Assassin's Creed: A Plot to the Future
Sorrosyss, May 27th, 2023

Note: Some story spoilers are present from across the franchise

The longevity of Assassin's Creed has been fascinating to watch. It's a little scary to realise that in just a few years, we will celebrating twenty years of the beloved franchise. Within that time, we've seen various changes and iterations on existing concepts throughout the many different games that have come and gone. Suffice to say, some aspects worked well, others not so much.

With the jump to the Infinity platform on the horizon, Assassin's Creed will again go through a period of massive change. We know that the “Present Day” narrative is part of that plan, but we do not as yet know any details about it, save that it will be standalone – with it's own dedicated space, separated from being directly included into the narratives of future games that are released. We discussed the merits and pitfalls of this approach previously, so I won't cover old ground again. What I do want to talk about today though, is what this new Present Day setting might entail.

Specifically, I want to consider two questions:

What if we moved the “Present Day” narrative to the far future of humanity?

And is there evidence within the franchise that this has in fact already happened?


Fallout 4
When we look to the proposed far future setting of humanity, most science fiction tends to drift towards a setting of post-apocalypse. Just to give a few examples; the Mad Max movies, the Fallout games, the Terminator franchise – all of these posit the idea that humanity ultimately destroyed itself with its own technology, usually by way of nuclear weapons. It's often lead to some thrilling storylines, but I think it's safe to say it has already been done quite frequently when we look at the wider entertainment world. Is it something Assassin's Creed could explore? Possibly, some day. In the end though, some might argue that the ultimate result of total freedom would be a lawless chaos. This could therefore be a potential scenario if the Assassins ever completely succeeded in wiping out the Templars perhaps.

Plugging in to the Matrix
To my mind though, there is a more appropriate style of setting for Assassin's Creed, that of high-tech dystopia. We're talking the likes of Blade Runner, Black Mirror, or the main example I want to touch on; The Matrix franchise. For those who have watched The Matrix movies, you will know it actually formed a major inspiration for Assassin's Creed itself. In short, it tells the story of how all of humanity are relegated to little more than batteries by an oppressive machine AI, with every human being plugged into an artificial reality to keep them controlled and placated. The main character, Neo, ultimately breaks free of the simulation construct, and eventually helps lead humanity's rebellion to rise up and fight back against the machines. He finds himself connecting to both the real world and the simulated one (known as The Matrix), in a style that has become very reminiscent and repeated by our Present Day protagonists using an Animus, within the Assassin's Creed universe.

Artwork by FableFoxWeaver

Let us take this example then and consider the potential basis of a futuristic setting for Assassin's Creed. It is safe to say that in the Present Day storyline thus far, the Templars are most definitely winning in their eternal war with the Brotherhood. For those who recall, the Assassins have relatively recently survived a “great purge” in the year 2000, as the Templars tracked down their hideouts and eliminated a great deal of the Brotherhood members. The Assassins are effectively always on the run now, constantly having to operate out of cells and changing their location frequently to evade tracking. How did this come about? Technology.

Throughout the franchise history, it has typically been the Templars that have been at the forefront of science and technology. Under their modern guise of the multinational conglomerate Abstergo, their wealthiest members have helped fund projects for some of the greatest technical minds to push the world forward in technology development. It is after all how they eventually landed on the concept of exploring genetic memory, enabling the creation of the Animus, the technology that is such a cornerstone to the entire Assassin's Creed experience. It is easy to extrapolate then, as humanity now pushes forwards into new developments in technology, that the Templars would be at its forefront – giving them a permanent edge on the Brotherhood. You could easily see this being the case over the next few hundred years even. So where would the Animus technology be by then? I would argue the case that it would not be too far from the ultimate concept of the Matrix.

The Matrix as viewed
in the real world
Think of it. The entirety of humanity plugged into a global Animus, under complete control of the Templars. The real world would likely be dominated by robotics and AI, with just a handful of Templar leaders pulling the strings at the very top. Perhaps humanity literally could become the living batteries to sustain the world as the Matrix proposed. The Templars could simply run simulation after simulation of the past, trying to keep the human brain occupied and entertained for everyone across the globe. Perhaps individuals might come across the past lives of Assassins, or vaults of the Isu, presenting opportunities to the Templars to further their goals with even more First Civilization technology, or to trace the bloodlines of any remaining Brotherhood members. The Animus could easily provide a “best guess” simulation of the past, from external available data, where there is no genetic material too. We've already seen this with Layla's Animus for example, where she incorporated historical texts into the software algorithms. A machine from the far future could probably make a much better 'calculation' and simulation of the past though. As a result, accessing the Isu era would be substantially easier for one such example

Assassin's Creed: No Tomorrow - Art by Stéphane Louis
Colors by Vera Daviet

I'm certainly not the first to propose a future world where the Templars have effectively “won”. It is actually one of the proposed stories of the Assassin's Creed Visionaries project after all, the art of which you can see around this section. Nonetheless, such a concept promises a true dystopian futuristic setting, whilst in turn paying homage to one of the franchise's greatest influences - The Matrix. For me, it feels like a natural progression of the Assassin/Templar war. Let us not forget, that the original Assassin's Creed game technically had a “Present Day” set in the future as well, being set as 2012 in a 2007 year released game. The concept is really not so alien.

Artwork by Victor Martinez

This takes us to the second major question then. Has Assassin's Creed always been set in the far future?

There is evidence, though appreciably circumstantial, that the entire narrative of the franchise has been occurring in a simulation all along. I've spoken about this in a number of articles already, and I cannot shake the feeling that there really is something to this theory.

What are we proposing exactly? Well, namely that someone in the far future has been observing the events of Desmond Miles, Layla Hassan, and now Basim Ibn Ishaq's exploits in the “Modern Day” setting. It may sound outlandish, but it's a theme we've already experienced to a degree in the Assassin's Creed Odyssey DLC. As you will recall, Layla observes Kassandra, who in turns experiences a simulation created by the Isu. I coined the term 'Animusception' at the time, being a nod towards the layered dream states that are shown in the movie Inception. A dream within a dream etc. Theoretically, this is exactly what someone from the future could be doing, viewing a simulation within a simulation, within a simulation. To be clear, I'm not implying that this could erase the lore that came before, merely that it may well have all just been simulated all along.

Distortion in gameplay, captured by LeoKRogue

Sounds wild, I know. But have a close look at both Desmond and Layla's playable sections from their respective games. Should they take a large amount of health damage, the player's viewpoint becomes distorted, akin to the desynchronization we see from the historical
Charlotte questioning her reality
protagonists within the Animus itself. Yes, you could argue it was just Ubisoft being lazy and reusing the animations, but it was also a conscious design decision to do that. Not once, but twice now. Coincidence? Time will tell.

Let us not forget, that the original ending to Assassin's Creed III was for Desmond to wake up on a space ship in the future. From there, he was to go on and explore the entirety of humanity's past. Part of me wonders if it has always been the plan by Ubisoft to fall back to that original concept, as it does offer quite a lot of opportunities for new narrative settings. More on that later though.

The transmedia titles have also been dropping the occasional hint about a far future setting as well. For those who haven't read the Assassin's Creed Uprising comics, the central protagonist Charlotte de la Cruz even outright suggests that she might just be an echo in a simulation as viewed by someone from the future. Was this foreshadowing laying the seeds of portent to what is to come?

The Matrix

As we touched upon at the start, with Infinity right around the corner, it would make quite a lot of sense for Ubisoft to go down this route. I would caveat that it perhaps may not be the first iteration of the Infinity “Present Day”, but to my mind it's the natural conclusion for where it will some day eventually land.

The Present Day narrative has always been a controversial topic since its inception. We've touched upon the specific issues surrounding it before, but it certainly has a high number of both supporters and detractors. Some people loved Desmond Miles, others called for his removal – the latter eventually succeeding. Ubisoft then tried to repeat the Desmond Miles protagonist model with Layla Hassan in recent games, and it was only met with lukewarm feedback at best. As we suggested in our previous Infinity coverage, it would make a lot of sense now to consider the concept of the player being the protagonist for the Present Day within Infinity.

Again, this is not entirely new to the franchise either. Think back to Black Flag and Rogue, where we played essentially a blank canvas character, which allowed players of all genders and ethnicities to imagine themselves in the role. The main writer at that time, Darby McDevitt, was the principal architect behind this style for the two games. It's worth noting then that he is now back once again working on the franchise. With the Infinity platform introducing multiplayer, repeating this 'player protagonist' style with a full third-person character creator would be a vast improvement to the overall concept. Imagine if you could log on, create your character in the far future, and then leap into a whole multitude of narrative settings, single and multiplayer, within the futuristic Animus. As a hub concept, it makes for a fantastic idea all round for Infinity, and something we've been suggesting for the Present Day for several years now.

Our own attempt at visualising a character creator, with thanks to BrunoHM

They could even introduce a faction war for multiplayer, again thinking back to the Matrix as an example. What if we had users exploring the history of the Assassin Brotherhood, and suddenly finding an affinity for freedom, much in the same way that Morpheus and Neo led such a revolt from within the Matrix itself. By contrast, again using The Matrix, a character like Cypher was more than happy to remain living within a simulation and working with his oppressors for an easier life. In that regard, there most likely would be many individuals happy to stay with and support the Templars' goals. It is the classic red pill / blue pill dilemma, introduced by The Matrix once again, and would fit so well for Assassin's Creed here too.

Artwork by Alexandre Augusto

The far future setting would be evergreen as well. The writers would never need to worry about the “Present Day” catching up with what they write. The beauty of course though is if they want to do a storyline in 2027 (for example), they still have the capability to do so – as it would then just be like any other simulation set in the past. That also goes for other potential settings we've never seen. I'm just one of many fans that are interested in seeing what this franchise would look like in a near future cyberpunk like setting. The likes of games like Deus Ex have explored the themes of transhumanism, which many futurists expect to be the next big social divide in the real world, between technologically enhanced humans and those left behind. We are already experimenting with putting microchips into humans in the real world
The Ubisoft Mentor knows something...
now, so it's practically a given this will come to pass in our life times, especially with recent advances within Artificial Intelligence in the last few years. Against the backdrop of the Assassin/Templar war of freedom versus control, a cyberpunk futuristic setting is a natural fit that could provide us some stunning new storylines to enjoy on a theme that is becoming more and more relevant to our real world lives. Imagine the gameplay opportunities as well though; tech assisted parkour, a robotic bird companion, plasma Hidden Blades and stealth cloaking. That would be a sight to behold.

“But Assassin's Creed is set in real history!” I hear you cry. Well, marketing may sell it to you that way, and it is of course based off our real history, but no – the Assassin's Creed universe is not the same reality as ours. It is a fictional universe of course, but remember, the Present Day global aurora borealis that occurred in both 2012 and 2020 never came to pass in our reality. At best, it is another timeline completely distinct of its own. By setting the Present Day in the far future though, all of Assassin's Creed's human history becomes our playground. Even the fictional futuristic settings. Honestly, that's pretty exciting.

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