In 2007, we were introduced to the millennia long war between the Assassins and the Templars in the form of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed. While the gameplay itself was repetitive and its protagonist, Altaïr, was about as charismatic and multidimensional as a stick of wilted celery, the game’s intriguing premise and lore launched a franchise that has since seen some of the most memorable protagonists grace our screens and hearts. To be sure, some Assassins are more interesting than others, and some, while interesting, lack depth that keeps them engaging. But all have served a purpose in unraveling a story over a thousand years in the making, marked by key historical events throughout that span.
October will see the first new Assassin’s Creed game in 3 years with the release of Assassin’s Creed: Mirage. The story and setting is set to return to the Middle East, where players were first introduced to the franchise nearly two decades ago. In preparing for our return to the struggle between the Assassins and the Templars, there’s no better time to sit back and reflect on some of the greatest Assassins we’ve had the pleasure of embodying over the years. To be clear, this is in no way a comprehensive or complete list, and arguments can certainly be made for any that are not included on this list. I’ve tried to showcase Assassins that embody different virtues and personality traits, showing that there is indeed a range to their personalities and individual motives. I’ve also opted to choose one Assassin from a particular time period (such as not just listing 5 Assassins during the time that Altaïr was active). The goal is to provide a range of Assassins that display a wide breadth of experience and historical influence. And in no particular order!
Bayek of Siwa
I’d be remiss not to highlight Bayek (and by extension, his wife Aya), the co-founders of the Hidden Ones, who would later become the Assassin Order. Bayek’s rise and the trajectory that led to this founding stemmed from the death of his son at the hands of the Order of the Ancients, those who would one day be known as the Templars. Bayek is motivated by anger and revenge, justifiably. These motivations led him and Aya into the service of Queen Cleopatra, and a string of bloodshed as they themselves became embroiled in the exiled queen’s war against the sitting pharaoh, her brother Ptolemy XIII.
It was only after Cleopatra consolidated her power and revealed her loyalty to the Order of the Ancients that it was apparent how far Bayek’s path for vengeance had led him. He and Aya devoted themselves to the founding of the Hidden Ones, and a Creed that dictated the strict code of conduct that members of the order were sworn to uphold. Bayek’s role in the development of the Creed and subsequent structuring of the Order would ultimately be the catalyst for the fierce resistance that the Templars would face for a millennia in their quest for power and control. Indeed, without Bayek, there is no Assassin Order, there are no Assassins to further highlight. We tip our caps (er, hoods) to you, Bayek!
Ezio Auditore da Firenze
The dashing, charismatic, and lethal son of House Auditore was the Mentor of the Italian Brotherhood during the mid 15th century and early 16th century (and the protagonist of three Assassin’s Creed titles following the first game). Much like Bayek, Ezio’s pathway to the Brotherhood began as a bloody path of vengeance following the death of his father and brothers by order of the Grandmaster of the Italian Templars.
Ezio’s training as an Assassin led him across much of Italy and beyond, and as he grew to understand the true nature of the Creed, he shifted his focus from vengeance to liberation. Ezio’s work in systematically rooting out and eliminating high ranking Templars, including the Pope himself, erased their influence from the region and led to an age of free thinking, creativity, and prosperity which would become known as the Italian Renaissance. Ezio’s role in spearheading this endeavor led to an age that fundamentally changed the course of history, and effectively assured the survival of the Assassins’ operations in Europe.
As a character, Ezio is endearing, charming, and curious, qualities he holds from the onset of his story up until the end. This is what makes Ezio so memorable; not that he has those qualities, but that he doesn’t let his responsibilities and influence jade those parts of himself, and he continues to wield those qualities as a tool to further his goals. His maturity is realistic and memorable, and for many gamers, we really got to know Ezio over many hundreds of hours, so I’d venture to say he is the Assassin that most will have the strongest connection with.
The granddaughter of the great Spartan King Leonidas, who led 300 Spartan warriors against the overwhelming forces of Persia, Kassandra represents the warrior’s ideals of justice, courage, and ruthlessness in the face of adversity.
Though she initially operates as a mercenary in Greece and the surrounding areas, Kassandra soon finds herself hunted by the Order of the Ancients, being of a “noble” bloodline that the Order wishes to wipe out. Her journey takes her throughout Greece and into the circles of some of the great minds of the time, like Socrates and Hippocrates, and such influence, once again, plays a huge role in the shaping of historical events.
Though we had seen a female Assassin earlier in the franchise with Aveline in Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, the in-game story failed to provide much background on her character and thus made it difficult to sympathize or understand her intentions, which felt like a huge missed opportunity. Kassandra felt more realized, with a backstory played out in flashbacks and a quest line that drew on her personal history as a catalyst for the events that would shape her evolution. She is presented honestly and authentically, and while she is certainly a conventionally attractive character, she is not defined by her sexuality or gender. The franchise still has a long way to go in terms of making consistent and authentic female protagonists in its games (maybe a game that has a sole female protagonist vs just as an option along with a male protagonist choice?) but Kassandra represents a step in the right direction, and a memorable one.
Ahhh, the swashbuckling pirate. Edward took center stage in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag which put gamers front and center in their own seafaring adventure amidst the “Golden Age of Piracy.” The game presents much of the same mechanics familiar to players of the franchise, but the addition of reliable and smooth naval combat, and the sea shanties the crew sang while at sea (which were absolute BANGERS, by the way), created a truly immersive experience that I found myself playing through multiple times over.
The interesting thing about Edward is that he doesn’t actually become an Assassin until about three quarters of the way through the game. We spend most of our time dancing in the gray area of the game’s moral compass; engaging in the usual pillage and revelry of the pirate life, while engaging in dangerous endeavors to piss off the Templars as well as the Assassins, all for our own personal gain. Edward’s choices reflect his ambitions; personal fame, fortune, and notoriety across the Caribbean. He’s not an evil man, but he is a selfish one, and as a player, you’re forced to spend much of the game rolling your eyes at his reasoning, before falling back into the excitement of ramming your ship into an enemy vessel for some plunder.
Edward’s foolish ambitions ultimately lead to the destruction of the carefree pirate lifestyle he had come to love so much. It was this realization, that to be truly free requires sacrifice and brotherhood, that Edward finally began to right his many wrongs and embrace the Creed. Edward is a great character because he is not a great person. His imperfections reflect our own, as players, and that makes the arc believable and relatable, even when it’s an early 18th century sassy Welsh pirate.
I know, I called him a wilted stick of celery like 10 minutes ago, but hear me out. While Altaïr isn’t fully fleshed out in the original Assassin’s Creed, his path to redemption sets a precedent that follows most of the Assassins that would follow him.
We meet Altaïr as a brash, selfish, egotistical jerk who just happens to be really good at killing people. However, his arrogance directly leads to an assault on the Assassin headquarters by the Templars, and the deaths of many innocent people. He is subsequently demoted and must redeem himself by assassinating 9 key Templars utilizing the core tools at his disposal. His journey is one of redemption but also one of betrayal, and he is forced to take on the mantle of leadership of the Assassins following the events of the game.
Like I said, the first game, while a fun and interesting introduction to the lore of the world, is repetitive in its gameplay, and Altaïr himself just doesn’t present as very interesting, thanks in part to both poor writing and lackluster voice acting. But through flashback sequences that we get in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, we are able to re-enter the shoes of the OG Mentor and experience additional events that shape his character (and the voice acting is much improved). Altaïr would go on to establish Assassin branches throughout much of the Middle East and into Europe, spreading the Order’s influence a hundred fold. Because of the encounters that humbled him and changed him, Altaïr is able to recognize the importance of assuring a legacy that lives beyond him, so that the work of ensuring the freedom and prosperity of the innocent can continue to stand through time. Altaïr’s character arc may not be as believable as most. It’s hard to picture anyone being that much of a jerk and then suddenly becoming the good guy after murdering 9 mostly bad people. But the redemption and the events that follow that redemption shape the kind of person Altaïr truly is and was. Bayek and Aya may have founded the order, but Altaïr cultivated it, and assured its survival throughout millennia.
Was there an Assassin whose hidden blade was more enjoyable to stab Templars with? Let us know in the comments!