Ranked: Assassin’s Creed (Part Three)

Since bursting onto the scene in 2007, the Assassin’s Creed has become one of the most recognisable names in gaming. Now Ubisoft’s flagship franchise, the Assassin’s Creed series has traversed time and space through its many incarnations, from the ancient lands of Greece and Egypt all the way up the British industrial revolution. The series’ gameplay has gone through similarly drastic transformations, starting of as an experiment with ‘social stealth’ before transitioning into action-adventure, and, in its last few entries, massive RPGs. With 12 main games released so far, the franchise has certainly seen its ups and downs over its 15 year history – which is why we’re here today, with a comprehensive ranking of every main entry in the series to date.

4. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (2018)

The pinnacle of Assassin’s Creed‘s venture into RPGs, Odyssey is an absolute joy to play. The Greek world is a massive play area for gamers to explore, with a vast range of different environments to enjoy, from verdant mountain slopes to arid drylands and expansive cities. The game abounds with colour, a much welcome shakeup after Origins saw most things as varying shades of yellow, brown, and more yellow, which makes it a genuine delight to continue exploring and see what’s waiting in every new area.

I actually came to Odyssey a little late, the spring of 2020 to be exact, and I have to say: this game was a great companion during the various lockdowns. Where many were getting their outdoor fixes in Animal Crossing, I was off exploring the Greek islands, delving into the story of Kassandra or Alexios (depending on which protagonist you choose at the beginning of the game), and generally running amok around Athens.

It’s difficult to sum up how I feel about Odyssey, especially in relation to Valhalla. I’m completely aware that I’m praising here many of the things that I condemned in Ubisoft’s viking epic – the massive world, the freedom to explore, the sheer amount of content – but for some reason, in Odyssey it just works. I never felt the fatigue of exploring in the way I did in Valhalla, and the story, while not up there with the best the series has had to offer, kept me coming back until the very end. Truly a joy.

3. Assassin’s Creed II (2009)

When people talk about gaming sequels done right, Assassin’s Creed II often comes up in conversation. A masterclass in how to follow up on a game that had good ideas, but poor execution, Assassin’s Creed II took everything that worked about the first game, and threw away everything that didn’t.

Gone are the repetitive mission structures, the indistinct targets, the lengthy journeys from place to place, the infuriatingly common guards. Instead, missions are wrapped inside a robust narrative framework, making each kill feel more rewarding. There’s a tighter focus on location too. As you progress through the game, you’ll hop between Florence, Venice and Forli, but without any of the irritating schlep back and forth.

Of course, Assassin’s Creed II probably wouldn’t have met with quite the same response had it not been for the undeniably charismatic Ezio as the new face of the franchise. Sarcastic, funny, a bit of a playboy, Ezio’s journey sees him grapple with the weight of responsibility as he adapts to his new life as leader of the assassin’s while pursuing his own quest to exact revenge on the people who killed his family.

2. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010)

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Assassin’s Creed II feel so tightly bound together that it’s almost impossible to separate them. A direct continuation of Ezio’s story, Brotherhood finds players exploring renaissance Rome as they track down the remaining Borgias and finish Ezio’s quest for revenge. Both Brotherhood and II play similarly, which leads many fans to argue over which is the better entry, with story often being the deciding factor.

Here, I’d say Brotherhood just beats out its predecessor. Whereas II feels like a country-spanning epic, Brotherhood is a more focus adventure. It almost feels like somebody took distilled the highlights of Ezio’s first adventure, refined them a little, and created a story that is constantly engaging.

It’s possible looking back now that Brotherhood was the beginning of the plethora of extra content and gameplay options that would gradually be added to the series over the next few years, especially with its titular Brotherhood system, but, since it’s only one feature at this point, it all feels much more manageable and less daunting. If anything, I found the Brotherhood to be a great addition, not only for gameplay, but for story too.

1. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013)

It might not come as a surprise to many, but yes, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the Pop Onion pick for best Assassin’s Creed game to date. While initially criticised for its shift away from the stealth-based gameplay of earlier titles in the series, time has been kind to Black Flag, and it’s now a mainstay at the top of series rankings online.

Protagonist Edward Kenway manages to capture the same roguish amicability that had so many fans eating out of the palm of Ezio’s hand, but he feels like a slightly wilder character, less predictable in his journey and less stringent in his adherence to assassin precepts. Edward is funny, has great rapport with his side characters, and is just an all-around likeable guy (even as he does go around killing people).

It is, perhaps, the world of Black Flag that has appealed to so many gamers since its launch in 2013, however. Set in the Caribbean, the game is a wash of tropical colours: the white sands, the deep blue oceans, the verdant green of the jungle. Black Flag’s world feels tremendously exciting to explore, in a way that pret games (Odyssey aside) haven’t quite been able to capture.

For anyone looking to get into the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Black Flag would be an excellent starting point – the perfect blend of the series’ disparate gameplay styles, with a grand open world that feels ripe for exploration without ever devolving into tedium.

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