For a series that only started in 2007, somehow we've reached a staggering 20+ titles already (if you count all the spin-offs, mobile entries, and social media web browser games). That's on par with the Call Of Duty franchise that everybody likes to rag on for having an endless stream of yearly installments.
Like clockwork, the official 2015 entry Assassin's Creed: Syndicate just finally arrived, this time culling out the modern day elements in favor of a more straight historical narrative and offering up dual protagonists in 1860's London.
It goes without saying that with so many different games coming in such a small window of time, there's a pretty big gap in quality between them, with some significantly more worth your time than others.
If you want to know what games are still up to snuff and which should be relegated to the bargain bin, you've come to the right place. We'll skip all the mobile phone and handheld games and instead focus on the core console titles that compose this rapidly expanding series.
Best: Assassin's Creed II
Opinion is overall divided here, with fans about split as to which game is really the best, and I have to admit even I waffle sometimes on which is currently my favorite. Honestly, this and the next slide could be swapped on any given day and they'd probably still be right, as both Assassins Creed II and Black Flag are very solid high points. But, looking back across the entire series, the sequel to the original title just does so much right that it's worth being counted as the pinnacle.
While the original title offered a previously unknown mix of historical stealth combat and modern day sci-fi shenanigans, the first direct sequel improved on nearly every aspect in major ways. There was no more running back and forth from the safe house constantly, significantly improved combat, better storylines, and the most loved protagonist in Assassin's Creed history: Ezio.
The dynamic environments for fleeing (or stalking an assassination target) still hold up today even after so many iterations, and there was tons of fun to be had hunting down all the feathers, video segments, and statuettes. Granted, by today's standards it may not have the graphical flair (or the ship-to-ship combat that's become so highly acclaimed), but this is still one of the most fun, polished games in the entire series.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Everybody knows that pirates and ninja are mortal enemies, but apparently pirates and accidental Caribbean assassins go together a bit better. Black Flag moved us away from the story's roots a bit by throwing in a protagonist who didn't even intend to ever be an assassin and had no real knowledge of the war against the templars. He just found a cool outfit, put it on, and got down to the business of killing and looting!
The emphasis on ship combat is what entirely makes this game great (so something good finally came out of the maligned third installment, which first introduced the idea). Between the island exploration, tense naval battles, and typical city assassination elements, Black Flag is one of the most straight-up enjoyable entries in terms of game play.
Assassin's Creed: Rogue
How weird is it that the bone thrown to previous gen players who hadn't upgraded to the Xbox One / PS4 yet ended up being superior to the current gen counterpart? Rogue was almost an afterthought, put out because not everyone was ready to throw down the cash for a new console and pick up Unity (and as we discovered, those poor gamers actually came out with the better end of the deal). Culling out multiplayer and using a very clear template from the 360 / PS3 days might have actually made this a better game with the focus on tweaking and improving the formula.
Of course, it's also worth noting you finally get to take up the cause of the other side and carry the torch for the Templars instead! Long range kills with the rifle and causing mayhem with a grenade launcher add in unexpected elements as well, offering a solid follow-up to the amazing Black Flag.
On the downside, Assasin's Creed: Rogue is overall very similar to that previous game, but since that's one of the best entries in the series, that's perhaps not such a bad thing after all.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
No one expected this game to work, and everyone thought an epic flop was brewing over at Ubisoft. How do you take single player stealth assassin gameplay and tack on multiplayer to it? Somehow it worked, and while the experience isn't quite the crazy wild west of say something like GTA 5 multiplayer, it definitely had solid appeal as you wondered whether the person next to you was a simple peasant... or an assassin with a blade ready. Honestly, it's still fun today, if you can find enough people for a match, that is.
On the single player front, exploring Renaissance-era Rome (a much larger city than the previous games) while battling the corrupt Borgias family was quite satisfying, and adding in the ability to recruit followers added a welcome new dimension. Being an assassin is a good time, but leading a whole cabal of assassins is even more so.
Assassin's Creed: Syndicate
With Syndicate only out for a few days now it's tough to make a real call yet as to where it really lands in the ranking of the series, as viewpoints are going to change as a game sinks in over repeated plays. Assassin's Creed III is probably the best example of that - it received stellar reviews from the major game sites at launch but is now universally reviled.
We'll have to see with AC:S finally lands, but right now it seems to be sitting in the middle of the pack: there's some great stuff going on, but it certainly isn't the peak of the franchise. Carriage chases and top hats aren't quite as innovative as being a pirate.
As a standalone, side-story title it gives a brief glimpse into Victorian era assassins, again slightly changing the formula and abandoning multiplayer, but leading some to wish for another multi-game arc featuring a character we can love as much as Ezio.
Personally, I'm a fan of the top hats, mutton chops, flintlock pistols, and high speed carriage chases. With the organized crime aspects and shooting from a carriage while chasing down other horse-drawn vehicles, sometimes the game almost feels a bit like you're Nico Bellic in old time England. It probably won't ever be heralded as the best entry in the series, but it does sit solidly in the middle.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations
Assassin's Creed: Revelations is the game that almost wasn't – originally set to be a handheld game for the 3DS, it was scrapped and an announcement was released from Ubisoft that there wouldn't actually be an Assassin's Creed game that year... until it was resurrected for the main consoles of the time as Revelations and came out anyway.
While not an explicitly bad game, the formula was getting pretty stale by the time Revelations showed up, and those new features added in didn't really resonate with fans. The hook was kind of nifty, but looking back it didn't actually add a whole lot, and the minigame of defending areas against waves of Templar reinforcements wasn't particularly compelling. This wrap-up to the Ezio storyline was a middling experience that just didn't manage to knock it out of the park.
If you weren't aware of the twist ahead of time (and I wasn't when I first popped that disc in), the sci-fi/modern day twist at the very start of the game really messed with your head. Like “Sixth Sense” messed with your head. I first played the original Assassin's Creed on Christmas Day 2007 after having imbibed quite a bit, and honestly I thought at first that someone at the factory had messed up somehow and put the wrong game in the case. Those who trolled all the forums or stayed on top of the gaming magazines at the time actually missed out there.
Opening mindscrew aside, there's no question this game has aged, and perhaps not very well. More interesting features and smoother gameplay have been added to most of the games since, so while this one has nostalgia going for it, its definitely among the weaker entries with quite clunky controls. For some fans, the placement of this game so low on the list might be a bit of a controversial one, and it really could be swapped with the previous entry for those feeling a little more generous.
Assassin's Creed III
Just as it seemed like Brotherhood couldn't work, this entry in the series seemed destined for greatness, and both of those assumptions ended up completely incorrect. The setting had everyone excited – medieval European assassin game series heads to the American revolution? - but the end result was anything but gripping.
I remember the excitement felt when the first video teasers landed was only matched by the disappointment of the end product as the main character isn't particularly exciting, the intro segments are way too long and the game was very buggy upon release. Although they don't get mentioned often, there were actually some graphical shortcuts used here that really didn't sit right, especially the foliage and leaves that looked like flat cardboard cutouts.
The DLC is worth mentioning however, as the idea of George Washington becoming a tyrant who has to be taken down was incredibly interesting. Even with new animal-inspired powers for your Native American assassin, the end result was a little lackluster though, ending up quite repetitive with a weak ending.
Worst: Assassin's Creed: Unity
Assassin's Creed unquestionably stumbled with its first faltering steps into the next generation of console gaming. Frankly the endless stream of bugs made people want to take up assassination as a profession and target certain game developers...
If you went with the PC version you could look forward to crashes galore, but any edition had an absolute avalanche of technical problems crushing any hope of a good game experience. Bodies would contort in insane ways, parts of your face would disconcertingly vanish, sometimes you'd just fall through the floor, objects would float in the air for no apparent reason and you'd be taken with the irresistible urge to dance while climbing ladders or running across ledges. It was sort of like being in a horror movie, but not on purpose.
The game was so bad that Ubisoft Montreal CEO Yannis Mallet actually issued a formal apology to fans for the bug-ridden release and even handed out free DLC as a mea culpa. We can only hope a lesson was learned here and the series never dips this low again.
Floundering franchise or wellspring of ideas?
While each title had something to make it stand out, it does seem like there's only so many ways to refresh and revitalize the same gameplay before you run out of ideas, and it may be time for Assassin's Creed to take a few years off and come back in a whole new format.
What do you think of our ranking of the games, and do you want to see a new title every year or agree that the series needs to take a break?