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Opinion

Assassin's Creed | How Ubisoft Dropped The Ball With Desmond

Discarding the hero.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Assassin’s Creed series as a whole.

desmn1

Assassin’s Creed III was by no means a bad game. It may have only just scraped its way into our Game of the Year top 10, but it still served up an astounding open-world experience spread across hours of content.

Ubisoft’s latest entry in the publisher’s flagship series wasn’t without its problems though. Much of the game’s periphery features, including the Davenport Homestead and Assassin’s Guild, spawned a refreshing management dynamic that was hampered by a lack of cohesion and the need for added legwork. It’s likely players each have their own short list of gripes about these systems, but they don’t come close to the game’s most pressing oversight; the conclusion to Desmond’s story.

Though never particularly likeable, Desmond Miles has served as a conduit for one of the most engaging video game premises of the past decade. Plucked from his stint as a bartender, our unlikely protagonist spent the best part of five years being dragged from shadowy pillar to secretive post in the ongoing war between Templars and Assassins.

This over-arching plot – which is set in the modern day – has always played second fiddle to the series’ historic exploits but has definitely had its highlights. However, after completing Assassin’s Creed III and watching the credits role, any residual hope of Desmond finally stepping up to players’ expectations is stamped out in a heartbeat.

Obviously, Ubisoft were ultimately in control of how the series and its characters would pan out. However, there were always lingering albeit reasonable predictions that the series would culminate in a modern sequel with Desmond Miles firmly at the helm.

That was certainly the message being conveyed in Assassin’s Creed II. Though Ezio hogged the lion’s share of screentime, we knew that Desmond was using his ancestor’s memories and the “Bleeding Effect” to brace himself for the ultimate showdown against the Templars. During the course of Ubisoft’s critically-acclaimed sequel he had sharpened his previously non-existing skills as an assassin, foreshadowing events to come. Or so we thought.

A few years down the line and it had become difficult to understand or even care about Desmond and his journey. Ubisoft did such a good job in fleshing out the character of Ezio Auditore da Firenze that he temporarily dethroned Miles as the franchise’s poster boy. This transition in focus was made even more apparent with the release of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Here, our well-worn renaissance man basically assumed Desmond’s role as a proxy, tracing the history of their common ancestor, Altair, but without the aid of the Animus.

When Revelations came to an end along with Ezio’s digitized life story, it seemed like an opportune moment for Desmond to put his assassin training to the test. Instead, in Assassin’s Creed III, he was once again relegated to the background while the equally two-dimensional Connor took the reins.

In fairness, there were moments of reprieve. With the end of the world looming, Desmond did go toe-to-toe with Abstergo in a small cluster of missions. It has to be said, however, that these sections of the game were by far the least interesting and did little to portray how far Desmond had progressed as a character.

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Still, going into the final sequence, there was hope that our stagnating assassin would finally get his time to shine. In a way he did, though not in the fashion many fans would have expected. Confronted by godlike pre-humans of the “First Civilization”, he was given the choice to protect the Earth from an impending solar flare or let it die and be reborn once more.

If he were to allow the latter, only Desmond and a handful of humans would survive, their efforts to rebuild society only starting the Assassin/Templar cycle all over again. However, if he was to protect the planet, it would save humanity; but only temporarily.

You see, Juno, the ever-present guide pushing Desmond towards his goal, had her own agenda. By preventing the solar flare, the assassin would unwittingly release her from an ancient prison, enabling Juno to wreak havoc on humanity after aeons of loathing and pent-up rage at the loss of her husband. Faced with this dilemma, Desmond realises that humanity stands a better chance against Juno than it does after having our civilization dialled back to its factory settings.

Moments before Desmond saves the planet there’s a brief flash, a glimmer indicating that he and his assassins will lead the charge against Juno along this newly-forged path he was always destined to walk. However, upon activating the First Civilization’s technology, it kills him outright. Instead of taking that last golden opportunity to turn their protagonist into the series’ next centric playable character, Ubisoft simply disposed of him. Just like that.

Having been subject to a barrage of low-blows over the past five years, writing Desmond out of the series wasn’t completely unexpected though poses questions as to who will pick up the torch in his stead. It’s presumed that someone will step up to the challenge, but who exactly that is remains under wraps. Perahps the introduction of a new core character will push this best-selling franchise in a new direction, but for now we’ll just have to wait and see.

21 Comments
  1. Amphlett
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Am I the only one that doesn’t really give a toot about the deep plot lines? I just want shooty-shooty-puzzle-shooty-puzzle-hide-run-puzzle-shooty. I’m sure I’m not the only one that incessantly bashes the x button to skip cut scenes.

    Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 13:26.
    • Kris Lipscombe
      Team TSA: Writer
      Since: Mar 2009

      I want both. There are games I love without much of a plot, but I love a game with a well thought out plot as well.

      Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 13:44.
    • ArrebatoTarugo
      Member
      Since: Jul 2013

      I am with you, but reading the article I have the feeling that we are the minority here. Particularly with plots like the one in Assassin Creed. I gave up the series because I couldn’t stand hours of unskipable background story.

      Don’t take me wrong. I love the story in the games. Atmosphere, the story you make in your head, the things they show, the relationships with characters. And they add to the game, but gameplay is king for me.

      Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 13:47.
    • Michael
      Team TSA: Development
      Since: Forever

      Some games I bash the X button to skip the gameplay.

      Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 19:53.
    • Jim Hargreaves
      Member
      Since: Nov 2009

      I can see where your coming from but storyline, in most cases, is what drives/justifies gameplay for some people.

      I’m definitely in your camp when it comes to a lot of third person shooter though games like AC, with such a deep lore, need an interesting coherent narrative to balanced its rehashed mechanics.

      Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 22:25.
  2. The Lone Steven
    Never heard of him.
    Since: May 2010

    I lost interest in Desmond in AC3. I don’t play AC for Desmond and the alien plotline. No, i just play it for it’s historical locations and the assassain. From Ezio to Conner. That said, Conner was a bit boring just like Desmond and was just a distraction that wasn’t needed. I hated that the choice was automatically made for us as it sounded like it would give us a choice during that cutscene.

    Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 13:41.
    • 3shirts
      Member
      Since: Aug 2008

      I agree. As I said below, AC3 should have been Desmond’s game. A whole game for him might have driven his character on enough to make me care about him. As it was, I didn’t really.

      Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 14:22.
  3. 3shirts
    Member
    Since: Aug 2008

    I was disappointed in AC3. After the AC2 trilogy I expected the third to be a modern story of Desmond.
    AC1 was the story of Altair but 2 mixed Ezio’s story with the back story of Desmond and brought us right up to the point where he should step in. AC3 felt like a waste of time, like Conner’s story was barely relevant to the overarching plot.

    As you said, it was a good game, great in its own right, but I felt like I was going through the motions of the Conner parts to get to the next Desmond section that might actually drive the story forward. I guess I feel that Conner’s story should have been a spin-off, not the main game.

    Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 13:50.
    • double-o-dave
      Member
      Since: Nov 2008

      I’m with ya on the spin-off thing. Better still, Connor & ACIII not existing at all.

      Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 14:01.
  4. double-o-dave
    Member
    Since: Nov 2008

    I was following the story ’til about 3 games in when I suddenly couldn’t understand what the hell was happening and lost interest. As soon as I got stuck into running around as Ezio in some great European settings I was suddenly speaking to some weird alien woman and shooting people with golden apples. Not following the storyline, I still loved the games up ’til AC3. Not sure whether I’ll bother with the Black Flag game when its released as AC3 completely ruined it for me. Crap character, crap cold snowy forest scenery (especially compared to Venice etc running around on roof tops at sunset), the fighting mechanics changed and didn’t seem to flow or work properly and I thought the graphics the a nose dive. I wished they went back to maybe ancient Egyptians than the American Civil War.
    Never bothered finishing the game and traded it in.
    I know a lot of people enjoyed AC3 but I felt it was a half hearted game, hunting etc was bunged in to try and stop it feeling so empty which draws me to a thought… Hopefully, the reason I thought it was so shite was because a good percentage of the team were working on the next generation title.

    Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 13:56.
    • double-o-dave
      Member
      Since: Nov 2008

      Apologies, as I just quickly read that back and discovered it turned into a rant about AC3 and pretty much ignored the main ‘plot’ subject. :)

      Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 13:59.
  5. Jakster123x
    Member
    Since: Aug 2011

    Absolutely agree, the Desmond plot had so much promise that was completely wasted.

    I’m still feeling sore about AC3. I enjoyed all of Ezio’s stories immensely and the introduction of a completely new engine for the end of this trilogy was exciting, but it was squandered.

    Every time I felt like I was about to have fun, the game would make the missions so tightly strung that you barely had any freedom to complete them.

    I don’t know, if AC3 wasn’t an Assassin’s Creed game maybe i’d feel a little differently about it, but for me it moved away from what made AC fun.

    Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 14:10.
  6. tactical20
    Member
    Since: May 2010

    The wilderness/homestead made AC3 the worst. The Boston/NY bits were good. Not holding out much hope for Black Flag, which is a shame as I really enjoyed the earlier games.

    Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 14:41.
  7. KeRaSh
    Member
    Since: Nov 2009

    Can’t stand Desmond. I think he’s a really boring character and that prevented me from ever caring about that part of the stories after AC1. I was in it for the supernatural stuff at the end but it never really made that much sense to me and I never managed to make a real connection between the endings of 1, 2 and Brotherhood. Haven’t played anything beyond that. No ,wait. I think I didn’t even finish Brotherhood… Not much of an Ezio fan and I got bored of the gameplay after playing through AC2.
    I wanted to come back for AC3 because of the American setting but I’m not sure that’s going to happen.
    I’ll definitely get AC4 on the PS4, though.

    Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 14:42.
    • double-o-dave
      Member
      Since: Nov 2008

      I’m gonna consider AC4 on the PS4, but believe me, if you couldn’t be bothered to finish Brotherhood, I wouldnt even bother starting AC3. I almost assassinated myself through boredom.

      Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 14:59.
  8. RocketSOL
    Member
    Since: Oct 2008

    Connor was boring. The location was boring. Hell, the whole of AC3 was boring apart from the present day stuff I thought…I was really looking forward to seeing how they advance Desmonds story. Then that happens at the end. A pointless journey across 5 games only to be killed off like that without ever doing something worthwhile.

    I don’t think that was the intention from the beginning…they seemed to lose the plot for the present day story after AC2 in my opinion. For me, the first game is the best for the plot and actually feeling like you play as an assassin.

    Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 15:02.
  9. LikeCallisto
    Member
    Since: Jul 2013

    That ending sucked like hell and felt like a slap in the face after 40+ hours and £120+ pounds worth of gaming. Connor was arrogant and insulting to Achilles (think that was his name) and the only character I found truly interesting was Haytham. Hopefully Black Flag can redeem the series after a below par showing :).

    Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 15:38.
  10. MadYetHatless
    Member
    Since: May 2013

    In the original Assassins Creed, Desmond was literally just a plot device, a way to tie the story together and make the setting make sense. In the second one they gradually started to turn the story onto him, but still left the main focus on Ezio. By the time AC3 came out, it was just a mess. They tried to split to focus equally on both Desmond and Connor, while also trying to tie up the stories of the present day cast, as well as adding Haytham for an entire chapter, and trying out countless new game mechanics, some of which really didn’t fit the game at all. Honestly, there was three things I actually enjoyed doing in AC3: The sailing missions, the homestead missions, (I genuinely found those characters more fleshed out and interesting than anybody else in that game), and playing as Haytham Kenway.

    Comment posted on 04/07/2013 at 16:05.

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