This year's Assassin's Creed was supposed to answer lots of questions. It answered some and raises some new ones.
The biggest question of all, of course, is: Where and when will the next Assassin's Creed, the promised series-changing Assassin's Creed III be set?
To a lesser extent, if you played previous games, you may have wondered how Revelations dealt with the crazy events that concluded the AC that came before it.
There's lots to chew on and wonder about. I've got some evidence, and I've got some theories. Shall we dive in?
NOTE: There will be spoilers, of course. The first ones will be vague, for people who want to know what the nature of the ending in the new game is — and then I'll get very specific (you'll be warned again).
I'll speak in general terms, first, in case you're not done with the game yet. Revelations, as promised, reveals a lot more about the game's modern-day protagonist, Desmond Miles. We also learn a more about the lives of the two ancestors of his, Altair and Ezio, who we've spent most of these games playing as. In Revelations' ninth and final chapter, you get to play brief, final sequences with these characters.
The Altair stuff wraps up neatly. His story is done.
The Ezio stuff doesn't end, giving way it seems, to the events in the new animated film Assassin's Creed: Embers, which portrays Ezio as an old father.
The Desmond part of the game is what a lot of Brotherhood people probably most badly wanted follow-up to. At the end of 2010's Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Desmond and the Kristen-Bell-voiced modern day assassin Lucy climb into some sort of sci-fi chamber below the Colosseum in Rome. (The clip I've embedded here shows what happens.)
Desmond has a vision of the First People, the mysterious high-tech ancient civilisation who have been talking about the world coming to an end in 2012 since the end of Assassin's Creed II. Desmond speaks to a vision of one of them, a lady named Juno, then loses control of his body and appears to stab Lucy to death. The two people who are with Lucy and Desmond, fellow good guys Shaun and Rebecca, are shocked. The credits roll. Then we hear a mystery man saying that Desmond needs to be put back in the Animus.
Basically, things go bad and our main good guy may be to blame.
In Revelations, Desmond is primarily shown as a virtual version of himself. He looks like Desmond, but he's virtual, trapped in his own shattered consciousness through the Animus. We can hear the voices of Rebecca, Shaun and the mystery man. One of them says there will be a funeral for Lucy, so she's dead. We do find out who the mystery man is who picked Desmond up at the end of Brotherhood. We find out more about the First People. But the whole Lucy thing? Not resolved. Indications of where we're going next? They're hinted at.
OK, now I need to get specific. There are five Desmond chapters in Revelations. You access them by collecting 25-30 (I can't remember!) Animus fragments while you are playing as Ezio in 16th-century Constantinople. Each of those five chapters is accessed through a gateway on something called Animus Island. Those levels play out as first-person puzzle adventures that mildly test your wits and dexterity. While you zip through them, you hear Desmond tell his life's story. He starts with his childhood, explains that he was brought up to be an assassin, says he tried to flee that life and, by the end, comes to piece with who he is.
The five chapters are all autobiography. They don't advance the plot, just our understanding of Desmond. Curiously, after the game ends, two more gateways show up on Animus Island. I thought that collecting the rest of the game's 100 Animus fragments would unlock them. I was wrong. All I got for that feat was a PlayStation 3 Trophy.
The Desmond plot is advance not through the five Desmond chapters but through dialogue and cut-scenes during the game's ninth main chapter. Again, there's no talk of why Lucy was killed. The people who are watching over him don't even seem that angry with him about it, as if they have forgiven him or have bigger concerns. Those people who are with Desmond, we learn, are Shaun, Rebecca and… Desmond's dad. That was lost on me at first. We see William Miles. He calls Desmond "son", but I only was sure that was him when I read the new, official Assassin's Creed Encylopedia, which states: "While Desmond lay in the Animus, William gathered the team and had them all travel to New York, to assume new identities as well as continue the search for what may or may not be a new Piece of Eden."
About this New York thing… it's a huge, weird deal. People have wondered if the next Assassin's Creed will take place in revolutionary France or medieval Japan or… how about upstate New York, people?
There is something up about upstate New York. We can assume that's where Desmond and crew have gone, but they don't say exactly where in New York they are, or why. I think, thankfully, that we can piece this together with the help of some old info and some clips I captured from the end of the game. Let's look at a few things:
1) In one brief scene at the end of the game — the very last seen in Revelations — we see that Desmond, his dad, Shaun and Rebecca are in the back of a van that is in a forest. We know they're in New York, both from the encyclopaedia and from a reference William makes in a line of dialogue. Look at the clip, which I pulled from the end of the game. That sure could be upstate New York.
2) The Da Vinci Disappearance, a piece of downloadable content released for Brotherhood earlier this year, teased fans by having the great Italian inventor share some geographic coordinates, coordinates that point to… upstate New York (that's a link to the spot in Google Maps.)
3) This upstate area is extremely important. It took me a few viewings, but watch and listen to this clip, also from the end of Revelations. In it, one of the First People talks about his civilisation's failure to avert a global cataclysm from long ago. He says that his people tried to hide information that might save the world in the future, burying it in underground vaults. As he says this, we see a stylised view of Earth. The camera zooms into… upstate New York. And then, unless I'm interpreting this wrong, the old guy is showing that some sort of capital city for the First People was there.
The scene continues, showing the city's destruction. The old guy then tells Desmond to go to "the place where we laboured… laboured and lost". Does he mean the place of that old city? Does he mean that place in upstate New York? Desmond appears to already be there, driven there by his dad in a white van, with Shaun and Rebecca in tow.
But would we really be asked to play a game set in upstate New York? Hard to say, but it doesn't seem like the setting that would make for a great Assassin's Creed, not in modern times. Perhaps it is merely where Desmond will be based next game but has no bearing on whichever historical character we'll play as next.
We get, at last, to the big question: who will we play next time? And when and where?
The answer might be that we'll finally be Desmond in modern 2012. The argument for Desmond is that the previous games have been building him as a character of crucial importance and has shown that he has the skills of an assassin. Next year's AC — and there surely will be an AC next year — will occur at the very moment in 2012 when Desmond's story is set.
Ubisoft, however, has already promised that Assassin's Creed III will star a new character.
If Desmond isn't the best option, let's look for some era in the past and a character who lived in it. There's also Shao Jun. She's a Chinese assassin from the 16th century. She also has an entire page devoted to her at the end of Ezio's section of the Assassin's Creed Encyclopedia.
Why does this Chinese assassin merit such prominent treatment? Is she our new AC hero, establishing the next game as an adventure in 16th-century China?
That would be cool, but let's calm down about that for a moment.
First, she's not likely to be the offspring of Ezio, who is one of Desmond's ancestors. Up until now, the assumed conceit of the series is that we're playing as Desmond's ancestors. If Shao Jun isn't related to Ezio, then she's not part of that half of Desmond's bloodline. But maybe she's a descendant of Altair? (To be clear: Ezio is not a descendant of Altair, according to Ubisioft... they represent different branches of Desmond's family tree.) We do meet Altair's son, Darim, in Revelations and last see him as the Mongols invade the Assassin stronghold at Masyaf in the 13th century. Perhaps he made his way to China and had offspring there. Or perhaps Shao Jun isn't related to Desmond and this whole concept of being related to Desmond is not a requirement for the lead playable role in future AC games.
The other reason not to get too excited about Shao Jun is that she may have earned her prominent spot in the Encyclopedia simply because Ezio meets her in the new animated movie Assassin's Creed: Embers. Check out the teaser I embeddd here for that film, featuring Ezio and Shao Jun.
But if not Shao Jun, then who? Who would be the star of Assassin's Creed III?
Let's try one more theory: According to the Assassin's Creed Encyclopedia, Desmond's father "revealed that Desmond was rare, for his genes contained high concentrations of First civilisation DNA." That means Desmond's ancestral line stretches back to people who lived in that high-tech civilisation of the First People. Watch the clip I showed higher in this story of that city's destruction again. Note the woman cradling a baby. If we play as Desmond's ancestors, perhaps we'll spend AC III climbing around as her, or her kid, either in the twilight of a high-tech city full of magnificent, gleaming skyscrapers or perhaps as the baby, grown to adulthood on an Earth ravaged by apocalyptic disaster.
Is that the answer?
I suspect we'll know by June, when the E3 video game trade show rolls around, if not sooner.
If you've found clues that I've missed about what's next for Desmond and the Assassin's Creed series, share them below.