Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Diary of an Assassin – Seventh Entry

Note: As I have now moved into the recently released Assassin’s Creed 3, these diary entries will contain spoilers about gameplay and story. Please read cautiously. If you do not want these things spoiled, please read after finishing the game.

The Assassin’s Creed series has always had two main protagonists: Desmond Miles, the kidnapped bartender who escaped under the wing of the modern-day assassins, and the character from which he relives memories through the animus. In the first Assassin’s Creed, this was Altair. In Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations, it was Ezio.

With few exceptions has there been a third playable character. Assassin’s Creed 2 had a short sequence where Altair was playable. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations had specific missions tied into the story where the player took the role of Altair instead of Ezio.

Assassin’s Creed 3, despite its marketing focused on Conner, the Native-American protagonist, drops you into the boots of Haythem Kenway, a British noble making his way to America to find a first civilization temple. Haythem is both Conner’s father and a Templar.

But you wouldn’t know this from playing the first few hours of Assassin’s Creed 3, at least, up until the reveal. Until that point, it’s business as usual. Haythem plays roughly the same as any Altair, Ezio, or Desmond. The only odd point I found about the way he moves is his inability to climb trees, even those with branches clearly on them for climbing. At the time, it was a weird distinction to make that I didn’t think twice about, but it makes sense for the narrative.

I went back to play those first few hours, hoping to find some sort of hint that pulled the curtain back on Haythem’s Templar affiliation, even if only a crack. I could only find a few.

When Haythem heads to the top deck of the ship on day two, he gets into a fight with two crewmates. A third crewmate, Mills, tries to break up the fight when one of the former two crewmates barks back at him, “Just whose side are you on anyways?” It’s a throwaway line without significance the first time, but in retrospect, it says a lot. It shows Mills is actually part of the Assassin’s order, and entire subplot of the supposed mutiny is actually the order trailing Haythem from his assassination in the opera house.

When the order does eventually catch up to Haythem, he threatens the captain of the ship, coming within inches of killing him before forcing him to steer the ship into the storm. A known creed of the assassin’s order is to stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent. In this case, had the captain not gave in to Haythem’s demands, Haythem would have killed him, breaking one of the tenants of the creed. A member of the assassin’s order would not have gone down this path.

These subtle hints are the kind of things that make a reveal like this work. Presented in certain light, from a certain point of view, we see only the slice we are supposed to see. Viewed from any other angle, they appear as what they actually are. However, Haythem being a Templar loses some of its traction by the game being deceptive to the player.

Instead of the subtle hints standing on their own, Assassin’s Creed 3 pushes the idea that Haythem is an assassin further in the mission Infiltrating Southgate. During the mission, your allies climb along rooftops, taking out scouts along the path before making your way to the camp where prisoners are held. Allies are denoted by the assassin symbol above their head, but knowing Haythem is a Templar, his allies are by association Templars as well.

This could only be deliberate on Ubisoft’s part, and not an oversight. If they wanted, they could have used the symbols over enemy heads with a blue color instead, as they do when on an escort or follow mission. But using the assassin symbol in this instance, the game is technically lying to you the player. It’s saying, these are assassins, you should trust them, you are doing the work of an assassin. It’s not something most people will notice, but it feels dishonest. This isn’t a case of an unreliable narrator; it’s a flat-out lying narrator.

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