Ranking the Assassin's Creed Games
Reflecting on the games that made waves to those that hardly made a splash
In this eminent piece, I offer my unsolicited, unsubstantiated, and unrated opinions regarding the Assassin’s Creed franchise. I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed since I was an insufferably loud 12-year-old who didn’t have any friends, so I like to view myself as an expert.
Apart from playing Rogue and finishing Liberation, I’m up-to-date with the lengthy franchise. In this piece, you will find the games ranked from best to worst. As a fair warning, this article may feature spoilers for those who have not played all the games in the franchise and will go more in-depth with the games that left a notable impact – for better or for worse.
To begin the piece, my favorite and what I would arguably state is the best out of the Assassin’s Creed franchise is Odyssey.
Assassin's Creed: Odyssey
With competent z-targeting combat, Odyssey offers killer melee, range, and stealth abilities. Distilling Origins’ strengths, the developers removed the shields and chargeable moves for which I found no use and replaced both with more interesting mechanics. Using the spear as a parrying dagger was a great idea because parrying was the only reason I’d used a shield in Origins, anyway. Ubisoft provided the liberty to engage more in combat through the nifty action wheel. This was an excellent design choice that reflected move customization most don’t see outside of cut-and-paste MMORPGs.
Badass examples of late-game abilities include Ares’ Madness, the move that allows you to deal 35% of your assassination damage as melee damage for 10 seconds, and Kronos’ Punishment, the move that allows you to make a clone of yourself that falls from the sky and kills somebody. The game entices you not only with exciting combat but powerful rewards. You receive rewarding suits of armor from assassinating enough targets. My favorite is the Pirate Armor, whose bonus bolsters stealth damage. I’ve used stealth builds for Layla’s entire arc, so I was into it. Of course, there’s enough diversity among late-game armors to satisfy any play style.
One of my favorite parts of this game was being able to interact with a dynamically warring setting. Though I lean toward methodical, stealthy sweeps of bases, I felt the out-in-the-open brawls between Athenians and Spartans were rewarding in terms of gear if not satisfying in terms of gameplay. Also, I love clearing bases in Ubisoft games. It’s one of my gameplay kinks, so I was happy to do it as many times as I could stand it. You know a game’s doing a good job when grinding is fun.
As for the boat, I could take it or leave it. I enjoy it insofar as it allows for more opportunities to explore, fight, and develop my character.
Assassin's Creed: Syndicate
The ARPG trilogy aside, Syndicate’s my favorite of the more urban games due to the meticulous and challenging single-player campaign it offers. The game follows twins Evie and Jacob Frye through the grimy streets of London in 1868. Truth be told, I can’t recall the story in great detail since I bought it shortly after its release. However, I remember comparing it to Unity because the two were so mechanically similar. Syndicate became memorable and inherently more effective because of its focus on single-player activities. Finding a friend who plays video games is already difficult, so finding exactly three friends who love Assassin’s Creed enough to invest a substantial amount of time in Unity is necessarily more difficult. At least for me.
Assassin's Creed: Valhalla
My immediate reaction to Valhalla was positive. As I took my time through the initial area in Norway, I expected an experience at least as pleasant as Odyssey. The stealth seemed effective. The combat was challenging enough with the hardest difficulty. I tend to play these games with the hardest difficulty, though I detest the inability to change the difficulty at any time, making the game unable to be enjoyed by all.
I found myself impressed by how much there was to do until I realized that stealthily clearing bases and otherwise being an assassin were no longer part of the game. Valhalla’s about Vikings, so clearing monasteries — one of the primary activities in the game — requires you to call your friends and let everyone know you’re there. You can’t breach the doors without your fellow Vikings. Your stealth build will not help as much as Eivor being unstoppable. The game didn’t challenge me at all once I was a third of the way through, and the stealth armor for which I’d searched so vehemently was ultimately no more effective than the armor I’d worn before.
Valhalla’s a game where you stack rocks, hit giant bears 500 times, and spare people you’re supposed to kill. I enjoy this game as much as other Assassin’s Creed games, but when people say, “Assassin’s Creed isn’t about assassins anymore,” Valhalla has to be the biggest offender.
While Valhalla offers little beyond its melee combat, its melee combat takes the gold with an incredible gear mechanic to be found in Layla’s arc.
I’ll use Odyssey to prove my point. The one thing I didn’t like about Odyssey was how the player had to manage armor. Most of the gear you obtain is essentially free money that you never use unless you’re upgrading your armor or the boat. Constantly having to upgrade gear upon leveling up was obnoxious, and I didn’t care for that one bit because when you’re wearing the Pirate Armor (which is essentially one of the best armors in the game) and you pick up some mediocre breastplate whose level is the same as yours, the game will tell you that the mediocre breastplate is objectively better than your legendary breastplate because its armor rating is higher. An armor’s effect is often much more important than its armor rating if you want to be successful in RPGs. The designers must have known how confusing this was, hence the improvement found in Valhalla.
In Valhalla, instead of upgrading your gear every time you level up, you upgrade it every couple of levels in meaningful chunks that significantly improve its quality, change its appearance, and allow it to have more slots for runes. This move helped make the game user-friendly and enjoyable.
Assassin's Creed: Origins
Origins is the curious site of my falling out with the series. Initially, I enjoyed the new z-targeting combat of this open-world approach to Assassin’s Creed, but the incredible quantity of tasks that progressively became easier, along with the button-mashy bosses, made the game stale after a week or two. I didn’t touch Assassin’s Creed again until 2020. I think the game burned me out, needing a bit of time away from the series
If you take base clearing, and you throw in talent trees and customizable gear, you end up with a substance more potent than potato chips. I loved mastering Bayek’s skills, but if you’re playing on the hardest difficulty, I don’t believe you can enjoy the game fully until you internalize that Bayek’s an assassin, first, a bowman, second, and a warrior, third.
Staying hidden is, of course, much more effective than going into a base with weapons blazing, but in the early stages of my adventure, I relied on my bow a lot: Headshots were one-hit kills. The melee combat stunk compared to that of the two latter ARPGs. You have these long charge attacks that aren’t good enough for you to favor them over the regular moves. I also found no incentive to use the shield.
The game is significantly more balanced when you limit melee combat, especially during the first third of the game. Nobody tells you explicitly to employ direct melee combat as a last resort. It happens to be what I noticed over the course of the game. Once I made this trivial discovery, the game became more enjoyable, and I couldn’t help but clear the whole thing.
The game is visually stunning with its colorful cities and diverse settings. Thousands of years ago, parts of Egypt were more lush than they are now, and that part of the world is also fairly mountainous. I enjoyed strengthening Bayek into the progenitor of the assassin order in the Middle East. I also enjoyed Aya’s story of how she established the Roman brotherhood, this helping to explain why the modern assassin order is a huge international organization that fosters and reaches out to Human-Isu hybrids.
If you like sneaking through bases, relying on ambush tactics, searching for loot, and indulging in RPG-style character development, you’re going to like Origins.
Assassin's Creed: Unity
Unity is another game I may not remember well enough to place accurately on this list, but what I remember most about it is how genuinely challenging it was. Set during the French Revolution, players explore unstable France as Arno Dorian. Ostensibly, many dislike it because of the issues it had upon its release, but it’s otherwise a good game. It’s difficult, forcing players to strategize and consider the environment. You must be sneaky. After all, Arno isn’t a big guy. The advent of automatic downward parkour also offered a lot more control to players. At the time I played Unity, I thought it was the best one, and to me a sign the franchise was moving in the right direction.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
I enjoy IV more than Brotherhood. Black Flag is my favorite of the Desmond arc’s easy beat-‘em-ups. My brother and I reveled in our favorite activity: “Captain Clothesline,” we called it. Simply equip fists as your weapon, run at a guard, and clothesline him in the face, killing him instantly. It’s the little things in life. On my deathbed, I will recall my first kiss, Interstellar, and clotheslining people in Black Flag.
The game was all around enjoyable, playing as the young captain Edward Kenway during the Golden Age of Piracy. I loved to board other boats and steal everything — as a pirate rightly would. Drinking rum and being a pirate felt like a distinctly American pastime. With gameplay and leveling up, I enjoyed the grind for upgrades, especially when they were for Edward’s gear rather than the boat.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Brotherhood’s still fun to this day. With the advent of the series’ uniquely creative multiplayer, as well as Ezio’s ability to break an enemy’s defense with a kick, there was a major improvement in the quality of gameplay that kept me glued to my Xbox for months. In 10th grade, I was a console gamer, spending the other half of my time on Modern Warfare 2. I concede that multiplayer seemed to skew in favor of people with higher character levels who had access to more abilities, but my instant reaction to Assassin’s Creed multiplayer was one of awe at how clever it was. Players could pick from a wide selection of different characters, each holding unique moves and skills as you face off against each other. It’s one of those gimmicks that left you saying, “What a good idea!” I thought it was fun to invest in Rome; to upgrade each shop to its max level, and while Brotherhood was no RPG, I always enjoyed the hunt for better weapons and armor.
Narratively speaking, Brotherhood was an exciting addition to Desmond’s story that invested well in one city instead of solidly across three cities. The Castillo was a distinctly memorable climb, and I also enjoyed viewing the major landmarks. Years later, during Layla’s arc, I appreciated the Discovery Tours that went into the actual history of the game’s setting. I never touched Assassin’s Creed multiplayer after Brotherhood, but my memories of the experience are nevertheless pleasant.
Assassin's Creed III
At this point in the series, I was eager to see what I’d thought was the conclusion to Desmond’s story. The game has Desmond viewing the events prior, during, and after the American Revolution through the eyes of Rhatonhaketon. The reason the game isn’t ranked higher on the list is due to its gameplay. Rhatonhaketon was a massive, invincible guy for whom combat was a joke. There was a clear lack of challenge.
Come to think of it, III might have been the easiest in the series, but Desmond’s arc had always felt like an interactive movie. The mystery of both the precursors and the centuries-long conflict between Assassins and Templars was about to culminate in a major event since which the series has depended almost exclusively on new enemies and allies. The gameplay was never what captivated me about Assassin’s Creed until the latter half of the series, but that didn’t make the ease of winning every battle before you unnoticeable in Assassin’s Creed III.
Assassin's Creed II
When I started Assassin’s Creed II, I was at my cousin's house in Florida for Jewish Christmas. We Jews simply light our menorahs at the wrong time in order to take part with everyone else. I was so excited to experience the game, I played it on my cousin’s Xbox before flying home after the next few days. I was instantly amazed by Desmond’s escape from Abstergo and the more extensively back-and-forth narrative between Desmond’s experiences and Ezio’s. In terms of sheer scope and quantity, the leap from I to II was at least as significant as the leap from Syndicate to Origins. Sure, you still had to depend almost entirely on counterattacks to play the game, but it was easy enough to both be charming and make you feel powerful.
Ezio and his family were such enjoyable characters. I think every Assassin’s Creed fan remembers the time when Ezio explained to his mom that he did have social outlets, to which she dryly replied, “Besides vaginas.” Ezio was a rogue who captured our hearts with endless and unnecessary content, but his first game is how we fell in love with his character. Ezio’s sort of unfairly recognized as the series’ favorite protagonist, but what’re you going to do? Any character who scores three games among a series of protagonists who scores only one game is going to hog all the attention.
Assassin’s Creed presented an outstanding mystery. When I was a 12-year-old who’d had two full years to finish pretty much all of Shadow the Hedgehog, I watched that unforgettable trailer. I remember the missing ring finger and the way he disappeared behind the bell on the bell tower. I remember the way he hustled through the crowd, knowing that the guards would notice him. I loved the way he theatrically leaped into the air, brandishing the world-famous hidden blade and slamming it into the throat of this mysterious, elitist threat.
The gameplay wasn’t much. As silly as the combat looked, I loved the idea of sneaking through an unusually detailed rendition of the ancient Middle East. Platforming through the threefold cities I still remember to be Jerusalem, Damascus, and Acre was simple, but rewarding enough as I dispatched each of the game’s nine targets, and the revelation at the end (I won’t say what it is) kept me wanting more.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations
Despite what I expressed at the beginning of this article, I think we can all agree on the worst game in the series: Revelations. The hooked blade was neat, and that was more or less all I enjoyed. The gameplay was unenjoyable, and the game felt introduced to gadgets and concepts that felt unnecessary. I’m glad we never had to see the tower defense ever again, but man, that was silly. Nobody asked for that. Nobody asked for the boat either, but it handled well and didn’t get in the way. I never used the bombs the game wanted me to use. I stuck with Revelations for narrative’s sake, but I didn’t think the game was better than the first one.
There you have my running list of Assassin’s Creed games ranked from best to worst based on my experience with each game. All in all, despite each game’s quirks, faults, and wins, I have truly enjoyed the franchise as it has grown over the years. If you’re ever in need of an Assassin’s Creed fix, I highly recommend Odyssey. Or you can watch Assassin’s Creed the movie, featuring Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender on account of it being distinctly hilarious.
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