I’m a great big fan of the Assassin’s Creed games. I’ve spent the last year playing all of them in a row, and I feel like I am now uniquely qualified to tell you which games are “real good” and which games “ain’t so good.” Sit back, sip on some coffee or some of that sweet cane sugar classic Dew, and get ready for a completely objective and unarguably factual ranking of videogames that you cannot disagree with because I will disprove you with my facts.
This game is almost universally hated, and I understand why. It systems don’t mesh together very well. The plot points don’t follow from one another. The game feels unbearably long, but the important moments seem to zip right by without any time to pause or reflect. The protagonist, Ratonhnhaké:ton, is a complex and three-dimensional person that the game treats like a one-note, angry teen when it is convenient, as often as it milks his tragedy for pathos. This game just doesn’t work. That said, its reach exceeds its grasp. Although there’s courage in some of the “bad” design choices, they ultimately don’t add up to a positive, pleasant, or interesting experience.
I actually have not played this game, so I can’t speak to its position on this list. If you played it and liked it a lot, please mentally place it wherever you see fit in this list. That will now be canon. The reason that it is at the sixth position (rather than last or in an honorable mention) is that I’m certain that it is better than ACIII by default. In either case, please continue to enjoy this canonical and objectively factual rankings list of videogames.
Brotherhood took every mechanic introduced in Assassin’s Creed 2 and polished them to a sheen. Do you like taking over areas of a city? You can do that a lot. Do you like collectables? There are approximately one billion collectables. Do you like Renaissance Italy? Here’s thirty more hours of it. Lots of people like the refinements in this game, but I personally found them cumbersome. Narratively, Ezio – who grew quite a bit as a character during AC2 – gets retconned back into immaturity, which really undercuts the effectiveness of the “Ezio Trilogy” as a whole.
The first game in the series set the stakes for what went down over the next several games. Desmond Miles was kidnapped by a comically villainous Illuminati scientist. He discovered the Animus, genetic memory, and the struggles of Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad during the Middle Ages. It was a whirlwind of conspiracy theory and strange new mechanics when it was originally released, and not a lot remains changed today. The risks that this game took are amazing, especially the decision to “embody” the user interface in the Animus rather than in some kind of nebulous middle zone between game and player. Add in the lack of cinematic cut-scenes and the high-concept yet well-developed story of intrigue, and you have the perfect foundation for a long-running series.
This game introduces us to the super sassy Ezio Auditore, a young man about town who loves to smile and gets so caught up trying to avenge his father’s death that he becomes an assassin and sets about years of murder before even asking why he’s murdering people in the first place. This is the game where Ubisoft really began to double down on history being their playground with mixed results. The Italian Renaissance cities are modeled to look authentic, the landmarks are true-to-life, and the side characters just happen to be some of the most historically significant people from the era. With this game, the franchise solidified its strange plot that unifies Adam and Eve, the First Civilization, the Templars and the Assassins, and several other plotlines that only pay off in several games times. Ubisoft was planning for the future.
People were tired of Ezio Auditore by the time that this game came out, which is sad, because it is the strongest game in the series before Black Flag. Commonly derided for having “tower defense” sections (despite the game only forcing you to do this a single time), the game perfects every system from the previous games while dropping some of the collectables that clogged up the map. The game also takes Ezio out of well-worn Italy and drops him smack in the middle of deep court intrigue in Constantinople. Outside of this, you do a lot of hopping around in time and space. You even get to hang out with Altaïr again! What a great game. Also: the hookblade, an extension of the hidden blade weapons, makes its only appearance in the series as part of the technology of the Constantinople branch of the Assassin Brotherhood. This is a shame, because the hookblade is awesome.
Black Flag is a love story between a man and a bunch of men who work on a boat and sing songs. That man, of course, is me, and that boat is Edward Kenway’s boat.
In all seriousness, Black Flag is the moment when everything clicked into place. It took the boat mechanics from ACIII, sped them up, made them more complex, and then simplified their use. It turned collectables into literal pointless islands, so you felt especially worthless for going on the “cheevo” journey to find sparkle fragments. It weaved a plot about maturity and justice that actually earned its outcome. All in all, Black Flag actually manages to fully grasp everything that the previous games in the series merely reached for, and for that reason alone it deserves the top dawg super-spot for winners and winners alone.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com.