Welcome back to Bad Video Game Endings where we give you in-depth analyses as to why certain video game endings are bad. Today, we're going to take a trip back in time to when games as live services wasn't a thing, before microtransactions permanently changed the industry, when mainstream DLC was still a relatively new concept, and when Assassin's Creed debuted.
It might be hard to remember but there was a time when Assassin's Creed wasn't one of Ubisoft's biggest properties. The publishing titan was primarily known for the Rayman franchise, various Tom Clancy games, the Prince of Persia series, and a huge number of movie licensed games. Then, in the mid-'00s, they released 2 new properties that would ultimately change not only the company but the medium as we know it in ways that still affect games to this day. The first was the original Far Cry and the second was, of course, Assassin's Creed. In hindsight, it's fairly strange that the first Assassin's Creed game would lead to such a monumental franchise.
Most gamers don't seem to remember this but Assassin's Creed wasn't actually all that good. While it maintains an overall decent average score from critics, it had a number of mixed reviews on launch. Common and well-founded criticism focused on its repetitive nature, hilariously bad voice acting, and combat controls that were anything but fluid. Yet it somehow ultimately exceeded its publisher's expectations by selling over 8 million copies and starting the mega franchise that we all know today. At the same time, it's almost hard to imagine that such a franchise spawned from a game with such an atrocious ending.
For those who aren't aware, Assassin's Creed ended with what felt like the biggest middle finger to its audience. After playing through a lengthy story as Altaïr and his descendant Desmond Miles, you get a solid finale as Altaïr confronts and defeats his former mentor who wants to use a magic ball to take over the world. Then, the story just stops on Altaïr's part and you're left with Desmond being kind of stuck where he was at the start of the story. He discovers that he has Altaïr's eagle vision which reveals hidden messages all around the room that he's been kept in then he looks deeply into one. The end credits then roll which left gamers frustrated and confused.
Like most bad video game endings, it's a conclusion that feels like a big slap in the face for multiple reasons. Many television shows will often end a season on a cliffhanger to entice viewers to tune in to the next season in order to see what happens next. Films will also do this at times and even video games often leave the player on an unresolved note to encourage them to buy the next installment. The issue with Assassin's Creed's ending is that it doesn't really earn this cliffhanger at all.
While games like Dragon Age II, Halo 2, Knights of the Old Republic II, and Half-Life 2 ended in genuinely infuriating ways, there is an argument to be made that their stories were justified to a certain extent. Dragon Age II and Knights of the Old Republic II may have been subpar sequels but at least the developers were able to give us very solid first installments that got their hooks into us and had conclusive endings. Half-Life 2 and Halo 2 likewise may have had frustrating endings but the games were so good that their cliffhanger endings were kind of sanded away by their overall quality. With that in mind, Assassin's Creed earned no such goodwill.
Cliffhanger endings simply should not be in a first installment of a perspective franchise. Sure, you can tease audiences with unresolved plot threads and give them hints for what's to come but ending your first game where almost every major plot point is left unresolved feels more like a kick in the crotch than a rewarding conclusion. It's like they're saying, "Do you folks want an ending to the game that you just paid 60 bucks for? Well, too bad! You just have to wait for the sequel." The whole thing tests one's patience and it's almost a bit surprising that the entire franchise didn't crash and burn after this ending.
From a narrative perspective, it doesn't help that the ending is outright unsatisfying. Altaïr's story just kind of stops after you defeat Al Mualim. He goes to destroy the magic ball then you see a map pop up and nothing. Sure, he has an otherwise decent character arc but it doesn't give you any idea as to where it's going next. It's a genuine waste of a character that doesn't leave you wanting to see more of him and it's frustrating that the developers couldn't put in one more cutscene to round out his story.
Finally, we have Desmond's ending. Now, Desmond is considered to be one of the less likable characters in the Assassin's Creed canon for a number of reasons. For starters, it was his ending in Assassin's Creed that really pushed its overall conclusion into awful territory. We ultimately see the map that was only viewable through Desmond's memory and the Templars holding him hostage begin plotting. Doctor Vidic's higher-ups then order him to kill Desmond before Lucy saves him by suggesting that they may still need him at the last minute. The Templar superiors agree to this before leaving. Vidic scoffs at Lucy for subverting his authority and tells Desmond not to get too comfortable and that they, once again, have a lot of work to do. We then discover that Desmond has the eagle vision and uncovers the writing done by the previous patient before the credits abruptly roll.
Once again, the issue here is the same as Altaïr's. The story doesn't so much end as it simply stops. It doesn't provide any sense of conclusion or satisfying answers. We still don't have any idea as to what exactly the Pieces of Eden are or any idea as to where the story will go from there. It's a frustrating finale that's sure to leave gamers more pissed off than wanting to know what happens next.
After all is said and done, the ending to the first Assassin's Creed may not be the worst game ending of all time nor the worst ending in the franchise but it's certainly one of the most botched conclusions to a debut game in a franchise. Future installments would go on to generally be better with the past timelines ending on more satisfying notes. Meanwhile, the future ones would often end on cliffhangers with mixed results. However, it cannot be overly stressed just how obnoxious the original ending is. It's a prime example for how you shouldn't end the first installment of a franchise and it's genuinely shocking that it didn't blow up in Ubisoft's face.