Alright so I know I said I loved AC: Unity but I played it again and I hate it. I had like a whole bunch of thoughts about it, and I was gonna write a bunch of articles, and then I think I just put it down and played Shadow of War instead. I dunno. Anyway I’ve just gone back to it because the fucking Humble Bundle fucking ticked over on me and now I’ve got a copy of Assassin’s Creed Origins that I don’t want – and if I’m gonna play that, I have to play Unity first. So I’m playing Unity, and I hate it. Let’s talk about it I guess.
So Unity has a pretty dire plot. I hadn’t fully appreciated how bad it was when I started writing, because I was only a quarter of the way through or so. Those games usually take a bit of time to get warmed up – they have a lot of overproduced waffle, but eventually they let you out into the world and you can have a good time. Now I’m two-thirds of the way through, and it’s only getting worse. Something might come out at the last minute – I’ll let you know if it does, but otherwise, it’s shit from head to toe.
Let’s just take a little step back and think about the intellectual heritage of the Assassin’s Creed games. They’ve sort of forgotten that they used to have ideals, but they did. Let’s stretch back ten years, to Assassin’s Creed II. It’s one of the final missions – the end of Sequence 13, where an evil priest is being burnt alive by an angry crowd. Ezio heroically leaps up onto the platform, and murders the fuck outta him, so he doesn’t have to get burnt alive. And then Ezio delivers this speech to the people:
“Twenty two years ago, I stood where I stand now, and watched my loved ones die, betrayed by those I had called friends. Vengeance clouded my mind. It would have consumed me, were it not for the wisdom of a few strangers who taught me to look past my instincts. They never preached answers, but guided me to learn from myself. We don’t need anyone to tell us what to do. Not Savonarola. Not the Medici. We are free to follow our own path. There are those who will take that freedom from us. Too many of you gladly give it. But it is our ability to choose whatever you think is true that makes us human. There is no book or teacher to give you the answers, to show you the path. Choose your own way. Do not follow me, or anyone else.”
He jumps off the platform, and leaves, and everyone is awestruck by his amazing philosophical insights. And it’s hammy, sure, but it’s the core of the conflict between the Assassins and the Templars. The Assassins believe that people should be free to choose their path for themselves. The Templars believe that people are fucking stupid and need to be governed by benevolent dictators. And to some extent, the AC games have managed to sustain that simple dichotomy, even if only in name. In Brotherhood, for instance, you’ve got the people of Rome, and the corrupt depravity of the Borgias, who control the papacy. The Borgias are obviously the bad guys, because they’re undemocratic. You try one: in the American Civil War, you’ve got the Americans, who are fighting for their independence, and the British, who are trying to keep them under control. Which ones are the villains? That’s right, it’s the British. And now, just one last example. The French Revolution. You’ve got the corrupt aristocracy, all puffed up and rich and eating all the food, and then you’ve got the commoners, who are poor and starving and fighting for a democratic system. Who are the bad guys, in that setup? The aristocrats? Hah, no. In AC: Unity, the freaky control-freak Templars are backing those pesky revolutionaries.
I mean, what the fuck. It doesn’t make any sense, and it’s also weirdly contradictory to the game’s own trailer. If you watch this E3 trailer, you can see the assassins rock in and murder a bunch of the king’s soldiers to help the revolution. Over here, it’s the assassins tipping over carriages filled with shitty rich old bags and smashing up royal balls. That’s… what we all expected. It seems like the most obvious choice in the world, and they didn’t do it. Fuck knows why. It’s just fuckin’ bizarro logic at this point.
And the real shame here is that AC: Unity actually has a tolerable story on its own merits. It’s poorly executed, badly paced, underexplained, underdeveloped, and the dialogue is the worst, but the premise of the story is not that bad. There’s a truce between the Assassins and the Templars, and people on both sides are getting itchy about it. There’s a bunch of internal power dynamics, and both sides develop factions. Assassins start killing Assassins, and Templars start killing Templars. And stuck in the middle of all of it, we’ve got Arno, some dude who really just wants to hang out with his Templar girlfriend. That’s an interesting premise. It deserves a better game. It deserves a better setting, too – you only get one shot at the French Revolution, and there’s only one story you should be telling. I’m not sure why they pivoted away from that choice – maybe the failure of ACIII, which portrayed the American Civil War in terms of Templar/Assassin conflict, put them off trying to do it again. I really have no idea. I guess I’ll see how it ends and then I can go play Origins. Don’t have much hope for it.