TA Playlist Wrap-up: Assassin’s Creed

The TA Playlist Team - May 11th 2022

Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.
~The Creed of the Assassins

The month of April took the TA Playlist back almost 15 years to the start of one of the most prolific franchises in video game history, spawning 12 main games, a dozen more spin-offs, numerous books, comics, podcasts, and one pretty bad feature film.

“Good games, bad movies” was the theme for April’s Playlist, and the four nominees all came from established video game franchises that saw less-than-rave reviews when adapted to the silver screen. Far Cry 3, DOOM, and Resident Evil 3 were all nominated, but it was the original Assassin's Creed that won the poll with 32.51% of the vote.

Assassin’s Creed was developed by Ubisoft Montreal and released on November 17th, 2007, making this one of the oldest games to be featured on the Playlist, after BioShock, which was released just a few months earlier in August 2007, and Halo: Combat Evolved from 2001. No coincidence that these are some of the biggest names in console gaming, so it’s only fitting that we finally get around to the original Assassin’s Creed. After a month of climbing, stalking, and stabbing, does the game still live up to its legacy, or is this one best left to our genetic memories?

Playlist trivia: This marks the second TA Playlist game released in 2007, but which year has had the most games featured on the Playlist? Check out the answer below.

The story

In case there’s anyone out there who actually needs an introduction to this game, you play as Desmond Miles, a modern-day bartender who has been kidnapped by a mysterious corporation known as Abstergo Industries. Using a technology called the animus, Desmond is forced to relive events in the lives of his ancestors, which are stored in his DNA as “genetic memories.” This first entry in the series focuses on the life of Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, a member of the Brotherhood of the Assassins in the Holy Land during the Third Crusade in the year 1191.

Abstergo wants to search Altair’s memories to find the location of an ancient artefact, the Apple of Eden. However, Desmond’s mind is unable to directly access the memory they need… he has to start from an earlier point in Altair’s life, one which his mind can “synchronise” with, and then progress the simulation forward through Altair’s eyes, taking the same actions he did in order to remain synchronised until they reach the desired memory.

Al Mualim, leader of the Assassins, sends Altair on several missions to assassinate prominent figures throughout the Holy Land, both members of King Richard’s Crusader army and the Muslim forces led by Saladin. To carry out these assassinations, Altair must complete a variety of tasks in each city, such as using stealth to eavesdrop, roughing up an informant, or climbing to the rooftops to tail a subject. Once Altair has gathered enough information, he can carry out the assassination, which usually involves infiltrating a heavily fortified area and getting close enough to the target to make the kill.

Even though his targets come from both sides of the conflict, Altair comes to learn that they are all members of another secret organisation, the Knights Templar, sworn enemies of the Brotherhood of the Assassins. According to Al Mualim, the Templars seek peace through order and control, even at the expense of humanity’s free will, while the Assassins fight for freedom for all mankind to make their own choices. It is this philosophical conflict between the Assassins and Templars that drives the action of the game and spawned the prolific legacy of the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

Stouty108 said:

There’s still something special about the original AC. The cities were stunning, the lore fit perfectly with the story, and it’s a rarely explored bit of history in video games. The gameplay loop I remember being repetitive even at launch, but it’s well worth jumping into for anyone who hasn’t before. Though if you want the 1,000, prepare for a lot of collecting!
FinderKeeper said:
Where it all started... the concept was brilliant, and the setting was unique. After 15 years it definitely shows its age, though. Two console generations ago. A thorough remaster (and perhaps one that reduced or eliminated the collectable grind) would be a good idea.

Setting

The setting is indeed a unique one, although as it turns out, there’s a good reason why the Middle East was chosen as the main setting for this new IP. In the early days of the project’s development, the game that would eventually be released as Assassin’s Creed was intended to be a sequel to Ubisoft’s 2003 platformer, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, with that game’s core development team being brought over to work on the next installment.
However, according to Creative Director Patrice Désilets in an interview with Polygon.com, Ubisoft delivered a somewhat daunting request to the team:
“So in 2004, January, we don’t know what [the new consoles] will be, right? We have no clue that the PS3 will be a PS3 and the 360 will exist. And I received a mandate: “So it’s like Prince of Persia: Next Generation, but try to redefine the action-adventure genre into the next generation of platforms.” .... This is how it all started.”
No pressure, right? Just redefine the action-adventure genre? Sure thing, boss! Désilets continues:
“The first year was all about that mandate, and how do you do that in game design? How do you do that technically? And [I’ve] said it before, but since I’d just finished a game with a prince, I wanted a different character. I wanted the prince to have a different job than just being there waiting for mom and dad to die and take their place. So I wanted to have an action character — something that in his title, it was a job where you could actually see action right away. And so I looked around and I stumbled upon a book about secret societies that I read in college.
And it was kinda like a little book of all the myths surrounding super-secret societies. And the first story was about the old men of the mountain. About the assassins. And so I said, “Oh, you could be a number two of that organisation, and it would be the prince of the assassins.” And I started to study the subject matter, and then suddenly we had something else [other] than a Prince of Persia game.
It took almost two years for the project to drop the Prince of Persia moniker, with one of the more significant hurdles being the need to convince the Ubisoft executives to take a chance on a new IP for a new generation of consoles, rather than sticking with the established brand. But gradually the idea took hold, and the team found themselves moving west from Persia to the Holy Land. As Dresden N7 and Allgorhythm pointed out in the forums, the assassin storyline drew heavily from the novel Alamut, by Vladimir Bartol. As Désilets recounted it in the Polygon interview:
I think it was the second month or third month I read Alamut, the book that people think was the starting point — but it wasn’t. We were already in it. […] I guess this is where I took the idea of — like the master and the disciple relationship is really strong in Alamut. And so that was where the Al Mualim and Altaïr relationship came from. We had this idea that maybe another master is using Altaïr. But the myth of the old man of the mountain is so powerful. You know, jumping into a bale of hay is cool because of the fantasy and whatnot, but it’s part of the myth of the old man. The old man would ask his warriors to jump off of cliffs to show their faith, and so that’s the myth of the old man, and that they would like kill without being like even noticed before or after.
All of this was part of the developers’ desire to make this new game a more realistic experience than Prince of Persia. Grounding the concept in the real world myths and legends of the historical Order of the Assassins and basing many of the characters on real life historical figures became one of the defining concepts of the Assassin’s Creed series.
Spa1h said:
Yesterday it still gave me Goosebumps coming down the hill to the gates of Damascus. A magical city in the medieval times. Same goes to Acre and its famous templar castle, that looks exactly as on the historical recordings and drawings, the game made me study. Everything still looks brilliant for being 15 years old, and the world, especially in the cities it really comes to life and is super immersive.
Gunstar Red said:
The game itself was, and mostly still is, amazing. At the time, I was in awe of how populated the cities were and all the fine details of the buildings and landscapes.

Movement and combat

This focus on realism also impacted the gameplay, especially when it comes to Altair’s movements. The main character in Prince of Persia was able to perform superhuman double-jumps and somersault flips on pre-determined paths, but Altair’s acrobatics were intended to be more believable, closer to what a highly-skilled human could actually accomplish, and the environment was designed to give the player the freedom to move throughout the world however they wanted using those skills.

Thragg Avenger said:

When this first came out, it blew my mind - the level design and immersion were so much beyond anything I'd played before. My brain genuinely started picking out climbing points on buildings for weeks after I played it. I can't believe it seems so dated and limited now!
But while the traversal and parkour were generally regarded as some of the game’s high points, the “realistic” design also led the team to develop a new combat system, which met with some criticism in our forums.
Falensarano said:
This is probably the best assassination Assassin’s Creed game but the standard combat was awful. This would have been fine if the game didn’t just force you to fight tonnes of dudes at the end!
SicklyPlague said:
Honestly, I hated this AC. The fluidity of the controls were not ironed out and you did the exact same set of missions in each city. This was probably the only game I legitimately wanted to stop playing during the TUTORIAL because of the controls.
However, for a franchise starting game it is fantastic. You want to know the motivations behind the characters, you want to make connections to real world events, you want to figure out what is going on with Lucy and Subject 16. Playing Altair’s story makes the Revelations story hit that much harder. You see the morally grey area the plot is working with.
At the time, this game was visually impressive, though the graphics from 2007 are two generations behind the current state of the art. It probably helped that most of the gamers who joined us this month were playing with the benefit of the current gen’s graphical improvements.
CyberomainXB said:
On Xbox One X (and Series X), the game has been given a 4k 60 fps update with refined graphics, it is almost like a free remaster. But the gameplay is still a bit heavy. The atmosphere remains at the top and never equaled on the other games of the series.
Lukoster said:
It's incredible how good this game looks for a 2007 release, primarily thanks to the 60 FPS / 4K update. Despite some hurdles like the combat or lacklustre collectable system, this game could stand up on its own against some releases of this year.
As you can see from the forum quotes so far, most of our commenters gave a sort of mixed review for this game, praising some aspects while criticizing others, or noting this game’s flaws while acknowledging the improvements made in future instalments. Even the most negative of the comments offered some praise for the Assassin’s Creed series as a whole:

Rinckenstock said:

Even when this was new I found it a boring, repetitive slog to play, obviously the Assassin's Creed series went on to much bigger and better things but at the time I thought it was dull and I still do now. Once Ezio came on to the scene it was onwards and upwards but I never particularly enjoyed this one
GR34TD3STR0Y3R said:
This game is hot garbage and I can't believe it was successful enough to become the mega-successful series it did. The AC series is great and future games are definitely amazing games, but I don't get the praise the game got in 2007 or today. […] I like other Assassin Creed games. The gameplay, stealth, and open-world actually became great. But I will die on this hill. The first Assassins Creed game is an overrated slog fest that isn't fun.
And even some of the most positive commenters also had some criticisms:

Luna Invictus4 said:

I enjoyed playing for the story and exploration. Not a big fan of the collectables in this game or the rest of the series. The collectables don't directly add much to the story or immersion of the game... Other than that, was a great start for such a beloved series, imo.
ASUnknown1 said:
This was utterly mindblowing to playback in the day, it felt thrilling to be able to move around the world so freely. It definitely feels like somewhat of a prototype nowadays for the games that followed it in the series (the only other ones I've played are II and Brotherhood), but having played it again in the last few days, I think it still holds up well enough and even has some great elements the later games lack like the grittiness of the cities and the gathering of information on your targets that builds up to a big assassination. The repetitive tasks every time you enter a new district do start to get really old by the end though, as does the janky combat which soured the overall experience quite a bit. As for the infamous flags, maybe I'm just weird but I actually found it kind of fun to collect them (though I was using a map of course), except for the ones in the Kingdom which is a miserable experience with the endless guards constantly hounding you.

Collectables

Ah yes, the flags. Nearly every comment in the forums this month talked about the horrible grind of collecting all the flags across the Holy Land, although this seems like it might be an issue particular to our community. The game’s Wikipedia page mentions flag collecting only once, noting it as an “additional memory” that doesn’t advance the plot, and the lengthy Polygon article didn’t contain the word “flag” at all. For non-achievement hunters, or those playing on PS3 or PC, the flags were probably a lot easier to just ignore.
In our little neck of the woods, though, these collectables have come to represent some of the worst habits of game designers. Aside from the sheer number, and the fact that there’s no in-game method for tracking or locating them, these flags and Templars add nothing to the story, making earning these achievements really feel like a waste of time to many gamers.
aphexbr said:
The flags... Between this and Crackdown, it seems to be the perfect storm of zen gameplay and annoyance. It could be nice to jump around locating the flags, but they're difficult to see, especially at a distance, there's no tracking or option to locate them, and there's so damn many. Hundreds of collectables, with no way to know which ones you've collected without marking them off on a separate map when you start so even if you follow a guide to mop up the rest you're still going to take hours. I'm glad that design is in the past.
In all, there are 420 flags to collect in the game – 100 each in Jerusalem, Acre, Damascus, and the Kingdom, plus another 20 in Masyaf. (No word on whether that number was an intentional weed reference by the developers, although given the etymology of the word “assassin” being tied to the word “hashish”…?) In addition to the flags, there were 60 Templars scattered throughout the game, who if anything were even harder to find than the flags… no surprise that the achievement for killing them all, ”Personal Vendetta” has the highest ratio in the game.
Gunstar Red said:
I just can't go back and find all those flags. I still think the first game had the most deliberately annoying and pointless collectables ever. I gave up for good when I missed one flag on a huge map and didn't have the time or patience to find it.
Haseo ATC said:
Dug this out of my backlog a few months ago to 100% and deleted it after doing the King Richard flags. So much running around getting chased. The actual collecting isn't that bad, it's the hyper-aggro enemy AI. Like just leave me alone, bro, I'm just picking up some trash!
Although at least one person was able to look on the bright side of the flag-fest:

Taillear Dubh said:

I didn't mind the collectables... I just went around with a map and checked them off. It was an excuse to wander and explore the game world in a way I never would have otherwise.

The legacy

But despite the overly-abundant flags, the occasionally clunky combat, and the somewhat repetitive gameplay loop, Assassin’s Creed launched a franchise that would see unparalleled popularity over the next decade and a half, so it’s only natural that some of our commenters focused on comparing this game with those that followed.
Flaming Mystic said:
Was a decent start to the series but the sequel was a massive improvement in every way.
Bilbo3DCNC said:
I think the character arc showing the humbling and true understanding of the Creed was done the best in this game. Characters like Arno and Jacob never really show true understanding or humbleness. I feel like the later games (Origins and Odyssey) don't have that character arc where they learn the true meaning of the Creed. It became more of a vengeance / kill game. Don't get me wrong, I loved Origins and am still playing Odyssey but the storyline has really suffered in my opinion.
Piston Toyota said:
There are a lot of interesting ideas in Assassin's Creed 1 over later entries in the series, particularly in the way to do side missions in order to provide yourself information or advantages in the main assassination missions. It gave the feeling of actually preparing for the job in a way that later ones didn't.
Overall, AC1 threw a lot of concepts at the wall that they then refined in AC2 and onwards. There probably exists an alternate universe where AC2 adhered more rigidly to the format of the first game and it totally changed the trajectory of the series (and probably Open World games in general), but that's not the world we live in.
So now, 15 years later, what’s the verdict on the original Assassin’s Creed? Well, in a way, it’s a lot like history itself… there’s plenty of good and plenty of bad, and your overall perception will depend on which aspects you choose to focus on. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see some of the mistakes that were made, and it’s hard not to judge the past according to the standards of the present. We shouldn’t ignore the rough parts of history, but it’s also important to acknowledge the good and see how that’s led us to where we are today, For many of our commenters, the original AC holds a special place in their own gaming history:
Titan Eric said:
First Assassin's Creed game I played. And while it wasn't the best, it started out with a formula that has lasted decently. I honestly barely remember the flags, or the flawed gameplay, but I do remember my adventures with Altair, and even the fun with the current timeline with Lucy and Desmond.
blue1968camaro said:
The '100% sync' definitely led to my completionist approach to gaming. AC1 sucked me in and the series continues to be enjoyable (not without some pain points) with its spin on historical events and figures.
wildwest08 said:
This was truly one of the best games on the 360 when I played it. Assassins Creed was one of the first I got for the console. It wasn't a huge open world compared to games today, but for the time it was really good. The past and present timelines worked well. They truly created an interesting story that kept me through the end

Stat summary


During the month of April, we had 1,375 gamers unlock at least one achievement in Assassin’s Creed, for a total of 14,517 popped achievements worth 344,285 Gamerscore, or 475,388 TrueAchievement Score – a TA Ratio of 1.38.

The stats show that 561 gamers started playing Assassin’s Creed during the month of April, with 135 finishing off the 44-achievement list. However, we only registered 282 unlocks of “Welcome to the Animus,” which is the first achievement available in the game, and unmissable. It seems the other ~279 instances of people “starting” the game during the month are from new users registering with all the achievements earned offline. Those old offline achievements can really throw a wrench in the stats!

Interestingly, the rarest achievement unlocked during the month wasn’t for the notorious flags or templars, but rather “The Hands of a Thief,” which requires you to pickpocket a certain number of throwing knives. 88 gamers unlocked that one during the month, with most of the collectable achievements clocking in at around 90-100 unlocks during the month. Check out the full stats here: TA Playlist April 2022 stats.

After adjusting for the gamers who appeared to have all the achievements unlocked online prior to registering, we have a list of 31 gamers who deserve a shout-out for playing this game from start to finish during the month.

Check out the April Shout-Out List here!

XboxFreak36 said:

This month's TA Playlist made me complete the game. Thnx! Otherwise, I would have never done it!
Glad to have helped! XboxFreak36 earned their first achievement in Assassin’s Creed on December 7th, 2007, and got the completion on April 21st, 2022 – that’s an impressive 5,249 days from start to finish, which appears to be the longest completion time for this game so far.

It’s not quite a Playlist record, though… that distinction goes to The Noto, who started BioShock on August 22nd, 2007, and didn’t earn the completion until February 17th, 2022, when it was the featured game. That’s a grand total of 5,293 days from start to finish. Nice!
And one more completion-related comment to close out the article:

Catching ZZZs said:

Interesting side note that probably nobody will care about but I must share, I got my final achievement in the game EXACTLY 10 years after the first, to the minute. From December 27th, 2007 at 10:21 pm to December 27th, 2017 at 10:21 pm.I picked the game back up and when I realised that it was close to the 10 year mark, I may have waited an extra week on purpose, to pop that last achievement.

Am I a huge nerd? Yes. Do I regret it? Not one bit.

We care, Catching ZZZs, and we’re a bit jealous. That’s some impressive attention to timestamps!

Playlist Trivia Answer:

Which year has been the most prolific when it comes to TA Playlist games? The answer is 2019, with eight featured Playlist titles: Metro Exodus (featured in November 2019), Afterparty (January 2020), Untitled Goose Game (March 2020), The Outer Worlds (April 2020), Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (May 2020), A Plague Tale: Innocence (September 2020), Control: Ultimate Edition (February 2021), and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - GOTY Edition (March 2022).

For those who played along with Assassin’s Creed this month, or those who simply dropped in the forums to reminisce about where it all began (or even just to gripe about the flags), we appreciate your participation!

The poll has just gone live for June’s TA Playlist game, featuring picks from this year’s GTASC Winners, so be sure to cast your vote for next month’s game, and don’t forget to check out the forums for the May Game of the Month, Limbo! Have you already completed your five-deaths-or-less run? Let us know how it’s going in this month’s Spoiler-Free and Spoiler Discussion Threads. We’ll see you there!

Big shoutout to BetaSigX20 for writing this Wrap-up!

Track My Progress in Assassin's Creed