Sunday, 7 January 2018

Assassin's Creed Protagonists Ranked


From left to right: Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, Ezio Auditore De Firenze, Bayek, Arno Dorian, Shay Cormac, Evie Frye, Jacob Frye, Arbaaz Mir, Edward Kenway,  Ratonhnhaké:tonAveline de Grandpré, Nikolai Orelov, Shao Jun
Credit for the image goes to santap555 on Deviantart

I've been looking for stuff to do on this blog, and I seem to be a bit burned out with detailed film analysis. Plus I think that recently it's been causing me to overthink stuff. I need some fun stuff to do.

So I got to thinking that I could try making lists. Lists are fun. Everybody likes a good list, and they're a bit more straight forward to make.

I might have mentioned that I'm kind of a big fan of the Assassin's Creed series of video games, and I've been playing a lot of it recently. The full franchise is extensive, and has given us a wide variety of different characters and settings.

If you're not familiar with the lore of Assassin's Creed, it's basically a series of games that combines historical facts with science fiction and conspiracy theories. The concept is that it revolves around an ongoing conflict between two secret societies. One is the Templar Order, which believes that world peace can be only be accomplished through total control of humanity. The other is the Assassin Brotherhood, which believes peace can still be achieved while preserving free will.

Most of the time you play as an Assassin but exceptions do exist (III, Rogue, and Unity all have playable Templars). the games are set across a variety of different historical eras including (in order of appearance) the Crusades, the Italian Renaissance, the American Revolution, The Golden Age of Piracy, the Seven Years War, the French Revolution, the reign of Queen Victoria, and the Ptolemaic dynasty of Ancient Egypt, and that's just from the main series!

Unsurprisingly, they also  feature a variety of different characters (though not without small continuity-based rewards for long-time players). With the exceptions of the "Ezio Trilogy" each game has a unique protagonist (starting with Black Flag, they humorously started including a feature where the player can dress the current protagonist in outfits from previous games). These characters come from a variety of different backgrounds and all have their own personalities. Having played a bunch of the Assassin's Creed series, I thought it would be interesting to try and rank their various protagonists.

It should be noted that this list is based only on games in the series I've actually played, and only focuses on playable characters. Installments that I have not played I am not as fit to comment on. For instance, I have not included Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad on the grounds that I have never actually played the original Assassin's Creed (I know), making it hard to judge how good he was as a character. The same is also true for Chronicles.

Additionally, I  will not be including individuals from the present-day sections in the games. This is mainly due to the complications that would occur (between Black Flag and Syndicate, the player themselves is made a character within the game during the modern sections). I am also sticking to characters who are playable in the main storyline which is why I have, for instance, omitted Lydia Frye.

So here is my countdown, from worst to best, of all the protagonists in every Assassin's Creed game I've played so far. Which of the games' numerous protagonists will take the #1 spot? Read on to find out!

11. Shay Cormac (Assassin's Creed: Rogue)


Honestly, I never could get into Rogue. A lot of people like Shay but I found him to be more frustrating that engaging. This is the one game in the series that tries to flip the usual perspective by focusing on the Templars and making the Assassins the bad guys. Shay is supposed to be an Assassin who grows disillusioned with the Brotherhood and joins the Templars, but it seemed to me the result of being too impulsive and hotheaded rather than a moral choice. 

Shay goes on one mission that goes wrong, then immediately jumps to the conclusion that the Assassins knew it would result in a massive Earthquake but sent him anyway (no evidence in the game supports that conclusion). He then proceeds to yell at his mentor, doesn't listen to any attempts at reason, and steals from them before trying to commit suicide. Even before this he has a tendency to argue with his fellow assassins, ignore advice, and generally be more of a frustration for them than a useful ally.

10. Ratonhnhaké:ton/Connor (Assassin's Creed III)


A lot of people like Connor, but to be totally honest I found him rather flat compared to some of the other characters who have appeared. Although I do applaud the new perspective his character brings (which is able to better look at the moral uncertainties of the American Revolution and how it affected Native Americans), he had very little depth or personality. Also I feel like they could have found a much better voice actor to play him. He sounds very monotonous.

9. Jacob Frye (Assassin's Creed: Syndicate)


Of the two Frye Twins, I would say that Jacob was the weaker character. He was very much depicted as a man who values brawn over brains, while Evie had considerably more depth. While enjoyable, his character was largely quite arrogant and foolish (several plot points involve Jacob rushing into an Assassination only to later reveal negative long-term consequences that Evie has to clean up). He is not exactly great at being an Assassin as a result, which makes Evie fit the gameplay much better.

8. Haytham Kenway (Assassin's Creed III)


To be honest, for the small portion of Assassin's Creed III in which he is playable, Haytham Kenway was actually a far more engaging character than Connor. He also marks the first playable Templar in the series, though this is not revealed until the end of the first act (followed by his modern-day descendant ranting about the sudden plot twist). Yet Haytham did what no Templar before him had done: he added a layer of moral ambiguity to the series. Although he is technically the main antagonist of the game, Haytham is a remkably deep character and a man who easily earns respect.

Admittedly, this is not without a more extreme side (i.e. his habit of ending interrogations with the occasional spot of murder) but we see that there is actually a cold logic to his actions. Haytham actually has genuine concern for maintaining order (even if he believes the ends justify the means) and fully believes in the cause, a huge departure from the antagonists of previous games such as the Borgias (who believed the Templar Order was about power at any cost). He even makes a point of trying to respect the people under his command.

7. Aveline de Grandpré (Assassin's Creed: Liberation)


The first female protagonist in the series, and possibly also one of the first LGBT characters to be introduced (come on, don't tell me you never saw it between her and Elise), Aveline certainly makes an impact for the short duration of her appearances. She is tough but also noble, and manages to keep a clear head even when everything falls apart around her (given she is both betrayed by her former mentor and discovers a few shocking family secrets along the way, that's no easy feat). The fact that she never loses sight of her goal to find the elusive "Company Man" overseeing the Templar Operations is admirable.

6. Arno Dorian (Assassins' Creed: Unity)

Arno is an interesting figure for his somewhat unusual storyline. Unlike many of the other characters on this list, Arno doesn't firmly gravitate to one side or the other. If anything, much of the story revolves around shattering the Assassin/Templar binary that usually drives the games. This comes most notably in the Romeo and Juliet-esque romance on which the story hinges- namely that he is an assassin who happens to be in love with the Templar Elise, though it is a little more complicated than that.

What makes Arno interesting is that he ends up exposing flaws on both sides. He and Elise both end up being cast out of their respective factions and have to navigate a web of deceit, lies, and betrayal by both Assassins and Templars (all set against the backdrop of the French Revolution). Amidst all this, he is actually more interested in a parley between both sides (which he spends much of the game doing) and somewhat ironically avenging his Templar step-father. The fact that he is still able to maintain a strong connection with Elise even after it comes out that they are on opposite sides is impressive.

5. Aya (Assassin's Creed: Origins)


Talk about a good marriage! Though she is not playable as often as her husband, Aya has an important role to play in the origins of the Assassin Brotherhood, and she knows how to balance her priorities. This is a lady who can go from showering her husband with affection one moment to captaining a ship against Ptolemy's navy the next. One can hardly doubt the love she has for Bayek, but it is not her only driving force. It used to be a common assumption that marriage for a women meant giving up her career and turning to domestic chores: this is not Aya. She is a woman who has managed to find and balance both sides and remains content with doing so.

4. Ezio Auditore De Firenze (Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood)


I might be slightly biased here as Ezio does have a certain personal significance to me: it was through him I was first introduced to the Assassin's Creed series. Ezio was a fun character to play as, with his constant optimism and wit. He can be tough when he needs to be but also has a clear compassionate side. He had his faults, but he also managed to overcome them (case in point: likes to promote himself as a ladies' man, but has no trouble working with female assassins).

Also interesting is the choice to thoroughly subvert the usual image of Renaissance-era nobles as corrupt and greedy. Ezio is a man of wealth who works for the people, and never gives up this view even when the odds are hopelessly against him. This was after all the guy who started a one-man revolution against the Borgias (arguably one of the most powerful families of the Renaissance) and won. To start with practically nothing and end up overthrowing a tyrannical regime is a pretty amazing accomplishment.

3. Bayek (Assassin's Creed: Origins)


Assassin's Creed: Origins tells the story of how this whole mess between the Assassins and the Templars got started, so it's not surprising they needed an interesting character to introduce as the founder of the Assassin Brotherhood, and they certainly delivered. Bayek is a somewhat enigmatic but very compelling character. He is a man trying to do the right thing in a world rife with corruption and greed. 

As a medjay (the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of a cop) Bayek seeks justice in an unjust world, but his motives go beyond a mere sense of honor. Beneath his skill with a blade he is still a human being, and a man who struggles to find his way. As we also learn, he must balance his desire for justice with a burning anger towards the mysterious Order of the Ancients responsible for the murder of his son, while trying to save a divided Egypt along the way.

2. Edward Kenway (Assassin's Creed: Black Flag)


Edward Kenway stands out as a notable departure from the more idealistic Assassins of previous games. In fact, he doesn't even become an Assassin until late in the story (though he has many of their unique skills from the get-go). Instead, Edward is an anti-hero who starts off as a simple fortune seeker looking to get rich only to find himself in over his head when he ends up killing and impersonating an Assassin who (of course) just happened to be defecting to the Templar Order. Kenway's character arc is largely one of self-discovery and redemption. 

He first appears to be a fairly cold anti-hero more interested in fortune than anything else, which becomes problematic early on when he unwittingly sells out the entire Assassin Brotherhood to the Templar Oder, and then has to spend the rest of the game trying to undo his mistake. But beneath this facade is a far more complex individual who eventually discovers his real interest to be liberating humanity from tyranny. The close friendships he develops with Stede Bonnet, Edward "Blackbeard" Thatch, and Mary Reed James Kidd also reinforce this notion. 

1. Evie Frye (Assassin's Creed: Syndicate)


Of the two playable heroes of Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, Evie was definitely the more interesting character, and generally the one I preferred playing as. Her brother Jacob was okay but I felt like Evie had a much more complex personality. She also provided a more interesting gameplay experience due to her range of skills. Playing Jacob is  based mainly on combat, getting into big brawls, while Evie has more room for stealth and ingenuity (more fitting to the tone of Assassin's Creed).

She is also a very strong character in her own right. She can hold her own in a fight but she's also witty and intelligent, and knows how to balance this with compassion. Even the romantic plot that occurs between her and Henry Green is handled carefully to ensure it doesn't overshadow her skills as an Assassin and her role in freeing London from the Templars. Evie might just be one of the best characters in the series.

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