Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series is jam-packed full of off-the-wall moments. From the get go, in the 2007 original, we have free running acrobatics and death-defying leaps of faith, historical civil warfare, religious conspiracy theories, and gloriously detailed landscapes that stretch as far as the imagination. It truly is unparalleled by any other period-set free-roam game in terms of attention to detail and its flexibility of competition, missions unlocking in a nonlinear manner that presents varied playthrough routes. The series has developed from a simple set-up of investigate, plan, and kill to a strategic and challenging stealth affair which not only tests your dexterity with a control pad but also your intellect, plots swimming with historical facts and shady suppositions.
And now, attentions are turning to the cinema. Actor Michael Fassbender was revealed in his finest assassins garb by Yahoo at the end of August, and the movie based on the franchise, titled simply Assassin's Creed and telling an entirely new story, is aiming to be in your local multiplex for Christmas 2016.
There's also a new game, of course. There's been at least one Assassin's Creed game released every year since 2007, and 2015's is Syndicate, set in Victorian London. We played a little of it and weren't exactly blown away, but series fans aren't buying these titles for their gameplay originality—they want to explore the past in a way that only video games can provide, and Assassin's Creed is certainly capable of being an engrossing window onto history. And with that in mind, here are some of the series' greatest moments, documenting the struggles of the Assassin Order against the Templars, across its games to date.
Warning: may contain spoilers. These games have all been out a fair while now, but if you're only just getting into the Creed series, and don't want to know about some pretty significant plot points, go read something else.
Skip ahead to 16.00, unless you want to sit through the game's tutorial
The descent of Altaïr – 'Assassin's Creed'
This one is pretty obvious, as it is the first level you properly play in the franchise and it sets the bar pretty damn high. As Altaïr you are tasked with retrieving a piece of Eden from (the very much existed in real life) Robert de Sablé, which is being kept at Solomon's Temple. In his arrogance, Altaïr fails and is ultimately held responsible for the death of two fellow members of the Assassins Order. Following this, he is stripped of his rank and returned to the status of a novice, which is where the player's progression begins. It showcases what the Creed series is truly all about, including its rules and its expectations. You're able to free run for the first time, which feels liberating compared to most third-person games as you leap and climb through the temple's underground.
Ezio assassinates The Pope – 'Assassin's Creed II'
Ezio Auditore assassinating the most influential and powerful Templar in the world in that time period—the Italian Renaissance of the 15th century—marks a powerful moment in Creed lore. What more could you ask for in an Assassin's Creed mission? You've got historic figures and locations, stealth challenges, and a fantastically rich environment to explore and exploit. It is a defining stage in the franchise, as the Assassins begin to knock off each major Templar to promote their cause. And it's positively blasphemous, which just makes it all the sweeter.
"The Truth" – 'Assassin's Creed II'
After the discovery of all glyphs and completion of their puzzles, the mysterious Subject 16 provides us with a short video which gives some insight into where the pieces of Eden actually come from. It shows two humanoid characters, named Adam and Eve naturally, running through a futuristic environment, in which we see human slaves ruled over by "the ones who came before," the First Civilization. The games' developers really let themselves go during Ezio's timeline, dotting creationist theories here and there, and this one is the most prevalent throughout the series. It gives birth to the forerunner conspiracy, a belief that there was a civilization before our own, of ancient aliens that humanity eventually outnumbered and overthrew.
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Building an army of assassins – 'Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood'
During Brotherhood you are faced with the challenge of building your own army of assassins. It's a pretty straightforward procedure; recruit men, send them on missions, upgrade and promote them. Simple. However, the best part about having a clan is that your newly recruited assassins can back you up whenever you find yourself in a tight spot. Then there are the super cool moments where a flurry of arrows flies out of the sky to kill five or six enemies in seconds. Whenever you need them, they're there to help. And when you don't require support, you can send your soldiers to the other side of the world, taking care of Templar threats overseas rather than just sticking to the local area of Rome. With this awesome addition to the series you have a true sense of power, and begin to feel more attached to the Assassins' noble cause.
Ezio meets Altaïr – 'Assassin's Creed: Revelations'
If this isn't the moment of the franchise, then it's certainly one that gives it a real fullness, connecting the storylines between games in such a way that the overall picture becomes that bit clearer, and a lot more significant. When Ezio gains access to Altaïr's library and finds the late assassin's withered skeleton, you can't help but feel some sense of sadness alongside a feeling of completion. It's what he would have wanted, surely: his Apple of Eden to be passed on, and knowledge shared with the members of the Assassins Order who came after him. Throughout Revelations you grow somewhat close to Altaïr once again, following the events of the original game's storyline—and when the chapter's closed for good, it's clear that the information our first protagonist acquired, and the artifacts he collected, can be trusted in Ezio's hands.
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Desmond's sacrifice – 'Assassin's Creed III'
In a shocking twist we see our most consistent "main" character, Desmond Miles, die. He's been the modern-day protagonist of all games up to this point, whose genetic memories as interpreted by the Animus have led to such fantastic historical adventures, so, basically: What the hell? He makes the ultimate sacrifice to try to contact the forerunners, that above-mentioned bunch of alien sorts who once ruled over human kind; yet his mere human body cannot take the energy. Desmond is killed in the forerunner structure at the end of the game, leading to something of an existential crisis amongst fans: Just what were the last god-knows-how many hours in the name of if Des just goes and sacrifices himself like that? But in his wake comes a whole new perspective on the series, with Black Flag and Rogue seeing the contemporary side of the story take what might even be a more sinister turn, as Animus-makers Abstergo, a Templar front, move into the entertainment industry to continue their exploration of Miles's DNA.
Blackbeard's death – 'Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag'
This was quite the tug on the heartstrings. The fourth game proper's player character Edward Kenway's brother in arms and fellow captain has a hero's death in a battle against the British Royal Navy. And he goes out in style, too, taking several enemy troops with him. But that didn't make it easy viewing, as one of the game's most popular figures is killed right before our eyes in one hell of a cutscene.
Assassin's Creed: Syndicate is released on October 23 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, with the Windows port following in November. Your favorite moment not mentioned? Tweet us, if you like.