Ranking the Assassin’s Creed Games in the Desmond Saga

Hey, guess who wrote this post a few days early and then forgot to schedule it to post on Friday and/or actually post it yesterday? This guy! Sorry about that–one of our cats, Marmalade, wasn’t feeling well and between work and taking care of the kitty, it slipped my mind. Don’t worry, Marmalade is alright; we took him to the vet and he’s got an ear infection, poor guy, but he’s got some medicine and is already looking much better today.

Oh, also, I think I like doing Monday/Friday instead of Monday/Wednesday, so that’s going to be the schedule now. Anyway, on to the post!

News recently broke that the next Assassin’s Creed is going to be a live-service game spanning multiple time periods. I’m… not really sure how I feel about that! It’s weird. I don’t love it. Maybe it will be fine? We’ll see. It seems weird to me that after struggling for a long time, the franchise finally got back on track with Valhalla, which many felt was a return to form… and now they’re upending that and doing a totally new thing with the next title.

Well, whatever. We’ll see how it pans out.

For those not in the know, I’m a little bit of an AC obsessive; I’ve been replaying the entire franchise from the beginning, doing write-ups and recaps that I’ve dubbed The Animus Project (I haven’t updated it for a while, true, but I’ve been writing! I’ll get the posts up some day, I just keep forgetting to upload them. They’re all ready, though).

I don’t have a lot to say about the Assassin’s Creed Infinity news, because like I said, I don’t know what to think yet. With AC in the news, though, I thought I’d take the opportunity to look back on the games I’ve replayed so far this year.

The initial run of Assassin’s Creed titles centered on protagonist Desmond Miles. I thought it’d be interesting to rank the five games in the Desmond Saga, from best to worst.

1. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

This pick probably doesn’t surprise any long-time fans of the franchise. Even all these years later, Brotherhood is often hailed as one of the best entries in the series. It’s easy to see why: it successfully iterated on pretty much everything good about its predecessors.

It had slick gameplay and a beautiful setting: Renaissance Rome. It also had a markedly better story than its immediate predecessor (there’s one dumb twist late in the game, and the ending is rather mediocre, but it’s mostly solid).

Brotherhood took all the best parts of the first two games, polished them up, and cut out the unnecessary bits, resulting in a finely honed product that still feels good to play a decade later.

2. Assassin’s Creed III

This pick might be a bit more controversial. I bet a lot of you were expecting II to get second place, huh? Well, I actually don’t like ACII that much, but we’ll get to that when we get to it. The point is, III kicks ass.

It expands the open world and allows environments to become more varied and interesting. It adds boat stuff! That alone is worth its high placement! Plus, it has one of the most emotionally resonant stories in the franchise (it’s perhaps my second-favorite overall plot, after Black Flag, which is not a Desmond game and therefore not on this list). I love Connor as a protagonist; he has a Superman-esque dedication to justice, but he also has a short temper and no aversion to violence. He’s an interesting, well-developed character with a fascinating journey.

I almost picked this game for the top slot, but it does have issues. Many of its innovations are rough around the edges: hunting and exploring the wilderness is a bit tedious, naval combat isn’t as intuitive as it will become in later titles, and there are frustrating side objectives like the Encyclopedia of the Common Man. Crafting and convoys are needlessly convoluted, too; worst of all, the modern-day section really bungles the ending of Desmond’s story.

3. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

Revelations tries to iterate on Brotherhood, but it takes things too far. It wants to add new and exciting things like the hookblade and bomb crafting, but these additions aren’t impactful enough to warrant their inclusion. Worst of all is the weird tower defense minigame that gets crowbarred in for no particular reason.

The main plot also feels kind of forgettable, especially on the heels of two Borgia-centric games. Ezio is just hanging out in Constantinople looking for Assassin artifacts; he’s not particularly invested in the political drama unfolding around him, which makes it hard for the player to get invested, either.

That said, the split narrative structure (where half of each sequence is focused on that political stuff and half is spent gathering artifacts) is interesting and works well. The plot linking Ezio and Altair is also quite good, which prevents the story from falling totally flat.

Overall, this game just felt a bit pointless. The modern-day stuff has Desmond pretty much at a standstill, and the Ezio stuff feels sort of half-baked. If we’d had a new ancestor—one who was really tied to the history being explored here—I think this would have played a lot better; as it is, I didn’t really need a third Ezio game.

4. Assassin’s Creed II

Yeah, that’s right—I don’t really like ACII. A bold statement, I know! This one is popular. Have you actually played it lately, though? No? Because I have, and trust me, it’s not as good as you remember. Sure, it seemed good when it came out, but that’s mostly because the only thing we had to compare it to was the first Assassin’s Creed, which was kind of a dumpster fire.

Are the controls way better? Yes. Are the environments more interesting? Also yes. I’m not denying that it’s a big improvement (I mean, it’s higher on the list than the first game, right?), but that doesn’t actually mean it’s good.

The core gameplay is solid, but there is way too much cruft here. There are too many pointless side missions, for one thing; for another, the story is abysmal.

I know, I know, the story is popular, but again—go back and play the thing. It’s a mess. It has some great beats, for sure! Slapping the Pope around at the end is a franchise highlight. But the path there is sloppy.

5. Assassin’s Creed

As expected, the first game is the worst game. It’s boring, it’s repetitive, the world is bland, the characters are annoying… there’s honestly very little to recommend this game, aside from the fact that it was interesting on a technical level when it came out.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair; I actually think the story, though somewhat minimal, is quite good. Reveals are well-paced and the alternate history setting is really cool—that’s what got me hooked on the games in the first place. You can see the promise of future games in here, if you squint.

You really don’t need to play this one, though.

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