Gonna mention minor spoilers, ye be warned.
I first played AC1 in 2007 when it released. I decided to replay it because I want to get into the series and go on an adventure through time, so to speak, with all the historic locations. Overall I'm having an ok time. The story and characters are super interesting, with some enjoyable combat, but it's held back by the extraordinarily janky parkour system and repetitive sidequests.
Back in 2007 when AC1 first released, it truly was a revolutionary game when it came to sheer scale and parkour capabilities. By todays standards however, the parkour is absolutely HORRID and rage inducing. The parkour system feels a lot more RNG based rather than user skill based. Altair will sometimes jump in a direction not intended or fail to do something as simple as run up a wall or grab a ledge that is clearly within reach. Mix all this while you're running away from guards, and the result is me coming within milliseconds of throwing my controller on the floor as hard as I possibly can.
Parkour isn't the only rage inducing part of the game. By far some of the dumbest shit I've seen in a game have to be the drunks and mental npc's that will push Altair (and ONLY Altair) for no particular reason other than being an obstacle for the player to maneuver around, which is already hard enough given the controls. And the beggars, MY GOD THE BEGGERS. Beggars will run after Altair (and ONLY Altair), get in his face and harass him for money, blocking your movement while shouting repetitive dialog. "OH PLEASE SIR! SPARE A FEW COINS? I'M HUNGRY, I NEED SOME FOOD, JUST A LITTLE MONEY I'M BEGGING YOU. NO, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND! I'M POOR, AND SICK, AND HUNGRY!". I hear this shit in my fucking nightmares at night before waking up in cold sweats. Killing beggars partially damages your health, but what it restores to my soul more than makes up for it.
The activities you partake in are, for the most part, extraordinarily repetitive. Side missions range from scaling eagle towers to rescuing civilians from harassing guards, and . . . that's it. That's literally it. The civilians you rescue are either priests or women, and they say the EXACT same lines, in all three towns, but with different voice actors depending on the city. AC1 also suffers from another rage inducing, bullshit game mechanic that many other games suffer from as well. This mechanic is: Rescue a civilian by killing guards harassing them. They thank you with a longwinded response. While this is happening, a guard spawns offscreen to patrol the area. The guard notices you killed all those other guards, so you kill him. Another guard spawns off screen and patrols in. Rinse and repeat over and over so you can't catch a breath. Red Dead Redemption 2 suffers from this bullshit mechanic, with civilians constantly spawning on roads to report crimes that you commit, even if you kill them before they get away. I get that this mechanic is supposed to add tension to crimes you commit, but it just comes off as feeling extremely artificial and takes me out of the game's immersion.
Alright, now that we've talked about all the rage inducing stuff, I'd like to talk about stuff I actually really liked about AC1. For starters, the combat is better than I remember. A lot of people complain that traditional AC combat is too repetitive because of an over-reliance on counter attacks, which often times insta-kill enemies. To be fair, this feature is still there and it's how I remember playing it back in the day, but the combat goes deeper than that. See, if you go through the whole game just counter attacking everything, it will take a while. In a fight, sometimes the guards won't attack you for periods of time, so you're just sitting there like an idiot. A lot of the times, your counter attack will just push the enemy down and not kill them, wasting time. Combat becomes much more enjoyable once you start to utilize every move and weapon in your inventory. Timing your sword swings to perform combo kills, dodging attacks, breaking an enemy's guard, utilizing throwing knives, grabbing and throwing guards to get them out of the fight momentarily. Once you start to utilize all these attack and defense strats, it can feel very rewarding to fight off 5 guards and come out the other side without a scratch.
The main missions of the game, the ones revolving around assassinating individuals, are actually pretty fun and obviously the meat of the game. You have 9 targets to assassinate over the course of the game, but before you can assassinate them, you need to gather more information about the target via a variety of side missions. This is cool in theory, but in practice you start to notice some of the information is a bit pointless. In one mission, I learned that a particular target likes to hide away in his room because he's ashamed of himself, and that his window is open with some scaffolding allowing you easy entry. Neat, sounds like I have a plan of how to get in and assassinate him without being seen, right? Except no, not really. You have to go to an icon to initiate the mission, and once you do you get locked in the merchant's courtyard with a bunch of other people. He goes a bit mad and starts to kill everyone, forcing you to hastily scale the walls in order to get up to his balcony, and then chase him down through the streets and assassinate him. This seems very scripted, like this scenario is the only way it's allowed to play out. But if that's true, then what in the hell was up with the intel about the back door entrance into his room? You'll notice sooner or later that a lot of the intel you collect is practically pointless, as it doesn't offer you gameplay variety in how you take out targets. Intel is really only used to flesh out the back story/character of the people you're assassinating. In a way, this is actually a really good thing.
See, all the people that you are sent to assassinate seem like monstrous, evil people on the surface because of the crimes they commit. But once you assassinate a target, you get a sort of 'epilogue' sequence where Altair and the target have a 1 on 1 heart-to-heart conversation, where the target explains their reasoning for their actions and hint at the bigger story at hand. The games does a fantastic job at humanizing your targets, because you ultimately understand why they're doing the things they're doing. There's logic and reasoning behind it, almost no one feels like a traditional mustache-twirling villain doing evil things for the sake of it. Hell, even the one person you assassinate who IS doing evil things for the sake of it admits to him loving the power trip because of it, which makes him seem like more of an addict.
Every target you kill seems sad and mournful, never angry or hateful. Not because you killed them, but because they genuinely believed in what they were doing, and how much they believed in the greater good that the Templars were setting in motion. Because of this, Altair starts to question why he's killing these people. Starts to question the Assassin order. This subtly transforms him over the course of the game from a selfish, arrogant dickhead to a patient, wise human being with a heart.
To wrap up a long ass post, I can't tell if I'm enjoying my time revisiting Assassin's Creed. The story, characters and combat are great. Hell, revisiting it at 4K 60fps on my pc has been a visual treat too. But the sheer repetitiveness of side-missions needed to get more health and the wonky parkour made me almost quit playing three times now. I continue onward out of sheer spite (also knowing that AC2 is pretty great). Thanks for reading if you made it this far 🙂
- Assassin’s Creed (2007) is a glorified proof of concept.
- A truly next gen AC game and how it should be
- AC 1 still holds up today
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