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