This is the second of a few essays in a series on Assassin’s Creed 2, which is itself part of a much larger series on the Assassin’s Creed franchise itself.
It isn’t possible to talk about Assassin’s Creed without talking about conspiracies. They’re the life blood of the series, and conspiracy is the mechanism that gets us from game to game and connects up the strangest and most dispersed things. What I want to argue in this short essay is that the value of Assassin’s Creed 2 is partially in the development of the conspiracy element franchise from a simple backdrop into a fundamental connective force.
Assassin’s Creed introduced the fundamental fight between the Assassins and the Templars: self-controlled liberation versus top-down domination, both with the final intent of creating the greatest good for all. However, the Templars of the first game are most easily summed up in how Dr. Warren Vidic is presented to us in the first game. He is a classic supervillain scientist with fingers in lots of different pies and an unquenchable desire to see his deeds through to the end, with the torture and killing of Subject 16 being the most tangible product. This characterization of Vidic as a contemporary Templar is supposed to hit the player very hard when contrasted to the first Templars of the Holy Land — where those ancient leaders were united under a common goal of subjugation, their justifications were sometimes incredibly compelling.
Dr. Vidic never delivered a longform, compelling monologue to explain to us why he believed what he did and why he chose to act. He was just evil, and because of that, we’re denied the longform logic of allegiance that we get for all of the other Templar characters in Assassin’s Creed.
For those ancient Templars, conspiracy is a mode of linkage that brings them all together. Altair, late in life, mimics the model and dismantles the Assassin enclaves in favor of a creed dispersed through populations, a kind of massive blending into society at large.
Conspiracy is community. Conspiracy is connective tissue. Conspiracy is a system interacting with another system to hide how those systems are working in conjunction with one another. Classic Hollywood Cinema is a conspiracy. Conspiracy is the machinery hidden behind an austere edifice.
Assassin’s Creed 2 proliferates conspiracies, and sets the tone of the following games in the series. In this game it is established that there is a First People (a la von Daniken) who set the stage for contemporary humans to come into being; this species could see forward into time; the polar caps might reverse polarity and kill everyone on Earth; every major figure in history is connected; and on and on.
On one level we have that set of conspiracies, the endless connection of things in the world of the Assassin’s Creed franchise that are not connected in our own world. The gameworld is one where the necessary desires of the conspiracy theory set are made real: there is serendipity amongst all things, and there is a fundamental order to the universe that is hidden behind a very thin mask.
On another level, we have the gameplay implementation of the concept of the conspiracy, the idea that there are several actors operating in collusion with one another without a third party knowing. The most clear example of this is in the extensive development of the Blending system. In the first game, it was merely a function of Altair’s clothing being similarly designed to that of the scholars who roamed throughout the cities; Ezio, a man of the people, can blend with literally any small group of people. Unlike Altair, Ezio is able to strike from a universal “anywhere,” not limited to the random sartorial stylings of the Middle Ages.
I’ll take it further: what better word is there for the collusion of Ezio’s body and the architecture of Renaissance Italy than conspiracy? The entire population is subjugated under the deep connections between Ezio’s abilities and the handholds and high (yet not too high) rooftops of Venice or Florence. The Templar conspiracies manipulate people and objects in order to kill and subvert the will of the general public. Ezio and the buildings of the cities work with one another in order to achieve the goals of the Assassins. Beyond an unwillingness to see the buildings as agents in their own right, what is the spread between the two?
Connective tissue. The linkages between unrelated things. Relations. All of this, conspiracy.