By all rights, Assassin's Creed: Revelations is a game I should hate on principle alone. It is the continuation of what was supposed to originally be a trilogy, needlessly dragged out with a series of pointless filler games once it was discovered that the brand was highly marketable. While most of those have been relegated to handhelds and phones, leaving them out of the main picture, Brotherhood and Revelations have delayed the progression of the main story in favor of yearly releases following the second game.
However, while Brotherhood was content to not only forgo story progression but also reuse assets to the point of feeling like an expansion pack with some added mini games, Assassin's Creed: Revelations utilizes a very different focus that helps to elevate it far above being just a cash grab. While many of the concepts introduced in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - like multiplayer and having other assassins for backup - have returned, they have been greatly expanded and become much more refined.
The multiplayer in Assassin's Creed: Revelations has become wonderfully expanded and enhanced.
Revelations focuses primarily on two aspects: the aging life of heroes and the expanding network of a burgeoning group of assassins. The returning mini games emphasize the latter, allowing people to be recruited and then sent on missions across Europe to help out common civilians and establish a foothold of control. New diversions have also been added in the form of den defense, where triggering full notoriety from the Templars no longer affects only Ezio but is now a threat to the entire order. Den defense itself is a pretty terrible tower defense game, in which a stream of Templar soldiers attempts to destroy a hideout and assassins are placed to shoot them down along the way. But the idea of it, performed through a fairly non-interactive Ezio ordering the troops into position, helps solidify the demonstration of leadership and growth that is occurring in the assassin's order.
The other facet of the design lies heavily on that of the older main character, namely in the exploration of what happens to someone so enmeshed in a dangerous life as the years pass and they near a hopefully natural death. Altaïr is also weaved into this narrative as the game delves into what happened during his twilight years. The presented selections of his life span from his 20s until his 90s, where his movement is limited and difficult and he must rely on others to protect him. It's an interesting and rarely explored concept, witnessing and controlling an elderly character as they try to ensure that their last moments are worth passing on.
Ezio is also succumbing to age during Revelations, though his is a more drawn-out experience for the player. He is more easily damaged and recovers less quickly than he used to, although this aspect of gameplay tends to be confined to story segments. He has come to grips with the knowledge that whatever mystical force it is that he keeps encountering throughout life is not interested in him directly but is after someone else, and so he instead works on making sure that the torch can be passed on to others. It a shame then that the true finale to his story is in a twenty-minute movie that must be purchased separately as DLC, but it is still a very nice conclusion to this chapter for those interested.
As for Those Who Came Before, the aliens introduced in Assassin's Creed II, their presence is again kept to a couple of warnings about the future. While that's to be expected, the bigger disappointment lies in the almost total disregard for the main story. Brotherhood had both a very weak tale for Ezio as well as the bits for Desmond, but the climax of the game provided a couple of interesting moments. Unfortunately, due to the state of Desmond's condition, any repercussions or explanation of events in the previous game is completely tossed out the window for the entirety of Revelations. There is some good info involving Subject 16 and a reflection of Desmond's past, but the latter comes in a series of absolutely terrible first-person platforming and block creation. While Brotherhood was really starting to overreach with the attempt to expand on the previous game's puzzles, these new sections are not a suitable replacement by any means.
As for the multiplayer, it has become wonderfully expanded and enhanced over Brotherhood. Beyond the newly selectable customization options and game modes, the developers have also turned it into a separate story experience from the perspective of the Templars. Videos and text memos are unlockables that are handed out as the player progresses in the role of a Templar agent, using the Animus to explore his ancestors and hunt down Assassins and other inferior Templars.
Even without the story hook, the mode easily stands on its own, breaking free from the normal prejudice of a single-player game with multiplayer shoehorned in just to try and boost sales. The gameplay concept of the entire series is hiding in plain sight through behavior, but this tends to fall by the wayside due to the strength of the characters and often easier progression of being forceful. In multiplayer, however, points are doled out based on a variety of factors including how stealthy and discreet the kill was. Combined with that, avoiding other players usually relies on blending in to look like all of the AI civilians, and the winners tend to be those that play carefully and tactfully instead of those who run around hopping across buildings and shoving their way through crowds.
As an example, in one of my first games I had the worst kill/death ratio of 1:2 compared to everyone else being around 1:1. But since all of my kills were varied and discreet and I performed a contested stun on nearly everyone who attacked me, I was awarded first place. It's that kind of guidance steering that the main game could probably stand to benefit from, really showing off the original idea of stealth that is designed as a heavy focus yet generally ignored after the training missions.
So even though the mere existence of Assassin's Creed: Revelations means I should hate it, and it continues to add almost nothing to the main story, the overall execution and ideas presented are so strong I can't help but love it anyway. Den defense needs to be either removed or overhauled entirely, and the same goes for the Desmond levels, but aside from those missteps this game demonstrates that there's still a lot to be shown and added to this series. More full steps like Revelations and less milking like Brotherhood will do Assassin's Creed a world of good, and I hope that Ubisoft can keep up the advancements for when it's time to finally explore the modern world.