I want to talk about murdering redcoats in Assassin's Creed III. Specifically, how focused on it it seems to be, and why I think they've missed an opportunity to do something genuinely interesting and exciting.
Maybe I should start by saying that I've never been particularly enamoured of the story in the Assassin's Creed franchise, it's not the worst in the world, but it is frequently nonsensical, poorly explained or just plain silly. It has enough in it that's worthwhile that I am interested in the third installment, but maybe I shouldn't be that surprised that Ubisoft is drawing it's good guy/bad distinctions in such an obvious way; the franchise's stock in trade has been taking complex social, political conflicts and simplifying them by superimposing the "Assassins versus Templars" story over it. It works, to a certain extent. Even so, it is somewhat disheartening to see just how predictably they seem to be deciding who is a templar in this historical period. During their press conference, they dealt with the question of whether killing would be restricted to killing the British by saying "you'll be killing templars." Still, did they need to make those Templars quite so obviously British?
I don't want to get too bogged down in the politics of it all; it was more amusing than anything, I'm not going to be offended. Taking offense would be a bit silly, really; given the terms of the universe they are working with, making all the Templars - a faction devoted to bringing peace through total domination - align themselves with an imperialist nation against one founded on a desire for autonomy is the most reasonable thing in the world. It's just so obvious, isn't it? An obvious setting with predefined roles that align neatly with those of contemporary, American society.
My thought, really, was what if you decided to set it at a slightly later, during the American civil war. Then as now, there is one side that seems to fit nicely with the goals of the Assassins, one that seems to fit nicely with the Templars. They just aren't necessarily the ones you would automatically cast as the good and bad guys. What if the assassin's had aligned with the confederacy because their desire to be autonomous mirrors the philosophy of the assassins? What if your character is a black slave, forced into fighting alongside people who hate him for a greater cause? I only ask this really because it seems like such an obvious thing to do; the thematic ground being covered seems so similar to the way they are positioning Connor in this game. I just wonder if there is space for them to confront us with something a little more morally complex than what they have been giving us, and seem to be giving us again.
But they could even go further with this premise, couldn't they? Obviously, the thorny issue of slavery complicated any flat out confederates=assassins kind of story. So why not have a story where the civil war has divided the assassins just as it has the rest of the nation. Well worn territory in civil war fiction, but one with real story possibilities in this case.
I realise this is all a bit moot. They've made what they've made, and I'm not going to change that. It was just a bit infuriating to me, because this game seems so much like its predecessors in terms of story "beats" (ugh), the way it's going to play out, and in doing so they open themselves up, a little bit, to accusations of jingoism (yes, I know they are not an American company). Yet right away it seems to me that if they wanted to move it to north america, there is a much better story available to them, that would shake things up just a little bit...