For me, the Assassin’s Creed franchise can be summarized by the word “nostalgia”. The main appeal of the games besides stabbing guards on rooftops is the historical setting. Be it Renaissance Italy, Colonial America, Victorian London, the Golden Age of Piracy, or the many other settings, players get the opportunity to experience the past. You play the games and think, “Oh man, I wish I was alive during the Renaissance!” even though deep down you know you’d most likely be illiterate and dead by some hideous disease before the age of thirty. Nostalgia involves idealizing the good parts of the past while ignoring the horrible parts. In addition to the historical nostalgia presented by the games, most fans have a nostalgic view of the series itself. Myself as well as most of my friends all look back on the early Assassin’s Creed games as the “golden age” when the franchise was it its best. When I was disappointed by Unity I remember thinking about the “good ole days” of Assassin’s Creed II where I could fist fight the Pope and give Leonardo Da Vinci a hug. The games were still ridiculous back then, but they were at least good.
I also have my own sense of nostalgia attached to the games. The series was among the first I played when I started getting more interested in video games during high school. Playing them was something my sister and I could do together. Also, as this blog series has illustrated, they are a way for me to think back on past travel experiences. Assassin’s Creed II, arguably most people’s favorite is the game that gives me the greatest sense of nostalgia. The 2009 sequel to 2007’s Assassin’s Creed greatly expanded the concepts put forward in the first game. It was set during the Italian Renaissance and featured more memorable characters than its predecessor. Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the protagonist, ended up being so popular that he was the main character for two more games (Brotherhood & Revelations). Gameplay was also vastly improved, the repetitive nature of the first game was removed for more interesting features including assassin tombs and cryptic glyph puzzles. Assassin’s Creed II is a classic and remains one of my favorite games of all time. I spent hours playing and replaying that game over the years. It has a special place in my heart no other game can fill. Also it has arguably the best setting of the franchise, Tuscany.
Located in central Italy, Tuscany is a region steeped in history and culture. When most people think of Italy, they think of Tuscany. It has picturesque hill villages, medieval and Renaissance architecture, wonderful food, and impressive artwork. The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is the regional capital. In Florence you see history all around you, the most iconic building is the Florence Cathedral or Duomo. If you’ve ever taken a Western Civilization or Art History class, you’ll know the Duomo for it’s dome built by Brunelleschi. It is a massive and beautiful structure. Then again, I come from a part of the states where any building predating 1850 is impressive to me, I could just be exaggerating. In addition to the Duomo, there is the Uffizi Gallery which holds some of the most iconic artwork in western history including works by Botticelli, Da Vinci, Titian, Giotto, etc. Michelangelo’s David is held at the Academia Gallery not too far away. Being a high school kid who had never left the country before who also happened to be a huge fan of art and history, I fell in love with Florence. The food also helped.
When walking around the old city center of Florence, it doesn’t seem as if it has changed that much since the Middle Ages. It is an interesting blend of the distant past and modernity that we just don’t seem to have in the U.S. Scooters zoom through the narrow streets, there are restaurants and coffee shops everywhere, not to mention touristy gift stands. On old stone buildings, murals of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus can be seen directly above hideous tagging – if you are going to graffiti something, at least put some effort into it. Florence is one of those places that stands out from others. However, I know while writing this I am seeing it through nostalgia glasses. It has been seven years since that trip, I haven’t been to Florence or Italy since that time. I only saw the parts tourists see. I have no clue how actual citizens live their lives. I had a great time and I remember it fondly, but if I go back to visit it again, that nostalgic view might change. Maybe I’ve just grown cynical.
The year after that family trip my twin sister and I saved up money to buy ourselves an Xbox 360. I made sure that my grades didn’t suffer from this by doing homework while playing. I would play a section, pass the controller to my sister, and then read a section of the textbook. I liked games more than my sister did, but one thing we both loved was playing Assassin’s Creed together. It was a way for us to bond as we were exploring different hobbies and interests from one another. As much as I am disillusioned with the franchise, Assassin’s Creed still holds a lot of meaning for me. I also played Assassin’s Creed II relatively soon after that trip. While I played, I rode my horse around Tuscany, remembering all of the beautiful scenery that the region has to offer. I might have, in a way, seen more of the countryside while playing ACII because I was car-sick and passed out due to dramamine most of the time. I ran around the Piazza della Signoria in the game and remembered how I stopped to take a picture of literally every single thing I saw, even the pigeons. Sixteen year old me probably thought she was being “artsy”. While I got a good look at the Duomo in person, I got an even better look at it in-game as I climbed to the top of it. My dad walked into the room while I was playing once and said “Hey, we were there!” seeming to ignore the fact that I was running around stabbing guards on rooftops.
Objectively, Assassin’s Creed II isn’t the best game out there. It has its moments of being absolutely ridiculous. It also hasn’t aged well, something I was shocked by when I played the “remastered” version for PS4. Nonetheless, it is a game that is important to me in more ways than one. I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to travel to Florence again in real life. I have a million other destinations I want to see, student loans to pay, and all the other weight that comes with “real life” outside of travel. I would love to go back but I don’t know when. Thankfully, the one advantage video games have to travel is that I don’t have to shell out $1,000+ dollars just to experience them again.
Photograph used is mine, I had to scour my Facebook for it.