Why the Worst Year for 'Assassin's Creed' Was Also One of Its Best

2014's 'Unity' laid bare excesses that stopped blockbuster franchise in its tracks while 'Rogue' soldiered on

'Unity' and 'Rogue' represent diametrically opposed visions for 'Assassin's Creed.' Credit: Glixel/Ubisoft

What's the most important day in Assassin's Creed history? When the first game came out? This December 21, when the Assassin's Creed movie stakes its claim in bold new territory for the brand?

I think it's November 11th, 2014. Usually, Ubisoft releases one major Assassin's Creed game that time of year, but that day it released two. Which sums up Assassin's Creed like nothing else. Because, nine years in, it's clear that the story of Assassin's Creed, the video game series and transmedia franchise, is not really about assassination, or murder, as much as it is another sin: gluttony.

"This is as close to time travel as we have right now." That's Ubisoft's Alex Amancio, talking about revolutionary Paris as recreated in 2014's Assassin's Creed Unity and visited through the fictional eyes of Arno Dorian, a dashing French nobleman-cum-assassin who speaks with a smirk and a British accent (don’t ask).

Unity's Paris, rendered at grand scale and swanky with period detail, is a good representation of the whole game. A near-total overhaul of the Assassin's Creed engine and design template, Unity was the series' most ambitious entry, a best foot forward into the next console generation. An exclusive to the then-brand new PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Unity sloughed off the shackles of 2005 hardware and really let rip. It didn't just look good, it had redesigned systems for stealth, combat and character progression, a new co-op mode, and – less thrillingly – micro-transactions.

So ambitious was Unity that it chronicled five years of the French Revolution in the background. We went to Paris not to march on Versailles but to follow Arno's story, and his concerns were more personal: climbing the corporate org chart at a secret assassin order; avenging the murder of his foster father; scoring with his foster sister; owning and operating a café. He had a lot to do. With a wardrobe of 200 mix-and-match pieces of clothing in 27 color schemes, simply getting dressed was a mission.