Assassin's Creed

Assassins, Templars and Bartenders – Characterisation in Assassin’s Creed

I’m now playing Assassin’s Creed II as one of my LawfulGeek Plays series on YouTube. It’s my favourite game of the series and I have a thing for Renaissance Italy. I love the characters, the historical figures, the references mixed in with the series’ alternate history, all of it. I love that there’s a lot to do but without the overload present in future Assassin’s Creed titles.

During the first episode, I discussed why I thought Desmond Miles was a fantastic character. I went on and on about it for about five to ten minutes. Since then, I’ve been wondering about the rest of the characters in the series. I once wrote a small piece on them, and with more characters now to talk about, why not do it again, but this time analyse what makes them good or bad and how they could’ve been better!

So let’s get to it!

NOTE: The List comes up to Arno. I have not played Syndicate so I can’t speak for the twins.

Desmond Miles: While everyone else hates this character, I really like him. I love the characterisation and before you raise your pitchforks, let me explain why:

It’s true Desmond isn’t as cool as the assassins whose lives we play through his genetic memory. It’s true he’s a whiner for most of the first game in the Assassin’s Creed series. But that is exactly why he’s so good. He’s not a badass, he’s not a super-human murder machine, he’s just a regular guy, a bartender in fact. Yes, he was born into the Assassin order but he escaped, left it all behind and chose to live a normal life.

Assassin's Creed
The man just wanted to pour drinks, for customers and himself!

When Abstergo kidnaps him, he just acts as you or I would. He whines, complains and begs for them to let him go, or at least explain what’s going on. Desmond is just like us, a normal person, caught up in this crazy world and he’s terrified, as we’d all be in his position. And his obliviousness makes him the perfect avatar. We learn with him and just as we decide to embark on new adventures with the assassins, so does he choose to join the fight and learn the skills to help the order against the Templars.

Desmond, as a character, has the most growth of any other in the series, and what makes him special is that at his core, beyond the parkour, hidden blades and pieces of Eden, there is just a normal person, a human. Even as a fully trained assassin, Desmond thinks as we do and always remains a person you could easily meet at a bar.

There is really nothing I would change about Desmond’s characterisation, because he’s perfect for his role.

Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad: Altaïr is the first assassin we control and a surprisingly deep character even in his own game, starting out as a cocky and reckless warrior, too proud of his accomplishments and too hungry for glory to care for others. He becomes a better person by the end, learning the hard way that one man can’t do everything on his own and that alone he’s as weak as his enemies are. The way he stalks and kills his prey—alone and vulnerable—shows him where his own selfishness would lead him. And so, by the end of the game even those who hated him called him a friend, refusing to accept his apologies because Altaïr had changed so much they considered him a new person, reborn.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and Altaïr’s Chronicles further develop the character, giving him a family and love interest. They give him happy memoires and sad ones.

But there is one way I would improve the characterisation and it’s simply to show him have a wider range of emotions. Whenever we see Altaïr, he’s always serious. He doesn’t celebrate with his friends, cheer his victories or just have a good time. He comes off too serious, lacking in dimension and complexity.

Ezio Auditore da Firenze: The only assassin we play as from birth, Ezio is perhaps the best character in the series, someone whom we see grow from a carefree youth to a bitter one on a quest for revenge, to resolute adult and finally a weary yet content old man. Ezio goes through all facets of life and touches the lives of many people and unlike others in the series, he lets their lives touch his, leaving their mark on him.

He has friends, lovers, brothers and sisters throughout his life, he knows regret, pain and loss but also joy and pride. But what makes him special and his characterisation so brilliant is that he always takes the time to enjoy life, to laugh and share with those he loves. While Desmond is the normal person in an impossible situation, Ezio is by far the most human of all characters in the series. He shows one thing that I’ve always held true and have mentioned in the past as a negative in grim-dark scenarios: no matter how bad things are, there are always moments of joy. And Ezio makes damn sure to enjoy them.

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Ezio had good friends that helped him become the good man he was

Much like Desmond, there’s really not much I can say to add to Ezio’s characterisation.

I will say that if you haven’t seen Assassin’s Creed Embers, please do so. It tells of the last days of Ezio, and his last reflection, on the video below, is worth listening.

Edward Kenway: The Pirate Assassin, Edward Kenway’s characterisation has a few issues. As fun as he is, jovial and easygoing with his fellow historical swashbucklers, Edward is too good, not as a person but in terms of skills. He’s an expert sailor, expert warrior, natural born assassin, agile climber and impressive liar and impersonator. It makes it hard to relate to him as a person since there is nothing he can’t do, and has very few defects.

The biggest of these and the core of his character evolution over the course of Black Flag are his selfishness and recklessness. He’s all for the loot and booty, the booze and floozies. But he uses people and lies his way to the treasure if he has to. He has friends, but he’s not exactly loyal to them. He has no cause but himself. He takes crazy risks, such as infiltrating a Templar compound even if this leads to them discovering his true identity.

But between leading a crew, being responsible for their well-being and income, protecting his friends, keeping their home of Nassau free and learning more of the Assassins, the Templars and how their plots tie in the lives of his friends, he starts thinking more about others, rushing to protect them, to save them from harm. His selfishness leads to loyalty and selflessness, and learning from his many mistakes and by studying his enemies he becomes wiser and kinder as well. In the end, he might still be a Pirate, but he’s also a good man.

Edward, much like Ezio, enjoys life and learns that the mission—or the treasure—isn’t the only thing that matters. Sometimes it’s enough to enjoy the things you have and the people around you.

In Edward Kenway’s case, I would’ve given him fewer skills, give him more to learn, to grow in skill as he does on a personal level. This would have humanised him much more, make him more relatable.

More opportunities for him to show his kinder side, his friendships and enjoying life at their side wouldn’t have hurt either, as we could’ve seen more sides of his personality. We’re only ever at our best and worst when we’re with the people we love.

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Much like Ezio, Edward grew and learned from his friends

Haytham Kenway: I don’t understand how Edward’s son became a Templar, haven’t read the novel, but he did.

Haytham is a peculiar character. In a long line of raving lunatic Templars, bloodthirsty and ambitious to ludicrous extremes, Haytham is the reasonable one, the first character in the series to show the Templars in another light, not as unequivocal bad guys trying to control the world, but as reasonable people trying to save it, showing many similarities with the Assassin order.

Haytham is also the first of the main Templar villains whose men don’t obey out of fear but trust and love. His men follow him because they believe in him. They agree with his vision and go with it. And maybe because of this, because he shows more humanity than other Templars in the series, he also brings a bit of humour to the sombre organisation and its members.

Assassin's Creed
Haytham’s followers were loyal to him because he earned it.

But what I always found to be the best of his characterisation was the conflict in him, between being Connor’s father and his work as a Templar. He moved along with his duty but at all times, he fought the desire to connect with his son. He knew he had to kill him, Connor was too much of a threat, but he couldn’t do it. Instead, he tried to convince him to join, to see his side of things, to bring him closer.

When he died, even if they were enemies, he was proud of his son’s courage and determination.

For Haytham, I would’ve given him more participation in the story, explore that personal conflict some more, given him more opportunities to bond with Connor. I’m a big fan of emotional turmoil in characters, and Haytham was perfect for this, to fully explore the inner conflict between father and son on opposite sides of the war, something that would’ve served as an interesting contrast to a very common situation in the war for independence, where families and friends turned on each other.

Connor Kenway (Ratonhnhaké:ton): While Haytham was a brilliant character from an emotional development perspective, Connor’s characterisation lacks emotional depth.

Connor has good qualities, very heroic ones, but he barely shows emotions in his adult life. When he’s with people who consider him a friend, he still acts as though they were strangers, never letting his guard down, never enjoying life. Even with his father figure, Achilles Davenport, Connor rarely shows other sides of his personality.

The problem is that on the storytelling they focus on his main quality: He’s driven, with a goal in mind, and doing everything he can to make it a reality. But he’s an extremist in this regard, having a bad case of tunnel vision, where nothing but his mission and ultimate goal matter. He broods a lot and is often belligerent, but rarely happy or content.

Trauma is a main reason for his personality and I believe Ubisoft writers wasted the opportunity to explore Ratonhnhaké:ton’s growth, to see him overcome his trauma, open himself up to new experience and emotions. But they didn’t and he remained the same taciturn assassin.

But I will say this for Connor. He is one of the humblest and kindest of Assassin’s Creed protagonists, and also the most naïve of them. He has a desperate need to help and does so freely, which is something I always identified with when playing the game.

I just wish they had explored his emotional and mental state more, instead of doing so many time-skips.

Aveline de Grandpré: Another Assassin of the colonies, this one living in beautiful New Orléans.

I found Aveline’s disposition refreshing after playing as Connor. She’s serious and driven as he is, with an impossibly strong conviction and a desire to improve the lives of those around her, particularly the many slaves, but she’s more charismatic and easier to approach.

Aveline has a similar issue as Ratonhnhaké:ton in that we don’t fully explore the different sides of her personality, her emotional growth. But unlike the taciturn assassin, Aveline’s problem is that she doesn’t really have many friends, allies or loved ones to do so, not in the way Edward or Ezio had. She only interacts with Master Assassin Agaté, Gérald and her father and stepmother, and the relationship with the latter two doesn’t get enough screen time.

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“A will they, won’t they?” that could’ve done so much for the character if it had been resolved

Her characterisation focuses the most on how she feels trapped between two worlds, the one she belongs to from her father’s side of the family and the one from her mother’s, hence her dedication to help free slaves and fight for freedom. We see much of this conflict on how she handles the different people she’s loyal to, how she placates her master at times, until he goes completely off the deep end in his paranoia.

But she follows the now proud tradition of tunnel vision characters, where their missions (and thus game objectives) are the most important things, without taking the time to humanise the characters, to show us who they are beyond the Assassin Order.

I would’ve given Aveline more friends, other allies, perhaps other assassins. The missions she shares with Connor are the best moments, for both characters. They’re on equal footing and find a good friend in the other, someone who understands what it’s like to live as an Assassin. They both could’ve used more of that I believe.

Adéwalé: Edward’s quartermaster and hero of the Freedom’s Cry adventure is a complete badass…and that’s about it.

As much as I like the character and how good he was with Edward, serving as a good contrast to the brash Kenway, the character isn’t as interesting on his own. There’s no nuance to his characterisation, no sides to his personality. He’s wooden and intense and as such becomes increasingly uninteresting.

Freedom’s Cry was once again a wasted opportunity. Ubisoft’s writers could’ve reinvented the character, written him up, explore his personality much more but they didn’t and left him the same man we see throughout Black Flag, only without Edward’s presence to balance their opposite personalities out.

If you look at his bio it says he had a night of passion with another of Freedom’s Cry’s characters, but the Adéwalé we meet seems highly incapable of any such passion.

Arno Dorian: Arno has a few issues, one of them being in the mess of a game that Assassin’s Creed Unity is.

Arno is passionate. About his people, his country, the order, his hate for the Templars and the woman he loves. Passion is his driving force, and the one they used to propel him into frankly too many roles. In Assassin’s Creed Unity, Ubisoft tried to make Arno some sort of “AC Protagonist Greatest Hits.” They wanted a rebel, a hero, a protector, a man on a quest for redemption but also on some revenge as well, a lover and someone trying to bridge the Assassins and Templars, all individually done by other characters in the series.

Because of this hodgepodge of priorities, his personal narrative loses its way and become a muddled mess, with the main consequence being that instead of being an inspirational or likeable figure, he’s the exact opposite, a blank canvas of a hero with no clear motivation, aspiration and frankly unlikeable.

Assassin's Creed
What Arno needed the most, Ubi, was a strong supporting cast!

But Arno is also unique in that to fix his characterisation you don’t really need to add to him, but instead take some stuff away and give those roles to a stronger supporting cast. The Assassins and Templars (and most other characters) are largely forgettable in Assassin’s Creed Unity, and even the antagonists offer very little. A stronger backing choir, so to speak, with distinct personalities to contrast Arno’s would’ve helped the character feel more human, be more relatable.

Arno’s at his best in those few scenes that are just about him and Élise, as you can see the man behind the Assassin, and you can tell much about him and sadly that also makes his other ‘roles’ feel tacked on, unnecessary and unnatural for his disposition.

So those are my thoughts on these characters and what I’d do to fix them. What do you think? I’m guessing most people will disagree about Desmond, because he’s not exactly famous!

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I love everything readable, writeable, playable and of course, edible! I search for happiness, or Pizza, because it's pretty much the same thing! I write and ramble on The Mental Attic and broadcast on my Twitch channel, TheLawfulGeek

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