Warning: Spoilers. Duh.
You first meet Arno the Assassin as a child, and then, after the brief prologue, again as a young man wildly in love with his care-taker's daughter. At this stage, Arno is a careless brat and, to be perfectly honest, I didn't much sympathise with him. I'm expected that such was the intent of the writers.
As the game progresses, however, Arno matures. While he doesn't lose his brashness, his motives and actions make him much more of an appealing protagonist. I didn't get so deep into the game that I grew attached the way I did with The Last of Us. Part of that was that I'm not really a huge fan of love stories. The other aspect was I feel like Ubisoft didn't go deep enough into Arno's character and how the horrifically violent and uncertain world in which he lives affects him. A lot of shit goes down, but none of it really seem to affect Arno much in any way. I'll discuss that later.
As for physical design, Arno is great.
Also, can I just say, there is something about the Assassin's hood that makes a character infinitely more attractive. I've noticed it for all the images of the various Assassins I've seen, but it was especially pronounced for Arno.
You are introduced to Elise de la Serre, a Templar, early in the game, also as a child. She coaxes Arno into trouble... something which continues throughout his life, it seems. The next time you meet her is shortly before France falls apart at the seams.
At this stage of the game, you get the impression that Elise is a feisty, mischievous young lady, who is well aware of just how much Arno is infatuated by her. I didn't really get the impression that she felt the same about him at any point in the game, though.
You also get to see her as a gun-wielding, sword fighting badass.
As a character, she is great. Her mischievous side turns dark after her father's murder, and she is consumed by the hunt for revenge. She acts as a great foil for Arno, whose character and motives are considerably gentler.
But she also stands on her own as her own person; her independence is a sticking point of pride for her, I feel. I can get behind that.
The design of secondary characters is similarly realistic. Not all of them are stunningly gorgeous (I suppose, it wouldn't do to have prettier people in game than Arno and Elise). The use of historical characters is fantastic, and I feel that a great deal of attention was paid to the dress and the people living in revolutionary France.
Nothing seemed to phase him. Sure, Monsieur de la Serre's death put Arno on the path of the Brotherhood, but that's pretty much as far as Arno's psychological development goes.
I know I'm asking a lot from a video game, but if I'm watching (or playing) a tragedy unfold, I want it to punch me in the gut. I want to feel something. I didn't really, with this game. Superficially, sure. But I didn't feel it in my bones.
And it is possible. The Last of Us left me in tears several times.
I need to feel that hit of emotion. If it's a tragedy, make it tragic!
The game hit the mark during the prologue, when young Arno arrives to see his father dead on the ground. But it failed to hit hard in every instance after. There was plenty of opportunity for it. The depth of Monsieur's de la Serre's murder was lost on Arno. In game, it seemed he was more cut up about Elise than the fact that the man who raised him, whom he loved (?) was murdered. The murder of a second father in Arno's life should've hurt more than it appeared to.
This is also true when Arno kills the man who guided him through his training in the Brotherhood. It should have hurt Arno more to have to kill him, even after the fact, than it appeared to. That's three father figures gone, one at his own hands, and it didn't seem to affect him one iota. I would have loved to have seen more fallout from everything that happened. It would have made the love Arno felt for Elise, and his desire to make things right, and the understanding that he'd do anything to avoid losing her too, and thus her loss so much stronger.
I did love, however, how well Arno and Elise contrasted. They were after the same goal, but for very different reasons. Elise wanted revenge, and in the end, it killed her. Arno wanted to make things right. He felt a personal responsibility for the things that happened, and he wanted to fix it. There was no cost too great for Elise. There was for Arno. Ironically, it's a price he ended up paying all the same.
I loved that. That's good storytelling.
It seems that I'm in the minority in this regard. I have visited forums that were furious at Ubisoft for killing Elise. She is, after all, the only Templar they really like. I personally think they make the right call there. It's something I'd probably do.
I also really loved how they made things morally grey. Elise and her father are Templars. But they're not evil people. They're actually quite exceptional. Monsieur de la Serre is active in the revolution, fighting for the rights of the third estate. He's genuinely good, as is his daughter, despite her thirst for revenge.
Not all the Assassin's are paragons. Some take to killing their own for misguided reasons. The council is ridiculous, as well.
They were also diverse in appearance and attitudes. Elise was hell bent on revenge. Theroigne was hell bent on improving the lives of women, trying to use the revolution to benefit her gender as well. There were Templar women who organised and executed the starvation of the people of France. There were female assassin's, not that you got to play as one (grumble), and women in the groups that roamed the streets keeping people safe from the gangs.
The range of women and how they behaved made me feel that women were characters not caricatures in this game. And that was nice to experience.
It was really satisfying to run over the roofs of Paris and have it feel like the character wasn't superhuman for doing so.
The missions were challenging, as my death count will surely attest, but not impossible. It was fun to try and sneak around for things. It was far more fun to successfully assassinate people in the course of a mission. I will likely play this game again and challenge myself to not be spotted even once during my missions.
The small crowd events were fantastic. It probably doesn't speak well of me as a person, but there is something insanely fun about slitting some arsehole's throat as you sprint past on your way to something more important.
I did have a lot of issues with the controls, though. Much of that can be chalked up to the fact that I'm terrible at games, but there was a lot there that wasn't just me; instances in which Arno would not jump, jumped the wrong way, or the camera did something crazy while I was in the middle of a sword fight and I could no longer see. Sometimes enemies would freeze and be untouchable for several swings of my sword, and then they'd spring to life and hurt me. It was sometimes really frustrating.
Glitches abound, too. Some of them were funny. Some of them drove me mad.
It is a credit to the game play, however, in that it never got so frustrating that I didn't want to finish the game. There was too much fun to be had, and what irritated me wasn't enough to ruin the game.
Also, I really loved the amount of research that clearly went into it. You could visit places that exist or existed, and there would even be wonderful little write ups about people, places and events from history that you could read up on in game. My nerdy little heart was so happy with that.
And the CoOp was awesome! I don't play coop with people I don't know, so my friend PY lent his time to play it with me, and it was great. One, he's great fun to game with, two, the coop missions were fun to play. I hope there are more coop opportunities in later Assassin's Creed games!
I will definitely be replaying this one in my spare time.