I’ve been a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed series ever since the free-running delights of the very first game. It’s had its missteps – hello, Connor and Unity – but it has given us one of the finest protagonists in gaming’s pantheon, not to mention near-endless hours of time-travelling virtual tourism.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins goes all the way back to Ancient Egyptian times, and a review for that is coming in the next week or so. But in the meantime, let’s take a little look back at some of the very best that the series has had to offer. These are, in my humble opinion, the five best Assassin’s Creed games in the series…
Honourable Mention: Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate – Solving Mysteries With Dickens
Syndicate doesn’t quite make the list because it shone a little brighter merely as a result of being solid in the wake of the shambles that was Unity. But I wanted to give it a little bit of love if only because I’m English and I live in London, so I’m going to be little biased about this one. As it turned out, making a female playable character in the main series really wasn’t that hard after all, the zipline was super cool, and you got to solve mysteries with Charles Dickens.
5. Assassin’s Creed – The Beginning
The original game was little more than a tech demo in some ways, but I have such fond memories of discovering this game alongside my uni friends that I couldn’t leave it off the list. There was a feeling of unbridled joy in exploring these Crusader cities, and although the Assassins’ toolkit hadn’t yet evolved to take full advantage of the environment, players enjoyed unfettered freedom and dizzying, delicious verticality when it came to approaching assassinations. We spent hours climbing to the top of massive minarets- just to see the view.
Yes, the side quests were absolute garbage, but the purity of the game’s approach to its core mechanisms – learn about your target, explore the surroundings, plot the ultimate execution while running up the side of buildings – marked the start of a gaming revelation.
4. Assassin’s Creed: Origins – Cleopatra Comin’ Atcha
Well done Bayek! You’ve made it into the top five. Assassin’s Creed: Origins delivers probably the best game world in the series with the exception of Black Flag. Ancient Egypt is gloriously recreated here, and the combat mechanisms have finally, finally been updated. With Origins, Ubisoft have borrowed heavily from other games, but to great effect. The outposts of Far Cry have inspired military camps and bandit hideouts here. The side-quests in Origins are more vital than the banal nonsense of previous games, and it’s clear that a few of the developers have looked to The Witcher 3 for inspiration, imbuing peripheral characters with backstory, and giving you a reason to care. Instead of being a shrug in the annals of the series, Origins has really impressed, even if it hasn’t reinvented the wheel. But after years of mediocrity, that’s so no bad thing.
3. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – Perfecting The Formula
I really toyed with putting this game first. Brotherhood shouldn’t have worked. Heralded to release merely a year after its predecessor came out, it had absolutely no real right to be any good. Except it was.
Brotherhood wasn’t a cynical money grab at all, instead it added innovative new features that have stuck around to this day to a series that had already undergone a superb transformation in the second game. Capturing territories, dispatching your stabby peers to do your bidding, and an addictive multiplayer component that turned out to be really quite compelling and refreshing. Romping around Renaissance Rome was an absolute delight, and getting to drive a 15th Century tank was the icing on a quite splendid murderous cake.
2. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag – Sid Meier’s Assassins!
Assassin’s Creed 3 was pretty terrible. But that’s what happens when you make a plank of wood your main character. Its intro, however, was epic – playing a seafaring James Bond Templar with far more charisma and panache than his son. Thankfully, for the follow-up, Ubisoft went full buccaneer and basically crossed Assassin’s Creed with Sid Meier’s Pirates!
Black Flag proved to be a massive reinvention for the series, serving up a vast, beautiful world, filled with a variety of rich and diverse missions, and ship-to-ship combat that was so good it’s spawned a game of its own. The soundtrack is probably the best in the whole series to date, and the story was engrossing yet grounded. Whether sneaking into plantations, assaulting coastal forts, exploring shipwrecks, stalking Templars through the jungle, or exploring Mayan ruins, Black Flag was always wonderful fun.
1. Assassin’s Creed II – The Absolute Gamechanger
Assassin’s Creed II is, in many ways, the Platonic Form of the Ubisoft Game. And yet to return to it is to see that despite its many rich and varied features, the plethora of diverse side missions and tombs to explore, the array of ways you could upgrade and enhance your home of Monterrigioni, nothing in Assassin’s Creed II feels tacked on or superfluous. In spite of its size, and it is a huge game, this is not a bloated experience at all.
The second game in the series took everything that was present in its callow but curious predecessor and made it better. Instead of a bland cipher, we got one of the most charismatic characters in gaming. In place of meaningless flag collection, we had quests that impacted on the game. The controls were further developed and refined, the executions more brutal and varied. The story went from simple revenge to a dimension-spanning epic that rewrote everything we thought we knew. It can be argued (and I’ve done it) that Brotherhood by definition of being a game that somehow manages to improve upon this exemplary template, is better, but few games of any genre or franchise can boast to being as important as this. Assassin’s Creed II is nothing short of a modern classic.
But how about you, dear reader? Which do you think are the best Assassin’s Creed games? Which do you think are the worst? You can check out my review of Assassin’s Creed: Origins here, and you can find more Top Five goodness here. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and don’t forget to subscribe to the YouTube channel for regular video awesomeness!