Nothing is true; everything is permitted... but you can trust this list ranking Assassin’s Creed games from worst to best.
The basic conceits established by the very first Assassin’s Creed have remained relatively unchanged. Take historical places and people and bring them into a large open world. Relive the lives of ancestors past via science and DNA samples. How does it work!? Stop asking questions and start climbing towers.
While the basic format has remained similar, a lot has changed. The series started with Desmond Miles and a group of friends trying to take down the evil Templars in the modern-day by turning to the past. But the modern-day stuff fell to the wayside until returning in the most recent games. And the series has often experimented in weird and sometimes successful ways.
Ubisoft has a habit of trying anything and everything in these games. One of them contained a tower defence mode. Some of them feature naval warfare. Some have multiple characters. And nearly every type of hacking and puzzle mini-game you can think of has appeared in over 14 games across nearly every platform released since the Xbox 360.
Through it all, the ups and downs, the series has been a favourite of many Kotaku staffers, so we all got together and yelled at each other and put together this list. In the end, we all mostly agreed with the ranking. (Some who don’t like Assassin’s Creed III were angry. Some who liked Unity were mad too.)
Something to note! Not every game in the franchise is on this list. We omitted phone games and browser games. We also didn’t count the Ezio Trilogy as a separate game and we aren’t ranking or taking into consideration DLC. The movie isn’t on here either. (If it was, it would be last.) Let us proceed.
14. Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles (2015)
I love it when Assassin’s Creed games try something new and different. It gives us games like Origins or Black Flag. But sometimes this experimentation can lead to complete misfires. That’s the case with Chronicles, which was really three smaller games collected together.
These games are 2.5D platformers that looked gorgeous. Sadly, they aren’t much fun to play. They feel sloppy and unimportant. The stories they tell are fine, but feel like they might have worked just as well as a comic or book. I also ran into bugs and other technical issues when I tried playing the games back when they first released. I think Assassin’s Creed could work as a 2D platformer, but this attempt did not.
13. Assassin’s Creed (2007)
The original that started this whole franchise. At the time it was an impressive game, boasting big crowds and lots of historical details. Today in 2020 it feels empty and barren, but there’s still a lot to like about this first game in the series. The modern-day narrative feels more connected and interesting than in later games, the mystery of Abstergo and The Templars was genuinely intriguing and the social stealth systems (hiding in a crowd) felt fresh and different.
Today, going back to Assassin’s Creed is hard. The controls are stiff, the combat is boring, and Altair feels underdeveloped as a character compared to later protagonists. Still, the basic elements of the franchise are still here and still work. The hidden blades, climbing big towers, assassinations, and weird conspiracy theory-inspired storytelling is all here. It’s just the whole package hasn’t aged nearly as well as other games in the franchise.
12. Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014)
It feels bad to be mean to Unity after years of it being picked on and criticised. But it’s hard to like Unity, especially in 2020. Back when it came out it was a visual stunner, but everything else just didn’t work. The story was dull, the main character was boring, and the Paris setting, while pretty, was forgettable. I had to look it up before writing this list, and I played this game.
Today Unity isn’t as pretty or impressive, and its weird attempt at co-op feels like an interesting idea handled poorly. At this point, it seems most folks remember Unity as the broken Assassin’s Creed, which is a shame because it was eventually patched and improved. But even when it was running well, it just wasn’t much fun.
11. Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (2012)
Liberation was a big deal in the franchise for being the first game to let you play as a woman. And it was a handheld PS Vita game, which was impressive. It played a lot like Assassin’s Creed III, which was a good thing in my book. But being a Vita game limited it in scope and gameplay.
Don’t get me wrong, what’s here is solid and inspired. The idea of using different outfits to blend in to different social classes was a neat spin on the social stealth that had long been a part of the franchise. It’s a gamification of the concept of “passing,” which is not something many (if any) games deal with or include. It’s simplified and not handled perfectly, but still admirable to include at all. Sadly, the rest was also simple and limited – problems directly tied to the mobile platform – and the reason Liberation is so low on this list.
10. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (2011)
Like Brotherhood, Ubisoft built Revelations on the back of Assassin’s Creed II. But as the third game starring Ezio and using the same tech, it felt old and creaky. The narrative wrapped up the Ezio trilogy nicely, for those who were invested, but it was hard to get excited about another sequel to Assassin’s Creed II.
Revelations might also contain the worst, dumbest mini-game in Assassin’s Creed history. The tower defence sections of Revelations felt out of place, poorly made, and just not worth the time. I was a fan of the franchise trying weird and different things, like multiplayer, but the tower defence was an example of the series going too far off the rails. And it wouldn’t be the last time this happened.
9. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010)
Building off the wonderful Assassin’s Creed II, at times Brotherhood felt more like a big expansion than a brand-new game. But even if it felt a lot like AC II, it managed to include some new ideas and locations to help it stand out. A big expansion isn’t a bad thing if it’s good, which Brotherhood was, though it did include a bit more bloat than previous games.
Brotherhood’s biggest new addition was multiplayer. On paper, it sounded silly and weird, but in practice it was wonderful. It played unlike any other online game at the time and to this day, there hasn’t really been another multiplayer game like it. Future instalments would add more and more to the online mode and make it less of a novelty, but this first go-around was still a highlight.
8. Assassin’s Creed: Rogue (2014)
I skipped Rogue back when it first came out. It was another game built on the old tech of Assassin’s Creed III and it featured a lot of boat action, like Black Flag, but with not as many pirates. And at this point, the PS4 and Xbox One were out and Unity was the big, new, shiny Assassin’s Creed game. Well, now that I finally went back and started Rogue I feel like a fool.
Rogue is better than Unity in a lot of ways. It might not be as pretty, but it featured a more interesting roster of characters and a better narrative. The main hook was that you started out as an assassin but quickly become a templar. Playing as a member of the franchise’s main evil force was a cool way to shake up what could have felt like a lesser take on Black Flag. It still felt a bit like a budget title, and compared to later games it feels old, but Rogue shouldn’t be skipped. It might be a side story, but it’s a good one worth checking out.
7. Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry (2014)
Black Flag was excellent, so building a side game on top of that tech seemed like a good way to end up with something good. And Freedom Cry is good, but not just because of its tech or gameplay. It was a smaller adventure, about four hours long, and told the story of what Adéwalé was up to during his absence in Black Flag.
It’s revealed the former slave turned assassin was down in Haiti helping slaves defeat their masters, who happened to be Templars. Freedom Cry, unlike most other Assassin’s Creed games, was short and to the point. You kill racist slave owners and free people who need your help. It also helped change Adéwalé as a person, something that we see later on in other games and Assassin’s Creed stories.
6. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (2015)
Syndicate took the tech and gameplay from Unity and built a more exciting game around it. The first game in the series to let you control two different assassins, Syndicate was more fun and upbeat then Unity. It also contained a more fleshed-out world, in which you could steal carriages and start gang wars in the streets.
The ending wasn’t great, but everything that lead up to it was, and the heroic Frye siblings were entertaining and loveable. This game also had some of the best side-quests in any Assassin’s Creed game, with some very creative missions. Oh, and the grappling hook was awesome.
5. Assassin’s Creed III (2012)
They called it Assassin’s Creed III, despite there having already been like five games before it if you count mobile titles and spin-offs. But the three in the name helped signal this was a big departure from what came before. AC III was slicker, more open, more modern, and featured improved controls and parkour. It was also the last game until Origins to feature a big focus on the modern-day narrative, wrapping up the Desmond story which started back in the first game.
AC III had problems, like an overly long intro and a lot of stuff on the map, a problem that would grow even worse in later games. But for all its problems I still love AC III. The setting was one of the strongest parts of the game. Getting to interact with historical figures from America’s past and explore the snowy woods of the U.S. east coast was nice. And that opening bait-and-switch caught me off guard.
4. Assassin’s Creed II (2009)
If the original game felt empty and more like an impressive tech demo and the first draft of a better video game, Assassin’s Creed II was that better game. Ezio was a vastly more interesting, well-written, and developed character than Altair. Nearly every aspect of the first game was improved in AC II: combat, climbing, mission variety, and the visuals. The location, Italy, was also a nice change of scenery.
Assassin’s Creed II was a bigger game. Eventually, the franchise got too obsessed with being bigger and bigger, but here it felt like a natural next step after the first game. The modern-day narrative got more time to shine and we start to see the connections to other parts of the franchise here, like the Isu and more history about the war between the Assassins and Templars.
3. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (2018)
Odyssey reminded me of Brotherhood. Like that game, It took the base tech and gameplay from the previous game, Origins, and built a bigger world with it, complete with new mechanics and ideas. And like Brotherhood, Odyssey was great even if it felt a little too much like Origins at times.
I had an awesome experience with Odyssey, and it is one of my favourite games in recent memory. But it also felt even less like an Assassin’s Creed game than even Origins. There was a bigger focus on loot, RPG mechanics, and special abilities. A lot of this stuff felt out of place in an Assassin’s Creed game, and I get it. For diehard fans of the older games, Odyssey was a step too far away from the classic format. No hidden blades, no Templars or Assassins, and no big assassinations. But I think the franchise is flexible enough to expand beyond the classic format. These experiments may not always work—see Chronicles—but I don’t think Assassin’s Creed games all need to hew to the exact same formula.
2. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013)
At a few points in Assassin’s Creed III, you got to command a ship. That was fun, but not a huge part of the overall game. Black Flag took that gameplay and expanded it into a huge pirate simulator, resulting in one of the best games in the series. Black Flag improved some of AC III’s shortcomings too, like allowing you to freely board and leave your ship without a loading screen.
Black Flag’s modern-day story took a back seat to the main historical action and drama, which was set in the Caribbean sea. This was the right choice. After six games following around modern-day assassins and friends, that side of the story was feeling dull and overly complex. Black Flag instead focused on Edward Kenway, the grandfather of Assassin’s Creed III’s main character. He was a pirate and you get to meet famous pirates like Blackbeard and go explore the sea as you see fit. There are even sea shanties and buried treasure. It was fantastic and felt like the perfect evolution of the franchise.
1. Assassin’s Creed Origins (2017)
Origins wasn’t like previous games in the franchise. It was bigger, sure, but it also played more like an open-world RPG, not unlike The Witcher or Skyrim and less like the older, stealth-focused Assassin’s Creed games. This sparked a debate among the fanbase. Some enjoyed this different style of Assassin’s Creed and others missed the classic games. As someone who loved the old games, I was ready for something new and Origins delivered that in every possible way.
The ancient Egyptian setting was brilliant and gave it a look and feel unlike any other AC game. The updated combat utilised the controller’s triggers and focused less on counters. Parkour was downgraded but climbing became more powerful, letting you climb almost anything. And the modern-day narrative enjoyed more screen time and greater care. Layla Hassan took the place of Desmond; a former Abstergo employee, she goes rogue and becomes an ally of the assassins.
But the main historical drama was the real star. Bayek is the best Assassin’s Creed protagonist in the series and his story and his reasons for becoming the first “Assassin” are memorable and touching. I cared about him and his family. Rooting for him helped get me through the game, which was considerably longer and larger than older games.
Origins was a great game and is the best Assassin’s Creed game ever made. Maybe Valhalla will be even better, but it’s going to be hard to top Origins. But I’m excited to find out.
Don’t worry, we ranked the modern-day sections too.
All images: Ubisoft