Aztec Empire: Pitching an Assassin's Creed Game
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Since the release of Assassins Creed II, one of the most exciting aspects of the franchise has always been fantasising about how the creed could apply to different places in history. Although many websites have created drawn out listicles, I want to try something different, creating a detailed pitch for a games setting. Discussing the true history, the style of the story, and the type of unique gameplay that could be applied to this period.
One of the most important factors when choosing a setting is applying themes relevant to the turmoil and struggles of the time. AC III used the American Revolution to discuss freedom and corruption, while Black Flag used piracy to discuss greed and inequality.
So today, I'm going to take the opportunity to pitch a game in what is currently one of the most heavily rumoured settings, the Aztec Empire.
Now simply saying "Aztecs" is pretty broad, covering a people and Empire who existed for centuries. First things first then, a little history.
The legend goes that the Aztec people founded their capital city of Tenochtitlan under strict instructions of one of their gods Huitzilopochtli. He told the settlers to build a city where they find a giant eagle eating a snake while perched on a cactus (a symbol which is now used on the Mexican flag). Supposedly, this strange event was seen in the marshy land of Lake Texcoco around 1325 CE, and construction began.
The city's construction was a technical marvel, consisting of multiple connected artificial islands, that allowed for irrigation of gardens as well as construction for towering pyramids. Moveable causeways connected the islands to the mainland, while also functioning as dikes that could separate the freshwater and saltwater of the lake. It truly was a floating marvel, like Venice on steroids, that at its height was the most populated city in Mesoamerica.
Originally one of many city states in pre-colonial Mexico, the Aztecs' impressive military conquered the surrounding land, with the aid of an intelligent group of diplomats and traders. By the early 16th century, the Aztecs had come to rule 5 to 6 million people across 200,000 square kilometres.
It was around this time that tragedy struck. The arrival of the Spanish led to the destruction of the empire and genocide of it's people. Through disgusting military tactics, and the spreading of diseases that the native people lacked immunity to, the Spanish managed to tear the entire civilization to the ground, destroying centuries of history and culture in the process.
This is the period I believe the game should be set, during the final war of the empire against the Spanish. This period of tragedy could be used as a great foundation for a discussion of grief, loss and imperialism. What a perfect time for this story to be released, after we ourselves have come out of the biggest pandemics of our lifetime and are currently facing rising temperatures causing wildfires across the planet. If done well, this touching story of someone watching the destruction of everything they know, the whole world from their perspective, could allow for a relevant and inspiring journey for players.
The story will follow Guatemoc (OC: name translates to 'attacks like an eagle'), an elite soldier of the Eagle Warrior guild. From a poor background, he worked in the military as all men were expected to at the time, showing great prowess and rising through the ranks. The greatest units of soldiers were the Jaguar or Eagle battalions, with soldiers having to take enemy captives to rise to this divine duty, a group Guatemoc rightly earned his place in.
The opening of the game will be set before the Spanish arrived in Tenochtitlan, with NPC's discussing and questioning the rumours about new arrivals to the land. During this time the player will be sent on tasks for the Eagle warriors, acting as a gameplay tutorial, while the open world will give an opportunity for exploration of a still fully native Aztec world.
The city of Tenochtitlan will be filled with different activities, allowing for full immersion in the period. Mainly I would love to see mini games (a fan favourite within the franchise, just think of Orlog), that would allow you to play Ullamaliztli, an Aztec sport, as well as Patolli, a board game of the time. Ullamaliztli would definitely be more difficult, a type of proto-basketball where two teams of seven players aim to get a rubber ball through a ring on either side of the court. If this is too difficult to create in gameplay, it would still be great to watch and potentially place bets on games played by NPC's.
I believe the open world as a whole would benefit from remaining rather small, focusing mainly on the city of Tenochtitlan, which needs the same level of detail as Paris or London from previous titles. I do however believe it's important that the game isn't limited to a single city, with the surrounding area offering an important perspective for the period. Smaller towns and villages can provide quest opportunities and loot for players, whilst ancient ruins, functioning as tombs, unravel a larger mystery and provide access to late game armour. Veracruz, the Spanish headquarters in Mexico, needs to be a secondary city in the game that can be used to shine a better light on Spanish culture, and will also offer a completely unique setting to explore for this game.
In terms of gameplay, I think it's important to return to the roots of the series somewhat, especially in regards to parkour. As much as I may enjoy the recent RPG games, the parkour has been undoubtedly lacklustre, providing nowhere near as much complexity and style as before.
Traversing across rooftops shouldn't be a simple task, it needs to be challenging, where finding and successfully pulling off the best route will reward you with more speed, and some visual flair. I would also love to see the return of tree climbing from Assassins Creed III. The Aztecs lived among rich jungles that were difficult to travel across. It would be amazing to see a change from the usual use of horseback, in favour of full parkour, where in a seamless open world you can travel from city to city across tree branches while never touching the ground.
Combat meanwhile needs to retain the grittiness of the newer games, especially Origins, while fine tuning to adjust for new weapon types. Aztecs used a variety of weapons, from short spears to clubs, and having the option to use them all would be incredible. Obviously when meeting the Spanish, players will also be introduced to early muskets, as well as more European weapons like lances and crossbows. These should definitely be usable by the players, though I would like guns to be temporary tools, similar to muskets in The Kenway Saga, where they can't be added to the players main arsenal.
After completing these introductory tasks for the Eagle Warriors, the narrative will introduce Hernán Cortés, when he arrived at Tenochtitlan in November 1519; one of the most important moments in Aztec history. Cortès was a vile human, a bloodthirsty warmonger who's only thought was who to kill next. He even directly defied the orders of his higher ups in his determination for nothing short of genocide. These historical accounts provide a clear path for Cortès to be the main villain of this title.
His arrival in Tenochtitlan however, was unusually peaceful as he entered the city as an honoured guest of King Montezuma. This diplomatic invitation was quickly upended, when Cortès slaughtered his way out of the house he was staying in, entered the Royal Palace and took the king hostage, claiming the city as his own.
I imagine this event being a major set piece for the game, with Guatemoc acting as a guard for the Montezuma and Cortès, allowing peaceful interactions with the villain prior to the conflict. Additionally, for the keen eyed players, a white hooded figure can be seen skulking in the shadows, watching the ensuing events. The conquest of the palace will then play as a drawn-out action sequence, where Guatemoc fights his way through the burning city, barely escaping after failing to kill Cortès.
It would be obvious to make Cortès a Templar, however I feel that his cartoonishly evil behaviour doesn't fit with the more sympathetic Templars we've come to expect. Instead, I would make him a failed Templar candidate, someone aware of the ancient struggle who was denied entry to the Templar Order due to his brash attitude and uncontrolled rage. Since that point, he has aimed to surpass the Templars, his ego getting the best of him as he hopes to someday show the Order what they missed. By taking over Tenochtitlan, he effectively became the Spanish ruler of the land, leaving him somewhat in command of even Templar officials.
Meanwhile, the loss of his home will leave Guatemoc in the worst position of his life, and it is here that we will be introduced to the Assassins.
Alejandra is a Spanish master Assassin, born to wealth and finding the Brotherhood after her curious young mind spent too many hours searching through the inconsistencies of historical texts. She's a devout follower of the creed, loyal to her core. When learning of the "new world", she snuck aboard a ship, hiding away to attack the Templars who have already settled in America.
After the attack on Tenochtitlan, she would follow Guatemoc, a clearly skilled soldier closer to the king and culture than she will ever be. Finding him passed out in the dirt, she will wake him and introduce him to the creed, giving him the hidden blade. Despite being deep within the rainforest, Alejandra needs to be perfectly clean, with every inch of her robes in place. Her upbringing left her with a posh sensibility; she speaks well and even as an Assassin, looks down on others. Guatemoc only earn her respect because he is useful to her. It is then through her, that the player will learn more enhanced stealth techniques, as Guatemoc becomes a blend of Aztec warrior, and ancient Assassin.
This game could finally provide a return to the much beloved stealth of older Assassin's Creed games which has been missing from recent titles. Stealth will be vital for our Aztec Assassin, with a return to tools and a need for fleeing from battle when outnumbered. Spanish Conquistadors will be unstoppable in open combat, heavily armoured with better weapons. Attacking from the shadows will be the only option, with in-depth social stealth mechanics playing a key role. As an Aztec soldier, appearing in Spanish controlled areas will instantly attract attention, meaning a hood and crowd blending approach will be the only effective way to travel safely. I would also love to also see the option to raise and lower the hood at will, just for the aesthetic.
A range of new and exciting tools will be available to players, I personally would like a range of poisons that cause different effects to enemies. These can be deployed through atlatls, Aztec dart and spear throwers that would be a historically accurate and unique weapon for this outing. Additionally throwable smoke bombs and the bows of Origins are a must.
This will provide the basic foundation for the rest of the game, as Guatemoc assassinates Spanish Templars across the land, working his way to Cortès. Each target needs a solid reason for invading, with some being completely opposed and trying to take down the manic Cortès, while others have become corrupted by his actions.
Historically speaking, it was decades after the invasion that Cortès died in Spain after fighting dysentery. Part of me wished to change this to allow for a final battle to the death in Tenochtitlan, possibly atop one of their incredible pyramids, however after reflection I don't think this is the best solution. That fight could still take place as the climactic action scene of the game, but there's something more tragic about Cortès escaping and living a full life despite his despicable behaviour. This made me reconsider, with Cortès' death still taking place during the epilogue of the game set at a much later date in time.
In 1547, having spent his life trying to save his people and culture, Guatemoc is a bitter old man. His people have been killed, his history tarnished, and Mexico is now nothing more than an extension of the Spanish Empire. Having tracked Cortès down, the man whose actions he cannot forget, Guatemoc approaches him while he's stuck in bed worsening from his illnesses. Even after all these years, Cortès recognises the old Aztec and smiles.
They have a discussion about what's been lost. Having mellowed somewhat in age, Cortès does admit to regretting some of his actions, having children of his own now from Aztec heritage who he truly cares for (according to historical accounts). Still, he can't help but smile when thinking back to those days, clinging on to the moments where he "ruled the world".
Angered, Guatemoc finally finishes off Cortès, knowing full well it means little now. Everything he knew is gone, and the killing of an old man is the only compensation he can get.
Throughout the story, Alejandra, while an ally, will grow into a more antagonistic role. Her self determination and snooty attitude contrasts with Guatemoc's humble beginnings, and the further she pushes him to her own ideals, the more he feels distanced from his cultural beliefs. This could even progress into her initiating plans which include the destruction of Aztec monuments, rigging them to blow with Templars inside. In the end, even the Assassins in this story are colonisers, judging the Aztec culture as primitive and in need of their guidance to progress.
This may cause contention with some fans, but I believe this story would be most effective if by the end Guatemoc disowns the Assassins, turning his back on all those who's petty political and philosophical struggles led to the destruction of his home. He, like us, is the everyman, watching as titans battle with little care for those they claim to protect.
And so that's it, my pitch for Assassins Creed Aztec. I've tried to provide something different, while not forgetting what made the series great. I hope you enjoyed it, and we would love to hear your ideas for future Assassin's Creed games in the comments.
A special thanks goes to all the artists whose work continues to amaze, especially BQoverlord0 who's work helped create a visual inspiration for our original creation.
About the Author
Finn is a creative writer from Rotherham, UK who has previously supported TOWCB's Fundraising events, and raised awareness surrounding Men's Mental Health.
On a blog dedicated to writing, Finn has been sharing reviews, stories and thoughts. By joining the AC Partnership Program's Writing Team, we are hoping to take Finn's passion for writing to the next level.