Given that the Assassin's Creed timeline has been on the go since the release of the first game 13 years ago, there's quite a bit to catch up on. You'd be forgiven for thinking that this is just a series about popping up your hood and stabbing people, but the whole ancient alien civilisation thing and endless battle between the Assassins and Templars is kind of a big deal.
So, if you don't want to be lost before Assassin's Creed Valhalla, it's time to hold onto your Apples of Eden and take a leap of faith headfirst into the giant haystack that is the official canon of Assassin's Creed lore. Just a quick note before you jump in: this is going to be a whistlestop tour that includes only the main series entries, with thirteen years of spoilers to boot. It's time to plug into the Animus.
The history of Assassin's Creed starts as we mean to go on; with a godlike alien civilisation called the Isu. You might know them as the Precursors, Those Who Came Before or just 'Those Weird Bits of the Games I Totally Ignore' but, whatever you call them, somewhere in the midst of time - before time was even a concept - they created and immediately enslaved humans.
Yes, they're the ones responsible for this entire Templar-filled mess.
As seen in an Assassin's Creed 2 flashback, humans don't really like being enslaved by the creators. It turns out that Eve - yes, that Eve - nicks an all-powerful ancient artefact known as an Apple of Eden from the Isu.
Now's probably the time to explain these as they're going to be mentioned a lot. The so-called Pieces of Eden are ancient and powerful artefacts that contain the technology of the Isu. Not a huge amount is known about them but some can be used to alter human physiology, while others can give power or even regenerative abilities. In short, they can be used to control humans so really aren't safe in the wrong hands.
The eternal game of artefact ping pong is exactly what keeps the AC story going, as the Templars tend to be really good at picking them up. The Apples of Eden, those that look spherical in nature, hold the potential to properly enslave humanity, and it's one of these that Eve pinches. She grabs Adam, and the pair escape. A war subsequently ensues over the next ten years. Until…
What's known as the Toba Catastrophe takes place, and the earth is hit by a huge solar flare. While both humanity and the Isu take a serious hit, Those Who Came Before die out and what's left of the human race make the best of the dire situation and build a new world. Go humans.
Also revealed in the e Blade DLC is that Darius is the father of Natakas, who later gets together with Kassandra. Those two then produce a son, Elpidios, who is an ancestor of Origin's Aya or Amunet. Still with me? Good. ius. Xerxes was an ally of the Order of the Ancients, the first iteration of the society that would become the Templar Order.
Also revealed in the Legacy of the First Blade DLC is that Darius is the father of Natakas, who later gets together with Kassandra. Those two then produce a son, Elpidios, who is an ancestor of Origin's Aya or Amunet. Still with me? Good.
431 BCE (Assassin's Creed: Odyssey)
Skip a few decades and it's time for the main events of Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Sorry Alexios, given that Kassandra is canon, this will be her story. Spartan Misthios Kassandra, experienced in memory form by Layla Hassan in 2018, spends her Ancient Greek days wielding a weapon called the Broken Spear of Leonidas, which gives her superhuman strength. This is because it's actually what's left of an artefact known as a Spear of Eden. The Isu has a lot to answer for.
Kassandra battles through the Peloponnesian War, takes on her evil twin brother, and entirely wipes out a group of people known as the Cult of Kosmos. No mean feat. Oh, and now's probably the time to say that not all the Isu are permanently dead.
An Isu known as Alethia shifted her consciousness into a staff known as the Staff of Hermes Trismegistus that Pythagoras has been carrying around. Kassandra ends up as the Keeper of the Staff, which lets her experience the Isu simulations of Elysium, Hades, and Atlantis. Oh, and it keeps her eternally alive. But more on that in a few millennia.
49 BCE (Assassin's Creed Origins)
Fast forward to Ancient Egypt and Assassin's Creed Origins' Bayek of Siwa takes centre stage. Like Kassandra, Bayek and his wife Aya are both experienced by Layla Hassan using her newfangled DNA based Animus. While out in the desert, Bayek and his son Khemu are kidnapped by a masked group of Xerxes old pals and proto-Templars The Order of the Ancients. Upon arriving at an underground temple, Bayek is forced to hold a glowing sphere we now know is an Apple of Eden and asked to open a vault. In a struggle, Khemu is tragically murdered with Bayek's knife by a man known as Flavius Matellus.
Bayek and Aya make it their mission to take revenge against the group of men responsible for their son's murder. Aya gifts Bayek the hidden blade and in one of his first quests with it, proves that a spring loaded murder gauntlet is actually pretty dangerous - quelle surprise - and chops off his own ring finger at the same time as assassinating someone, accidentally starting a millenium-long Creed custom of amputating one of your digits before donning the hood. Oops.
While Bayek and Aya manage to murder the five men responsible and reclaim the Apple of Eden, they discover that the Order of the Ancients is far bigger than they had realised. The Assassin's Brotherhood is formed on a beach as the couple decide to separate but fight the darkness together. This is also when we find out that the iconic AC logo comes from the mark left in the sand from Bayek's eagle pendant. Aya departs for Rome, where she becomes the legendary Assassin Amunet while Bayek grows the Brotherhood in Egypt.
1176 (Assassin's Creed)
It's only now that we get to the pivotal action that kicked off the original 2007 game. Experienced through the genetic memories of Desmond Miles, Altair Ibn-La'Ahad is a 12th century Syrian Assassin raised in the Brotherhood community of Masyaf. He is trained by a Master Assassin known as Al Mualim. Upon failing to retrieve an Apple of Eden successfully from the Grand Master of the Templar Order and causing the death of one of his group, Altair is demoted within the Assassins. In a handy decision for the first game in the series, he's forced to redo his training and learn what it truly means to be a member of the Brotherhood.
Thankfully that means lots of diving into hay and annihilating the Templars who are now everywhere trying to build what they call "a new world", despite the best efforts of our favourite sneaky stabbers. The Templars are hunting for more Apples of Eden in order to gain complete control of humanity. But, plot twist, when Altair makes his way through to the final Templar on his hit list, he discovers that there is a secret 10th Templar, Al Mualim.
Upon returning to Masyaf, he discovers that Al Mualim has taken control with an Apple of Eden. Against all odds, Altair fights off the hallucinations it causes and manages to murder Al Mualim. Altair then takes over as leader. After further battling with Templars to keep control of the Apple, Altair settles down with an ex-Templar aide Maria, and dedicates the rest of his life to his family and discovering the true powers of the Apple.
Of course, there's no happily ever after. Despite Altair developing a Codex for future Assassins, all kinds of fun Assassin toys, and even seeing how the world of the Isu ended, further chaos sees the death of Maria and more unrest. Eventually, Altair returns to Masyaf as leader of the Assassins, but the fort is besieged. He gives the explorers Maffeo and Niccolo Polo five memory seals which act as keys to his library. He then instructs them to establish Assassin Brotherhood outposts around the world.
1307 (Assassin's Creed Unity)
In a 14th century interval that will only make sense in another four hundred years or so, an advisor to a Templar Grand Master called Jacques de Molay hides an artefact known as the Sword of Eden in a Temple below Paris.
A decade later, Jacques de Molay is executed and the Templar Order is publicly disbanded. Not that that means much…
1459-1524 (Assassin's Creed 2, Brotherhood, Revelations)
So, time for the birth of an Italian chap you might just have heard of. Star of Assassin's Creed 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations, Ezio Auditore Da Firenze is a Renaissance assassin who takes up the hidden blade after the death of his family at the hands of the Templar Order. He learns to blend with crowds and has Leonardo Da Vinci craft him a hidden blade with the notes from Altair's Codex.
Along with his uncle Mario - 'it's a me!' - Ezio murders his way through the men responsible for his father's death. Yeah, no one ever talks their way out of trouble in an Assassin's Creed game. After interrupting the Templar delivery of an Apple of Eden to Venice, Ezio has his ring finger chopped off and is inducted into the Assassin Brotherhood.
Unfortunately, the Apple doesn't stay safe long, and Ezio has to quest for its return. When he finds it once again, the Assassins use the power of the Apple to discover a secret vault beneath the Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately, the Templars are already aware, and the nefarious Rodrigo Borgia has forced his way into being made Pope. In one of the strangest battles of the series, Ezio then fights the actual Pope with his fists while Borgia wields a Staff of Eden.
It's now that one of the OTHER Isu rocks up. When Ezio combines the ex-Pope's Staff and his Apple of Eden, a hidden vault opens and a member of Those Who Came Before called Minerva appears to Ezio - and thus Desmond in 2012 - to tell him of a tragedy that will befall mankind in the future.
The events of Brotherhood are thankfully a little less complex. After the Templars attack Monterrigioni and take the Apple of Eden, Ezio travels to Rome where he meets the leader of the Assassins, Machiavelli. He systematically destroys the power of the Borgias in the city and manages to reclaim the Apple.
He uses it to send off the Borgia forces entirely but then after telling him the location of Cesare Borgia, the Apple tells Ezio to leave it be. He dutifully hides it in a temple beneath Rome where no-one will find it for another five centuries. He then heads off to murder Cesare Borgia in Spain by throwing him from some battlements. Yes, he definitely deserved it.
Not a young man anymore in Revelations, Ezio, much like Altair in his later life, wants to find out more about the technology within the Apple. He finds a letter from his father about a locked library deep beneath Masyaf so decides to see if he can find it. His quest takes him to Constantinople where he discovers that the library requires the five keys Altair created. Unfortunately, the dastardly Templars are also on the hunt for these same keys.
After befriending the leader of the Ottoman Assassins, Ezio helps them defend against a Byzantine attack and becomes involved in the politics of the city. He also finds time to fall in love with a woman called Sofia Sartor before claiming the final key and making his way to Masyaf. He unlocks and enters the library where he finds 92 year old Altair's skeleton - *sob* - and his Apple of Eden.
It's time for another Isu section. Here, Ezio speaks to Desmond as he realises that the message held within the Apple is not for the Italian Assassin. An Isu called Jupiter appears who warns Desmond of a great calamity that's going to destroy the earth. Again. She shows Desmond the location of the Grand Temple where he can stop the second disaster occuring.
Ezio realises that he is a mere messenger and returns to Sophia who he marries and has two children with. It sounds like a happy ending but tragically, Ezio dies suddenly at 65 in a Florentine Piazza. His injuries from his 30 years spent as an Assassin are blamed and our hearts are crushed.
1715 (Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag)
Don't worry, Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag isn't nearly as convoluted. No, wait. That's a lie. The adventures of pirate Assassin Edward Kenway, experienced through DNA via the modern day Templar outfit Abstergo Entertainment, take place in the Caribbean in the 18th century. Edward actually doesn't start out as an Assassin, instead he finds a hidden blade after chasing down and murdering a member of the Brotherhood called Duncan Walpole. Handy.
He pretends to be Duncan and discovers not just the existence of the Templars but also a location known as the Observatory, a mysterious Isu site that can spy on humans via a Crystal Skull and a vial of their blood. So far, so Indiana Jones. This Observatory can only be opened by someone called The Sage. Bear with me here. Sages are known throughout history as repeated human reincarnations of an Isu known as Aita, who was Juno's husband.
In Black Flag, the current Sage is a pirate called Bartholomew Roberts who shows Edward how the Observatory works. Edward is betrayed by Roberts and trapped inside the Observatory. But, because he's the rogue we know and love, still manages to escape. He eventually allies properly with the Assassins and trains as a part of the Brotherhood.
The Observatory remains a constant Templar target and Edward manages to assassinate Laureano de Torres y Ayala, the Grand Master of the West Indies Rite of the Templar Order and deactivate it. After all his good work as an Assassin, Edward is pardoned for his acts of piracy and travels to England with his daughter. It's there that he remarries and he has a son, Haytham Kenway. Remember that name for a minute…
1756-1763 (Assassin's Creed: Rogue)
Not too long after the events of Black Flag, Shay Cormac starts out as a member of the Brotherhood in Assassin's Creed Rogue. He's trained by an Assassin mentor in North America called Achilles and is sent to collect an Isu artefact from a temple in Lisbon. Yet when he touches the Isu tech, it triggers an enormous earthquake, destroying the city and killing its inhabitants. Shay is understandably pretty furious at Achilles and says he should have known about the imminent disaster.
In fact, Shay is so disappointed by the decision of the Assassins that he leaves the Brotherhood and steals the manuscript that they had obtained to see the artefact locations, afraid that they would kill more people. He is shot as he escapes, and tumbles from a cliff before being rescued by a Templar called George Munro.
Lo and behold, we have our first Assassin turned Templar as Shay is inducted into the Templar Order and sets about killing Assassins. He murders a now-much-older Adewale before taking on Achilles and his old Assassin friend Liam O'Brien in an Arctic Precursor Temple. Surprising absolutely no one, another earthquake is triggered by the artefact, killing Liam.
Shay continues to fight the Assassins but stops fellow Templar Haytham Kenway - yes, this is why you had to remember the name - from killing Achilles as he needs to tell the Brotherhood to stop seeking out artefacts. Finally, Shay sails to Paris where he assassinates a French Assassin called Charles Dorian and recovers more artefacts for the Templars to keep safe.
1773-1781 (Assassins Creed 3, Liberation)
With a little bit of overlap with Rogue, Assassin's Creed 3 kicks off in the 18th century not in the free-running boots of an Assassin but as Haytham Kenway himself. The now Templar son of Edward travels from London to North America with a stolen key that he believes will open a Precursor Grand Temple. Unfortunately it doesn't, but his friendship with a member of the Kanien'keha tribe, Kaniehti:io, becomes more and the two have a son.
The rest of Assassin's Creed 3 follows that son, Ratonhake:ton, who becomes an Assassin called Connor Kenway. Connor finds himself amidst the chaos of the American Revolution. He blames his father for the death of his mother and the destruction of his village and manages to convince a now understandably very resistant Achilles to train him as an Assassin and take revenge on the Templars. Despite eventually offering a truce with his father, Haytham refuses an alliance and, you guessed it, Connor ends his life.
1776 - 1794 (Assassin's Creed Unity)
Speeding onwards into the future, Assassin's Creed Unity follows the son of the man assassinated by Shay Cormac in Paris. Arno Victor Dorian witnesses the death of his father Charles in Versailles and is then raised by a Templar Grand Master, growing up with Elise de la Serre. The pair enter into a secret relationship which abruptly ends when Arno is framed for his adopted father's murder. After a dramatic escape from the Bastille, Arno decides to find out more about his father and becomes inducted into the Assassin's Order.
Despite her Templar allegiance, Elise helps Arno on his quest to avenge the deaths of both his fathers. The pair uncover all manner of corruption, culminating in a battle with the Grand Master of the French Templars. Arming himself with the Sword of Eden beneath the Parisian Temple, Francois-Thomas Germain tries to murder Arno and Elise with bolts of electricity. The pair work together to take him down but Germain kills Elise as the sword explodes - Isu tech, eh? - and Arno murders him in revenge. In a vision, Germain reveals himself to be a Sage, and Arno carries Elise's body away. At a later date, Arno retrieves the Sage bones and hides them in the catacombs so as not to be harvested by Templars.
1868 (Assassin's Creed: Syndicate)
The most modern historical time period for a mainline AC entry so far, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate takes place in the Victorian era as two Master Assassin twins arrive in London. The city has fallen under control of a Templar Grand Master, so Jacob and Evie Frye rock up to sort things out. Decimating gang bases, freeing workhouse children, and assassinating Templars between exciting rides on trains and tea with Alexander Graham Bell, Evie and Jacob bring balance to the city.
Of course a showdown with the Templar Grand Master Crawford Starrick eventually takes place in a Crypt beneath Buckingham Palace, and with the help of their Assassin friend Henry Green, the twins manage to end his life, returning another Isu Artefact called The Shroud to its proper vault. Phew.
2012 (Assassin's Creed 2, Brotherhood, Revelations, 3)
September 2012 kicks off a seriously busy few months for ex bartender Desmond Miles. He's abducted by the modern face of the Templar Order, Abstergo, and forced to relive the memories of Altair. This gives Abstergo all the information that Altair learned about the Apple in his later life, a map of the Precursor sites, and therefore all the locations of the Apples of Eden.
An undercover Assassin called Lucy Stillman helps Desmond escape before Abstergo can kill him after draining all of his useful genetic information like a carton of DNA juice. She takes him to the Assassins where he meets the history obsessed Shaun Hastings and Animus whizz Rebecca Crane. Instead of, y'know, recovering from plunging into his ancestor's memories, they pop Desmond into a newly updated Animus to relive the memories of Ezio to improve his Assassin skills.
It's here that he finds out from Minerva that the world is going to end and, in order to do something about it, he'll need to find more Temples. Desmond and co head to one beneath Rome and find an Apple of Eden. Once it's been discovered, Isu Juno unfortunately possesses Desmond and murders Lucy with his hidden blade.
The stress of the whole situation quite understandably sends Desmond into a coma and the Assassins pop him into the Animus to keep him safe. Again, with the restorative time machine, guys? Here, in between reliving Ezio's Constantinople memories in Revelations, Desmond rebuilds his mind and meets a previous subject of the Abstergo Animus Project, Clay Kaczmarek, who eventually helps him escape.
The team travels to the Grand Temple beneath New York along with William Miles, Desmond's dad who also happens to be the head of the modern day Assassins order. But to unlock the vault properly, Desmond must again enter the Animus to relive the memories of Connor. After finding the key to unlock the inner chamber of the temple, the team discover that there //is// technology that can stop the Second Disaster that would wipe out most of earth. But - there's always a twist isn't there? - activating it would unleash Juno who had been imprisoned there.
Desmond figures that humanity can fight off Juno, activates the tech and sacrifices himself in the process. Juno uses the Assassins tech to upload herself onto the internet and quest for a fresh human host. Yay?
2013 (Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag)
Without Desmond, the modern day element gets a little more fragmented. A man called Gavin Banks becomes the leader of the Assassin Brotherhood and takes over from Desmond's dad while Shaun and Rebecca go undercover. Abstergo Entertainment - because of course the Templars have an entertainment division - hires a new researcher to go through more genetic memories harvested from Desmond before he escaped. This unnamed researcher - not-so-affectionately nicknamed The Noob - dives into the memories of Edward Kenway.
Interestingly, The Noob is also asked by the head of Abstergo IT, John Standish, to hack the tech around the facility and pass on information to the Assassins. Shaun Hastings is undercover and working as a barista at the coffee stand in the building and collects the information there. He makes a killer flat white, y'know. In a twist, it turns out that John Standish is actually a Sage and was trying to make the researcher a fresh host for Juno who is still floating around on the internet. Despite poisoning the Noob, John fails and is killed by Abstergo security and uncovered as the hacker.
2014 (Assassin's Creed Unity, Rogue)
In 2014, an unnamed individual uses Abstergo's cloud based software - Helix - to explore the memories of Arno. Shaun Hastings and a hacker Assassin called Bishop guide the so-called Helix Initiate through the memories to find out more about the artefacts beneath Paris and the true version of his memories.
It's also in 2014 that another unnamed analyst from within Abstergo Entertainment sends the Assassins the memories of Shay Cormac. It gets complex but without Desmond, there's a whole lot of digital memories being explored and undercover Assassins working at Abstergo Entertainment to make sure they know what the Templars are up to. Here they can sabotage memories accordingly to prevent Abstergo finding potentially dangerous information. It's also worth noting that Juno is still on the internet and has attacked Abstergo Entertainment with a virus hidden in the memories of Shay.
2015 (Assassin's Creed Syndicate)
Once again, the Helix Initiate is recruited by the Assassins to go through the memories of Jacob and Evie Frye to find out more about the Shroud of Eden before the Templars can find it. Shaun and Rebecca discover through these memories that it's under Buckingham Palace and a group of Assassins head to London to nab it before the Templars do.
Unfortunately, they're beaten to the chase and in the resulting fight Rebecca takes a bullet for Shaun and Shaun kills a Templar called Isabelle Ardant with his shock blade. Unfortunately a Templar called Violet da Costa gets away with the shroud and despite almost being killed by Russian Assassin Galina Voronina, Master Templar Otso Berg escapes too. It turns out that Violet had been instructed by Juno to grab the Shroud and this was a part of her plan to get her body back.
2017- 2018 - (Assassin's Creed Origins, Odyssey)
The Assassin’s Creed Odyssey ending explained - What does it all mean?
Here's where the modern day suddenly gets a lot simpler. Well, for Assassin's Creed. We join Layla Hassan, a worker for Abstergo who has built her own version of the Animus that means she can experience any genetic memories as long as she can find the DNA. Despite disapproval from her friend and co-worker Deanna she jumps into the memories of both Bayek and Aya. Layla isn't aware of Abstergo's Templar affiliations but has always dreamed of working on the Animus Project. Her DNA Animus is her attempt at finally being taken seriously.
William Miles finds Layla and offers her a job with the Assassins which she eventually accepts. She discovers the Broken Spear of Leonidas and uses it to experience the memories of Kassandra with the aid of another ex-Abstergo employee Dr Victoria Bibeau. Through Kassandra's adventures, the pair uncover the entrance of Atlantis together and, incredibly, Kassandra arrives in the cave dressed in business attire and hands over the Staff of Hermes Trismegistus. She dies in Layla's arms after telling her she will bring balance to prevent the Assassins and Templars destroying each other.
That's how Odyssey ends but the Fate of Atlantis DLC turns Layla's story tragic. Layla speaks to the Isu Aletheia who sends her through Isu simulations of Elysium, Hades, and Atlantis. Layla starts suffering from the Bleeding Effect after spending too long in memories and amidst a heated argument with Victoria, accidentally murders her with the staff. It happens to the best of us... Minerva accuses her of perhaps not being the True Heir of Memories but Layla manages to convince her to let her keep going as the Templars attack the Assassins outside the cave. Finally, the Master Templar Otso Berg arrives and Layla manages to defeat him with the staff, which is where Odyssey finally truly ends.
2020 (Assassin's Creed Valhalla)
Well, that's for us to find out when we catch up with Layla in Assassin's Creed Valhalla. Phew, it's probably time for a barrel of mead after all of that anyway.
Side note: If you want to find out what happened to Juno, her story actually ended in one of the graphic novels. You'll want to read Assassin's Creed: Uprising for the full showdown.
For more, check out our official ranking of the best Assassin's Creed games so far, or watch the video to find out the seven weirdest things that we've already in Valhalla.