Review: The feathers of The Art of Assassin’s Creed

Assassin’s Creed may be one of the greatest narrative video game franchises in history. Think about it – the depth of the lore, the care which has gone into the craft of the story and the overwhelming immersion.

There is little not to like about this game, at least from from a narrative perspective, although admittedly, some claim the ludic elements are unbalanced, but this is only a secondary issue, at least from the author’s perspective.

The franchise is also very interesting from a design standpoint, as it depicts at least a half-dozen time periods with uncanny accuracy.

Nevertheless, it manages to retain certain core design elements which are preserved from title to title. This is especially true for the visual designers.

Sure, the level design, and combat mechanics need to be updated a bit with shifts in time, but it’s the visual style of each era that truly must set them apart while simultaneously tying them together. This approach is neatly illustrated by the prevalence of an eagle motif, as well as the re-use of simple symbols to identify assassin and Templar structures and artifacts.

Unsurprisingly, the work that’s gone into the visual design for the third installment of the franchise is exceptionally well-detailed in The Art of Assassin’s Creed III.

The book is filled with paintings, sketches, and elevations illustrating the creative progression and potential alternative  designs for every major element of the game. The book is also divided into seven sections, breaking down the elements and locations of the game, but most interesting is the chapter dealing with character design.

Past Assassin’s Creed games featured multiple characters, and even some based on historical figures we might recognize, but this is the first one in which many of the major characters are people the American audience will have seen many pictures of in their lives, especially George Washington and Ben Franklin, whose faces are printed on US currency.

Every character illustration is full of historical deails, and each is very revealing of the character’s personalities.

The progression of Connor’s design, for example, goes from an incredibly animalistic and totemic figure to a buttoned and lapelled soldier, finally resting on a point in between. All the while he retained the peaked cowl, white cloak, red belt and leather bracer.

Connor’s allies, the new Brotherhood have a great variety of design among them, as in this game, unlike in Brotherhood and Revelations, each of the new members of the Assassins boasts a unique look and personality.

Also interesting is some close looks at interior design space, showing the focus on ‘beams and gaps’ begins right from the first, impressionistic elevations.

Most of the difference in the visualization of the interior spaces across eras originates from the lighting. Interestingly, the modern era has a strong focus on artificial light, with plenty of exaggerated starkness, while scenes in the past feature more natural light with lots of blending.

Overall, it’s a vibrant world, with living characters, and verisimilar locales, and this book is the perfect companion to it. The volume itself is hardbound with a partial-gloss dust-jacket over a minimalist designed white cover, while the pages are heavy-stock, slick, and full color. 

The Art of Assassin’s Creed is available now from Titan Books.