One of the most hotly anticipated games releasing in 2020 is Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. However, series newbies now face a difficult choice — do they play every single previous Assassin’s Creed game in order to fully understand all the crazy stuff they’re about to encounter, or do they go in blind, hoping they don’t miss anything too important?
Fortunately, there’s a third option. With our guide to the lore of Assassin’s Creed, you, too, can expertly hack and slash your way through 9th-century Norway–without ever having to stop and wonder who Ezio is and why everyone keeps talking about him.
Assassin’s Creed (2007)
Ah, Assassin’s Creed. The game that started it all. The bare-bones first entry to one the most iconic game series of all time demanded gamers take a leap of faith right into a straw pile below–and leap they did.
Assassin’s Creed followed modern-day bartender Desmond Miles, who’s been kidnapped by the shadiest organization in literally all of history: Abstergo Industries. Abstergo forces Desmond to use their Animus Machine, which allows Desmond to walk in the shoes of his ancestors–in this case, 12th century assassin Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad. Desmond must parkour his way through the Middle East, assassinating targets, diving off of improbably tall buildings, and discovering the truth of Abstergo’s sinister machinations.
Yeah, shocking absolutely no one, it turns out that Abstergo isn’t just evil–they’re actually a front for the Templars, the sworn enemies of the Assassin Brotherhood, who had been trying to save Desmond this whole time. Whoops. The game ends with Desmond trapped in the Abstergo lab, surrounded by secret messages that he doesn’t understand, portending the end of the world. Kind of a downer ending!
Assassin’s Creed II (2009)
Fortunately, not all hope is lost, thanks to the follow-up to the original game, Assassin’s Creed II. Though the original Assassin’s Creed established basic gameplay mechanics that follow players throughout the whole series, it was really Assassin’s Creed II that perfected the formula. Honestly, this game slaps, and if you’re going to pick up one of the earlier entries before setting sail in Valhalla, this would be the game to go for.
Assassin’s Creed II picks up where its predecessor left off. Oh, you thought Ubisoft would just leave Desmond to die in the Templar’s basement? Not a chance. It turns out the Assassin Brotherhood had a mole–Lucy Stillman, a character from the first game who looks and sounds suspiciously like Kristen Bell. Lucy springs Desmond from Abstergo–as well as blueprints for the Animus machine. The Assassins plan to train Desmond to be an actual, real-life, modern-day assassin, thanks to the “Bleeding Effect”–a side-effect of the Animus that allows the user to learn all of their ancestor’s skills instantly. The Assassins send Desmond back to 15th-century Venice, where he must investigate the memories of his ancestor Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Ezio’s story ends pretty wildly–he breaks into the Vatican and beats the Pope in a fistfight. Yeah, seriously.
Of course, Desmond has just a little more to do before the game ends. He meets a mysterious woman named Minerva, who tells him about the First Civilization, an ancient people that created humanity and, later, was destroyed by a solar flare. She warns of another similar disaster, and tells Desmond he is the only one who can stop the prophecy.
Unfortunately, things aren’t going great IRL–Abstergo has discovered the hideout, forcing everyone to flee. The team leaves everything behind except the Animus. Also, there’s more bad news, courtesy of Lucy: she tells Desmond the Assassins have detected bizarre occurrences in Earth’s magnetic field, leading to a potential civilization-ending solar flare in 2012. Desmond, probably still tired from punching the Pope, like, so many times, hops back into the Animus for another adventure.
Desmond is heading back to Italy and he’s got a bone to pick with the Borgias. Desmond-as-Ezio explores 16th-century Rome, on the hunt for the Apple of Eden–the mysterious artifact that could prevent the predicted 2012 apocalypse. Unfortunately, Ezio discovers that the Assassin Brotherhood is failing. Determined to bring life back to the once-powerful organization, he works to undermine the corrupt Borgias and re-build the Assassin school, ultimately establishing himself as the de facto leader of the Assassin Brotherhood (Rome branch).
Ezio hides the Apple of Eden in a First Civilization Temple under the Roman Colosseum, and modern-day Desmond, Lucy, and the rest of the gang trot off to retrieve it. Unfortunately, they’re stopped by a powerful being named Juno, who drops the bombshell that Desmond is one of her “race.” She then possesses Desmond and stabs Lucy, killing her (and presumably sending Kristen Bell’s character straight to The Good Place). Desmond falls into a coma, and as the credits roll, players can hear voices discussing putting him back into the Animus machine. Guess that means it’s time for another sequel…
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (2011)
Get ready to Sly Cooper your way through the Ottoman Empire, because Ezio’s got some sick new hook blades that he can’t wait to show off. In Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Desmond learns that he has to achieve full synchronization with both Altaïr and Ezio or he could risk succumbing to dementia. Yikes! See, Desmond is fully trapped in the Animus 2.0, and to safely free himself, he needs to find a synch nexus–a key memory that links him with Altaïr and Ezio.
Ezio must locate the five keys he needs to get into Altaïr’s library, and discovers that the library doesn’t have a whole lot of books worth checking out. Instead, Altaïr sealed himself and the Apple of Eden inside, in order to protect it from the Templars. Ezio discards his weapons, deciding he’s done with the assassin life altogether, and tells Desmond that he hopes he can figure out the mysteries they’ve been uncovering. Desmond also has a chat with Jupiter, another member of the First Civilization, who reminds him about the solar flare and is pretty much like, “Good luck with that, buddy.” Then, Desmond wakes up from his coma. Looks like it’s time to save the world! Well, almost.
Assassin’s Creed III (2012)
In Assassin’s Creed III, Desmond and co. bid arrivederci to Italy and say ciao to New York City. But before they get to have fun in the Big Apple, they have to deal with the Apple of Eden, and time’s ticking. Using the Apple, our ragtag gang of heroes accesses the Grand Temple of the First Civilization, where Desmond gets to meet another of his ancestors: 18th-century British Templar agent Haytham Kenway. Haytham, when he’s not dealing with, frankly, completely miserable missions, spends most of his time Forrest Gump-ing his way through key moments in American history. (Turns out the Templars were responsible for the Boston Massacre–who knew!) Desmond and his crew finally gain access to the Temple’s inner chambers, where Juno warns Desmond that if he activates the magic pedestal inside, he’ll save the world–at the cost of his own life. Desmond’s like, “That seems fair,” and activates the pedestal (RIP Desmond). An aurora appears, protecting the Earth from the incoming solar flare–but, of course, the Assassin’s Creed series doesn’t end there.
Assassin’s Creed IV:
Black Flag (2013)
Assassin’s Creed… on a boat! Desmond may be dead, but that hasn’t stopped Abstergo Industries from stealing his genetic material (gross) to further their research. The unnamed player character is hired by Abstergo to explore the memories of another of Desmond’s ancestors–18th-century pirate Edward Kenway. Though Abstergo says this is just a data-collecting mission for a cool new interactive film they’re making, it turns out that the evil corporation is lying about pivoting to the entertainment industry. They’re actually searching for the Observatory, a First Civilization structure. In order to find the Observatory, Edward needs to find the Sage, the only person who can lead him to the structure.
This is all very exciting, but isn’t nearly as exciting as the fact that you get to be a pirate king in this one. You collect sea shanties! You can hunt ghost ships! You can wear four pistols on your body at once! You can hang out with Blackbeard! This is another solid option to play before Valhalla–it might not be as lore-heavy as Assassin’s Creed II, but there are boats, so it really comes down to personal taste.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue (2014)
Basically, this is just Black Flag, but in winter. The plot follows Shay Patrick Cormac, an Assassin-turned-Templar, during the Seven Years’ War. Essentially, this game attempts to “both sides” the eternal Assassins vs. Templars conflict, and while it’s fairly successful in doing so (it seems like both teams have a lot of boring fetch missions they need you to take care of), not much happens in the way of plot. It’s nice if you want to keep doing the sea battles from Black Flag, though. The game ends with Shay stealing a powerful artifact from (and then murdering) Charles Dorian, a French Assassin. Coincidentally, Charles is the father of Arno Dorian–protagonist of Assassin’s Creed Unity. Pretty crazy how life works out, huh?
Assassin’s Creed Unity (2014)
Assassin’s Creed… in Paris! Set on the cusp of the French Revolution, Unity follows Arno Dorian, who is on a quest to avenge his father’s death. No, not that one. The other one: Grand Master De La Serre, who took Arno in after the murder of Charles Dorian. When Arno finds his foster father’s body, he is mistaken for the murderer and locked away in the Bastille. Fellow prisoner Pierre Bellec turns out to be an Assassin, too, and helps Arno escape during the Storming of the Bastille. With the help of Napoleon Bonaparte (obviously), Arno saves the day, preventing the Templars from killing all of the Assassins in France.
Next, Arno must kill François-Thomas Germain, the mastermind of pretty much everything that happens in Unity (and De La Serre’s actual killer). Arno discovers that Germain has the mythical Sword of Eden. During the fight, the Sword explodes, killing Arno’s love interest (RIP Elise) and mortally wounding Germain. Later, there’s a kerfuffle over another Piece of Eden (this time inside of a head-shaped lantern), which Arno sends off to Egypt with the Brotherhood.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (2015)
Guess what, guvnah–we’re parkouring our way through jolly old England! Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a little unique in the AC line-up, as the story centers around a pair of twin assassins (instead of the usual single murderer). Syndicate follows brother/sister duo Jacob and Evie Frye, near the end of England’s Industrial Revolution.
In Syndicate, the Brotherhood in London has fallen, and the Templars are running rampant. It’s up to the Frye twins to save the day, defeating the Templars and retrieving the Piece of Eden (with the help of historical figures like Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Florence Nightingale). The twins ultimately defeat the bad guys and recover the Piece of Eden–a magical, immortality-granting Shroud. They safely lock it away in Buckingham Palace, earning knighthoods from Queen Victoria herself.
Unfortunately, back in the present day, the Templars know about the Shroud–and they want it for themselves. Uh oh! Hopefully that doesn’t come up again!
Assassin’s Creed Origins (2017)
Okay, let’s take a break from the Euro-shenanigans and instead make our way to Egypt. The game follows a Medjay named Bayek who, in an effort to protect his people, created a little organization known as the Secret Order of Assassins. Yup, it turns out that Assassin’s Creed Origins is, in fact, an origin story! This game is cool if you want to know more about why the Brotherhood and the Templars are fighting in the first place, but is mostly just notable for its stunning graphics. It’s definitely one of the prettier games in the series, so if that’s what you’re most interested in, it’s worth checking out. Otherwise, nothing major happens re: the overall plot–other than the end-of-game discovery that another apocalyptic event is on its way and Layla Hassan, an Abstergo researcher, may be at the center of it all. Uh oh!
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (2018)
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey brings players into the heart of Ancient Greece, where they play as a descendant of Spartan king Leonidas I. Odyssey is more choice-driven than its predecessors, allowing players to focus on a specific battle style (hunter, warrior, or assassin), gain notoriety after committing various crimes, and romance a variety of NPCs. Basically, it’s rad, and definitely worth a play-through. (Well, as much of a play-through as you can manage–it’s a really, really long game.)
The Ancient Greek plot finds the player battling their way through the Peloponnesian War, hanging out with famous Greeks like Pythagoras, and duking it out with classic monsters like the Sphinx and the Minotaur. In the present, Layla uses the Animus to find Atlantis (because, why not), but also receives a pretty ominous message: the world needs balance, and if either the Assassins or the Templars successfully prevail over the other, then everyone would be doomed.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla (2020)
We don’t know much about how Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla will factor into the lore of the previous games, but if there’s one thing we can say for sure, it’s that there’ll be Vikings. You’ll be able to build your own Viking civilization, fight the Saxons, and–presumably–find out what Layla’s been up to since we last saw her. Maybe you’ll even get to save the world (again).
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla comes out November 10, 2020, for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Stadia, and PC. In addition, it will be released for PlayStation 5 on November 12, 2020. For more information about the Assassin’s Creed series, visit Fandom’s Assassin’s Creed wiki.