The White-Cowled Triumvirate

9 05 2011

Back to this old topic again. The next Assassin’s Creed game will be called Revelations and it will feature his Broodyness Altair, but the story will actually focus on his Beardyness Ezio once again, as well as his Boringness Desmond. Three centuries, three protagonists, one civilisation-spanning conspiracy: not very ambitious, is it?

 

Despite my initial concern with the rumours of Altair’s appearance in the game, I’m pleasantly satisfied by the details that have been released. Desmond’s role remains unclear, but we know that Ezio’s story will take him to Constantinople where, as usual, the Templars are up to no good. The change of location is particularly welcome, given that the urban sprawl of what was the European world’s greatest city encompasses eastern, western and classical features, bringing together the best of the art design from the three AC games into one package. If the series has one defining attribute, its stylishness, and Revelations has everything it needs to build on that legacy.

As usual, however, its the story I’m concerned with, rather than anything else (apart from the zip lines. Did I mention there will be zip lines?  Marvellous.). Ubisoft is stuck in a quandary: Assassin’s Creed strikes me as a series that needs an ending before it turns into gaming’s equivalent of Lost, where too many mysteries weren’t balanced out with enough answers, leading to a lack of narrative momentum and a dwindling of interest. Naturally enough, though, the publisher’s bean counters will want to keep the Assassin’s Creed franchise going for as long as it sits at gaming’s top table. The question here is whether the two competing issues can be reconciled. I’m not sure if they can, not in a satisfactory manner. The key conflict of Assassins against Templars is so integral to the stories of Altair, Ezio and Desmond that one of them (or perhaps all of them) is surely going to end it at some point, but without that conflict the series can’t really exist.

What does Revelations offer, then? Hopefully a shift in emphasis between the characters: Ezio, and to a lesser extent Altair, have been the main characters of the series so far and whilst Desmond evidently holds the key to future events, he has had little to do for three whole games. At some point he has to become the main character, and Revelations needs to be the game where it happens. Ezio can finish off his trilogy in style (he will be over 50 years old, after all); Altair can remain a mysterious ally from the past; but Desmond must come into his own, and not just through a massive plot-twist at the end of the game (you know what I’m talking about, AC fans).

From a purely mechanical, plot-based viewpoint, a theoretical Assassin’s Creed 3 would follow Revelations and deal exclusively with Desmond (perhaps with a cameo from his ancestors, but nothing more), concluding with the victory of Assassins over Templars that we are expecting. The overriding narrative tone of the series, however, is reliant on the historical settings, firstly the Crusades and then the Renaissance. This makes a third ancestor in a new time period a likelihood for any sequel to Revelations; but at this stage, adding new protagonists will only tighten the knots.

Ubisoft Montreal have created a hydra, a fabulous creation that nevertheless grows more difficult to overcome for every plot thread that is cleanly cut off. Whether they’ll find a way to kill the beast is the supremely tricky question; but they must be brave enough to try, instead of putting it in a zoo and exploiting its commercial success for as long as possible.

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