Post Script

Is it time As­sas­sin’s Creed left its present-day sto­ries in the past? (con­tains spoil­ers)


Re­ally, it’s all Ezio’s fault. Once Sig­nor Au­di­tore Da Firenze swag­gered onto the scene in As­sas­sin’s Creed II, sweep­ing play­ers off their feet with his rogu­ish charm and swash­buck­ling swords­man­ship, it was clear that bor­ing old Desmond Miles stood no chance. Not even two games in, and Ubisoft’s at­tempt to meld present-day sci-fi mys­tery with his­tor­i­cal con­spir­acy had been way­laid by a young Ital­ian no­ble­man who sin­gle-hand­edly made the lat­ter far more ex­cit­ing than the former. Even the dar­ing cliffhanger end­ing to the first game, with its ar­cane scrib­blings and por­tents of im­mi­nent catas­tro­phe, couldn’t com­pete. Play­ers lapped up Ezio’s ad­ven­ture, and de­manded more – and Ubisoft duly de­liv­ered, with two well-re­garded se­quels that saw the se­ries start to spin off its orig­i­nal axis.

Even so, Ubisoft was ev­i­dently still keen on its orig­i­nal con­ceit and the on­go­ing ma­noeu­vres of the Tem­plars’ cor­po­rate front, Ab­stergo. Over the course of the next three games, it tried var­i­ous ways to win its au­di­ence over to its con­tem­po­rary plot­line. This even­tu­ally cul­mi­nated in the en­ter­tain­ingly lu­di­crous fi­nale to As­sas­sin’s Creed III, which saw Desmond killed off, hav­ing sac­ri­ficed him­self to save the world. His DNA was used to trig­ger the his­tor­i­cal se­quences of the fourth game, Black Flag, but by now the fo­cus was firmly on the past. By 2014’s As­sas­sin’s Creed: Unity, the An­i­mus had been re­pur­posed into a VR game ma­chine, the real-world player re­cast as an in-game one; a year later, Syn­di­cate fol­lowed suit with a sim­i­lar story.

Yet there are signs in Ori­gins that Ubisoft doesn’t sim­ply see the present-day sec­tions as a ves­ti­gial limb – though since it’s such a vast game, they add up to a tiny frac­tion of the to­tal play­time. Here, you con­trol a new char­ac­ter, Layla Has­san. She’s a former Ab­stergo em­ployee gone rogue, who has set up her own por­ta­ble An­i­mus ma­chine in a cave in Alexan­dria, where Bayek’s re­mains lie. And yes, that means she’s us­ing DNA from his mummy to tap into his past; her ver­sion of the An­i­mus, you see, lets her ac­cess any­one’s ge­netic mem­o­ries, in­clud­ing an­ces­tors with no di­rect con­nec­tion to the user. Has­san’s playable sec­tions are short, but through di­a­logue and phone con­ver­sa­tions a pic­ture soon emerges of a bril­liant, coura­geous but fool­hardy and naive sci­en­tist, whose med­dling has in­evitable con­se­quences as Ab­stergo tracks her down. She’s forced to rely on tech­niques she’s in­her­ited from Bayek dur­ing her time in the An­i­mus to es­cape in a brief but tense en­counter.

It’s when you ac­cess her PC, how­ever, that the plot re­ally be­gins to thicken. It’s tan­ta­mount to a huge ex­po­si­tion dump, al­beit a rea­son­ably well-writ­ten one. We see emails from a close con­fi­dant, con­cerned that the ef­fects of this untested de­vice might end up fry­ing her brain. Doc­u­ments pro­vide us with her per­sonal thoughts on Bayek’s mis­sion (and Has­san’s com­plaints about headaches and more fre­quent mis­spellings to­wards the end sug­gest her friend had a point). There’s plenty, too, for long-term fans of the se­ries to sink their teeth into, with archived emails, an em­ployee man­ual and NDA from Ab­stergo, along with a med­i­cal re­port and fur­ther – ap­par­ently stolen – doc­u­ments about Desmond Miles. Even so, much of this will be fairly mean­ing­less to those un­fa­mil­iar with the whole story. Be­sides, it’s been ob­vi­ous from the start that Ab­stergo isn’t what it pre­tends to be; it’s not clear why we’re sup­posed to find it ex­cit­ing when an­other char­ac­ter dis­cov­ers what we’ve al­ready known for sev­eral games.

The way it’s re­solved – hap­pily, be­fore Bayek’s own story con­cludes – leaves more ques­tions than an­swers. An un­ex­pected re­veal and a fi­nal en­counter with a key fig­ure from the se­ries’ past re­sults in Has­san be­ing of­fered a propo­si­tion that seems hard to real­is­ti­cally refuse. But does this mean she’ll re­turn in fu­ture games? Or is this sim­ply a way of es­tab­lish­ing a nar­ra­tive rea­son­ing for the An­i­mus be­ing able to con­nect its users with any his­tor­i­cal fig­ure, ge­netic links be damned? Per­haps this is all lead­ing to­wards the chance to play as an As­sas­sin in a present-day set­ting, though that would seem to be a grave mis­take on Ubisoft’s part – par­tic­u­larly in light of Ori­gins’ strengths and weak­nesses. This is a se­ries, after all, that dis­tin­guishes it­self with its evoca­tive re­con­struc­tions of his­tory rather than its sys­tems, which here in­clude ideas from the likes of Watch Dogs, Far Cry and Des­tiny. Shorn of its one defin­ing fea­ture, it would be harder still to dis­tin­guish it from its peers.

What­ever the rea­son, Has­san’s story, though com­pact and rel­a­tively en­joy­able, still feels slightly un­nec­es­sary: an obli­ga­tion to please those who still en­joy the meta-story but not much more than that. Surely it would be far better, from now on, to sim­ply keep the An­i­mus as one of gam­ing’s great get-outof-jail-free cards. Since the be­gin­ning of the se­ries, this his­tor­i­cal Ma­trix has af­forded a range of fa­mil­iar game con­trivances – like con­ve­nient bar­ri­ers and anachro­nis­tic in­ter­face over­lays – an in-fic­tion ex­cuse for their pres­ence. We’re not sure it quite ex­cuses some of the glitches we saw dur­ing our time with Ori­gins, mind. The low-poly place­holder char­ac­ter model, squat­ting within a cave; the tele­port­ing quest-giver; the ap­par­ently in­jured NPC, who promptly park­oured up the near­est rock face when we briefly set him back down. Still, they did say that this por­ta­ble An­i­mus might re­sult in a few un­ex­plained anom­alies.

This is a se­ries that dis­tin­guishes it­self with its evoca­tive re­con­struc­tions of his­tory rather than its sys­tems

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