Basic Plot and Gameplay

I suppose I should preface this section with a disclaimer that there will be some minor plot spoilers on this page. However, I emphasize the fact that these are minor spoilers -- most of this information is readily visible if you visit the Assassin's Creed website, and you will certainly discover within the first 10 minutes of playing the game the major "spoiler" I'm about to discuss. If you want to be completely surprised, however, feel free to skip the next several paragraphs.

The majority of Assassin's Creed takes place around 1200 A.D. -- 1191 A.D. to be precise -- but your actual character is merely reliving memories of an ancestor using future technology, a device called the Animus. So there are actually two characters, Desmond Miles from 2012 A.D. and Altaïr from the time of the Crusades. Both, incidentally, are assassins, though you will spend the vast majority of the game in Altaïr's shoes. The short summary is that some people are looking for information from Altaïr, information that is part of Desmond's "genetic memory".

There's something of a Matrix vibe to the plot, but without all the machines taking over the world business. The futuristic pseudoscience seems to be at least partly a gameplay mechanic as it keeps you from dying and reloading; instead, you "lose sync" with your ancestor's memory and return to the last "sync point". "A checkpoint save system by any other name would smell as sweet…." Over time, as Desmond and Altaïr become more in sync with each other, Desmond recovers additional memories, improves "health", and improves in his abilities.

This is a gross oversimplification of the plot, so if the above summary makes you think that the game isn't something worth trying, let us state that we did find the game quite enjoyable and the storyline was compelling. It's not something likely to win any Academy Awards -- although a movie based off the story is apparently in the works -- but it does keep you playing to find out what happens next. By the end of the game we were a little disappointed that there wasn't more of a conclusion; Assassin's Creed 2 looks to be inevitable. In fact, this is supposed to be the first entry in a trilogy of games.

Gameplay (no more spoilers)

Given the title and setting, it should come as no surprise that the game involves killing... lots of killing. Throughout the game, you are given assassination targets -- men who through their actions are causing problems and need to be disposed of. However, you can't just jump straight to the major assassination target; first you have to scout out the area, gain information about the target's movements and whereabouts, and "plan" when and where to perform the assassination.

The first assassination mission is likely to impress you with the environment and gameplay. Crowds of people move throughout the city, and you can use them to blend in and escape notice. You can run across the rooftops, leaping from building to building and grabbing onto ledges, and you can climb up to higher viewpoints to get a good look at your surroundings (and reveal nearby missions). Missions consist of information gathering as well as helping out citizens who are being harassed by corrupt guards. The first few hours of the game were extremely entertaining, and you can really get into playing the role of a stealthy assassin.

After a while, flaws in the gameplay start to become more apparent. The basic pattern listed above repeats itself throughout the game: show up in a new area, do a bit of scouting, perform a few side quests, and then take out your target. Afterwards, you need to escape from the city guards and make your way back to the Assassins' Bureau. Your sword fighting skills and other abilities increase over time, and you gain access to a few additional weapons. To counteract that, guards also become more adept. However, there's no getting around the fact that the gameplay eventually becomes extremely repetitive. This is probably the biggest complaint about the game, and it's a valid point, but it's compounded by other flaws.

First impressions are that you are part of a living, breathing, teeming world -- not unlike the world found in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Citizens wander the streets, you can overhear vendors hawking their wares and other townsfolk engaging in gossip, and soldiers patrol the streets keeping order. Unlike Oblivion, however, all of the activity you see is merely a façade. The reality is that all the people are in scripted loops, endlessly repeating their activities. Stand in one place long enough, and you'll watch the same group of five women carrying jars on their heads walk by again and again, the same guards on patrol, etc. There are no day and night cycles -- everything takes place during the day -- which seems a little odd for an assassin game.

Furthermore, when it comes right down to it, Altaïr is virtually invincible by any competent player. Guards attack one at a time, politely taking turns as you dispatch them, so combat quickly becomes a routine affair of blocking and counterattacking. In that sense, AC is nothing like the Thief games where Garrett was highly vulnerable and dependent largely on stealth in order to survive. You can play AC in a stealthy fashion if you want to, but there's little to keep you from sprinting through town to get from place to place as quickly as possible. The only requirement is that you have to rid yourself of any pursuit before you can start/complete any of the missions (and certain missions do require you to maintain anonymity).

Index More Gameplay


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  • Zak - Tuesday, June 03, 2008 - link

    I'm usually against AnandTech straying away from their core hardware reviews they've become famous for in the first place, but this is the best, most thorough, in-depth game review I have ever read! Very well done, most enjoyable reading. Thanks:)

  • mustardman - Tuesday, June 03, 2008 - link

    I'm curious why Anandtech recommended Vista without comparing the performance of Windows XP. They didn't even have a test box running XP or did I miss it.

    From my experience and experience from friends, Vista is still behind XP in gaming performance. In some cases, far behind.

    Am I missing something?
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 03, 2008 - link

    With modern DX10 GPUs, Vista is required to even get DX10 support. Having looked at DX9 Assassin's Creed, I can't say the difference is all that striking, but the DX10 mode did seem to run faster. (I could test if there's desire, but it will have to wait as I'm traveling this week and don't have access to the test systems used in this article.)

    Personally, while Vista had some issues out of the gate, drivers and performance are now much better. XP may still be faster in some situations, but if you're running a DX10 GPU I can't see any reason to stick with XP. In fact, there are plenty of aspects of Vista that I actually prefer in general use.

    Since this was primarily a game review, and I already spent 3x as much time benchmarking as I actually did beating the game, I just wanted to get it wrapped up. Adding in DX9 Vista vs. DX9 XP would have required another 20-30 hours of benchmarking, and I didn't think the "payoff" was worthwhile.
  • Justin Case - Monday, June 02, 2008 - link

    [quote]Unlike Oblivion, however, all of the activity you see is merely a façade. The reality is that all the people are in scripted loops, endlessly repeating their activities.[/quote]

    ...which is exactly what Oblivion NPCs do (compounded by the fact that they all have the same handful of voices, that all voices use exactly the same sentences, and that some characters change voice completely depending on which scripted line they're repeating).

    If anything, Oblivion's world feels even more artificial than Morrowind. One thing is the AI we were promised for Oblivion while the game was in development, another is what actually shipped. Most of the behaviors shown in the "preview videos" simply aren't in the game at all.

    Even with the (many, and very good) 3rd party mods out there, Oblivion NPCs feel like robots.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 03, 2008 - link

    Oblivion NPCs can actually leave town, they sleep at night, they wander around a much larger area.... Yes, they feel scripted, but compared to the AC NPCs they are geniuses. The people in AC walk in tight loops - like imagine someone walking a path of about 500-1000 feet endlessly, with no interruptions for food, bed, etc. I'm not saying Oblivion is the best game ever, but it comes a lot closer to making you feel like it's a "real" world than Assassin's Creed.

    But I still enjoyed the game overall.
  • erwendigo - Monday, June 02, 2008 - link

    This is a very old new, the DX10.1 suppor of this game eliminate one render pass BUT with a cost, a inferior quality image.
    The render image isn´t equal to DX10 version, Ubisoft then dropped suport for DX10.1 in 1.02 patch.

    A story very simple, nothing about conspiracy theory, or phantoms.

    Anandtech guys, if you believe in these phantoms, then make a review with 1.01 patch (this is yet on this world, men, download and test the f***ing patch), otherwise, your credibility will disminish thanks to this conspiracy theory.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 03, 2008 - link

    I tested with version 1.00 and 1.02 on NVIDIA and ATI hardware. I provided images of 1.00 and 1.02 on both sets of hardware. The differences in image quality that I see are at best extremely trivial, and yet 1.02 in 4xAA runs about 25% slower on ATI hardware than 1.00.

    What is version 1.01 supposed to show me exactly? They released 1.01, pulled it, and then released 1.02. Seems like they felt there were some problems with 1.01, so testing with it makes no sense.
  • erwendigo - Tuesday, June 03, 2008 - link

    Well, you writed several pages about the suspicious reasons of the dropped support of DX10.1.

    If you sow the seeds of doubt, then you´ld have done a test for it.

    The story of this dropped suport has a official version (graphical bugs), and in many forums users reported this with 1.01 patch (and DX10.1). Another version is the conspiracy theory, but this version hasn´t proof.

    ¿This is the truth? I don´t know, I can´t test this with my computer, but if you publish the conspiracy theory and test the performance and quality of 1.0 and 1.02 version, why don´t you do the same with 1.01 patch?

    This is not about performance, this is to endorse your version of the story. With this, your words earn respect, without the test, your words are transformed into bad rumors.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 03, 2008 - link

    I still don't get what you're after. Version 1.00 has DirectX 10.1 support; version 1.02 does not. Exactly what is version 1.01 supposed to add to that mix? Faulty DX10.1? Removed DX10.1 with graphical errors? I don't even know where to find it (if it exists), so please provide a link.

    The only official word from Ubisoft is that DX10.1 "removed a rendering pass, which is costly." That statement doesn't even make sense, however, as what they really should have said is DX10.1 allowed them to remove a rendering pass, which was beneficial. Now, if it was beneficial, why would they then get rid of this support!?

    As an example of what you're saying, Vista SP1 brings together a bunch of updates in one package and offers better performance in several areas relative to the initial release of the OS. So imagine we test networking performance with the launch version of Vista, and then we test it with SP1 installed, and we conclude that indeed somewhere along the way network performance improved. Then you waltz in and suggest that our findings are meaningless because we didn't test Vista without SP1 but with all the other standard updates applied. What exactly would that show? That SP1 was a conglomerate of previous updates? We already know that.

    So again, what exactly is version 1.01 supposed to show? Version 1.02 appears to correct the errors that were seen with version 1.00. Unless version 1.01 removed DX10.1 and offered equivalent performance to 1.00 or kept DX10.1 and offered equivalent performance to 1.02, there's no reason to test it.

    Maybe the issue is the version numbers we're talking about. I'm calling version of the game - what the DVD shipped with - version 1.00. The patched version of the game is, so I call that 1.02. Here's what the 1.02 patch officially corrects:

    * Fixed a rare crash while riding the horse in Kingdom
    * Fixed a corruption of Altair’s robe on certain graphics hardware
    * Cursor is now centered when accessing the Map
    * Fixed a few problems with Alt-Tab
    * Fixed a graphical bug in the final fight
    * Fixed a few graphical problems with dead bodies
    * Fixed pixellation with post-FX enabled on certain graphics hardware
    * Fixed a small bug in the DNA Menu that would cause the image to disappear if the arrow was clicked rapidly
    * Fixed some graphical corruption in Present Room with low Level Of Detail
    * Character input is now canceled if the controller is unplugged while moving
    * Added support for x64 versions of Windows
    * Fixed broken post-effects on DirectX 10.1 enabled cards
    I've heard more about rendering errors on NVIDIA hardware with v1.00 than I have of ATI hardware having problems. I showed a (rare) rendering error in the images that happens with ATI and 4xAA, but all you have to do is lock onto a target or enter Eagle Vision to get rid of the error (and I never saw it come back until I restarted the game).

    Bottom line is I have PROOF that v1.00 and v1.02 differ in performance, specifically in the area of anti-aliasing on ATI 3000 hardware. If a version 1.01 patch ever existed, it doesn't matter in this comparison. The conspiracy "theory" part is why Ubisoft removed DX10.1 support. If you're naive enough to think NVIDIA had nothing to do with that, I wish you best of luck in your life. That NVIDIA and Ubisoft didn't even respond to our email on the subject speaks volumes - if you can't say anything that won't make you look even worse, you just ignore the problem and go on your merry way.
  • erwendigo - Tuesday, June 03, 2008 - link

    Well, you talk me about some links, then here have some of them:

    The first and foremost:">

    In this one Rage3D (a proATI website) analyzes the reason of the dropped support of DX10.1, with a comparation of images of the different rendering modes.

    In this article Rage3D people found several graphical bugs of the dx10.1, they described them as minor bugs, BUT I don´t think that the lack of some effects in the DX10.1 are minor bugs.
    The DX10.1 with activated AA lacks of dust effect, and the HDR rendering is different from the DX10 version.

    In Rage3D thinks that this show a DX10 bug in HDR rendering, because they said that Ubisoft declared that HDR rendering in DX9 and DX10 paths are identical, and they tested that DX10 and DX9 HDR rendering are different. This point could be true, but it´s something strange that the DX10 HDR rendering path was buggy in the release version of the game, and in the 1.01 patch too.

    It´s more logic that the DX10 HDR was correct and the difference with DX10.1 HDR reflects different and buggy render path (Do you remember the lack of one render pass?).

    The speedup of performance of 1.01 patch (in 3DRage test) in the game looks like your test results. Then, the lack of DX10.1 support in 1.02 patch doesn´t affect the performance. Yes, in DX10.1 looks like that the AA is better than in other paths, but with this version you have lack of dust effect and different (buggy or not?) HDR rendering. Good reasons for the dropped support, I think.

    Consequences of your rumors about sinister dropped support:">

    Some people believe this version because you defend it in your review, but you didn´t test the veracity of this. The truth is that DX10.1 render path had bugs, and when you made the review, you didn´t know if the dropped support reason was the conspiracy theory or other reason, but YOU chose one by personal election.

    That Ubisoft and Nvidia didn´t respond to your email post proved nothing. At most, they were bad-mannered guys with you.

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