We’re the reason Ubisoft has released a new Assassin’s Creed game almost every year. We keep buying them.
Reporter Elise Favis wanted to enter the games industry because of the series. Meanwhile, reporter Gene Park elevated the series to “must wait at GameStop on midnight launch day,” a distinction he usually reserved for “Halo” and “Zelda” games. So naturally, with the release of “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla,” we felt inclined to rank all the games from best to worst. And we came up with two wildly different lists.
It speaks to how much “Assassin’s Creed” has evolved and changed over its 13-year history and 12 mainline games. We both love practically every title in the series, enough to complete all of them and obsess over the smallest details and changes. But regardless of how we feel about individual titles, it’s easy to see that it’s been a tumultuous journey for the beloved stealth-action, open-world historical tourism games.
Here are our two respective rankings and thoughts on every title as we take a trip down Animus-memory lane to reflect on the beloved series from its start.
Gene: I think we both recognize that the first game had so much potential, despite the well-known issues it had with mission variety and repetition. Everything we love about the series, from elegant character design, open-world historical tourism to the wacky science-fiction future/past parallel story lines, started here. I’d love a remake of this someday.
Elise: “Assassin’s Creed” is what made me want to join the video games industry. I’m serious. It was one of the first open-world games I played and it handles its story in a fascinating way: You play as a man named Desmond who is kidnapped by a strange group fronting as a pharmaceutical company. They put him in an Animus, a machine that lets you experience the memories of ancestors. This strange blend of science fiction with history is utterly bizarre, but so compelling, and Ubisoft expertly made all of it come together.
Storytelling is the best part of “Assassin’s Creed.” It created the foundation for the series. On the other hand, gameplay was weaker: repetition is its biggest flaw. (Seriously, how many times do I have to tail someone or eavesdrop?) Altair, an assassin from the Middle East, with his emotionless and monotone voice, was also not nearly as strong a protagonist as the many that would follow.
Assassin’s Creed II
Elise: I remember the awe I felt when the words “Assassin’s Creed II” appeared on my television, hanging above the beautiful city of Florence. I had bought an Xbox 360 just to play the game. The anticipated sequel was finally here, and it didn’t disappoint.
“Assassin’s Creed II” is the definitive Assassin’s Creed experience. It improved on its predecessor in every possible way, bringing more variety to missions, depth to combat, a colorful time period (the Renaissance) and a new protagonist bursting with charm. Ezio Auditore’s initial arc is one of vengeance, but we see him grow beyond that.
The game ends with one of the best cliffhangers. It breaks the fourth wall, too, with a character directly addressing the player, which felt pretty wild. It was so effective that Desmond and I both said “What the f---?” at the same time.
Gene: It features one of the greatest last boss fights in video games: a knockdown, bare-knuckle fistfight with the pope. That should seal it as one of the best. But really, it clarified the vision for the series. This is its true beginning. And yes, this game in particular will be remembered for leaving us one of the most satisfying yet perplexing cliffhanger endings of all time.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Gene: While everything was a notable expansion from the sequel, I really loved how overpowered Ezio was in this game. The “chain” attacks after a counterattack turned Ezio into a Renaissance John Wick. While I didn’t enjoy the story as much, it was still excellently paced, and ended as dramatic and epic as the series ever got with a sword fight atop a burning castle wall against your lifelong enemy. An instant classic.
Elise: Like Gene, I loved how “Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood” makes you an assassin powerhouse. Growing your brotherhood, which is basically an army of assassins that you can call upon whenever to help you in combat, was a really fun addition.
There’s also, of course, the introduction of multiplayer. You play as Templars (the antagonists of the series) who are training by using the Animus, learning how to hunt and kill assassins, which is a neat twist. It’s a game of cat and mouse: you’re given a target to track and kill while other players hunt you as well. The premise is so unique, and so satisfyingly tense. I can’t think of any other multiplayer experience that put so many resources into building a compelling stealth experience to play with friends. I loved being able to sneak up to a target and poison them silently, then watch them collapse like a rag doll moments later.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
Gene: This is where the bloat started to settle into the series. There were so many side quests that felt superfluous. Additions like the hook really added nothing mechanically. But it’s my favorite tale of the series, and it’s really the one that underscores the tragedy of an assassin’s life, destined to struggle for eternity, but like Ezio, remaining an oblivious bit player on history’s eternal stage.
Elise: “Revelations” is an ode to Ezio, the farewell to a character we see grow from a young man to a powerful assassin. He’s no longer a teenager jumping out of his girlfriend’s window to avoid her angry father, or fumbling his way through learning the principles of the creed. He’s older, wiser and more thoughtful, and his chapter ends in the heartfelt animated epilogue of “Assassin’s Creed Embers,” a short film that shipped with the collector’s edition of “Revelations.”
We also get another glimpse at Altair’s life as he grows older, who similarly ponders what his life as an assassin meant to him. “Revelations” is a game of reflection and introspection, honoring its two major characters before the series shifts to new beginnings.
“Revelations” is a good game, but it’s the first time we see the series stagnate during the annual release schedule of the franchise. Mechanics are all too familiar, aside from the addition of crafting bombs (which were fine, but not particularly special). The series was in need of change. A new face, a new story. Unfortunately, what came next was worse.
Assassin’s Creed III
Gene: This game’s worst sin is the 7-8 hour tutorial before the rest of the game actually started. Connor was a terrible character, but I also want to acknowledge the strong fan base he’s grown over the years. At least for me, it’s notable and admirable that he’s a mixed-race character, even if they do nothing with anything about the historical period except as a fancy backdrop for whatever nonsense needed to wrap up in the modern era. The game is best served as a decent foundation for the next few games.
Elise: Gene and I have similar thoughts on this one. We were both let down by the story (the modern day ending was exciting, though!) and the protagonist. The homestead brought deeper “simulation building” gameplay than the Villa had in “Assassin’s Creed II,” but even there, Connor was the least interesting part of those missions.
I think back on my time with “Assassin’s Creed III” mostly as enjoying climbing trees and hanging enemies up on branches with the rope dart.
Gene: Rope darts should’ve been in every game after this one. And to your point, Connor was really fun to control, scrambling through old America.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Gene: It felt like playing a detailed and bloody “Zelda: Wind Waker.” There was a real sense of discovery that the series has never matched in its entire run, before or since. While AC3 was a terrible structured game, its fundamentals in combat, seafaring and traversal were solid, and Black Flag built on that while creating a better-paced, better-told story, in a far more interesting and cohesive world to travel.
Elise: “Black Flag” is the Assassin’s Creed game that aged the best, graphically and mechanically. It features a massive Caribbean open world, with islands, buried treasure to discover and excellent naval combat that would later inspire Ubisoft’s “Skull & Bones,” a yet-to-be released game that focuses specifically on seafaring battles. Edward Kenway joined the order in an atypical way in comparison to the more traditional assassins that came before him; he steals the identity of one. I loved the twist.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue
Gene: I can barely remember a single thing about this game. It was good enough to finish, but it’s probably the least necessary entry in the series.
Elise: Assassin’s Creed: Rogue is No. 10 on my list for a reason: I don’t remember much, because it wasn’t memorable. I actually had to look up who the protagonist was because, like the game on a whole, Shay was extremely forgettable. The biggest twist was playing as a Templar, and that it had some interesting, direct connections to “Unity.” While I can appreciate “Rogue” for blurring the line of morality between assassins and Templars, it didn’t do enough beyond that. It didn’t build on its predecessor enough, bringing naval combat back in largely the same fashion as before.
Gene: I only remember Shay because of the legacy outfits we get in the later games.
Assassin’s Creed Unity
Gene: This is our biggest disagreement, and I think it’s a credit and a curse to the series that as the games experimented more, the fan base was split. The only reason I value this game so highly is because it provides the best evolution of the first game’s promise: black box assassination missions in which you can choose your own way to win. Stealth options were robust, and allowed for so much experimentation. This, coupled with the best parkour system, series-topping animation blending and the most beautifully detailed world in the series, elevates this once-troubled game to the top of the list for me.
Now running with no bugs and at 60 frames per second on the latest consoles, it’s a great chance to revisit it under proper conditions. You might be surprised to find how much you miss the old “Assassin’s Creed,” once you realize how well they nailed it in “Unity.”
Elise: I played “Assassin’s Creed Unity” at launch, and never went back to it. Game-breaking, distracting bugs impeded my progress, though Ubisoft has since fixed these issues. Protagonist Arno is one dimensional, in narrative and in gameplay; he offers little in terms of new abilities and his story line (along with his romance with Elise) is forgettable.
Worst of all, “Unity” has some of the worst controls in the series. Though great parkour animations give the illusion of fluidity, the controls themselves are clunky and unnatural. The same can be said for combat.
This entry concludes the inclusion of the excellent assassination multiplayer modes that the series continued to refine since “Brotherhood.” That marked another letdown for me. Instead, they’re replaced by co-op missions.
Gene: The cooperative missions were lots of fun, but this game’s bloat included way too much entanglement with Ubisoft online fussiness, including needing a real-world phone app to unlock all the chests. While I love this game, all of the more objective criticisms of it on release weren’t at all wrong.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Gene: I loved it until I didn’t. The Frye siblings felt like a parody of modern-day AAA protagonists. The combat system was made even worse. The assassination missions were great, but were not part of the open world. It was a very curious design decision to box out the black box missions. Also, I just couldn’t get used to the new combat system. Too much of it relied on frenetic attacks. Every fight felt like a bar brawl, which was fun much of the time, but just didn’t click as a core mechanic.
Elise: “Syndicate” sparked my love for the series again, particularly in how it plays. The duality of the Frye twins introduced respective, unique skill trees to unlock. Evie could turn invisible, making her a stealth expert (though it’s never really explained how that’s possible!) and Jacob’s defense skills were perfect for brawls. Traversal in “Syndicate” shines with the grapple-gun, a device that shoots rope out of your arm. Rather than wasting time slowly climbing one building to the next like previous games, you could just shoot out a zip line or pull yourself up a tall building in seconds. Scaling cathedrals and landmarks in the industrial revolution’s Victorian London with ease was such a cool feeling.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
Gene: Bayek and Aya were great central characters, and Egypt is perhaps my favorite locale of the series. This is the game that made me realize that bias over historical setting can really lend to one’s personal enjoyment of a “Creed” game. I wasn’t sure of the role-playing adventure direction this series was taking, but because it was Egypt, I was able to enjoy most of its new ideas.
Elise: I wanted to like “Origins” more than I did. Ancient Egypt was a marvel to explore, but the game failed to capture my attention in other areas. It marked a new direction for the series, introducing deeper role-playing mechanics and an entirely new form of combat. The shift wasn’t clean: Combat was clunky, modern day segments were near nonexistent and let’s be honest, Aya should have been the protagonist (for a time, that was Ubisoft’s plan, before shrinking her role).
Gene: The struggle for good protagonists is all the more frustrating knowing how central Aya could’ve been. The story is clearly hers from the beginning, and she’s doing all the more interesting stuff. Ubisoft needs to learn to recognize the stars it’s already creating.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Gene: I just think there’s too much. With sea combat, magical abilities, mythical quests, dozens of people to assassinate and three separate main story lines to complete, I wish the series had more focus. There was also a huge focus on microtransaction boosters, which made arbitrary requirements to the player that encouraged spending, or more grinding. I’m relieved that the series is moving away from this model with “Valhalla."
Elise: “Odyssey” is an excellent game, but it doesn’t feel like an “Assassin’s Creed” game. Heck, protagonists Kassandra and Alexios aren’t assassins, and the creed doesn’t even exist yet. I struggled to come to terms with that at first, as someone who loved the format of the previous games, especially the black box missions. But putting all that aside, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy my time with “Odyssey.” The world of Ancient Greece is incredibly crafted, the story about family is gripping, and protagonist Kassandra brings charm back to the series in a manner reminiscent of Ezio.
But with the godlike abilities Kassandra and Alexios can perform, it felt more like a fantasy action RPG than a meaningful evolution of the series.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Gene: I like this better than the last two. I definitely like it more than “Origins,” but not as much as the top games on my list, which is why I’m comfortable with its placement at No. 6 for now. It improves upon all the ideas of “Origins” and “Odyssey,” and for once feels like the open-world role-playing game they’ve been wanting to make for several years now.
It’s especially nice that player decisions during the story affect how it all plays out. Story decisions in “Odyssey” were all but a formality, as what you said or did mattered very little. “Valhalla” takes itself a lot more seriously as a role-playing game, and it’s better for it.
Elise: “Valhalla” is rebuilding my trust in the franchise. Combat is more grounded than “Odyssey,” focusing on Viking strength rather than superhuman strength. “Assassin’s Creed” lore about ancient beings and strange mythical devices returns in the biggest way in years. And stealth, though not perfect or as smooth as it used to be, feels better than it did in “Odyssey” or “Origins,” thanks to instant kills and more attention to those mechanics. It also finds a much clearer, natural balance between marrying the series’ older concepts to its newer RPG-centric ideas that feels right.
Eivor ranks among one of my favorite new “Assassin’s Creed” protagonists. You can play as male or female, but I particularly enjoyed female Eivor. She’s a stark change from her predecessor Kassandra, who could charm any room of people and whose humor was infectious. Eivor is funny, too, but mostly when she isn’t trying to be. She’s hilarious in her bluntness, and admirable in her deep sense of justice and fairness. She’s the best new face “Assassin’s Creed” has seen in years.