Matter Of Perspective: The Assassins

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers about the Assassin’s Creed franchise. If you haven’t played any of the games in the series then I recommend you don’t read on.

The Assassins of the Assassin’s Creed games are a group presented to us as heroes, defenders who will do anything to make sure people stay free and are not brought under the control of the Templar Order. After all, they’re the bad guys who just want to control the world and force everyone to live their way. That lesson was demonstrated by Al Mualim, who used the Apple to try and control the people. Of course, Altair stopped him like the hero he is.

But wait! Have you ever thought who is telling you that the Templars are evil, and the Assassins are the good guys? Every Assassin’s Creed title has given us the perspective of the Assassins. They are the heroes in their own tale. The central conflict is presented as a good versus evil scenario, but dig even a little and you’ll quickly realise that the Assassins just aren’t as good as they say they are.


The Assassin/Templar conflict centres around the theme of control. The Templars are presented as the group who want power and to run the world their way, while the Assassins are presented as the group who want to stop them. However, what’s the plan if the Assassins are successful? If they’re against a group controlling society, are they against any group that tries to run society? The Assassins demand freedom for all people, but what kind of freedom does that actually entail?

[drop]Freedom is a concept that has all sorts of definitions and is something scholars, philosophers and lawmakers have all debated throughout history. Even now, wars are fought in the name of freedom. How free would a society created by the Assassins be?

If we’re talking about total freedom then we could be looking at a world without boundaries, without rules. Is this what the Assassins want? A world without structure could be a nightmare to live in. Chaos would reign as people did whatever they wanted without real repercussions. Every target the Assassins kill makes this point one way or another. These targets understand that we as a group need some sort of order to survive, and to thrive.

If their goal isn’t this kind of anarchy, then maybe the Assassins want a free world as long as that world meets their definition of freedom; a world where everyone is free as long as they don’t pursue the Templar’s ideals. A world where the Assassins become everything they fought against. A world run as the Templars would have wanted.

“Men must be free to do what they believe. It is not our right to punish one for thinking what they do, no matter how much we disagree.” – Altair

See, Altair almost gets it, but still he kills those he disagrees with. This one phrase, from the founder of the modern Assassin Order – no less – highlights the very reason the Assassins should not exist anyway: they don’t protect freedom but police it. The Order is also not innocent of controlling the world from behind the scenes, as the Templars do. The Assassins influence and instruct major historical figures including the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I. Ezio forms an alliance with the young Prince, eventually helping him rise to the position of Sultan. If the Assassins truly believed in freedom then they would not have meddled in the succession of a powerful Empire.

At least the Templars know what they want. Perhaps they offer a better alternative? Haytham, one of the main antagonists of Assassin’s Creed III, represented a new direction for the Templars, the next step in the Templar evolution. He wanted to move the group away from focusing on the first civilisation, instead trying to create an ordered world where people were treated with respect and equality.

[drop2]Every action Haytham ordered of his group was for the betterment of the fledgling United States, including the purchase of the Native lands to make sure no one invaded and displaced the indigenous population. Even Washington’s assassination was only ordered to shorten the war, allowing the new United States to establish itself earlier.

This was something Connor realised, and he wanted to join forces with Haytham to bring in a new world with order. He tried to build a bridge but even Haytham could not see the whole picture, as he truly believed the Assassins were an evil cult. Connor himself was brainwashed by Achilles to see the Templars as nothing but evil. Is that what’s happened to every player who has experienced the franchise?

The real nail in the coffin of the Assassin hero portrayal are the last actions of Desmond. He is shown a world which does survive the apocalypse. A world where his words spread and shape the new society, though it doesn’t quite live up to what he wants to build. He is shown this future and elects to instead choose a future where control is given to a single entity: Juno. Desmond committed the ultimate sin, at least by the standards of the Assassins, by sacrificing the freedom of the remaining humans for the order and control of Juno. In this final action the Assassins have failed to reach their goal, ill-conceived though it may be.

When it really comes down to it though, the Assassins simply don’t the deserve to be called heroes or freedom fighters; their goal seems so poorly thought out that they can never really win. All they can ever hope for is to disrupt the Templars, which hardly seems that noble in the long run.

I’m not saying that I agree with the total control that the Templars crave though, I don’t think anyone really could. In fact the only vision that really makes any sense is the one that Haytham and Connor share: a world with structure, equality and freedom.

It seems that the nature of the conflict between the two sides, and their respective goals, means that neither side can really claim the moral high ground, neither side can become the archetypal hero. It’s only when the two combine their ideas that we get a stable world view, but both sides seem so dedicated to their ideologies that such a compromise could never happen. If anyone could broker such a peace then they’d become the only true hero the series has but, as it stands, the goals of both sides are ultimately futile.



  1. Article written by a Templar, beware :P
    Jokes aside, good and interesting writing but in my opinion the problem with the Templars is that: the whole talk about ‘people need someone to guide them, to tell them what to do and what not’ is just a facade, hiding their true intentions of gaining power above others, to multiply their wealth, life at the expense of other. It is true that the Assassins also tried to create some kind of control on people, but because of the difference of their intentions (in their actions), they are the good guys.
    Please note that I haven’t played AC3 yet.

  2. It’s a difficult one, but I’d say your perception on the “good” or “evil” aspects of the Assassin or Templar orders depends on your own mindset of which is better, Freedom and Chaos, or Control and Order. This was one area in which I think AC3 was beginning to get interesting, but which ultimately didn’t really amount to anything (I was expecting the series to introduce the Freemasons as an order comprised of both ex-Templars and ex-Assassins, working together to create a world order that had freedom but within certain boundaries, or something to that effect).

    Ultimately, the Assassin order works for all people, while the Templars mostly seem focused on the rich and successful, with many of them willing to kill indiscriminately and without mercy, while showing a severe lack of ethics and morals in the way they approach their ‘research’. So firmly on the side of the Assassin’s here, although as both AC3 and Liberation showed it is an order that has it’s own flaws.

  3. I never really thought of AC as political or philosophical. The biggest interest for me was the history and the cultures it represented. They’ll always be a binary conflict between templars and assassins, with neither side featuring radical or revolutionary enough views to make a mark in real world views. I had hoped by 3 that the backstory might get juicy, but nothing yet except an ascension of history.

  4. During AC3 I did wonder if the Assassins were the Villains of the piece and if the Templers were in fact striving for good. However I only thought of this in the context of the game and not as a reflection on how I’d felt about the Assassins over the trilogy.
    After reading this however a lot of moments and snippets of dialogue are starting to make a lot more sense. I’ve always wanted computer games to have more relevant writing to the world we live in today and now I can’t help but think we’ve had that game for some time now. Hats off to Ubisoft.
    For those who are interested, in the ideas behind revolution and new found control, check out Adam Curtis and his BBC documentary series “The Trap”.

  5. A good part of AC3’s story line was the interactions between Haytham and Connor. It really did make me think if what the Templars were trying to achieve was as bad as the Assassins make it out to be.
    Both Orders want a ‘perfect world’, i.e a peaceful one. The Templars want to create this New World Order by controlling and surprising the human race, while the Assassins believe everyone should still have free will.
    I love the stories behind the AC games – that’s why I love reading the books too as it lets you concentrate on the stories and characters rather than playing the game. The cliffhanger at the end of AC3 really annoyed me, I really want to know what Juno has in store for humanity!
    Great article Aran btw! :)

  6. Lol – I just saw gazza’s comment on the ticker thing on the top & it has brilliantly shortened the title of this artcle to ‘Matter Of Perspective: The Ass’.


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