As Ezio one, two, three.
Assassin’s Creed is a series all about history – well, that and stabbing people in the neck. So, for the release of Origins, we thought we’d celebrate by delving into the history of the series. It’s a lot less messy than doing the stabbing in the neck thing ourselves.
Below, find our absolutely official definitive ranking for all of the Assassin’s Creed games released to date. (Well, we’re not counting the mobile spin-offs, or we’d be here all day, or anything released for handheld consoles. Well, except for Liberation as that also released on console. Oh, and we’re throwing in Chronicles as that was a console launch.)
So, here’s the top 11:
11. Assassin’s Creed Chronicles (2015 – PC, PS4, Vita, Xbox One)
We’re including this episodic side-scroller for completionists’ sake, although it was made by UK studio Climax rather than Ubisoft itself. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it is its origin as a failed Prince of Persia pitch. Ubisoft liked the tech behind it and asked Climax to retool the concept for Assassin’s Creed instead.
Chronicles, set across Ancient China, British Empire-era India and Revolutionary Russia, was an admirable effort to map Assassin’s Creed into a side-scrolling stealth game. It’s the best spin-off from the series by quite some margin, although it loses points for its awful fake Ezio voice actor.
10. Assassin’s Creed Unity (2014 – PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Poor Unity. Its version of French Revolution Paris was beautiful, but it was plagued with more problems than the victims of its catacombs. Everyone remembers the game’s poor technical performance at launch, controversy around its lack of female characters and GIFs of broken faces, but Unity was a bit of a mess for a whole load of other reasons, too.
Co-operative multiplayer was a nice idea on paper but completely ruined the idea of stealth, the game’s user interface was far too obtrusive, and its map was filled with chests you needed both a malfunctioning online service and separate mobile companion app to access. Have we ever gone back to it since finishing the campaign? Ar, no.
9. Assassin’s Creed (2007 – PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
The game that started it all was impressive for its time, with large open levels and the first hints at the Assassin’s Creed universe’s truly weird wider lore. It was our first introduction to Desmond, Abstergo, the Animus and the creepy First Civilisation.
But the gameplay itself was basic, its missions repetitive and it felt like a proof of concept for what was to come. It was enough, though, that people wanted more. And without grumpy Altair, we may never have got Ezio…
8. Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation (2012 – Vita, 2014 – PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Liberation was meant to be just a side-story for the Vita, but its focus on the series’ first playable female Assassin, Aveline de Grandpré, fully-fledged portable open world and the neat tie-ins with its bigger brother AC3 make it a worthwhile play for any Assassin’s Creed fan.
All the better, then, it later arrived on PC and consoles in the shape of AC3: Liberation HD. It’s just a shame Aveline’s only unique gameplay ability in the series is she can… dress up in different clothes. Hmm.
7. Assassin’s Creed 3 (2012 – PC, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360)
The first Assassin’s Creed after the hugely popular Ezio trilogy, AC3 still holds the series’ high sales watermark. Perhaps it was the focus on the USA, where it sold phenomenally well, or the fact us Brits were cast as the bad guys.
I have mixed feelings of AC3 – its story and main character Connor are pretty downbeat, there’s a lot of history in there and not a huge amount of personality. And yet there’s also a lot to love. Snowy New England is beautiful, the naval missions paved the way for Black Flag, building your Homestead was fun, and old Assassin Achilles was damn cool. And yes, I love the fact Ubisoft pulled off the surprise opening with Haytham and no-one knew about it – even some Ubisoft staff – until switching the game on.
6. Assassin’s Creed Revelations (2011 – PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
The culmination of Ubisoft’s Ezio trilogy, Revelations owes much of its goodwill to AC2 and Brotherhood. Still, it hosts a competent Assassin’s Creed experience for the series’ biggest star to bow out in. Revelations offers the unusual perspective of playing a video game character who is past his prime, who is looking to the next generation.
Revelations’ main city of Constantinople is largely forgettable, though its charismatic Assassin Yusuf, its sojourns back to AC1’s Masyaf plus its tying together of storylines and send-off for Altair are important story beats. Revelations’ epilogue animation Embers, a separate release but well worthy of mention, details the final days of Ezio’s life and is genuinely devastating. Sob.
5. Assassin’s Creed Rogue (2014 – PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Another game that feels like it ranks so high because of what came before it, Rogue offers a second slice of Black Flag’s excellent seafaring gameplay. It is essentially Black Flag 2, although its shorter story is uniquely told through the eyes of a baddie Templar. I actively hate the missions where you are made to hunt down Assassins from previous games, but have to admit it was, as a one-off, an interesting experiment.
Rogue was released for last-gen consoles the same year as Unity was for PC/PS4/Xbox One and, due to Unity’s issues, is regarded as the more enjoyable of the two. You get to sail the Arctic, collect more sea shanties and generally do more of everything you could in Black Flag. Which says a lot for how fun Black Flag itself was, really.
4. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (2015 – PC, PS4, Xbox One)
The series’ most recent game, Syndicate had the tough task of following Unity and turning around fan feeling to the franchise. Thankfully, its mix of cockney Assassin siblings, beautiful smoggy London and hansom cab racing did just that.
It’s far from perfect – Assassin Jacob Frye is a bit of a douche and the game’s Jack the Ripper expansion is at times rather problematic in how it handles its violence. And yet… Evie Frye is the series’ best protagonist since Ezio, its cast of historical characters like Victoria, Dickens and Darwin are a great fit, and your hideout is on a bloody train. Cor blimey.
3. Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag (2013 – PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)
Black Flag is the best Assassin’s Creed game that’s not really an Assassin’s Creed game at all. You play as a pirate who’s not really an Assassin, at sea where there’s very little assassinating to do, and spend most of your time collecting treasure and sinking ships and harpooning endangered animals.
It is perhaps because of all this that Black Flag is so good. Yes, there is the normal land-based stuff, but it’s spread across an ocean canvas that’s more Wind Waker than AC3. Meanwhile, in the game’s modern day section, Assassin’s Creed went totally meta by letting you hack a fictional version of its own Montreal office. Brilliant.
2. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood (2010 – PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Many would place Brotherhood ahead of AC2, and that would be a fair result, but it would also be wrong. Brotherhood is up there with the very best of Assassin’s Creed – it is series star Ezio at the height of his powers romping over Rome, palling around with Leonardo da Vinci and generally bossing some of the series’ most pantomime villains.
But, just as Revelations owes much to Brotherhood, I feel like Brotherhood owes just as much to the real star of the show…
1. Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009 – PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Will Assassin’s Creed ever top the Ezio era? It’s never had a returning star since then, so it is hard to chalk up each subsequent release in quite the same way. Still, it is Ezio’s debut which stands tallest for me. It is an evolution of the AC1 gameplay reborn with a new character, storyline and setting which fit the series perfectly.
Few video games start with you smacking a baby into life, but from Ezio’s birth we see him grow, watch as his family is taken away from him – and us – then help him as he becomes the stubbly, stabby hunk we all know and love.
AC2’s systems are not much different to Brotherhood’s. It is AC2’s suite of locations – Florence, Venice, Monteriggioni and Tuscany – that set it apart. Each is beautiful and varied in a way Rome is not. It is in Jesper Kyd’s score, in the modern day sections with their introductions of Shaun and Rebecca, in the sense of mystery over the series’ whole story and the impending threat faced, in the tough Assassin’s tomb challenges… all of this makes AC2 feel as good as any Assassin’s Creed has ever been.
Where will Assassin’s Creed Origins place on this list? Only time will tell.