I make no secret of the fact I am a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series. It is just such a damn cool idea! Sure, the games are often plagued by bugs (if you want a good laugh, here is a video of glitches in the next-gen release Assassin’s Creed: Unity http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jWpggPNF9I ) and suffer from offering too many inconsequential gameplay mechanics that detract from the inherent fun of stalking bad guys and surprise stabbing them from an innocuous looking bale of hay. But one element that I have noticed comes under fire a lot from fans is the protagonists of each game in the series. Complaints range from characters being boring and poorly defined, to the characters being “SUCH A USELESS IDIOT OMG LULZ I H8 HIM SO MUCH HE SUCH A BITCH,” to paraphrase many YouTube comments.
The general idea of Assassin’s Creed is this: in the future, there is a machine called the Animus that allows one to relive the “genetic memory” of their ancestors’. These memories reveal that there is a millennium-long struggle between Templars and Assassins over whether humanity should be subtly guided and controlled or whether it should be given complete freedom to do as it pleases. These struggles usually revolve around the use of technology of an advanced species that thrived on Earth before humanity. The conflict between the Templars and the Assassins continues into the modern day, albeit in more subtle forms; each game features the exploration of the memories by a character of his or her ancestor in order to discover information that would be relevant for the present-day conflict.
The present-day story, while silly, offers a way from the series to jump from cool time period to cool time period. The characters and stories in the main series are as follows:
- Assassin’s Creed (2007) – set in 1191 during the Third Crusade, the game follows Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad and the struggle between the Assassin Brotherhood and the Knights Templar
- Assassin’s Creed II (2009) – set in 15th century Florence, the game follows Ezio Auditore da Firenze’s attempts to avenge his father’s and brothers’ deaths at the hands of a Templar conspiracy. Ezio’s adventures are continued in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010) and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (2011).
- Assassin’s Creed III (2012) – set during the American Revolution, the game follows a British Templar named Haytham Kenway and his half-Mohawk, half-British estranged son Ratonhnhaké:ton, later called Connor. The first half follows Haytham’s attempts to build up the Templar order in America, while the second half follows Connor hunting down and assassinating each member of Haytham’s group.
- Assassin’s Creed IV (2013) – set from 1715-1722, this game follows the adventures of pirate-turned-assassin Edward Kenway, the future father of Haytham Kenway, as he becomes embroiled in a Templar plot in the Caribbean.
- Assassin’s Creed: Rogue (2014) – released for current-gen consoles only, Rogue is set during the Seven Years’ War from 1754 to 1763. It follows assassin-turned-templar Shay Cormac as he hunts down and eliminates his former Assassin allies.
- Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014) – released only for next-gen consoles, Unity is set during the French Revolution and stars Arno Dorian and focuses on his investigation into the death of his adopted father.
The series’ scope is clearly expansive and all of these stories sound relatively interesting, as they explore time periods that are ripe with conflict and adventure. However, many of these protagonists have experienced a negative reception. Altaïr is criticized for being a very static character (as well as for having an American accent). Connor is often labelled as “boring,” “brooding,” and “whiny.” Arno is considered charming, yet his story is considered one of the most underwhelming in the series. Shay is loved by some fans for the complexity he brings to the story, while hated by others for “being an asshole.”
The most well-received characters, Ezio, Edward, and Haytham, all have a certain charm and likeability to them. They can talk their way out of situations, have a cool confidence with the ladies, and are not afraid of making an occasional joke. These characters are presented as individuals that would be fun to be around. However, many seem to think that characters who are unlikeable are bad characters, which is simply not true. Just because Shay is dark, emotionally complex, and provides a critical view to gamers that challenges the traditional paradigm of good and evil that has dominated nearly the entire series; he is interesting, even if he is not exactly the most charming character nor does he seem like the most fun person to be around. Similarly, Connor is generally stoic and may seem dull at first glance; nevertheless, re-examining his character shows someone who is fundamentally flawed, someone who slavishly fights for the Assassins even though there is a stockpile of evidence to suggest that they are not the pure heroes the series initially presented them to be. The point is this: just because a character is not LIKEABLE does not mean the character is not INTERESTING, and I would take an unlikeable interesting character over a likeable, inoffensive cardboard cutout any day.