That the Assassins are the heroes of Assassin’s Creed is probably something we’re just meant to take on faith. Here we have characters who refuse to kill civilians but will slaughter jobbing guards in their hundreds, and think the only viable solution to the problem of social power imbalance is to summarily execute the people at the top of the pile. The Assassins kill without remorse in the name of the common folk, but they do so in secret, answerable only to each other, without being accountable to the people they claim to represent. Looking critically at their modus operandi reveals that they are at best morally dubious vigilantes, and at worst exactly as vicious as the Templars they dedicate their lives to inconveniencing.
Last year’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate starred a pair of sibling Assassins who were, while affable and charming, probably the most reprehensible heroes the series has produced. Jacob and Evie Frye dabble in gang warfare, rope street urchins into their intelligence network, and bribe police officers and members of parliament, all while hypocritically denouncing the Templars’ cruelty and the Crown’s colonialist endeavors. Syndicate itself never gave any indication that it considered its leads anything but the champions of the downtrodden, but its first major piece of downloadable content, Jack The Ripper, uses an Assassin villain to finally shine a light on the barbarism of the Assassins’ tactics.
Jack The Ripper takes place 20 years after the main plot of Syndicate, and concerns Evie Frye’s efforts to track down the famed serial murderer. By this point in the story, the Templars’ grip on London has long since been eliminated, and the Whitechapel murders are the first disturbance the city has felt in two decades. Called back from India to help investigate the ripper killings after her brother vanishes, Evie’s sleuthing soon reveals something the police have missed: Saucy Jack is an Assassin gone feral. An orphan raised to be a remorseless killer, “Jack The Lad” rejected the ideology foisted on him by the Assassin Brotherhood but retained their methods, beginning a campaign to victimize the people he was meant to protect.
Throughout Jack The Ripper, the killer himself is intermittently playable. These walks in the villain’s shoes reveal that Jack is still very much an Assassin—he uses parkour to get around, he kills with retractable blades, and he relies on the Assassins’ “Eagle Vision” to scan his surroundings for useful information. At first, it seems the only thing that separates Jack from typical Assassins is his use of “fear tactics” like hallucinogenic gas and brutal public executions to terrorize his victims, but once Evie learns that Jack is using these tactics she adopts them herself. After she gains these abilities, the two characters become identical in the way you play them. There is no action Jack can commit that the game—or Evie herself—forbids her from committing as well.
The longer Evie’s investigation into Jack goes on, the more his rise to infamy mirrors the Fryes’ own takeover of London. He seizes control of the Rooks, Jacob’s gang, and uses them to enforce his territory just like the Fryes did. He plies his trade in secret but with assistance from society bigwigs—Evie and Jacob relied on philosophers and scientists, while Jack keeps the company of executioners and madams. The Ripper even chooses his targets like an Assassin, selecting victims who will send the strongest messages to his real opponents. When the Fryes used these exact tactics to liberate London from the Templars, they were depicted as efficient tools in the righteous fight against oppression. Being victimized by them rather than wielding them reveals their inherent brutality, the shotgun approach of gang violence, and the fear-mongering of calculated executions.
Jack The Ripper isn’t just about Jack’s rise, but also Evie’s fall. For the Assassins, killing Templars has always been totally acceptable, but in her campaign against the Ripper, Evie executes only non-Templar targets and, in the case of the Rooks, former allies. Evie eventually loses the blessings of Inspector Abberline and Scotland Yard, not because they’re under the thumb of the Templars, but because Evie is a trespasser, thief, and murderer they can no longer ethically support. When Evie finds Mary Jane Kelly’s body, she denounces Jack as a “monster,” even though Jack has only five canonical victims and Evie has personally killed dozens or even hundreds. For Evie, the savagery of Jack’s methods are not the problem, only that he refuses to use them against the Assassin-mandated acceptable targets. This is the closest Assassin’s Creed has come to openly admitting that, for its heroes, the ends will always justify their means.
Jack The Ripper climaxes with Evie killing the Whitechapel Murderer and roping Abberline into doing her one last favor: burying the identity of the killer. If word got out that an Assassin perpetrated The Autumn Of Terror, it would ruin the reputation of the Brotherhood. Abberline reluctantly agrees, and the persisting mystery surrounding the Ripper’s identity becomes another piece of historical trivia brought into the Assassin’s Creed wheelhouse. If Evie herself learned anything about how fundamentally broken the Assassin lifestyle is, Syndicate never lets on. In fact, the name of the DLC’s story mission—“A Monster’s Creed”—suggests the game might even agree with her hypocritical condemnation of Jack’s rampage. But by holding the faceless Jack up to Evie, by inviting players to inhabit both roles and feel how utterly similar they are, Jack The Ripper exposes the monster at the heart of every Assassin.