It’s funny that, for a franchise centred around the exploration of time, Assassin’s Creed fans were more than content revisiting the same era on three subsequent occasions. As the first game drew to an enigmatic close, we envisioned myriad possibilities for a string of sequels, from feudal Japan to the Second World War. Since then, we’ve seen plenty of memorbale historic periods but when it comes to the quality of the games themselves, the trilogy that followed Ezio Auditore will forever be the series’ golden age.
In some ways, Ezio has been a double-edged sword for Ubisoft and its conclave of studios. Back in 2009, there weren’t many lead protagonists in gaming that could boast such effortless charisma and likeability. The fact that we watch his entire life play out across three games and two bonus movies adds yet another dimension. However, in creating such a successful character, Ubisoft had set the bar too high for those that followed.
In Assassin’s Creed III a ridiculous amount of time was put into fleshing out the backstory, yet the payoff simply wasn’t there. Connor Kenway and his one-track mumbling failed to give players the vehicle they needed to explore what was a much bigger, more dynamic game world. While his swashbuckling ancestor fared better, frenchman Arno and Syndicate’s Frye twins have only reminded us how much we miss our darling Italian.
Ubisoft’s three-part remaster is the closest we’ll ever get to seeing him again. Discounting Lineage and Embers (the two aforementioned bonus films) they’ve put together Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood, and Revelations in one comprehensive bundle. Throw in a glut of singleplayer DLC and you’re easily looking at over a hundred hours of great content.
As expected, each of the three games have undergone some fairly noticeable cosmetic work. The difference between these remasters and the originals isn’t exactly night and day, though each one benefits from much sharper detail and a richer colour palette, dispelling some of that muddy fog that once clung to the periphery.
It’s surprising, going back, just how playable each of the three games are considering their age. Part of the reason why so many of us were hyped for Assassin’s Creed III was the prospect of faster, more fluid gameplay. At that point Ubisoft was pumping out yearly sequels, and that actually made Revelations appear much more fatigued than it actually was.
Despite making some neat changes to the existing formula, our time spent fighting the war for independence was marred by a number of unwelcome overhauls. While navigating terrain became much easier, that same streamlined approach didn’t work for combat. It was similar to the brawling found in Rocksteady’s Arkham series yet lacked the same weight and punchiness. Although some cried out for change, I loved the previous battle system, where a simple counter could trigger an entire chain of killing blows. It felt both fun and empowering, and my time with the Ezio Collection only cements this fondness.
Recent iterations have also lost some of the sandbox feel that made the originals so fantastic and immersive. In Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, civilians crowds are more akin to props than actual live humans. Playing through Brotherhood, throwing innocent bystanders from rooftops or poisoning them still serves as an endless source of enjoyment. Find an old granny, slip her some berserk serum and, sure enough, she’ll charge the nearest person with flailing fists of madness.
Where recent years have seen incremental changes to the way we navigate each new playground, the movement system wasn’t really that bad to begin with. Assassin’s Creed II is the remaster I’ve spent most of my time playing and it honestly feels perfectly fine. Sure, you’ll miss the occasional jump and may fumble when dropping from ledges, but it’s no way near as bad as a lot of people will remember.
When it comes to Assassin’s Creed, I’m total sucker. From the 2007 original to Syndicate, I’ve bought every mainline instalment, but I can’t say I’ve truly enjoyed any of them since Revelations. That’s the bit that really hurts – throwing money at each passing sequel hoping the series will loop back and recapture its long lost magic.
In short, The Ezio Collection is by far the best Assassin’s Creed game I’ve played in years. All I can do now is hope that Ubisoft has taken stock of the past few years and changed course for its flagship series. We won’t know, of course, until we catch our first glimpse of the rumoured Egypt-themed title.