Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s release is just around the corner, and the move to Victorian London means a host of changes the series – but Syndicate won’t be the first game to shake up Assassin’s Creed. Every installment brought its own innovations and changes, which we’ll explore in this new video series, starting with the first game. How did Altair shape the eight years of Assassin’s Creed that followed his debut? Let’s begin with the video below.
Running up walls and wire-walking above ancient cities might feel familiar now, but back in 2007, Assassin’s Creed’s verticality was unlike anything I’d seen before. Sure, other games let me sprint up the sides of skyscrapers or painstakingly climb giant structures, but none possessed the same balance of elegance and believability that made Assassin’s Creed so instantly memorable. Before AC, clambering from street to rooftop was either comically effortless or a frustrating test of skill; here, parkour looked difficult despite being easy to pull off, which brought a weird sense of satisfaction. Even its climbing puzzles were deceptively straightforward; getting up to precarious viewpoints looked and felt like a life-or-death struggle, but so long as nobody threw rocks at you, it was really just a matter of finding the right handholds to create a path to the top.
That same straightforwardness extended to its combat, which hinged on one very important move: the instant-kill counter. When surrounded by enemies, Altair only needed to wait for one to strike – and when that happened, a correctly timed parry was all it took to kill or knock down said enemy. This move made Altair extremely hard to defeat, and like the parkour, dispatching guards in gruesome ways was both easy and rewarding, once you mastered the timing.
The illusion this created, of being a vertigo-immune one-man army, was powerful, as was the illusion of visiting a different point in history. Assassin’s Creed’s re-creation of the Levant circa 1191 was beautiful and convincing (if not slavishly realistic), and exploring the cities of Jerusalem, Acre, Damascus and Masyaf – each of which had its own distinct look and personality – was one of the biggest draws.
Even the countryside that linked them, with its rocky passages and tiny villages, hid a wealth of secrets and strange encounters for the adventurous. More so than most sandbox games at the time, this world felt organic and alive, and getting a boots-on-the-ground view of the Third Crusade from the outsider perspective of one of its traditional “villains” – the mysterious and feared Assassins – made the conflict seem less like distant legend and more like a relatable, human struggle.
That went double when you consider the ways in which the then-murky Templar conspiracy defied conventional expectations. Rather than portraying one side of the Third Crusade as “good guys,” Assassin’s Creed gradually revealed that key people on both sides of the war were secretly working together, tossing out notions of historical or religious rivalries in favor of an all-encompassing Templar conspiracy. The Templars were villains even then, of course, but the idea that warring leaders were simply keeping up appearances while striking behind-the-scenes deals with each other was at once shocking and strangely mundane – and, probably, more reflective of actual history than some of us realize.
What Assassin’s Creed did out of the gate was groundbreaking, and the original still has a unique atmosphere that remains fascinating to explore. Of course, it’s just as important that it blazed a trail for the more expansive adventures that followed, beginning with Assassin’s Creed II and its vibrant take on Renaissance Italy – which we’ll dive into next week.
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