When summer started we found the Ezio Trilogy on sale on the PSN for a pittance - whelp, we said, we know what we're playing over the summer!
Currently we're trophy farming in Brotherhood to 100% it before moving on to Revelations. WOW we missed these games. This was the height of the AC franchise - most popular protagonist (for some reason) - rich game worlds, the beginning of their codifying core gameplay elements, etc. I remember riding around San Giminiano as I'm riding around San Giminiano, all the warm golds and greens, the reds of Roma, listening to heralds say the weirdest things during the cycle of announcements, the tongue and cheek jokes and just riding from one location to the next. Ooooh. Just, ooooh...
It's been, what, six years since playing the game, and I wonder what an HD remake would look like. The facial animations and some of the movement sets haven't aged well and I'd be curious to see what details to the already opulent Renaissance Italy (and probably Ottoman Istanbul) would look like. Forli and San Giminiano look very small compared to Firenze and Roma and Konstantiniyee, and Monteriggioni barely functions as a town when you realize how much of those houses are empty to take into account the underground assassin chapel the Auditore have.
I've gone - mostly - from playing Origins to the Ezio trilogy, and it's intersting what kind of things are repeated in the franchise. Like, I don't think I realized how important revenge and personal tragedy was to every AC protagonist, consider the list:
Altair: Adha is stuffed into a fridge in passing in one of the Codex pages and that makes him the arrogant person we see at the start of AC1. Maria is stuffed into a fridge during a memory in Revelations to make him mourn the loss of the Brotherhood before he kills the man responsible.
Ezio: Father and brothers are stuffed in a fridge (not the women? A downright novelty!) and hung in front of him to start a by-the-numbers reveng quest that takes up all of AC2 as he kills the men responsible. He then looses Monterigioni and Mario to do it all again in Brotherhood to kill the people responsible. Then he has Sophia nearly killed and one of his assassin's sisters threatened to be killed so he can turn over Masyaf keys to the Templars, sending him on a revenge murder-spree at the end of the game that sends him careening over a cliff. He doesn't kill that guy but still...
Connor: has his mother stuffed in a fridge and his village slaughtered AS A CHILD to make sure he hates Templars and kills the guys responsible before the game breaks him to little pieces.
Eddie Kenway: his game was forgettable. Moving on.
Arno: Loses M. de la Serre and is betrayed by the man who brought him back to the Brotherhood. Has the love of his life stuffed in a fridge and has to kill the guy responsible.
Jacob and Evie: don't have anyone to avenge. That's why their game is so refreshing and upbeat.
Bayek: has his son stuffed into a fridge and goes on a roaring rampage of revenge to kill the ones responsible.
Like, the only people who are spared are Jacob and Evie. Everyone else has someone - usually female (Ezio being the notable exception) violently murdered to facilitate the protagonists' character growth. Not even Altair was spared - when I was first thinking about this his first game was all about redemption and overcoming personal failures - I thought he could be added to the safe list but no, playing ACII we remembered Adha, stuffed in a fridge without even seeing her. And of course there's the Maria memory in Revelations. Does everything have to be a personal revenge quest? Altair pulled it off in his first game before he was retconned - and as a result there was a wealth of philosophy and intellectual conversations that was infinitely more interesting than another by-the-numbers revenge quest. You killed people because it was your job, not because they looked at you funny or killed one of your women.
The best part of AC1 was how grey everything was, and that's kind of disappeared now. The Borgia were almost cartoonishly evil, and as much as they try and hold on to how grey the first game was they can't really go back to that, because the mystery of it is gone. AC1 was a simple story about redemption, and the philosophy of the Assassins and Templars were dressing and backdrop as much as the Third Crusade was. The Apple was an endgame twist, and Al Mualim was a genuine twist because even when he was talking about the Apple he wasn't twirling his mustache and chuckling darkly.
AC2 works for using the same trick - make the Apple an end of the game twist. Ezio is perfectly caught up in the world of men, and even the Assassin Tombs are made by men, everything is grounded until Borgia reveals that he believes himself to be the prophet and that the Apple is his. Brotherhood take the Apple and hides it for most of the game, again about being grounded in Roma, but the crack starts to show here, because Ezio has been to one of the First Civ Temples, and now the floodgates start to open. The Da Vinci Disappearance DLC has him visit another, and for the end of the game he visits a third. One guy, in other words, in the span of a life time comes across 3 of the life-changing Temples and at best says, "eh. Whatever, let the player worry about it." By the time Origins comes Bayek is wandering through all kinds of First Civ temples where the disembodied voice talks passed him and to the player and Bayek doesn't even react, because he's not important to the story anymore. The lore superseded it's own meta.
And consider that endgame twist:
AC1: The Apple has a power
AC2: The Apple and the Vault
ACB: is a chase to get the Apple back
ACR: is a chase to get the Masyaf Keys to find... another Apple
AC3: is to find and then hide a key for Desmond to unearth
AC4: is a chase to get an Indiana Jones Crystal Skull that Edwards doesn't even understand what he's getting into because he's freakin' stupid. Also First Civ people can be reincarnated
ACU: Oh, look! A Sword!
ACS: Oh, look! The Fleece!
Origins: Oh, look! An Apple! ... What's it do again?
I remember when we were finishing up Origins - getting the last of the trophies and looking around the absurdly large world, and for the first time I felt franchise fatigue.
The repetition isn't bad, per se, some of these stories are crafted beautifully. Brotherhood, for all it's tropes, is about building and fixing Roma and building the titular Brotherhood - that's infinitely more interesting than the find-Apple/kill-Cesare story. AC3 is wonderfully written, though I know that's not a popular opinion, and narratively satisfying even if it isn't a happy ending outright. AC1 - as little story as it had - was downright beautiful with how Altair's story was crafted. The later games get bogged down, though, and - dare I say - bloated with their own weight.
There are fast travel points in Brotherhood, but I almost never use them because I can get from one part of Roma to another. I always know where I am with major landmarks like the Pantheon or the Colloseum, and even lesser landmarks like Bartolomeo's barraks. In the Centro district everything is narrow roads and alleys, an assassin playground, and if I get lost in the streets it's absurdly simple to get up to the roofs to orient myself. I don't remember if Istanbul has fast travel points - I assume it does - but once you're on the roofs you can run from point A to point B with relative ease with the exception of crossing the Halich. It's AC3 where things start to strain - Boston and NY are both big maps, and since the real life maps have all these wide avenues and colonial architecture in general isn't exactly favorable for free-running you don't feel like an Assassin. This hurts even more in the frontier, trees only get you so far and all you can really do is ride from point A to point B, and the fast travels become more useful. This perpetuates as the maps get bigger and bigger. Paris and London were too big to conceive, and Egypt is just... stupid big. The feedback loop for exploration is handled (mostly) well on all of these maps, but it makes retracing steps a downright chore - new mission in Alexandria? Fine, I'll just fast travel there instead of riding all the way back.
I'm side-tracking though - I want to get back to the writing, because narrative is something that's important to me when I play games.
AC has a problem with women. Like, I know it was a thing when Unity came out and they've tried to fix things as they go, but consider the major women in the game:
Maria Thorpe - barely has any screentime in AC1. Falls in love with Altair in a PSP game (bloodlines I think), stuffed in a fridge.
Maria Auditore - traumatized (with the not-subtle subetext of some kind of physical or worse assault) when Giovanni and sons are arrested, does not speak after this unless the player collects 100 feathers. In Brotherhood she once again barely shows
Claudia Auditore - the exception to this rule, she starts off as a spoiled brat in II and is promptly forgotten about as she is locked into being a game mechanic for the rest of the game. Brotherhood has her start with a rocky relationship with Ezio that is resolved at the end of the game when Ezio 2.0 emerges to realize she could take care of herself all along. Is nearly raped and sent off to a convent to recover (and no, Mr. Bowden, I WILL NOT let that go, WTF were you thinking??)
Sophia - HAS NO CHARACTERIZATION OTHER THAN TO BE IN LOVE WITH EZIO. She even automtically forgives him when she learns his job almost got her killed, and is turned in to the stereotyped woman driver of the 50s and 60s at the end of the game.
Courtesans - repeatedly used as instant conflict/tension makers as they are kidnapped, beaten, threatened or killed. One of Teodora's girls is killed in AC2, and another held at knifepoint. Madonna Solari of Brotherhood is kidnapped and then killed, while the women of her brothel don't know what to do until Claudia takes over. Fiore of Project Legacy is stuffed in a fridge.
Kanie:tio - stuffed in a fridge in the prologue
Ellen - victim of domestic abuse
Myriam - orphan (if I recall) decided against the brothels or nunneries to live in the frontier. Falls in love with Norris simply because he loves her...? We don't get her perspective on the romance - she is just something Norris wants and the end of his arc is winning her. Suffers cold feet at her wedding but turns right back around in the span of one memory.
Dobbie - dresses like a boy but still somehow shows off all that cleavage
Catherine and Diana - HAVE NO CHARACTERIZATION TO SPEAK OF.
Prudence - like Claudia is an exception. She is desperate to have a child and finally gets one.
Mary Reed - is the smartest, most thoughtful, most capable person in the game and is stuffed in the fridge for Eddie's character development. WHY WASN'T THE GAME ABOUT HER?? Two assassins in the armor subquest are female - one ends up fighting against her sister and kills her, the other ends up fighting her lover and kills him. None of them are characterized except to be sexualized in their outfits.
Elise - has no characterization except to be in love with Arno and on a roaring rampage of revenge for the death of her father - and is promptly stuffed in a fridge
Evie - is the smartest, most thoughtful, most capable person in the game yet is relegated to finding the Piece of Eden and (no matter how cute he is) given a flaccid love story with Henry.
Clara - is given no characterization whatsoever. Implied to be precocious but it's never shown. Gets sick for the sake of drama that Evie has to fix.
Aya - like Claudia and Prudence are exceptions to the rule. She, like Bayek, is on a roaring rampage of revenge, and does it differently than Bayek. She decided to make her quest political and sides with Cleopatra for the throne. Tries to make it work with Beyak but some relationships don't survive the loss of a child. Turns into Amunette.
Ignoring the fact that yes, I can remember all their names without prompting - only three of them have an actual character arc, and none of them are playable characters in a mainline AC game. Aveline - she's a class of her own, but she was a PSP game. (Man did I like some of the things they tried to talk about in that game...) And none of this gets into some of the dialogue that's thrown around - like Vieri deliberately ordering to not spare women, or Duccio talking about Claudia not "opening her legs" or Marco Babarigo taunting Ezio with what he'll do to Claudia if he gets his hands on her. Ubisoft is trying to course-correct by making the Assassin's the super-progressive accept anyone Order, but that doesn't fix how the women are treated in the games proper. There's a casualness to it that makes it uncomfortable to listen to sometimes. I know that Duccio's dialogue is supposed to be shocking, and the player is supposed to feel good about hitting him, this is a power fantasy, after all, but imagine how much better if would be if Claudia was the one who put him in his place instead of Ezio as a stand in? Imagine playing Black Flag as Mary Reed instead of Eddie Kenway? Imagine how much sweeter it would be if Sophia actually had a character? She was a booksellf, she could have been read up on all the classics and make references in conversation like a nerd to be more endearing to the nerds playing the game. Imagine playing Origins as Aya - a MOTHER who lost a child?
Looking back none of us should have been surprised at the comments made before the release of Unity.
And I'm not really sure where all the criticism is coming from, because I'm having the TIME OF MY LIFE playing the Ezio trilogy. But... I also feels its age, and I remember how much I rolled my eyes at some of the things that were being done when the games were new. I'm looking at Oddessy and... for the first time I'm not interested. I don't care that another AC game is coming out - and you can have a female protagonist if you choose - you have an RPG - something that should automatically sell me, but all I can say is, so what?
I think I've outgrown the AC franchise....