AC settings: the mirrors of their own protagonists
Sab, August 8, 2014
Translated by: Stefania

Among the distinctive elements of the Assassinís Creed series, we surely can find the realistic and credible reconstruction of the different historical locations that each time are chosen as settings for the events of each chapter. However, all of this has to be supported by the creation of a game map that not only recalls structures, spaces and past layouts, but also allows different approaches, like stealth, parkour, running, pursuits. Essentially, the necessity of a level design suitable for the game purposes.
During the past generation of consoles we saw several locations, so decisive that they were not only different from one another, but also a characterisation tool of the main characters.

One of the AC1 maps: the districts

The first Assassinís Creed split the districts in zones, each of which characterised by a level design suitable for the economic and social conditions of the single district. The parkour was always fluid, dynamic, but without losing that essential variety for the stealth approaches, the real focal point of the first chapter of the series. Somehow, this also defines Altair: young and fast, but also quiet and patient. In a word, an assassin.

Starting from the second chapter, with alleys, bottlenecks and towers, the parkour potentially becomes an endless race among the streets of Florence and Venice. It was hard to come to a standstill, in every corner there was a white cloth showing you where you could start a new parkour session. And the Ezio of Assassinís Creed II is exactly like that: fiery power, violence, speed and strength.

Rome and the walks in front of the Pantheon
In Brotherhood (in my opinion, the worst location of the series), the structural richness of the previous chapters is replaced by bigger zones, alternating the traditional free running with horse ridings along the Tiber and walks in front of the Pantheon. Unfortunately I canít see in the main character of this chapter an evolution coherent with the development of locations, which seems to suggest a more tactical and rational approach to the various missions. Rather, Ezio becomes unstoppable, invincible, a tank (heíll even use itÖ).

Revelations (my favourite setting), combines the strong parkour element with a way more rational approach, with zones that were created ad hoc to use the systemic structure of the bombs (the word ďsystemicĒ made a comeback, oddly enough, with Unity, which has the same creative director of Revelations, Amancio). After a series of endless jumps and races among tents and towers, Ezio can disappear in a smoke cloud or escape using the various tools he has, from the hook blade to the rope connecting the various rooftops of the city. The Ezio of Revelations is exactly like that, a Master assassin, very good at fighting, but even better at working in the dark and fleeing swiftly.

... zones that were created ad hoc to use the systemic structure of the bombs...

Afterwards, Assassinís Creed 3 represented, for me, the most radical change of the series, as well as Black Flag. The first two chapters, which connected the cities with empty and detail-less spaces and exciting free running and combat sessions, were opposed to Brotherhood and Revelations, completely focused on a single city chosen as the main location, while at most they delegated the diversity of settings to the side missions, which were by the way limited in the open world. AC3 revolutionised this structure, showing (as all the chapters characterised by a number) various cities connected by a big map, in this case the Frontier. But if in the first games (and also in Black Flag) these zones are dedicated to everything but parkour, in AC3 the Frontier is the zone where we can see Connorís unstoppable strength, at ease climbing rock faces and centuries-old trees. Instead in the city the streets are wide, the rooves are guarded by dozens of guards and their modern structure doesnít show significant differences from zone to zone. These cities are unknown to the player of the series, different from anything the Assassinís Creed fan had seen until then. And after all Connor is like the player, in a world that doesnít belong to him, that he is trying to protect, but that doesnít fully understand.

As for Black Flag, itís obviously clear that many of the traditional structures of the series were abandoned, intentionally wanting to create a way more traditional open world, where we donít have to observe every single wall to determine which direction to take in the most fast and useful way, but where we can simply choose an objective and go in that direction. And this evolution of the player in the approach to free roaming is the same as Edwardís who, initially a pirate in search of fame, money and glory, becomes an assassin aware of his responsibilities, careful and reflective, way more patient than the cocky and unsettled Welshman that we met at the beginning of the game. The chosen cities, furthermore, represent the very best of the locations seen in the whole series: if Havana reminds Florence and Istanbul, the width of the Kingstonís streets canít help but bring to mind the English style typical of Boston and New York.

Without these settings probably the characterisation of characters would have been limited, unable to completely express itself. Instead, certain locations allow us, the players, to understand how the personality and the psychological development of the characters are also reflected in their actions.

In this respect, how do you think ACUnity and ACRogue will fit?
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