly departs back for Constantinople.
With the memory sequence completed, Desmond returns to the Black Box only to find it in complete disarray. The Animus has identified the space as an irregular intrusion into the various memories it has on file and, as a result, is correcting the perceived error by deleting the space and everything in it, including Clay and Desmond. At the last moment, Clay pushes Desmond back through the memory portal, sacrificing himself to ensure that Desmond can finally wake up.
Once again following Ezio, Desmond watches as his ancestor learns that Yusif had been killed by Ahmet and Sofia had been kidnapped. Desperate, Ezio goes to the Constantinople arsenal and offers a deal: the Masyaf keys in exchange for Sofia’s life. After confirming that Sofia is still alive though Ezio chases after Ahmet, determined to finally end the Templar threat in the city. Before Ezio can kill him however, Selim, Ahmet’s brother, arrives with the Ottoman army. Selim announces that he has been named the heir to the throne and, after a struggle, throws Ahmet off a cliff toward his death. The troubles in Constantinople finally over, Ezio departs with Sofia back to Masyaf, never to return to the city.
At the entrance to Altaïr’s library, Ezio inserts all the keys and the heavy stone door opens. Inside, Ezio discovers the remains of Altaïr, now a robed skeleton holding a sixth key. Picking it up, Ezio sees the final moments of Altaïr’s life, witnessing his sending of his son away and the sealing of himself within his library. As the vision ends, Ezio sees the Apple on a pedestal against the far wall. Instead of taking it, Ezio disarms himself and looks toward the sky, speaking to Desmond. Ezio says that he finally understands that his life was simply to pass along a message he didn’t understand and that he hopes that Desmond can put an end to the suffering both he and Altaïr had to endure. Ezio reaches out and Desmond appears before him and, as the two embrace, a bright light ensnares Desmond.
Appearing in the loading area of the Animus, Desmond is visited by Jupiter, another member of the First Civilization. Jupiter reveals how their people foresaw the solar flare that would engulf the planet and built vaults around the world to test remedies that could save it. Six methods were attempted but, in the end, all of them failed as the flare engulfed the Earth, killing off almost all of the First Civilization members and leaving only a few thousand humans alive. Jupiter instructs Desmond to go and find the Grand Temple, the nexus for which all the knowledge of the First Civilization resides and find a way to prevent a second solar flare from happening.
In 2012, a van containing Shaun, Rebecca, William and Desmond approaches a wind farm somewhere in North America. As the vans stops, Desmond’s vital signs begin to stabilize and he finally wakens. Looking at his father, Desmond speaks only seven words. “I know what we need to do.” With that, William opens the doors to the van to reveal the countryside and a cave as the credits roll once again.
This week, Assassin’s Creed III will finally land on store shelves and I can tell you right now that the crew here at 4Player is exceptionally excited to see the story of Desmond Miles finally come to its conclusion. It’s been a long journey but not one without intrigue and excitement and we can’t wait to share the final ride with you. Check us out in the days and weeks to come in which we get to experience the adventures of Connor Kenway and his struggles throughout the course of the Revolutionary War.