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Assassin’s Creed: Revelations Review

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The Assassin’s Creed franchise is my favorite new franchise to come out of this generation of gaming. Back in 2007, the original game introduced us to the Animus; an amazing machine that allowed Desmond Miles to relive the experiences of his ancestor, Altaïr ibn-La'Ahad. Altaïr lived during the Crusades and was a member of the Assassin’s Brotherhood, a group engaged in a war with their enemies, the Templar Knights. As the franchise has continued, Desmond has learned more about their enduring war, his connection to the Assassins, and experienced the life of another of his ancestors, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. The fourth major game of the franchise, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, was poised to finally unravel some of the mystery that has obscured the franchise.

Players have experienced Ezio’s life through two major games in this franchise. In Assassin’s Creed 2, he was introduced as Desmond’s ancestor who lived through the renaissance. In that game, Ezio was suddenly and unexpectedly wrenched into the life of an Assassin. The game followed the next sixteen years of his life as he hunted the Templar which had forever changed his life. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood took over after the first stage of his journey had concluded. Desmond was able to watch as Ezio’s strove to step beyond the role of an individual Assassin and rose to the rank of Mentor in the Roman Brotherhood he was crucial to establishing. However, having spent so much time reliving his ancestors’ memories has taken a toll on Desmond’s mind. In an effort to repair the fragmentation has mind has begun to suffer, Desmond is returned to the Animus in the hope that he will be able to separate himself from the lives he has experienced. Lost inside his own mind, Desmond follows Ezio’s journey to Constantinople where he joins the Brotherhood in their struggle against the Byzantine Templar. Ezio’s journey is motivated by keys that will allow him to access Altaïr’s library in Masyaf. Through him, Desmond is able to observe the later years of Altaïr’s life as Ezio tries to understand the legendary Assassin. In doing so, the game focuses on Ezio, whose has been constantly dragged through life by his role as an Assassin, and Altaïr, who has dedicated his life to the Assassin’s Brotherhood.

Similar to Brotherhood (and honestly more so), Revelations is an expansion. Built on the foundation of Assassin’s Creed II and the advances of Brotherhood, the gameplay of Revelations will feel very familiar to players who have kept up with the franchise. Constantinople offers the same free-roaming experience as the previous games. Players can weave through the busy streets or fly along the rooftops. Scaling buildings and traveling around the city receives a new element early on by “upgrading” one of Ezio’s hidden blades to a hook blade. The curved blade allows him to more easily climb structures, slide down zip-lines, and quickly bypass defensive enemies. However, even with these inclusions, Constantinople felt more difficult to travel than Ezio’s earlier locales. Perhaps this was the result of the city being designed differently than Italy and Rome, but I’m willing to concede that it might also be the result of my ardent desire to pursue and use zip-lines which was unfortunately restricted by needing gravity.. Ezio also gains the ability to use bombs with various effects that range from distractions, offensive, and defensive. The customization aspect allows different players to bring along different types of bombs depending on their personal playstyle.

Apart from these two changes, most of the features are drawn from the previous two games. Ezio still has access to, or gains access to, most of his gear from his earlier journeys. Just like in Brotherhood, as he recruits more members into the guild, he gains the ability to call Assassins to his aid. The mission system also returns to train these recruits, but also includes side-quests which allow Ezio to further upgrade a number of the Assassins. These Assassins are then able to defend the various Assassin strongholds throughout Constantinople. The infamy system has also been reworked for this new location. Due to the weakness of the Templar presence in the city, performing actions that draw attention (which unfortunately included upgrading stores) increases how knowledgeable the Templar are of the Assassin’s affairs. Unlike the earlier games, this cannot be remedied by simply tearing down posters. While this made sense in terms of the story, it unfortunately afflicted the game with stare-at-the-map-itis during the city upgrade process. Should players choose to ignore this issue, the Templar will eventually attack their dens, forcing players into a tower defense style game. Now, I only played this once (during the initial introduction), but from what I gather, almost everyone who played it multiple times quickly grew tired of it. So make your choice between scouring the city for heralds or painful tower defense. Another bothersome change was that the challenging puzzles of the previous two games have been removed, seemingly to make way for peculiar first-person segments where Desmond remembers pieces of his past as he attempts to come to terms with who he is. Personally I loved the challenge of these puzzles and was dismayed by this change.

I would be amiss to ignore Revelations’ soundtrack and how it follows the immersive trend of its predecessors. I'm a big fan of game soundtracks, especially ones that successfully capture the atmosphere of a game. More so than in many other games though, the music of the Assassin’s Creed franchise expertly engrosses players in the world. It is especially strange considering that only a handful of tracks stand out on their own. Honestly though, this turns out to be one of the soundtrack's strengths. Whether you’re just wandering around the streets of Constantinople or running from a group of Byzantine soldiers, the music is never obtrusive and complements the game perfectly. It is also especially impressive how seamlessly the music can flow between those two instances as Ezio travels throughout the city. Drawing on cultural themes, the music blends in with the environment, helping players lose themselves in Constantinople.

Unfortunately, Revelations’ biggest flaw stems from its name. The third game to feature Ezio was promised to reveal the answers to a number of the mysteries the series has been building up. While it was certainly nice to experience the various stages of Altaïr’s life within the Assassin’s Brotherhood, see the conclusion of Ezio’s journey as an Assassin, and get a window into Desmond’s life before being abducted by the Templar, the game was disappointingly deficient in answers. Similar to the previous two games, the ending did provide a series of sudden explanations, again provided by one of “the ones who came before,” but as a whole, the game certainly did not live up to its name. Honestly, compared to the previous games, and probably due to how little time is spent in the present, Revelations might have provided the least amount of interaction with the central storyline of the series. Players are left wondering what Desmond discovered while lost within the Animus and where his adventure is leading him.

One of the peculiarities about the Assassin’s Creed franchise has always been that the games have not focused on the central story with Desmond, but rather the side stories of his ancestors. The series has been built on four major games and a collection of minor games to tell one fragmented story. As such, Revelations is just another piece in that narrative to reach the conclusion. One major strength of the franchise is that players who haven’t played the previous games can, on some levels, step in at any point. Yes, the central story has continued to build on itself, but the individual stories of each game can stand on their own. Still, while the gameplay and individual stories in each game are essentially stand alone, to get the full experience out of this game requires having played through the earlier games. At one point in the game, Ezio sings about his various adventures and exploits. While this is a gem in its own right, having played through those experiences and knowing the people and encounters he’s talking about makes it that much more enjoyable.

Earlier this month, Ubisoft revealed that Assassin’s Creed III, the fifth major game which has been in the works for the past three years, will be out this October. Having completed Ezio’s story, players will finally experience the conclusion of Desmond’s role in the war between the Assassins and Templar in a game that features a new ancestor, Conor, and occurs during a new period, The American Revolution. With the end of Desmond’s story approaching, it was definitely nice to wrap up both Altaïr and Ezio’s adventures. Honestly, if you have kept up with the story, I can’t imagine skipping Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. That said, it definitely felt like an expansion, and with a release date for Assassin’s Creed III set in stone, it also wouldn’t hurt to wait a bit to pick this one up. If, on the other hand, you have never played the series, Revelations is not the place to begin. As I stated earlier, at their core, all these games have been side stories used to piece together Desmond’s story. While Revelations can stand on its own, the emphasis on Altaïr’s past places more stress on having prior experience with the franchise. If you were only going to pick up one game in the franchise, I personally consider Assassin’s Creed II to be the best of the four and would recommend that one. That said, if you haven’t, I strongly recommend playing through the entire franchise -- or at least the four major games. Seeing how the story and the franchise have developed over the past five years has been a great journey; one that I’m eagerly waiting to continue come October.

~We work in the dark to serve the light. We are Assassins.~

All images owned by Ubisoft.