The Assassin’s Creed series has gradually moved away from historical accuracy and toward fantasy and mythology. The historical period pieces are still there, of course, but they’re becoming more of a cosmetic setting than anything else. With Origins featuring boss fights with giant Egyptian gods and Odyssey set to include characters of legend such as Medusa, Assassin’s Creed is clearly not the series it was when it first landed in 2007. As these historical trappings become less and less important to the series, so too should the modern day storyline that acts as a tenuous through-line between all the games.
Perhaps almost as iconic as the series’ historical globe-trotting is the Animus, the modern day virtual reality MacGuffin that allows the user to explore their ancestors’ memories. That’s how it started, anyway. For the first handful of games, the narrative revolved around Desmond Miles, an unassuming guy discovering his Assassin heritage and realizing that the Assassin/Templar war was still very much alive and that he was now a part of it. It started as a compelling story, presenting the player with enough mystery to keep them hooked between games and offering a more relatable parallel to the historical escapades.
Eventually, however, this modern day narrative became too convoluted for me to even care. It became about ancient gods, deus ex machinas, and all kinds of generic-seeming plot devices. The narrative clearly stretched far beyond the original writer’s scope. The huge popularity of the series was likely beyond what the team could’ve imagined, and the Animus narrative suffered because of this. Not that I’m blaming the writers. They were tasked with the difficult job of extending a story far beyond its potential, and they did a solid job of it.
My argument is simply that it finished and it should’ve ended with Desmond Miles. Assassin’s Creed 3 resolved his arc, and it should have been the end of the Animus arc, too. It offered a conclusion, whether you liked it or not. They should have extended that closure to the modern day stuff on the whole. Everything that followed that game was token at best. Black Flag was the first game in the series to follow this conclusion and its present-day stuff was cute, where you were a game developer at a company that was obviously meant to parody Ubisoft, but it didn’t really add much to a game that was already great.
The modern day stuff in the following Assassin’s Creed titles grew increasingly forced and unnecessary. Despite really enjoying Syndicate, I had to look at the Wikipedia page to remind myself that it even had any modern day stuff. Syndicate was a great game with a lot of things that made it memorable. The dual protagonists, the wonderful interpretation of Victorian London, the variety of fun and ridiculous cameos from historical figures. The game was compelling enough without the forced modern day stuff.
Likewise, Unity and Rogue had narrative hooks that tried to tie into the Animus that were completely unnecessary. With Origins, another game I enjoyed tremendously, I tried to engage with the modern day narrative as it seemed a little more interesting, but I couldn’t hold that attention. It perhaps speaks more to how great Origins was, but it felt jarring and disjointed whenever I was dragged out of the Animus. The beautiful world of Ancient Egypt was too enrapturing and the wonderfully realized character of Bayek too lovable for me to also care about the modern day narrative.
It detracts from the historical tourism that makes the series great. Although that part of the narrative was once intriguing and unique, it just feels unnecessary at this point. The historical globetrotting rollercoaster ride is what makes Assassin’s Creed so special. Continuing to shoehorn in sci-fi elements only minimizes the impact of the series’ unique charm. Frankly, I think it’s only hurting the series at this point.
Self-contained adventures with tenuous links to the Assassin and Templar beef should be the focus. Forcing a modern day element into the story only undermines the once cool and unique concept of the Animus. It also lessens the impact of the original Desmond Miles narrative, which, at the time, was a pretty decent story. Now seems like a great time to ditch the Animus and just stick to historical tourism. I’ll honestly be a little disappointed if Odyssey features any modern day stuff.
End it, Ubisoft. Let it go and let it rest.