Everything is permitted
If whispers across the internet are to be believed, the long-annual Assassin's Creed series may be in for a break, foregoing a 2016 release before it comes back full force next year. Not a bad idea, as that will hopefully give the series some time to breathe so it doesn't decline in quality. And we mean that sincerely, because Assassin's Creed really is a quality production that has created, under extreme pressure, an amazing collection of fun, enthralling, even timeless adventures.
There is some disagreement, however, on which games in the series deserve such high praise - get ten people in a room and you'll have ten different opinions about which is the best Assassin's Creed game, and then possibly snipping comments and shouting matches after that. We opted to skip the drama and create a comprehensive list of all the Assassin's Creed games, ranked according to quality (excluding games that have been scrubbed from existence, like Assassin's Creed Recollection). Nothing is true, but hopefully this gets close.
Honorable Mention - Freedom Cry
This one was a tough call, because Freedom Cry was born as Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag DLC, but had bigger ambitions and eventually became a standalone title. While its combat and sidequest structure make it all but inseparable from Black Flag, it deserves an honorable mention for its story alone. Here, former slave Adewale stands against the slavemasters of Haiti in the name of freedom, proving that the Assassins' mission can take on many important shapes.
Freedom Cry puts you in the thick of a slave trade and is unflinching in how it depicts that brutality. You can't miss the human auctions or runaway slaves who will be killed without your help, and being a participant rather than an observer makes it impossible to ignore. But perhaps most importantly, Freedom Cry shows how those slaves and the nation's freemen are active participants in their own liberation, working with Adewale rather than waiting passively. In that regard, Freedom Cry does something that is not only important, but almost entirely unique, and that deserves a shout out.
18. Assassin's Creed Altair's Chronicles
Before Ezio's trilogy was a twinkle in the eyes of the AC development team, there was Altair's Chronicles. The mobile prequel to the original Assassin's Creed, it sees Altair hunting for a mythical artifact called The Chalice in constricted 3D world. It's a disaster from start to finish: Assassin's Creed's combat is simplified down to the point that it's no longer interesting, locations and missions are same-y, its story (complete with forced romance) is hackneyed, and the dialogue is consistently awful with occasional forays into Vader ‘Noooooooo!’ territory.
The one thing Altair's Chronicles sort-of has going for it is visuals, including lovely (if overused) environmental designs, which at least make it aesthetically-pleasing. But that's not nearly enough to make up for its many and varied shortcomings, and with new mobile AC games surpassing its visual quality, it’s best to give this one a pass.
17. Assassin's Creed mobile ports
This actually covers five separate titles published over the years, but they're basically the same game, so it's efficient to talk about them all at once. Up until the release of AC4: Black Flag, every main entry in the series was accompanied by a mobile game that retells its story. Or, rather, takes that story and shaves it down to the absolute basics, using what remains as the skeleton for a simple side-scroller built for playing at the train station.
These games are workmanlike and handle well enough, but much of what makes the main games interesting is tossed out in the name of mobile consistency. Ultimately these titles feel like random side-scrollers with AC skins, and Ubisoft apparently thought so too: every sign of them has been scrubbed from the company's digital storefronts, so you'll have to hit the developer's website if (for some reason) you want to give them a try.
16. Assassin's Creed Identity
Assassin’s Creed Identity launched on iOS with the intent to be more like the full-blooded console releases, albeit with an RPG spin. Set in the Italian Renaissance, Identity attempts to recreate the series’ signature sneaking-and-stabbing gameplay, shrunken down for shorter sessions. Ezio’s been swept aside for custom-created characters, each brought to life using a marvelous Italian name generator.
Sadly, you’ll probably spend more time messing around with that than you will the actual game. It’s a free-to-play affair, sending you to and fro to eliminate some guy / collect this artifact / escort this person in exchange for skill points you can spend on outfits, equipment, and movesets. Spotty controls result in a lot of running into walls rather than up them, but at least you won’t have to avoid the usual swarm of civilians - there’s barely anyone in the streets, meaning that it’s up to the flat textures and boxy buildings to build the atmosphere. Bizarrely, Identity was only released in Australia and New Zealand on iOS; a promised Android version never arrived. Frankly, world, you’re not missing out.
15. Assassin's Creed 2: Discovery
If you only played the Assassin's Creed mobile games, you might get the idea that the series' trademark is side-scrolling your way through corridors of oblivious guards/corpses-to-be. Assassin's Creed 2: Discovery won’t do much to dispel that notion; you play as Ezio, conducting assassination missions for a series of clients, all of which are nondescript and ultimately unimportant. They just act as vehicles to push you into a 2D platformer that takes on a few infinite-runner qualities, if you feel like charging in full steam and destroying every barely competent guard you meet.
It's a simple game that doesn't have the depth of most Assassin's Creed titles, but it does accomplish what it sets out to do. Creating a smoother, more interesting platforming experience than the mobile companion games, Discovery set the standard for 2D Creed games back in 2009. It's since been bypassed by the superior Chronicles: China, but might still be worth a play if you can find a DS copy, since Ubisoft has since removed all evidence of the mobile version.
14. Assassin's Creed Bloodlines
Released alongside Assassin's Creed 2 and Discovery in a calculated assault on everyone's wallets, Bloodlines continues Altair's story following the events of the original game. As opposed to previous handheld/mobile entries in the series, Bloodlines tries to approximate the 3D look and free-for-all gameplay of the console releases. In the case of the former, it does a decent job, with crisp visuals that make it look like a true AC game. But when it comes to gameplay, Bloodlines misses the haystack: small environments funnel you into battles constantly, but the combat system doesn't actually use the PSP's controls to its benefit, so fights often feel as ungainly as hand-stitching in oven mitts.
Plus, while Bloodlines does have an involved story that's not as awful as Altair's Chronicles, it often falls flat and isn't strong enough to make up for the lackluster combat. Its one saving grace is Maria - Altair's sharp-tongued associate who fans might remember from a certain dream sequence - whose interactions with Altair give the story some life and depth. Sadly, even she's not enough to save the production.
13. Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India
Acting as part two of the three-part Assassin's Creed Chronicles mini-series, Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India is the franchise's first foray into what was, at the time, the Jewel in the Crown of the British Empire. Unfortunately, you'll only see a limited amount of it, because main character Arbaaz's linear, 2.5D path doesn't leave room to explore much of anything. Beautiful backdrops and a satisfying sense of movement make up for that somewhat, but that only does so much to fix the game's other pressing issues.
Forcing you to suffer through unsatisfying, sloppily designed missions, the tedious stealth ‘option’ is basically mandatory. Chronicles India punishes you for even attempting to liven things up with combat, handing out automatic low scores or outright failure for your efforts. And in a game where points are directly tied to important upgrades, that just feels like bullying. Clumsy attempts to up the tension - like forcing Arbaaz to run slower than he did five minutes before, for no reason - lead to even more frustration, and awkward pacing makes the game drag horrendously. Falling short of its predecessor, Chronicles China, in almost every respect, this is an entry you can safely vault right over.
12. Assassin's Creed Pirates
It takes serious confidence to slim down a mini-game from one of your previous titles and release it on its own. But Ubisoft was riding high on the crest of Black Flag's success in late 2013, and the result was Assassin's Creed Pirates, a mobile game that is just Black Flag's ship combat, playable on the go.
Pirates does try to be a proper Assassin's Creed game, with a story involving Assassins, Templars and magic DNA time machines, but that's just window dressing - you spend 99% of your time shooting cannonballs at other ships just 'cause. But the designers knew that, and so they made a point of prioritizing the combat and making sure that controlling ships via touch features feel simple and natural. Pirates sits low on this list because it’s just a facet of another Assassin's Creed game, but that facet is so well designed that it deserves recognition.
11. Assassin's Creed 3
Assassin's Creed 3 is, in many ways, a test drive. It was the first Ezio-less Assassin's Creed in five years, the first set in a populated wilderness (fields in Italy don’t count), and the first to feature the series' now beloved ship combat. It does a lot of things right, creating a Frontier you can explore for hours, and it’s sensitive to Kanien'kehá:ka culture. Unfortunately, it gets a lot of other things - fundamental, obvious things - very wrong.
Main character Connor is often too aloof and superior to be sympathetic, and the amount of times he steps in to save the incompetent Founding Fathers is hard to take seriously. The game contains sections that emphasize stealth, but the actual stealth controls are poor, so these parts are far more annoying than fun. And, hurting from a tight development schedule, the game shipped with enough bugs to make an entomologist swoon; now the way it controls is awkward at best and game-breaking at worst. It has some good ideas, but ultimately can't execute on them; that's been left to later games that have the fundamentals down better.
10. Assassin's Creed Liberation
AC Liberation still bears the marks of its time on the Vita. Its combat is just as fluid and satisfying as some of the strongest Assassin's Creed games, and presenting its story as the Templars' altered version of events is one of the most clever new mechanics the series has seen in a while. But there's no escaping how cramped the game feels, both in physical size and its storyline.
One-woman-wonder Aveline is a fascinating character with a lot of gusto, but her motivations are never really made clear, and neither are those of her enemies. And with only one city, some outlying swamp, and a temple to investigate, it doesn't make you want to explore the world the way an Assassin's Creed game should. All told, it fits squarely in the middle of the Creed quality scale: not great, but not terrible, and serviceable for fans in need of an AC fix.
9. Assassin's Creed Rogue
If you got your first look at Assassin's Creed Rogue with no context, you might come away thinking it's Black Flag DLC. That isn't too far from the mark - the story of an Assassin-turned-Templar named Shay Cormac, Rogue focuses on the period of time between Black Flag and AC3, and lifts heavily from Black Flag's trove of assets. Ship combat is virtually the same, music and sound effects are extremely similar, and Shay fights the same way Edward does nearly stab for stab.
But with Black Flag's style of combat and exploration on the way out with the release of Unity, some fans hail Rogue as a welcome retread, and it does a standout job of replicating Black Flag's best parts. Plus, new environments like the North Pole, and minor additions to ship combat, give those mechanics a little extra juice without changing them too much, and seeing off some of the North American arc's most beloved characters is welcome fan-service. It doesn't do much new or inventive, but Rogue extends the life of a familiar and well-loved time-period, giving fans a soft place to land.
8. Assassin's Creed
The game that started it all isn't looking as hot as it was eight years ago, but it isn't quite falling apart at the seams yet either. Effectively a tech demo for what the franchise could become, the original Assassin's Creed gives you one thing to do (assassinate, if you hadn't guessed) and tells you to do it ten times over, with only the most repetitive of sidequests to break things up. Much of what earned it acclaim at the time of its release has also faded, as graphics have gotten better and Ubisoft honed the controls for AC games so you don't run up walls quite as much.
But what the original Assassin's Creed has going for it is a place close to the series' heart: you learn everything you can about your target, you plot the assassination, and you execute. The high-profile missions offer some variety in that regard, since each target behaves in a unique way that favors a different kind of approach. It's bare-bones, and it's been done better since, but the game isn't irrelevant yet.
7. Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China
One of the latest in that fine tradition of Assassin's Creed side-scrollers, Chronicles: China perfects their best parts and improves on them by borrowing tricks from one of the best stealth games of all time (hint: it's the one with the ninjas). Stealth mechanics are integrated seamlessly and give the gameplay a lot more flavor, and true free-running segments create intense and welcome action. Add in a beautiful art style that disguises its lesser budget, and Chronicles: China is easily the best among Assassin's Creed's not-quite-2D library.
On the downside, its short runtime and basic setup don't allow for the exploration of a truly great Assassin's Creed, and the lack of variety between environments means that the world quickly becomes repetitive. Plus, protagonist Shao Jun's revenge plot is light on heartfelt storytelling, and instead unapologetically replicates that of her mentor, Ezio Auditore. But it's a fun and challenging title that advances the quality of the series' smaller offerings and redeems the format.
6. Assassin's Creed Unity
Let's get this out in the open: Assassin's Creed Unity has problems. An ambitious project that promised to revamp Assassin's Creed's standard battle mechanics, create a bigger world than in any previous title, and build a completely new multiplayer from scratch, it bit off more cake than it could chew and was an infamously glitchy mess at launch. And while that may be the story that lives on into gaming infamy, it's not Unity's full story: it has a lot of good stuff under its lapel that isn't always buried by glitches.
In addition to being beautiful and upping the graphical standard for every Creed to come, Unity's assassination system is revolutionary, opening up new opportunities for creative killing by honing in on weak links in the environment's security. In addition, it offers up cerebral challenges in the form of murder mysteries and riddle solving, which are a lot more intricate and interesting than AC has seen in the past. If all Unity ever brings to the series is the ability to kill a man through the wall of a confessional and some serious brain teasers, its earned a place of esteem on this list.
5. Assassin's Creed Revelations
Pick a popular game, and chances are good that the protagonist is somewhere between 15 and 35 years old. They might as well be dead after that, because you're more likely to run across a unicorn in-game than a silver-haired main character. Ezio Auditore is not only an exception to that rule, but the best, thanks to the brilliant story at the forefront of Assassin's Creed Revelations. Featuring easily one of the most thoughtful and mature tales the series has yet woven, Revelations set the standard for every Assassin's Creed story since.
Admittedly, that brilliance isn't felt in every part of the game. Constantinople is fairly drab and forgettable, and the tower-defense mini-game added to territory-claiming is basically the worst. But that only speaks to the strength of Revelations' narrative, which focuses on sacrifice and loss in a painfully honest way that satisfies your heart as much as it breaks it. Both Ezio and Altair get the loving send-offs they deserve, because Revelations knows that there's strength in telling a different kind of story.
4. Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. A direct, swiftly-produced sequel to Assassin's Creed 2 that restricts your movements to one city and deemphasizes story: it had shameless cash-in written all over it, especially given the precedence set by Altair's Chronicles and Bloodlines. But those of us who prepared for disappointment were met with a pleasant surprise: Brotherhood is good. So good that it changed the face of the series forever by implementing brand new mechanics that are still around to this day, like capturing territory, addictive multiplayer, and control over a legion of Assassins you can summon at your whim.
The only real downside to Brotherhood, as mentioned, is the lack of story and different locations to visit. But alongside those pieces of gameplay it executes so well, Brotherhood hides emotional slices of plot for the curious to find, and Rome itself is so diverse that you're never left wanting for much more.
3. Assassin's Creed Syndicate
In a world where steampunk is basically its own genre, Victorian London has been done to dapperly-dressed death. But when Assassin's Creed Syndicate showed up to the party fashionably late in 2015, it took to exploring the city with such unbridled amusement and sincerity that it was hard not to love, and had us asking for more like pitiful movie orphans.
Remembering to have fun where stiff-lipped Unity forgot (ironic, given that a stiff upper lip is sort of England's thing), Syndicate makes sure its many diversions are worth getting distracted by, whether you're zooming across an impromptu zipline or solving paranormal mysteries with Charles Dickens. Its charming twin protagonists, both of whom you can play at your leisure, add to that enjoyment with snarky banter that never feels snide or off-putting, making them feel like real people you'd want to have pint with. Though it isn't wildly innovative, Syndicate brings together the best parts of the entire Assassin's Creed series under one fancy umbrella, showing what the series is capable of when it tries.
2. Assassin's Creed 2
Altair may have technically kicked off the Assassin's Creed franchise, but turning it into a gaming powerhouse that sells millions of copies to fans around the world? That was all Ezio, and for good reason. Starting from the very basic formula that started the series, Assassin's Creed 2 squeezed blood from a stone to create a nearly perfect game.
Its tale of revenge is engaging from the instant it begins, and full of characters you love and ache to see succeed. Assassinations are made much more complex and challenging through unique weapons and a new move-set that gets deeper the longer you test it out. It fills out the time between main missions with sidequests that are instantly engaging, and the best of them may turn you into a conspiracy hound. Nothing is overlooked, and nothing is wasted: AC2 is an expertly crafted and perfectly honed masterpiece, one that made Assassin's Creed what it is today. And for the longest time, nothing could surpass it.
1. Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag
While AC2 soared to success on an updraft of enthusiasm for a burgeoning series, Black Flag arrived on the heels of the disappointing AC3, when confidence in the series was at an all-time low. It faced a hostile climate with little faith that a game about pirate Assassins could possibly succeed. And in proper buccaneer fashion, it blew the doors right off the place, taking every piece of the Assassin's Creed franchise and turning it into pirate gold.
There's almost nothing about the Assassin's Creed series that Black Flag didn't either invent or radically improve; against all expectations, it offered up the biggest game world the franchise had yet seen, an incredible variety of addictive missions, ship combat that was suddenly fun, and an effortlessly beautiful soundtrack that you've probably listened to at least once while nowhere near the game. But Black Flag went beyond the video game basics, giving an honest treatment of an often misrepresented historical period, and deftly telling the tale of a time, a place, and a people that ultimately came to ruin. It's masterfully crafted, incredibly fun, and is the game that proves the series' best years aren't behind it.