Trying to understand the overarching narrative of the Assassin's Creed series and how they connect to each other is as intimidating as it can be difficult. We'll help make the process as painless as possible. If you've never played an Assassin's Creed game before and you're looking to get into the franchise with Valhalla, here's the story so far.
For the purposes of this article, we'll be delving into the main Assassin's Creed games only. The franchise also has several long-running comic series and spin-off games that continue the meta-narrative, however, it's unreasonable to assume everyone should go out and buy all of them, though Ubisoft oddly tied up important storylines outside of the games which we'll briefly touch upon in the modern-day section.
If you're interested in a particular game or the modern-day story itself, you can jump right to any of those sections.
Before reading through some of the games' plots, I'd familiarize yourself with these important terms that will help you understand the plot going forward.
The Animus is a machine that analyzes DNA and allows people to relive their ancestors' memories. This is the reason that we are playing through historical time periods in Assassin's Creed. The technology is eventually enhanced in the series so that anyone using an Animus (later called the Helix) can relive anyone's memories, not just someone related to them.
The First Civilization (also known as the Isu, Precursors, and Those Who Came Before) is an early race of humanoid beings that are thought of as gods by many, though they do not refer to themselves as such. Through the use of powerful artifacts known as Pieces of Eden, they created the human race and subjugated them, turning them into slaves as the Isu lived lavish lives in their advanced society.
Pieces of Eden
Pieces of Eden can take on many forms and wield various abilities, but they all contain great power within. Most artifacts served a role in maintaining humanity's subservience, though some took more good-natured purposes like those that were capable of healing.
You may sometimes hear these referred to as Precursor artifacts, of which Pieces of Eden are a subclass.
Though the First Civilization was wiped out long ago due to a global cataclysm, their lineage continued in humans. Sages are reincarnations of an Isu being known as Aita. Sages have the ability to recall Aita's memories and possess natural talent superior to that of normal humans.
Chronological timeline by release
Because of the Animus and the series' separation between modern and historical timelines, we'll dedicate an entire section to the series' overarching modern-day narrative while we dig into each game's historical settings separately, as they usually (but not always) can be viewed as standalone adventures.
Altair Ibn-La'Ahad, an assassin living during the Third Crusade, is tasked by Assassin Brotherhood Mentor Al Mualim to retrieve a powerful artifact known as a Piece of Eden, specifically the Apple of Eden. His arrogance during this mission costs the life of a fellow assassin and permanently disables another. Al Mualim then demotes him within the Brotherhood and gives him nine Templar targets to take out. Upon killing the ninth, Templar Grand Master Robert de Sable, he returns to the assassin stronghold of Masyaf only to discover that Al Mualim betrayed the Brotherhood and stole the Apple of Eden for himself. After a fight ensues, which sees Al Mualim fall to Altair's blade, a glowing map is revealed that shows the location of more Pieces of Eden across the world.
Assassin's Creed II
Assassin's Creed II begins during the Italian Renaissance in Florence with the birth of Ezio Auditore. Flash forward years later and Ezio is a young man who sees his father and brothers killed after being framed for treason. On his journey to avenge their deaths, he discovers that his father was a member of the secretive Assassin Brotherhood, and he takes up the mantle in his stead. Traveling from Florence to Venice, stopping at a few towns in between, Ezio unravels the conspiracy taking root that sees Templar Grand Master Rodrigo Borgia becoming Pope Alexander VI. After overpowering Borgia in the Vatican, the Apple and Staff of Eden open a vault where a projection of a member of the First Civilization tells Ezio that a great catastrophe will destroy the earth in the future.
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
Brotherhood picks up immediately after the ending of Assassin's Creed II. With the Apple of Eden in hand, Ezio retires to the country village of Monteriggioni. His life is thrust into chaos as Rodrigo Borgia's son, Cesare, lays siege to the village and steals the Apple of Eden. Ezio then journeys to Rome to take down the Borgia family once and for all. After gaining enough support and rekindling the Brotherhood, Ezio is successful in defeating both Rodrigo and Cesare. He reacquires the Apple of Eden and hides it in a First Civ Temple built beneath the Colosseum.
Assassin's Creed Revelations
During the later years of his life, Ezio makes a pilgrimage to Masyaf in order to understand more about the Brotherhood. Unfortunately, he finds it overrun by Templars. Upon learning that the keys to Altair's secret library vault lie in Constantinople, he travels to the center of the Ottoman Empire to find them. Along the way he's caught between two warring brothers as they fight for their father's throne as Sultan. As he deals with this conflict, Ezio also relives parts of Altair's past through the keys to his library, which turn out to First Civ artifacts of some sort. Settling the brothers' dispute and leaving Selim to rule, he goes back to Masyaf and enters the vault. At this point he is greeted by another member of the First Civilization who speaks through him and to Desmond (our modern day protagonist), telling him the location of a central vault that should stop the upcoming catastrophe.
Assassin's Creed III
Assassin's Creed III follows a new assassin and jumps all the way to the American Revolution. Ratonhnhaké:ton, also known as Connor Kenway, witnesses his Native American tribe burn to the ground at an early age due to English/Templar colonizers. After learning that his destiny is to stop the Templars from seizing control, he gets caught in the midst of the Revolution while simultaneously trying to do what's best for his people and way of life. This struggle takes him from the fledgling cities of New York to Boston and across parts of the frontier. He eventually retrieves a First Civ key meant for a Temple, but decides to bury it in the ground instead.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Black Flag takes us back to the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy. After unknowingly killing an assassin traitor, pirate Edward Kenway dons his robes in an effort to take his place in an important meeting and reap the rewards. This leads him into the age-old Assassin vs Templar conflict where he must stop those he once thought allies before they enter an ancient Observatory that has the power to locate anyone on earth through the use of a Crystal Skull and blood vial. Successful in his efforts but unable to prevent the pirates' way of life from falling apart, he retires to London where he is seen living with two children, one of whom would become Connor Kenway's father from Assassin's Creed III.
Assassin's Creed Rogue
Another tale set in Colonial America, this time during the Seven Years' War. While on a mission to retrieve a Piece of Eden, assassin Shay Patrick Cormac witnesses the destruction of Lisbon due to an earthquake. He comes to find that the earthquake was caused by his retrieval attempts and that the Assassins knew what the price would be for meddling with these First Civ objects. He becomes so disillusioned in the Brotherhood that he turns to the Templars, fearing that the Pieces of Eden would be too dangerous in Assassin hands. Shay then hunts down his former allies, with his actions kicking off the events taking place in Assassin's Creed Unity.
Assassin's Creed Unity
After witnessing his father's death at the hands of Shay Patrick Cormac, Arno Dorian is taken in by a family friend and his daughter Elise, who unbeknownst to Arno are Templars. Years later in Paris the early embers of the French Revolution are beginning to burn. Members of both the Assassins and Templars, specifically Elise, offer to parley in the hopes of peace, or at least to end the current threat against the two organizations; a man named François-Thomas Germain, a Sage sowing the seeds of betrayal from within the Templars, but these offers fall through. After Arno is exiled because of his relationship and loyalties to Elise, he returns to Paris for one last fight between Germain, which ends with both Germain and Elise dead.
Assassin's Creed Syndicate
Revolutions don't always need to bring about death and chaos, as evidenced in Assassin's Creed Syndicate. Twins Jacob and Evie Frye answer the call for help from a fellow assassin in Victorian London. Upon arriving, Jacob quickly begins to build up his own gang to take back the city from Templar control during the Industrial Revolution. While this is going on, Evie is on her own journey to find a Piece of Eden that she knows is hidden somewhere in the city. Their adventures eventually converge as they finally reach Grand Master Crawford Starrick. A battle ensues in which Starrick utilizes a Piece of Eden known as the Shroud, however he is defeated and the twins return the Shroud to its vault beneath Buckingham Palace.
Assassin's Creed Origins
Bayek, an Egyptian Medjay (a police force of the pharaohs), finds himself on a journey of vengeance after five masked men cause him to inadvertently kill his own son. These men, known as the Order of the Ancients, are what would eventually become the Templar Order. His quest takes him all over Egypt, eventually even allying him with Cleopatra's forces as she tries to seize control from her brother Ptolemy XIII. During this time Bayek discovers that one of Julius Caesar's lieutenants was one of the five masked men who was there when his son was killed. After avenging his son, Bayek and his wife Aya begin to form the Hidden Ones, what would become the Assassin Brotherhood, in order to protect the world from suffering at the hands of the Templars.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey
Assassin's Creed Odyssey is the only main entry in the series to feature multiple endings. As such, the plot isn't exactly set in stone, but it follows the same paths more or less.
Set in Greece during the Peloponnesian War (431 BCE), you play as Kassandra or Alexios, descendants of the legendary Spartan King Leonidas. Your character is thrown off of a cliff as a child after attempting to stop the death of their younger sibling, who an oracle prophesied would need to be sacrificed in order to stop the fall of Sparta. Presumed dead, your character grows up to become a Misthios (mercenary) and is contacted by a man to kill someone named "The Wolf of Sparta," who turns out to be your character's stepfather. What follows is a tale of close family drama as the Misthios' relatives all find themselves mixed in a plot with the Cult of Kosmos, led by your younger sibling, a group secretly responsible for causing the Peloponnesian War through harnessing the power of a Piece of Eden.
It is during this time that the Misthios also discovers the hidden city of Atlantis, guarded by Pythagoras, the Misthios' true father, and seals it from human contact. Depending on the actions you take within the game, you can reunite with your family and start to rebuild your relationship with them or you can choose to let them perish. Either way, the Cult of Kosmos is wiped out.
Each game continues its modern narrative in some form, though the series featured its most cohesive narrative up until Assassin's Creed 3, with future entries veering a bit off course. If you want the complete story of Assassin's Creed, then you'll want to pick up any of its several comic series.
Premise and backstory
As I've said in an earlier quick primer of the series leading up to Odyssey's release: "The crux of the modern day is the continuation of an ancient war between Assassins and Templars. The Templars, in this case, aren't the Knights Templar you may visualize. Instead, they are a group of people committed to the Templar Order's ideals under the guise of controlling a multinational corporation known as Abstergo. To put it simply: these are the bad guys."
The Templars, and by extension, Abstergo, want to create a perfect utopia through the use of manipulation and control, which they will accomplish with Pieces of Eden. The Assassins want the same, however they believe that free will is of the utmost importance. These conflicting ideologies and desires form the basis of their feud.
Where the story begins
Assassin's Creed begins with a man named Desmond Miles, a New York bartender who is abducted by Abstergo Industries and forced to relive his ancestors' memories through the Animus in order to help Abstergo find the locations of Pieces of Eden. He ends up being rescued by Lucy Stillman, an Abstergo employee who secretly worked for the Assassin Brotherhood. While on the run they discover that the world is to suffer a cataclysmic event in 2012 similar to the one that destroyed First Civilization. To prevent this solar flare from wiping out humanity, Desmond and his friends find a First Civilization Temple and encounter an Isu being known as Juno, who wants to take over the world and enslave humanity again once. She states that she will protect the earth at the cost of Desmond's life for setting her free. He does so, saving the world from the impending solar flare, thus concluding Desmond's arc.
Here's where Ubisoft went a bit off the rails in terms of narrative. With the solar flare stopped and Juno set free, players now take control of a random, unnamed, unseen Abstergo employee who was hired under the guise of helping the company create a video game. In actuality, the Templars are using your character to search for a First Civ ruin known as the Observatory to find the location of a Sage, reincarnations of Aita, Juno's husband.
During this time Juno existed as a digital entity of sorts, not having the power to manifest in her physical form. Through the manipulation of her followers, who are dubbed the Instruments of the First Will, she attempts to become whole once again by inhabiting a cloned First Civ body recreated through Abstergo's Phoenix Project and the Shroud of Eden.
Juno's entire arc is almost completely forgotten about in the games and was instead wrapped up in a comic series. In her attempts to become whole again, she retrieves the Koh-i-Noor, a Piece of Eden so powerful it can locate all other Pieces of Eden and bind their fates, and finds Desmond's son, who happened to be a Sage. By using the Shroud of Eden and Elijah's bone marrow, which contained First Civ DNA due to him being a Sage, she becomes a full-fledged Isu in under 24 hours.
Thanks to a a little trickery from Elijah, an assassin named Charlotte de la Cruz was able to kill Juno with a hidden blade through her throat. What was left of her body was destroyed in an explosion.
Now the story is focusing on a new playable character, Layla Hassan. She is a former Abstergo employee turned Assassin affiliate who is now helping the Brotherhood in their fight. During the events of Assassin's Creed Odyssey, she attempts to find the Staff of Hermes on a quest that eventually leads her to the ruins of Atlantis. It's here she counter the Misthios, who was kept alive for thousands of years thanks to the staff. The Misthios warns Layla that the Assassins and Templars must always be at war to maintain balance between order and chaos, for should one prevail over the other then the world is doomed. Layla is apparently the one who was prophesied to bring balance between to two, and as the Misthios gives her the Staff of Hermes, they pass away.
In the events of Odyssey's DLC, Layla undergoes trials by the Isu Aletheia in order to prove she could become the Staff's keeper. While this is happening, Abstergo agents arrive as Layla is arguing with her physician, Victoria, who worries that Layla is becoming lost within the Animus and to the power of the Staff. A fight breaks out that leaves all but one Abstergo agent dead. Otso Berg, leader of an Abstergo strike team, then shows up in order to steal the Staff from Layla, but he ends up being crippled as a result. Layla is finally able to re-establishes contact with other Assassins and informs them of what happened.
What the future may hold
Assassin's Creed Valhalla once again stars Layla Hassan, now reliving the memories of a Viking named Eivor during the Dark Ages of England. Eivor holds the key to saving the world from the effects of the coronal mass ejection that occurred at the end of Assassin's Creed 3. The historical sections will now blend with the modern day thanks to events called Animus Anomalies, allowing Layla to show up in the past to complete special parkour challenges.
As for where the story goes from here, you'll need to play Valhalla to find out.
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