Assassin’s Creed might have started as a rather straightforward narrative involving historic assassins and warring secret organisations, but the franchise very quickly grew into a multi-media behemoth, weaving an intricate web of lore and characters that could make even the most dedicated fan’s eyes roll into the back of their head. With a franchise as large as this it’s important to try and see the forest for the trees, and enjoy Assassin’s Creed entries removed from the sprawling context of the full narrative bible the series sports. The latest piece of the Assassin’s Creed puzzle is a standalone story of assassin intrigue that aims to let readers do just that, albeit with mixed results.
Rather than bringing an existing Assassin’s Creed protagonist to pen and paper, Conspiracies tells the story of Eddie Gorm, a man working at the London docks in the midst of World War II. When Eddie refuses work from a shady local businessman, he ends up being approached by American agents who inform him that the businessman is an undercover Nazi helping develop an atomic bomb for Hitler. From here, Eddie is wrapped up into a world of double-crossing and Templar conspiracy that will be familiar to any Assassin’s Creed fan.
My favorite game in the series is Black Flag, mostly because of the unorthodox way in which that protagonist finds themselves involved with the world of the assassins. Conspiracies mirrors some of that with Eddie. The last thing he wants to do is get himself involved in the war, yet a series of unfortunate events see him tumbling down and joining up with the order despite how much disdain he has for them. It’s an interesting set of motivations for an ultimately tragic character, but unfortunately, he isn’t very well written for most of it.
Beyond a love for his family and a penchant for drinking, Eddie fails to display any natural developments or emotions that would make him a vivid, memorable character. Instead, he ends up being as much of a tool to the narrative as he is a tool to the assassins and Nazis who order him around. He seems like a hard-to-sway man who’s incredibly faithful to his wife, but then agrees to the demands of shady Americans with barely any argument, and then becomes strangely infatuated with a female assassin who he’s met just a handful of times. He’s sad and conflicted one moment, then slick and quippy the next, and at no point did I feel the same kind of connection to him that I had with many other Assassin’s Creed protagonists.
Beyond the questionable writing of the protagonist, the rest of the narrative is pretty engaging. I always love seeing Assassin’s Creed business set in the 20th century, and the World War II era hasn’t gotten enough love in the games. There are some interesting new characters, as well as a few notable real-life icons making appearances. Conspiracies lives up to its name, with the race to control the atomic bomb leading to some of the most interesting shades of grey I’ve ever seen from the franchise.
Unfortunately, it’s all capped off by a pretty underwhelming cliffhanger. There are moments of real-life story involving the Animus in Conspiracies, and it all sets up some interesting but also confusing stuff about memory loss and secret plans. These real-life bits of intrigue take the reigns of the story and lead it to a sudden and confusing ending that ruined any of the World War II intrigue.
The strength of the story is also weighed down a bit by the weakness of the art. The first half of the book is drawn by Jean-Baptiste Hostache. While his pencil work is sharp and detailed, the composition of the panels is dull and half-hearted. Some of the biggest moments of the book are accompanied by art that fails to deliver the importance of the scene. The dullness of the color palette matches the harsh tone of the story, but it also doesn’t do any favors in making the pages interesting to look at. Part two is drawn by Patrick Pion, and while some more interesting choices are made in this half with regards to panel layout and color use, the pencils are too rough to be able to truly appreciate any of it.
Assassin’s Creed Conspiracies has some really interesting ideas, and it paints a picture of the morality of the Assassin’s and Templars that I’ve never quite seen in any other entry in the series. Unfortunately, the way those ideas are delivered isn’t as strong as it could have been. Between a poorly written protagonist, muddy art, and an unnecessary last-minute cliffhanger, Conspiracies ends up jumping from the tallest building and missing the hay bail by good fifty feet.
New for 2019 we’re looking beyond video games themselves and at the stories and world that are continued and expanded upon through other mediums, namely in books, comic books and film. ‘The Pull List’ will be focussing on comics, with reviews arriving on Wednesdays, the traditional release date of new issues.