Diamonds in the Rough: The Assassin Altaïr

Great Views in Assassins Creed
Great Views in Assassins Creed

I finished playing Assassins Creed on the PC yesterday, which is perfect for doing the Diamonds in the Rough roundtable this month. The character of Altaïr is the rather classic archetype assassin character, although is heavily flawed at the start of the game. It’s his flaws which make the initial story interesting, although the game presents it rather heavy handedly it still works well. However, he goes from a rough coal character into a only slightly flawed diamond, leaving possibilities for any sequel material to use him further of course.

This might contain a few spoilers…which is kind of the point.

The Black as Coal Start

Introducing a character is hard – how do players latch onto his mindset? Altaïr is put forward as an arrogant, cocky guy who is the top of the Assassins at the highest rank. He indiscriminately kills a civilian, guard and finally makes a cockup of trying to assassinate a Templar Knight leader he wants to kill (leading to breaking the 3 tenants of their assassination school). Apart from his apparent skills, it appears he’s a bit overconfident and thinks himself totally above the rules.

What’s better is that he is accompanied by two other assassins, Malik and his brother, who comment on his wrongdoings but yet he just tells them to basically shut up. After the failed assassination attempt, Malik’s brother dies (with no way to save him, since a barrier is produced to stop you going back), and Malik himself loses an arm, although retrieves the artefact the assassin leader wanted. Altaïr is too proud to even say sorry, and blames it on other circumstances. Arrogance at its best.

The introduction is also a tutorial, of both setting up the story, and with tons of helper hints to do the required tutorial actions. After getting back home, and being besieged by the same Templar Knight, finding out who let them in (more tutorial legwork) he’s finally stripped of his rank for his mess at the start of the game, and given a single chance to redeem himself; kill 9 men the master wants dead.

Overcoming The Flaws

Assassination cutscenes like to drag on.
Laying the prey down to rest

The most interesting part of the game is how he learns from his mistakes, put more bluntly in cutscenes then in-game progression, and tries to work out all the details behind the assassinations he is performing. This of course correlates with what the player is doing – learning to use more equipment and skills as he is given it through the game, and trying to work out the story – why are these people being assassinated?

He still is a cocky guy at the start – demanding information, thinking himself righteous and above those he is killing. His first assassination breaks him a little – he loses some confidence, and doesn’t presume himself to be entirely right, and questions his orders. This is the same for the player – the first kill is relatively difficult to perform cleanly, and at such low health the player will die quickly to the more heavily armed guards protecting the target. Why go after this man? What purpose is there?

There are 8 other assassinations – in 3 cities, one of which has the local “Assassins Bureau” run by Malik, same assassin who lost an arm at the start of the game. The reactions from the guy goes from insulting, all the way up to admiration. Eventually, on the final assassination, Altaïr does apologise to Malik who refuses his apology – Altaïr is said to be a changed man, and not the same person as at the start of the game. This is true as an analogy for the player’s progress too – they now know how to use their full skills and weapon assortments.

A Diamond At Last

The cumulation of events is Altaïr questioning his role in the world, and having doubt, rather then overconfidence and true belief in his actions as an assassin. His master orchestrated the assassinations and withheld the true reason why. Altaïr has the knowledge to overcome him, and finally figure out what was going on. However, at the very end, ominously he doesn’t destroy the “evil artefact”, hoping perhaps to learn more about it – the doubt is there that destroying it indiscriminately as he took lives before would prove an undoing. He knows there are enemies out there, and needs to sort out the now mucked up Assassins Brotherhood, and help those he once looked down upon. Going from Adept to Master Assassin really throws him into the thick of it, and he’s the better person at the end. He’s still flawed, as it’s given in the story the Templar organisation survives, and the Assassins later become endangered. However, he’s much more a diamond then coal.

I of course leave out the fact he’s indiscriminately killed guards (although for me, less the better), for what it’s worth civilians are out of the question. Apart from when they are people you beat up for information…*cough*

Still, I enjoyed Altaïr’s journey. He did grow up, and got over his arrogance. Although the assassins all followed their orders without question, he eventually does stand up to question them. Although all the targets did, in my eyes, deserve their fate, the twist was satisfactory and, while perhaps cliché, worked well enough. Hopefully more characters will grow over the course of their personal stories, leaving it to be a much more satisfactory experience – and is a great way of showing the players own skills improving. A shame the game was possibly too short, and sold itself short on the open world angle. 🙂

4 thoughts on “Diamonds in the Rough: The Assassin Altaïr”

  1. Altair’s arrogance is exactly what led him to be such a great assassin in the first place (until his juvenile bungling of that first mission in the game). A total lack of empathy must be a handy personality flaw for an assassin.

    Now that’s he’s gained some perspective, he likely won’t so effective.

    I suspect the next game will not focus on Altair, but another historic era. It’s too bad because I feel that some of the design issues with the first game could be addressed quite nicely wrapped in “belief” or “confidence” mechanic.

  2. I think with this Assassin Brotherhood it’s the other way around – the Brotherhood falls because of Altair’s and the other assassin’s own undying loyalty to their master! They take it upon themselves to work towards peace – indiscriminately killing targets for money would require arrogance, perhaps, but certainly would at least require a lack of empathy.

    His conviction perhaps got his skill to the level it was at when the game begins, but he doesn’t know how to use all his skills, just like the player doesn’t.

    However, since they strive with their creed to get to a level of stability and peace, it could be given that Altair and the Assassins only survived due to diligence and doubt (A conversation after target 7 or so was about this). He still has the conviction that killing the targets is the right thing to do, but wonders why he is not told all the information, which is clear right at the end.

    And since he’s now the master, Altair, like the master before him, doesn’t need to personally assassinate, hehe 😀

    You’re probably right, Altair will probably not be the focus of the next game. A shame, the story kind of just “ended” with no real epilogue, but then again the world really wasn’t open – it was pretty empty, so unlike GTA, there is no reason to stay in it after the final mission. But there must have been some way for him to procreate and, you know, keep the Brotherhood going. 🙂

    Certainly some more meters and RPG-like elements would benefit the gameplay. Not sure about belief or confidence however.

  3. Thanks for the link, most of the answers it gives I did notice when playing (none of the wall stuff though, until I read some FAQ somewhere, but this is easier to read!), but didn’t realise it was a planned trilogy. I hope the next one is fun more fun overall 🙂

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