After the previous game, I was a bit hesitant to start on Revelations, the fourth game in the Assassin’s Creed series. But as it was the only installment in the main storyline left separating me from Assassin’s Creed III, the game I originally wanted to play all along, I decided to push my way on through. Revelations is the final game in the Ezio Trilogy, only this time around, Ezio has left Italy behind for Constantinople. I was a little sad that this was the last time I’d get to play Ezio’s character, but even though I love playing games where I get to explore different parts of history, I couldn’t work my way through this story fast enough in order to move on.
Trigger warning for discussions of sexual assault ahead.
Ezio starts the game off by heading to Masyaf Castle, the former home of the Assassins where Altaïr used to live. Even though Ezio thought that the castle had been abandoned for centuries, it’s actually overrun with Templars. Before Altaïr died, he sealed off a library underneath the castle, and the only way to open it is by using six disks, or keys, left behind by the Ones Who Came Before. Ezio sets out to find the keys before the Templars do, in order to figure out what secrets Altaïr left behind. Along the way, he discovers that Altaïr imprinted his own memories onto the keys as well.
Ezio’s search takes him all the way to Constantinople, where he happens to meet the only other Italian living in the city, Sophia Sartor, and falls in love. I guess it had to happen sometime, but as much as I loved Sophia’s character—she’s smart, loves books, and has more than a few fangirl moments whenever she learns something new—part of me really did question why the game didn’t introduce a more diverse cast. We meet Byzantines and Ottomans, as well as Suleiman I and his family, and the Constantinople Assassins are run by a man named Yusuf Tazim. Like the first game, Revelations’ take on diversity was the “men of color and one white woman” trend we’ve seen popping up everywhere. Only, this time around, the main character is also white-passing, meaning that the men of color are more or less shoved into the background as side characters. To be fair, there are female Assassins, but they are not important to the main storyline and are completely replaceable.
I get that the past two games established Ezio as a main character, and that given Revelations’ setup that could not be changed this time around either—Desmond can’t wake from his coma until he finishes reliving Ezio’s life, or else his mind won’t be able to separate the two of them due to the Bleeding Effect. Unfortunately, this game does not exist in a vacuum, and in order to redeem itself from the abysmal representation last game, the story really needed to do more with its female characters and characters of color. In some ways, by only having Sophia and not introducing other female characters, the game feels safe—as if it thinks it can’t give us bad representation if there is no representation. We weren’t forced to watch one rape victim be mocked and belittled by another rape victim, like we did during Brotherhood between Lucrezia and Caterina. In fact, Revelations had no sexual assault whatsoever. So thank God for small favors, I suppose. At the same time, however, a lack of female characters is both lazy and unrealistic—women are half the population, after all.
I will say, though, that even though the characters of color get sidelined, the game does try to avoid the “white savior” trope, at least. The Italian Assassins do not have all the same tools as the Constantinople Assassins, and even though Ezio is the head Assassin, Yusuf ends up teaching him numerous tricks, not the other way around. He also calls Ezio out a few times and reminds Ezio that he’s an outsider and not everything in Constantinople is his business.
I think Revelations rubbed me the wrong way because it comes right after Brotherhood, and I’m still put off by Lucrezia and her treatment, as well as Lucy’s death at the end of that game. I didn’t have time to mention it last review, but Brotherhood also turned Ezio into a sex offender. We see that he and a woman named Christina used to love each other, only for Ezio to eventually pretend to be her husband and trick her into making out with him. She is understandably upset by this and tells him she never wants to see him again—but the next time we see her, she’s been mortally injured through unexplained means and dies in Ezio’s arms while proclaiming she still loves him. Lucy’s death was also pretty awful. Originally, she was introduced as an Assassin double agent who had infiltrated the Templars. In a Revelations DLC, however, we learn that she’s actually a triple agent. Juno forced Desmond to kill her for being an actual Templar. Both Christina and Lucy were fridged, but the explanation that Lucy had to die for being a Templar is such bullshit. Altaïr and another Assassin in a later game both fall in love with Templars and start families with them. Lucy and Desmond clearly liked each other, and it’s obvious that Lucy’s feelings for him were genuine. Her character was well-written and interesting, and killing her off was a mistake.
My other main problem with the story in Revelations is Ezio’s actions near the end. Like all Assassins, he follows a creed that forbids him from taking innocent lives. He breaks that creed on a large scale. In order to distract the Templars to perform an assassination, Ezio causes a giant explosion in the middle of a town. A whole bunch of innocent villagers die from smoke inhalation. Ezio was even warned ahead of time by a local that setting off the explosion was a bad idea, and he did it anyway. He wasn’t worried about any potential casualties beforehand, and he certainly didn’t seem to care afterward either. Much like Ezio’s treatment of Christina, I feel like the outcome here was the result of bad writing. If you murder any civilians throughout the game, a warning pops up to tell you that Ezio didn’t kill civilians and that desynchronization between him and Desmond is imminent. Ezio’s character escapes the explosion fairly quickly and then leaves the town behind, so the fallout of his actions here don’t happen on screen. I can only conclude that the story turned him into a murderer of innocents on accident. All the same, though, it’s now part of the Assassin’s Creed canon and a glaring unaddressed flaw on Ezio’s character. At least when Christina got mad at him, he had the good grace to look guilty.
All of these problems are a shame, because without them, Revelations would be fine as a game. It introduces a few more mechanics and fighting styles, and the optional assassination missions are fun. We get a bit of an engaging history lesson on Suleiman I and his rise to power throughout the story. The game also reintroduced us to Altaïr and showed us more about his life. If Brotherhood had done a better job with its characters, I am absolutely sure that I would have liked Revelations a lot more than I did. Maybe I’ll replay it in the future once more time has passed. For now, though, I’m just happy to finally be able to start Assassin’s Creed III.