A Creed To Kill By
In a spiritual sequel to his Assassin’s Creed Syndicate review, Patrick Lee checked out the game’s first major expansion, which has its stars crossing paths with Jack The Ripper. What he found was a piece of downloadable content that unintentionally exposed the questionable morality that bubbles beneath the series’ surface and, while occasionally bursting to the forefront, is usually ignored. Down in the comments, Beema took issue with the Assassins’ virtues, as well as the series’ disregard for historical accuracy:
The morality of Assassin’s Creed games has always been a huge load of shit, especially when you learn how much they’ve falsified world history. Part of my growing distaste for the series was directly tied to how they always portrayed these mass-murdering vigilantes as righteous and just, despite never actually bothering to illustrate the benefits of their actions. Plus, you have a massive budget and a giant team working on perfecting centuries-old architecture—and you couldn’t spend a little bit of time fact checking stuff in a history book?
But AncientShenanigan points out that the series often explains away the creative license it often takes with silly things like “historical facts”:
To be fair, the historical falsification is usually a Templar tactic (or is portrayed as such). As to the greater morality, I think the only games to really get into that was AC2, which included Codexes from Altair (star of the original game) where he reflected on why the Creed alone didn’t seem to change anything or make anything better for the people the Brotherhood tries to save. All Altair manages to conclude is that, while education and tolerance is well and good, evil people ought to die, which he admits is no conclusion at all.
What strikes me more than anything—and I say this as an AC fan—is just how staggeringly incompetent the Assassins must be to constantly be on the verge of losing the war against the Templars for 900 straight years. You guys need to start doing something different, because apparently tactics haven’t changed since Altair decided that the Assassin’s had to go underground in the year 1200.
And Bakken Hood appreciated the way one of the series’ most beloved entries incorporated historical inaccuracies into its setting:
I enjoyed Black Flag’s take on its historical inaccuracies. The in-game journal, with its entries on the churches you can climb and people you can stab and whales you can also stab, presented the game’s “historical” content (a simulation within a simulation, as you’ll recall) as an imperfect simulacrum, designed by Abstergo’s people for coolness rather than realism. It freely admitted that some of the buildings were crumbling/not yet built as of the game’s alleged timeframe, that the real-life counterpart of sex object Anne Bonny would have been much younger than her in-game representation, etc. It also features an argument between Abstergo employees about incorporating the non-face-stabbing parts of history, in which someone replies (and this is a direct quote), “STICK TO SHIT THAT SELLS.” So yeah, none of this means that Creed isn’t bullshit. It is, however, sometimes self-aware bullshit.
Smilner points out that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag also incorporated a look at the morality Patrick wrote about:
While we’re on the topic of Black Flag, it’s notable that it got the jump on the moral relativism Patrick describes. That kernel of doubt is central to Edward Kenway’s character. He’s an almost completely objective observer in the politics of the Assassins and the Templars. He even “joins up” with the Templars before he had any exposure to the Assassins beyond their sartorial style. His skepticism toward the Assassin philosophy was palpable and only dissipated on account of a weak “dying wish” plot twist. Edward Kenway couldn’t seem to care less about the whole silly war, making him, arguably, the most sensible guy in the series.
And The Space Pope likes to think that both groups are really just a bunch of dangerous blowhards:
My personal method of reconciling the batshit nonsense that is the Assassin’s Creed “mythology” is to assume that the Templars and Assassins essentially cancel each other out. They scheme and plot and stab and fight, and in the end, the world keeps spinning regardless of what they do.
I just finished playing Syndicate, and what struck me most about it was that the Templar leader’s plans don’t make an ounce of sense. You never get a solid impression of what he actually wants to do. Okay, he wants the Shroud Of Eden. Why not? It’s pretty neat. But the rest of the plans you disrupt are scattershot and counterproductive. Rob the Bank Of England and shatter the economy? You live in England! Kill the prime minister to block an anticorruption bill? There are easier ways to do that, you idiots! Kill everyone in power in Britain? That’s really more of an Assassin move, bro. None of it makes sense other than to set up something for the Assassins to do.
So I just assume that all this is playing out while history goes on without really noticing or caring. The American Revolution would have happened with or without Connor Kenway. Alexander VI kept on being Pope after getting beaten up by Ezio Auditore. Queen Victoria sees the Fryes as just more people she can manipulate into doing her dirty work. For all Abstergo’s Doctor Frankenstein shenanigans, all they’ve really accomplished is making some cool in-universe video games. So think of them like the OSI and Guild Of Calamitous Intent from The Venture Bros.: The joke is ultimately on them, as they play their adolescent cops-and-robbers games to disguise how unimportant they really are in the grand scheme of things.
What AC needs is a new direction, and hopefully the break they are taking this year allows that. Back in ye olde crusade times, life was very much kill or be killed, because the holy land was a full-on warzone. By the time we moved to renaissance Italy, the setting did not lend itself to continual brutal murder, and so Templars had to be in charge of every town guard in every city you ever went to. Still, you were ignoring the idea that those guards were just doing their job. Your morality was already compromised, possibly excused by the trauma of having half of your family murdered at the start.
Fast-forward, and the new world offers a slightly better setting for being a murder-hobo, though had British soldiers been slaughtered at the rate required by the game, I’m sure they’d have become crueler and nastier in their policing of the colonies. Then we get to pirates, and at last we return to a world where you kill or be killed and playing as a character who was likely to be an amoral bastard. By the time we reach the Enlightenment, Paris and London are quite civilized. The French Revolution gives an excuse for anarchy, the cover of which allows for plenty of murders to go unnoticed, and your behavior certainly fits with the morals of overthrowing the monarchy and establishing a new order.
But yes, Syndicate always felt a bit odd because, more or less, it depicts a London run by mobsters, which feels out of place. There were gangs, no doubt, but one single gang across the entire city would have be unsustainable. Not to mention the period saw great reform in law and justice to try to clamp down on the violence and crime of the city. I find it hard to believe that any liberal or reforming member of parliament would find justification for the twins’ methods.
So, if we return to the world of the Assassins, I suggest there are only two kinds of settings in which the game can allow you to kill without consequence: warzones and frontiers. Now, I’d much rather see the game reform the Creed and turn you back into a genuine assassin, killing only high-profile targets while using non-lethal methods on underlings. But if we can’t have that, you have to pick a good historical war to play with or find a lawless frontier. Off the top of my head, the Thirty Years’ War was extremely bloody, and I’m sure you can wrap Templar/Assassin nonsense into the reformation. (Bonus: It allows for a third faction who support the reformists.) Or go all Red Dead Redemption and visit the old west. Everyone was always getting shot there, and if you’re a US Marshal, you totally have an excuse.
One More Thing
Tuesday is March 8, which means it’s once again time for the Gameological community’s monthly Mario Kart 8 tournament. The event’s intrepid organizer, DL, announced the details in the comments of this morning’s What Are You Playing This Weekend?: The races will be held at 150cc and played in shells-only mode. (That’s just cruel.) To join the fun, boot up Mario Kart 8 on Tuesday, March 8, at 8 p.m. Central time and enter the code 2058-6715-7274 to find the group. Good luck!
That’ll do it for this week, friends. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!