Meaningful Resignation: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and Revelations | CRITIQUE/REVIEW

Meaningful Resignation: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and Revelations | CRITIQUE/REVIEW

My most consistently popular video is the critique of the Assassin’s Creed trilogy— —that being the first three numbered games— —and since it’s been almost a year since, I thought I’d go back and take a look at the ones left out of that selection: Brotherhood and Revelations. Playing the numbered games with a critical perspective, taking notes and doing deep readings I was surprised by just how much my view on them changed On their respective releases, I loved the second game and didn’t like the other ones at all. Out of the two for this video, Brotherhood was my favorite on release, and Revelations probably my least favorite out the entire franchise up until that point, so maybe I’ll get a similarly dramatic
shift in perspective this time. And if you’re waiting for a spoiler warning you can stop that now, because if you haven’t already figured out that I *will* be talking about the games in their entirety, you probably shouldn’t be watching this video in the first place. You *could* definitely go back and watch the video on the three numbered games first… …but you shouldn’t I did, and it’s terrible. So let me do a quick recap on what those games opened up, and what I’m interested in exploring. I’ll do this quickly, and there are four main questions. First, there’s what I framed as the “fall of man” narrative in the first video this is a sort of Nietzschean angst about what is right and what is wrong and how you can tell the difference between the two once you adopt a secular mindset where it isn’t ordained by the idea of God and religious ethics. Secondly, there’s the Assassin-Templar coupling, and how their ideologies represent respective answers to that problem. The Assassins, on the one hand, want freedom in all things, and the Templar, on the other, think it better to keep tight control in all things. This conflict is the main thematic vehicle of the entire franchise. The third questions is how the ludonarrative related to these themes in each game. Broadly speaking, the first and third game had their own corresponding takes, while the second… …uhm… …didn’t really have one. Lastly Wait, before we get into that one… How did the three games measure up to what the franchise was originally about? The first one obviously opened up all of these ideas in the first place, and my view is that it does it pretty competently. Altair’s struggle with arrogance and impetuousness functions as a stepping-off point— —a point where there’s not even an awareness that judging right from wrong has actual material results in the world around you. And from that follows a journey where Altair goes from blindly following the all-encompassing freedom of the Assassin order, through his run-ins with the Templars which nuance his radical dogmatism, to a conclusion where both are rejected in favor of an understanding that while each has its own merits, an individual’s responsibility is to see what is gained or lost by adopting either in any given situation. morality in a secular world, the game suggests, becomes situational rather than prescribed. Ludonarratively, the game shows a similarly dichotomous tension. while on the one hand, committing to a prescribed plan of action makes your mission more successful, on the other, each step along the way becomes all the more risky. One screw-up is all it takes to botch the entire operation. What is gained by one approach is lost in the other. As for the second game… …Well, I don’t enjoy being negative about a game people spent years of their life making, so the less I have to talk about it, the better. Suffice to say it spends all of its time obsessing about making its main character “likeable” to the point of lacking internal logic and making tons of concessions to make Ezio seem like less of a tool. This quote from the old video sums it up pretty well: And as for the ludonarrative any ambition of considering one is replaced with the by-now infamous Ubisoft open-world structure. That surprised me. When the first game was released in 2007, I didn’t like it at all. And then when the second game was released in 2009, I loved it. I got the feeling from responses that the video made kinda made it seem like part of why I made it in the first place was to make a character assassination of the second game and its protagonist. But that wasn’t the case at all. I was expecting to like the second one. Now, this isn’t relevant to the examination of Brotherhood and Revelations, really, because it’s not at all about what I like or don’t like— —all three games just so happened to subvert my previously formed opinion of them, And I think that’s marginally interesting, or at least worth mentioning if you watched the old video. I didn’t like the third game at its release either, so it was surprising that I did enjoy it so much this time around. Suddenly, the franchise returns to those themes the first game opened up but from a different perspective and with a different result. It’s a bleaker game in tone and in content, and this time the main character, Connor,
starts as a rage-filled teenager, and ends up as mostly worn-down, sad, and defeated. He learns that the ability to judge right from wrong can sometimes be lost on a world that seems reluctant to. The conflict between the
Assassins and Templars is back but this time the lines are blurred almost beyond recognition. You start as Haytham Kenway, Grand Master of the Colonial Rite of the Templar Order, and the fact you probably won’t realize that until the introduction ends and his allegiance is revealed let’s you know that who’s who isn’t all that clear-cut anymore. Can the idea of freedom itself be used as a tool for control? Can control be viewed as one form of freedom? Are the two really as diametrically opposed as we make them out to be? The third game starts with the question the first one ended on and in turns ends with the sullen realization that different people’s ideas of when and where freedom or control should be applied often contradict what is right and wrong in a consequentialist perspective. The slaves shown being traded at the end of the game drive this point home. Similarly in the ludonarrative, the same ideas from the first are explored in new ways. Instead of saying the same thing in several different ways— —as the first game’s missions did— —the third game shows a progression in the ludonarrative. Connor starts as an Assassin blank slate, and the missions are appropriately constricting to show that, while also making sure that everything flows along smoothly. Later on, when Connor is more competent, the freedom in the mission design is ramped up, but things also increasingly fall apart as that freedom escalates. And then there’s how the game uses the very time-specific idea of the Frontier in order to show that as soon as you expand freedom, control will inevitably follow. The fourth question I want to ask of Brotherhood and Revelations is one that I didn’t really talk about very much in the first video: There are a lot of interesting things to say about how the games use history, both individually and as a franchise. Generally, the further in the series you get, the more specifically the worlds are situated in history. This specificity isn’t achieved through the historical situation’s own terms, though but through reflecting our contemporary values and ideas on that time and place. So while the first game is generally situated in a vague, pretty fantastical invocation of the Abrahamic Holy Lands during the Third Crusade, the third game is specifically situated in the American colonies between 1754 and 1783— —with all the historical baggage such as the real-life historical actors and events that comes with it. The first game positions our contemporary values as fringe elements contained in the Assassin and Templar Orders of its world, while in the third, our contemporary obsession with the idea of freedom and order is anachronistically applied on the historical situation. This is largely achieved through a commodification of historical markers. All the historical actors in Assassin’s Creed III are brought into this modern battle between order and freedom when, as actual historical people, their conception of the two was very different. Instead of being used as a backdrop for a generally interesting set of themes the historical situation is revised in order to legitimize our own contemporary world-view. Four questions. This is what we’re looking for. So let’s see what we find. Because Assassin’s Creed as a franchise always had several narrative levels— —Altair and Desmond in the first game— —and because it tends to add more levels as the series progresses it can get messy at an exponential rate, and be difficult to talk about. Brotherhood is almost as troubled as
Assassin’s Creed II but it also uses a lot of those problems from the second game to do some interesting things. On one level, the game is a valiant response to and refurbishment of Ezio’s lack of agency as protagonist, and the lack of substance to the Assassin and Templar Orders. The way the game is structured though— —with discordant threads not leading to where you expect them— —shadows that level under a sort of meta-level. One which steeps the entire game in ambiguity. Added to this mix is a new level not present, at least not to the same extent in the first two games of the franchise: an ahistorical and anachronistic liberalization of the historical time period within which the game takes place. In some ways, these themes develop from a response to Assassin’s Creed II but the result is mostly—although for very different reasons—as messy and muddled as its ancestor. Brotherhood wants desperately to take Ezio and morph him from the clueless stooge of the second game into a sort of Messiah figure. Let’s go back to that rocky start, because it turns out the entire introduction sequence— —in which Ezio returns back home to Monteriggioni in the hopes of settling in— —is the way it is in order to facilitate this. The sequence is as dumb and nonsensical as anything in the second game but it isn’t meant to be taken at face value. It ends with Ezio scrambling off to Rome in pursuit of Cesare Borgia— —a chase which, unsurprisingly considering Ezio was shot only moments before, ends poorly. Ezio collapses off his horse to awake in a strange bed in Rome. All the dumb stuff in the intro— —the inconsistencies, the tastelessness— —is there to enable that symbolic death of the old Ezio as he faints off the back of his horse in order to make way for a new and improved one. It’s a rebirth. And he wakes up to a darker world. The Borgia have consolidated their power and taken over Rome due in no small part to the fact that Ezio chose to not actually kill the villain of the second game— Rodrigo, who is now the Holy Mother Loving Pope. So Ezio finds himself tasked with saving the people of Rome from the Borgia oppression. Throughout the rest of the game, there are constant allusions to the idea of a Messiah both through plot and through imagery. For example, we’ve got Machiavelli and the question of the Judas to Ezio’s Jesus for the first and the scene where Ezio takes part in a play about the crucifixion of Christ for the second. As it turns out, though, Machiavelli was never the Judas. On the contrary, he was the mastermind orchestrating all of this in the first place. And on the topic of Jesus and sacrifice, Ezio never does any of that. Instead, he ends up the Mentor to the entire Italian Assassin Order. In other words, instead of sacrificing himself for the failings of his subjects, he becomes their king. Just like in the second game, Ezio was the unwitting puppet confused by someone else’s scheme. Those allusion to Jesus turn out to be
distractions—sleight of hand. I mean, Ezio does restore Rome, so in one way he’s a messianic figure but let’s put a pin in that for now and come back to it later on. The way history is leveraged in Brotherhood consists of several different levels of what is essentially… I want to point out here that while I’m trying to make this reasonably coherent This is a theoretically complex way to talk about history It is grossly simplified in order to do so, and it’s still kind of obtuse. If anything is unclear, or you’re curious about a specific thing in detail, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. The historical layers utilized by the game are the following: [ON SCREEN] The idea in a lot of metahistorical thinking is that history doesn’t actually exist. Or at least that it doesn’t exist in any way we have access to. Instead, all we have access to is how it appears out of any material we can find preferably from and as a fairly distant second about, said historical time or event. The distinction is a phenomenological one— —the idea that the phenomenon of something, its appearance is something other than the actual thing-in-the-world. In other words, we have access to how the past appears to us only, but never—try as we might—to its reality. This might seem like a obvious or even useless point, but we tend to forget the distinction all the time and in my experience people have a really difficult time getting their heads around its implications. Consider, for example, how we ascribe meaning to whatever things happen in our lives. The universe, as far as we can suspect, doesn’t care about whether something is meaningful to us or not. Things don’t have that intrinsic meaning. In spite of that fact, we find meaning in all kinds of things—really weird things sometimes. And they’re not inherently meaningful, but we still instinctively see them as such. In fact, phenomenology argues we are doomed to this sort of meaning-making and as a result have to consciously reduce things—that is, remove from them our own perception of meaning— —in order to see them for what they are. This holds true in our experience of history too. So let’s go back to those layers. In an everyday situation, the distinction between reality and appearance isn’t all that important. When you’re studying something academically, though, that distinction needs to come before arguably everything else. Otherwise you risk studying something you’re unknowingly making into something it isn’t. So in our example, we need to understand that what we think about when we say Renaissance never existed It only appears like that to us now. Middle Ages…never existed… …doesn’t have the qualities we ascribe it inherently. Roman Empire. Jesus Time™ These don’t exist in the way we think about them now. They exist only in the way they appear to us from the material we have access to which inevitably creates an appearance which is just as inevitably different from the the historical time as a thing-in-the-world. And as opposed to the real historical situation—the thing-in-the-world that appearance can, and does, change over time. For instance, the Renaissance is called that because a bunch of Italians decided that since they were powerful and rich again the world was coming out a “Dark Age” and returning to the glory the height of the Roman Empire constituted. In other words, nobody living in the Middle Ages woke up and said “Oh, man. I’m so unlucky to wake in these historically very dark times!” In the late 20th century, historians re-evaluate the notion of the Renaissance and realize that the idea of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as very different from one another is maybe more the result of appearances and… …oh my god, this is supposed to be about Assassin’s Creed. Brotherhood connects the Renaissance during which it takes place to The Roman Empire by using the Followers of Romulus stuff and the sole focus on the city of Rome. It also connects it to the Middle Ages by having the game— —situated as the middle part of a trilogy— —being a lot darker than the ones bracketing it. But while the Renaissance intellectuals considered a return to power for them meaning a return to glory for the entire world Brotherhood isn’t all the way there with them. The Followers of Romulus are antagonistic, and Rome is a really dark and eerie place in the game. The music and general soundscape does a lot of that legwork. disembodied animal noises bark, chirp, and whine in the distance, the music is sparse and slow with strings almost organ-like and solemn piano phrasings analogous to the precious splashes of muted color in an otherwise bleak world. So while the game makes the connection, it does it apprehensively and says that “keep this in mind, because maybe all is not what it seems.” And then it connects all of those layers— —the development from glorious Roman Empire, through supposedly dark Middle Ages through brilliant Renaissance, to our current Modern Day all the way back to what I’m going to irreverently call Jesus Time™ with all the imagery and allusions to the Messiah idea. But the idea of the Renaissance being felt as a need to return to the days of the Roman Empire is presented as suspicious and the idea of
Ezio as Messiah is presented as downright false Instead of some type of martyr, he ends up as king. That means the line from Modern Day to Jesus Time™ made through all of these layers (for which Christianity is a historical constant) should be deeply distrusted—at least by the game’s own logic. Let’s put a pin in that too for now.
We’re gonna come back to that later on as well. But let’s take stock of where we are right now. We’ve talked a little bit about the religious fall of man theme and how the game wants to cast Ezio in the role of Messiah. And we’ve made some confusing inroads into the historical aspect of the game. But what about the Assassin-Templar coupling? While Brotherhood does use material from Assassin’s Creed II to build its own thing on it’s got a few ideas of its own. What brings all of the things brought in from the second game together is a discussion on order and freedom. As opposed to the first game in the franchise, though, where the conclusion was that if total order is bad then total freedom is equally if differently bad this game is interested in exploring how the idea of total freedom *operates* can be bad. It’s not subtle, per se, but it is heavily coded Everything in the game seems construed to keep attention away from the discussion because it’s a discussion on liberalism, which is after all a discussion probably not entirely palatable to the multinational corporate culture in which the game was produced and the neoliberal capitalist culture in which the game was released. Of course, in the Assassin’s Creed universe, those words are just a smoke screen used to keep people in the dark when it comes to the clandestine activities of the two eternal Orders. Precisely how order and freedom can both be bad isn’t as cut and dry as in the first game— —the first game was really more about the initial insight on how they both can be bad— —and the game uses a whole slew of misdirections and structural tricks in order to bring the point home. The ahistorical and anachronistic liberalization of the past is most clear in the characterization of the Assassin and Templar orders. There is, and always has been a built-in dynamic between the two consisting of the master-slave relationship. Just like the discussion earlier on phenomenology, this is a philosophically rich subject. That’s right! It’s time for another Crash Course with Ludo! Again, this is really dense and simplified, so if you want to know more… …I dunno, go watch Philosophy Tube or something. Anyway, let’s start with Nietzsche’s arguments on the two. Nietsche argues that a culture’s morality is defined over time by the struggle between the two different types of morality found in ‘the master’ and ‘the slave.’ On the one hand, Master morality is the morality of the strong-willed. It values that which is helpful and devalues that which is harmful. *And*, and this is important the Master defines what is helpful or harmful from how something affects themselves As a result, Master morality creates values. Slave morality, on the other hand, defines itself in opposition to the Master morality. It devalues what the Master values and in the resentment of the Master Morality strives to turn the Master into slave. Obviously the Templar-Assassin dichotomy maps very well onto this world-view. But when Hegel’s ideas are brought into the picture we see how the liberalization of history is done through a dialectic—or lackthereof—between the two. When Hegel talks about the Master-Slave dichotomy it’s all in order to answer where consciousness of the self starts to exist and he argues it develops relationally with another consciousness. Only through others, the argument goes, do we become conscious of ourselves and without the other consciousness, we are unable to form that consciousness of the self. But if the two conscious being don’t consider each other equals it can’t happen, Hegel argues. The Master sees no value in the recognition of the slave and the slave sees the values The Master bases its recognition on as immoral. The Assassins need the Templars in order to exist as an entity— —become conscious of themselves as themselves through their relationships to the Templars In other words, no Templars, no Assassins. It’s important to note that this doesn’t go both ways. The Templar define themselves against disorder— r—a disorder which entropy makes sure is always available. To the Templar Order, the Assassins are just another source of disorder, not the reason to exist and just like any other source of disorder, it can be brought into order. That’s why the Templar often try to convince the Assassins that what they’re doing is right. The crux of the problem is that while these two are mortal enemies— —one wants to destroy the other, and the other wants to assimilate them— —neither of them can really do either. the Assassins can’t destroy the Templar Order, because if they did they would be killing their reason to exist. and the Templar can never assimilate the Assassin Order because the recognition of the Assassins is insignificant to their self-identification as Masters. And that’s where liberal ideology comes into the picture. The only way to get around the problem of the Assassin-Templar dichotomy is to allow both to exist at the same time as equals. If people want total order, and choose the Templars, that should be okay. On the other hand, if they want total freedom, and choose the Assassins, that should be okay too. They are both legitimate to liberal ideology. But, of course, liberalism values freedom, and, like the Assassins, defines itself against any type of oppression. Consequently, liberalism accepts Templars in theory— —as in, they should be allowed to exist. But doesn’t accept the effects of the Templar’s beliefs— —as in, they should not be allowed to actually implement their beliefs. This understanding of the Templar-Assassin Order is the first step in mapping out how Brotherhood liberalizes its historical period. But what does that actually look like in the game? The Templars and Assassins in Brotherhood are mostly as one-dimensional as they were in the second game Tthis game, however, is aware of that fact. Consider this: what if Cesare Borgia, the antagonist in the story had explicit reasons for his occupation and stern rule over Rome we see at the start of the game. What would that make our protagonists, the Assassins who come along and have their own explicit reasons for standing up to that rule? It would just be a different perspective wanting to remove power from those currently holding it because… …well, because they want to. That’s essentially the problem the very first game in the franchise was about. But that isn’t this game. In Brotherhood, Cesare never expresses a reason for his pursuit of power. He just wants it, because control is good in and of itself. In other words, he is the Master. On the other side of the isle there’s that same problem: the Assassins never express a reason for why they want to remove the Borgia. Sure, they murdered Ezio’s family, so he’s got a vested interest. But what about all these other people? The Thieves. The Mercenaries. The Courtesans. Why do they find joining Ezio as the natural choice? Because he and his Order define themselves on the foundation of freedom. That’s the thing they keep going on about, after all. So that freedom becomes reason enough for them to stand up to anyone who appears to value power and control. But they’re never interested in *why* they value power and control. They never feel a need to legitimize themselves through a laying bare of why the utilization of power and control is wrong. This is the brick wall liberal ideology inevitably crashes into: if another’s activities can be construed as disrupting the freedom of the self they are turned into the enemy of the self as a matter of course. The Assassin brotherhood in the Ezio trilogy self-perpetuates through that structure and, like Liberalism opposes anything and anyone seen to impede freedom. And if you ask me, it’s interesting that the way they’re doing that is to organize under a controlled form they call ‘The Brotherhood.’ Either way, the liberal argument requires both orders to be one-dimensional. It requires freedom to be evidently preferable to control and consequently the game can’t go around implying situations where control might be legitimately seen as good by giving the Templar antagonists reasons for their actions. Brotherhood introduces an important new system that drives this point home in a big way: the renovation of Rome. On its face, it’s a good concept that could be tied into the main plot— —the rebuilding of Rome as a rebuilding of the people’s means of supporting themselves. But if you think about it for just a little bit you notice how the fiction of it doesn’t make any sense… …unless we keep the liberal ideology in mind. When Ezio arrives in Rome, all the shops are closed and part of your activities throughout the game is purchasing renovations for them which grants Ezio a passive income. If we take that premise seriously, we must first of all assume the Borgia forbid any sort of commerce as a principle. That is patently dumb. (And factually incorrect!) Why in the world would they oppose all commerce? And it’s never actually explained. It does, however fit into painting the Assassins as liberal champions if the Assassins are proponents of an ahistorical liberalism, their enemy must oppress the free market. But Ezio isn’t doing this out of pure kindness and belief that people should be free to buy and sell whatever they like Oh no, because here it comes, ladies and gentlemen. [ANNOUNCER VOICE:] The roast beef in the liberal sandwich. [ANNOUNCER VOICE:] The maker of men and marker or progress. [ANNOUNCER VOICE:] The one, THE ONLY… [ANNOUNCER VOICE:] THE GREAT UNDERTAKEEER… Capitalism. It’s Capitalism™. Whenever Ezio has renovated a shop, he gets a dividend from each and every one of what is for all intents and purposes, investments. At the end of the game, Ezio is the financier of: all the blacksmiths, tailors, and doctors the commercial side of the Art business and even the water delivery and sewage treatment systems of the entire city of early 16th century Rome. Why? I mean, it’s really impressive, but WHY? How does taking control of virtually all the important functions of a city facilitate the freedom of the citizenry? The gamenever present this as a problem, but as a self-evident marker of prosperity. It’s totally uninterested in examining who’s got the control of all these functions— —as long as they’re not forbidden. Anything that facilitates a market where people can presumably buy and sell whatever they like— —although it is odd how everything the merchants carry is useful to Ezio— —is A-OK in Brotherhood’s internal logic. But let’s bring back the cork board and put a pin in this for now because as you might assume this thematic thread is gonna return in a big way later on. This mostly unravels how Brotherhood deals with the Templar-Assassin Dichotomy, of course so we really only have one question left. And I’m just gonna say this: nothing much changes in the gameplay between the second game and Brotherhood. Sure, the battle system adds more gadgets to use the enemies now flash their health bars before attacking for some reason and there are more enemy types. But its essence doesn’t really change. The traversal system remains mostly unchanged. So for now, we’ll leave it at that and put a pin in it. We now have a bunch of pins as we move into examining Revelations: History. Ezio as Messiah. Liberalism, Capitalism, and the Templar-Assassin dichotomy. And the fact that the gameplay doesn’t change essentially. Okay, so, in the video about Prey I talked a lot about reading games on good faith and assuming everything is the way it is on purpose. I’m cutting these games a lot of slack here. These are not very well made games. But I don’t want to make an hour long video on why any given game is bad. I’d much rather focus on the ways they’re interesting in spite of that. So yeah, even if the intro is really dumb in order to set up the symbolic death of Ezio it’s *really* dumb, and the problems it showcases from the second game aren’t even fully resolved. The game sets up a few issues: There’s a mission where you help a stable hand catch a horse that’s running back and forth right in front of him as if he wouldn’t be able to do that himself. There’s a cannon-shooting mini game which is just awful to play. and there’s an embarrassing and super male ego appeasing mission where Ezio runs into a woman who immediately wants to…uhm…debase him. But the game never really fixes these things. Contradictions in the fiction’s internal logic— —such as the stable hand who can’t ride horses— —run rampant in the game. A few of them are on screen now: Then there’s the plethora of mini-games. A lot of the missions are these very odd mini-games which instead of using the pre-existing mechanics and systems of the game invent entirely new and very rudimentary ones. Use a boat, shoot a machine gun, fly a bomber…what have you. None of them play well and the best one is the flyer for the sole reason it’s the same as in the second game and has gotten another iteration. As for the way women are treated… …uhm… Let’s just watch this cinematic of Ezio falling in love while young. I mean, it’s good how the guy wasn’t able to force himself on her but a more sensible reaction from her would be “What the hell?!” “You followed me home?” “Oh my god, the world is a nightmare where even heroes are creeps!” I don’t find these frustrations interesting enough on their own to talk about since it would just take a lot of time without adding anything. The point I’m trying to make, though, is that while I don’t necessarily like these games— —I definitely don’t enjoy playing them— —that’s never what I’m interested in talking about because “Who Cares?” What does that matter for anyone watching this video? You either like this game, don’t like this game, or just watch out of curiosity. I’m not adding anything to any of those categories by explaining my opinion so I try to stick to explaining what the games are and the ways in which they’re interesting. Also, I can’t begin to know other people’s consumption habits and assuming my reaction to a piece of art (or entertainment, whatever) matters to anybody but me seems conceited. For instance: here’s Sarah. She’s a psycho and she likes to stab people. Here’s Mark. He’s a nerd who spends his days preparing for his Chemistry finals and when he gets home he tries to find dumb stuff to laugh at. Here’s Joan. She’s a bit of a doofus—that’s okay. and she’s not very well-versed in interpretation, so it doesn’t matter to her if something makes sense or not. Here’s Azra. She’s five, and really into T-shirts with birds on them. Who am I to judge what they like or dislike? Okay, maybe Sarah should like…not stab people. And Azra probably shouldn’t be watching Youtube in the first p… These are bad examples! With all that said, a good faith reading really isn’t the obvious one when it comes to these three games and you really need to scratch beneath the surface in order to find the ways in which they end up making a sort of twisted sense. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is just as jumbled and confused as Brotherhood but where Brotherhood seemed to be setting something up Revelations does a lot to make something out of the chaotic collection of themes and ideas. Starting from the opposite end, with the gameplay, Revelations goes further in changing things in a way that doesn’t change what the game is essentially about. Things which, while seemingly nonsensical and poorly executed *can* be read as a ludonarrative extension of the Messiah theme. In fact, all of the themes from Brotherhood are here in either familiar or twisted forms and like the games that precede it, it may just seem like a crudely thought out and poorly made mess. But in a lot of ways, Revelations is yet another take on the same character, same story and mostly same structure which in valiantly trying to make something of what was in Assassin’s Creed II ends up showing us that there was really very little there all along. Revelations is a considered ending to an anarchic trilogy and since the trilogy is so altogether unstable, that ending turns into an appropriate resignation. There are two main gameplay additions to Revelations: the hook blade, and bombs. And they both carry some ludonarrative weight around a specific narrative development. If there’s one thing the game wants to you note early on, it’s that Ezio has gotten older. He’s now in his fifties, and the game makes a big deal— —both in how he talks about himself and how other characters talk about him— —out of the fact that he isn’t all he used to be. Enter the hook blade. The hook blade changes the rules of the traversal system: getting up the side of buildings is quicker, Ezio can dodge over guards blocking his path with it and he can use zip lines to quickly make his way across rooftops. The hook blade makes Ezio nimbler than ever, and you gotta ask… …is that really appropriate? It could be presented as a sort of aid, making up for the natural abilities Ezio lost, but it just never is. The same goes for the other big gameplay addition: the bombs. We’ve got caltrop bombs to slow pursuers down cherry bombs to distract splinters bombs to kill outright. They’re loud, they’re flashy, and they don’t mesh very well into the Assassin fantasy. But this, too, could be presented as a compensation for Ezio in his old age. With a hook blade aiding traversal, and bombs to keep enemies at bay, Ezio could be just as lethal as always. But it’s never contextualized that way, and Ezio isn’t mechanically different. He can still scale buildings with the best of them he can still counter one enemy after another in an infinite chain of violence and he’s not any more fragile than in previous games. Allora…what do these additions end up signifying? Well, since Ezio can still do the same things he could in previous games you’re likely to end up just doing things the same way that you’re used to as a player. So…nothing, really, but maybe that’s more interesting than it sounds. Revelations seems to reinforce the idea from Brotherhood that even when Ezio changes his essence does not. Try as they might, they just can’t seem to pain Ezio as substantial or meaningful enough to warrant significance. And this has a lot to do with how the game treats the theme of Ezio as Messiah from the previous game. The name Revelations isn’t picked at random. it’s a nod to the Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament. You can spend a lot of time theorizing about religious themes and parallels to the Ezio trilogy. I don’t think it makes any sense ultimately, but it is there. In some ways, it seems built with the purpose of facilitating a sort of gnostic obsession with the bottomless amount of allusions in the games. For instance, the Seven Seals of the Book of Revelation: The fifth seal is the souls of those slain because of the “word of God” they had kept. they are found under the Altar, and when they ask when they will be avenged, they’re each given a white robe and told to wait until all of their peers have been similarly martyred. After the fifth comes the sixth, which is a description of an apocalyptic event. The seventh seal is how the 144,000 from the Twelve Tribes of Israel are sealed away. You can go on and on and find instances of symbolic similarities but which ultimately don’t compare very well Martyrs under the Altar *sounds* similar to Altair and his Brotherhood that was arguably martyred by Abbas. The Apocalypse is shown right after seeing Altair in his Library. The Precursors sound really big on sealing things, including themselves, away. And the order these are presented in the game roughly matches that in the Book of Revelation. All in all, though, it isn’t similar in essence—only on the surface. And like Ezio changes superficially, these similarities are superficial, and, the trilogy concludes so was Ezio’s similarity to a Messiah. All these allusion, all of this epic build-up, the game says…that wasn’t it. Ezio isn’t a Messiah—he’s barely even a hero. A largely insignificant link in the long chain of genetic memories ending in Desmond. This revelation reverberates back through the rest of the trilogy but let’s stick to our pins from the Brotherhood section of the video. The Messiah one is already dealt with. What about the history one? First off, Revelations finishes off the link about the Roman Empire. Assassin’s Creed II represents Rome at its heights Brotherhood its inception and Revelations, finally, the conclusion where the Western part of the Empire fell— —or was abandoned depending on which historian you ask— while the Eastern one, with its centre in Constantinople remained for a thousand years. This doesn’t carry a lot of significance on its own, I guess, but it’s a nice touch as far as backdrops go. The more interesting line, though, is the one from the time of Jesus to our own time and the revelation makes a pretty conclusive statement. As Ezio appeared as but wasn’t a Messiah the line from the Time of Jesus to Modern Day appeared to be but wasn’t true. The fact that Christianity ran through every step of the line is, after all, the game says, an arbitrary fact. As much as we’ve tried to convince ourselves otherwise, there is no divine spark traveling from the time of Jesus through the conception of the Roman Empire, being corrupted in the Middle Ages reborn in the Renaissance, and still going strong in the Modern Day. The links, like Ezio, are insignificant—arbitrary. So the historical phenomenological theme pays off and the messy Messiah theme pays off after being foreshadowed by its own incoherence through the series We’ve also dealt with the type of Gameplay changes introduced back in Brotherhood… …so there’s really only one pin left on the cork board. The Capitalist Simulator 2010 that was Brotherhood turns out to have been yet another meaningful fake-out. In Brotherhood, the renovation of Rome made a sort of superficial sense. It was thematically somewhat relevant in spite of not being included in the narrative as much as required for such a large and ideologically charged system. In Revelations, though, the system remains. You still run around and invest in shops in order to get a passive income but there is no reason to do it, and even less reason they’re closed to begin with. If it was odd and begged the question in Brotherhood, it’s absurd and taunting in Revelations. Even the shops in the Bazaar, the place literally built to house commerce, are closed. And it has nothing, not even implicitly as in the case of Brotherhood, to do with the game’s over-arching story. Consequently, Revelations comes right out and admits that as far as aiding freedom and helping people it’s a bizarre non-sequitur. In other words, Ezio becoming a financier extraordinaire has nothing to do with his Assassin activities. And if we follow the implications of Ezio being insignificant as an Assassin antecedent we end up at a place where his unqualified belief in Freedom is once again, just like in the first game, deeply problematic. Ezio was not the Messiah, not the savior, not the one we should be taking our notes from. He was just an insignificant but mandatory genetic link between the events of the first game and the events after the Ezio trilogy. His philosophy, if you can even call it that, is not the answer. He appears to be the answer, only for Revelations to deride anybody who took him seriously as what he clearly never was. The weirdest thing in Revelations is the new tower defense mini-game. It’s weird not because it’s poorly made or nonsensical— —it’s actually an appropriate next step for the themes of brotherhood and leadership from the previous game— but because it shows up early on, and then just kinda fades into the background of the open-world busiwork. I want to appropriate this mini-game as a metaphor for the entire Ezio trilogy because in some ways creating and subverting an absurd new character meant to encapsulate the Assassin ethos in all of *its* absurdity is an appropriate next step to take from the first Assassin’s Creed. In each game, Ezio fades into the background in favor of another. At the end of Assassin’s Creed II, Minerva speaks directly to the player as Ezio wonders just what the heck is going on In Brotherhood’s desperate attempts to redeem him, its inability to do so speaks volumes. And with Revelation as the conclusion we’re told once again, in no uncertain terms that he simply is not important. It’s a strange trilogy really which probably owes more to the time and context under which it was produced and released. Had these two games been released a few years earlier, they would probably have been called expansions. They’re generally more of the same, but with a few new, highly marketable concepts making them warrant an actual physical release while simultaneously able to ride the coattails of the incredibly popular Assassin’s Creed II. As a bonus, it gives the designers a chance to do do an alternate take on essentially the same thing. To see what happens when you look at it from a different angle. The question then becomes whether they warrant the stand-alone full-price releases they got. On the one hand, they’d arguably be better games if downscoped and offered as Premium DLC. But then on the other hand, they’d likely make less money and do less to leverage the franchise as the highly adaptable thing Ubisoft obviously always wanted it to be. It’s a judgment call that could have been made had things been different and had DLC been better understood in the early 2010s. Luckily, I’m not a Ubisoft executive, so I don’t actually have to make that call. Ultimately, it fizzles out into something without a conclusion of its own. Instead, it ends with an amorphous conclusion-shaped void which needs to be filled with some type of meaning the games don’t want to create outright on their own. Thanks for watching. Thanks again for watching! It’s been a little over a year since this channel started and I wanted to make this video both for looking at the games and to wholeheartedly thank everyone who’s been here for these here videos. The work I do is funded through Patreon, and information on how to support me is in the description. For this video, I want to thank [ON SCREEN] You’re the white filling in my oreo. I publish a text version of every script there a few days after each video release, so… maybe that’s something you’d enjoy. If you’d like me to set up some type of one-time donation system, let me know, and I’ll get to that. Until next time, keep taking games way too seriously.

18 thoughts on “Meaningful Resignation: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and Revelations | CRITIQUE/REVIEW”

  1. Dang! Another amazing video! A lot of good info here that I certainly will need a second viewing to properly unpack. I only played these games once and I really disliked them but I assumed it was simple burnout since I had played 1, 2, BH, and Rev back to back over the course of a month. But now I think it's because they were simply vapid experiences that were made with the hopes of pull more money out of a popular title while the next core game in the series was made. I was never a really big fan of AC2 to start with and making more of the same (mechanically) while reducing the impact and relevancy of the narrative was a sure-fire recipe for me to not like them much. While not entirely on-topic, I am quite sad that the AC series quickly abandoned all of the great ideas of AC1 in favor of setting up the template for every open world game of the 2010s.

  2. There's a surprise at 37:36, if you make it all the way there. Or, I guess you can just…click this to watch me screw up!

  3. Hi, I starter tu play the Ac games really recently due to my young age and I only got a Ps3 at my home so i started to play with ac4 and Ac3. I restarted like a month ago the hole Ac games I got (Ac1, AC 3,ac 4 , AC rogue ) and I bought Ac Brotherhood cause everywone in the Ac community talks about it beeing the best games. I just finished Brotherhood today and I was pretty upset. And this video was so Good and interesting and now I understand a bit better why I didn't like Brotherhood that much. Thanks a lot good video!

  4. IDK, I personally always saw Ezio as more of a messenger than a messianic figure. Sure, in the games people look to Ezio for the answers, but I think the message is for Desmond, simply through the animus and Ezio. The message though? idk

  5. Ulysses The First

    Amazing video! A thorough look through some games I happen to enjoy that scratches the itch for more depth that modern conversation often lacks.

    Thanks for the amazing content!

  6. isnt ezio the prophet tho? he kinda destroyed a lot of templars and restored the villa, him being seen as a hero at the villa makes sense.

  7. the templar assassin conflict was not very present too. it was more of a ezio getting revenge. Was Cesere a templar? it is really not clearly shown, he obviusly was a pawn for his father rodrigo but cesere probably did not care about the templar order.

  8. this was great video. your narrative reminded me of this other youtuber-pop culture detective. I find this narrative style enjoyable to watch.

  9. What do you mean by "first game being interesting"? The main character is a wet blanket, The story was predictable as f%^& and the missions were worse than the sh!tty boat in AC4.

  10. I think while talking about that philosophical idea that history isn’t what we make seem as: was a bit over done. Philosophy seems to be about making simple ideas absurdly complicated in the pursuit to sound more intelligent. (Which you May very well be.) you should have kept it like this: “history has a meta physical existence in our world and can not be changed, but we often prescribed our own mythos/legends to history to paint a picture of something which it may have not been. The farmer during the Middle Ages May have very well loved his life; found contentment in his faith through Christ and very much enjoy living in his life under his baron and in no way would he have seen it in a negative light.” Or something to that accord. “Less is more.” So to speak.
    Also it seems this video had a bit of anti Christian agenda.

  11. I've been replaying the Ezio games as of recently, since I feel nostalgic every now and then, but mostly bc ACII turns 10 years this year. Yay….

    I wanted to find some sort of critique over the trilogy, especially one of Revelations and overal its plot and historical representation. You came clsoe to what I was looking for, but I feel not everything was put into perspective when it comes to that game severe problems with its narrative and characterization. Usually, when people talk about Revelations, I see varying comments, such as "disappointing new mechanics, but awesome story and sendoff to Ezio and Altair", when, upon replaying it myself, I couldn't be more baffled at how this game portrayed Ezio.

    He arguably causes a lot of collateral damage to a city he's not a native of, sending innocent civilians to their deaths over armed guards just so he can tail a target inside a locked Arsenal, burning every single ship with Ottoman soldiers posted specifically to stop him from escaping the city after wrongfully murdering their commander and suffocating countles citizens in Capadoccia with smoke jsut to flush out one single target. And all of this is never questioned by himself nor his fellow Assassins, the game always shows him unsympathetic to the visible destruction he directly caused. If this is coming from an Assassin, an order established as formed by men and women sworn to protect the freedom of humanity from the corruption and oppression of the Templars from the shadows, how come no one in the Order tries to reason with him, lest he gets executed for betraying the tenets of the Creed? I can only think that the short development cycle for the game coupled with Ubisoft's corporal decision to go "a bigger game every year" was the catalyst of such a horrible story like this one.

    Idk, what do you think?

  12. This has got to be one of my favorite videos on this series. The aspect of this video discussing philosophy is brilliant and easy to follow. Thanks for the video.

  13. I don't think the courtesans are characterised as chattel. It's actually even weirder, the way the game presents it, Claudia effectively volunteer to run the place because the courtesans already depend on there being a procurer. Kind of like some people historically invited monarchs to rule them idk.

  14. Honestly, in the same way you didn't enjoy the games, I didn't enjoy this video. It seemed to be stretching and making a lot of weird conclusions. Not really the critique I wanted to find.

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