Fall of the Berlin Wall: Pitching an Assassin's Creed Game
Save 10% on officially licensed Assassin's
Creed Origins merchandise with the code "TOWCB"
Assassin's Creed as a series has been able to survive for so long as a franchise because it is so adaptable, and can be moulded into any time period the development team want. The ideological struggle between Assassins and Templar is historically malleable, refreshing the series time and time again as it jumps between the pages of documented events.
Ever since I fell in love with it back in 2009, I've seen it one way: historical espionage.
It's a spy thriller throughout the ages; what if James Bond was in Renaissance Italy. Instead of death rays and future technology, you're facing corrupt Popes and… well future technology. The people will never know your name or mission, but you fight for their safety. There's even an allegory for weapons of mass destruction in it with the Pieces of Eden, that if the Assassins allow to fall into the wrong hands will lead to world destruction!
In that vein, and inspired by a tweet from AC: Landmarks, I wanted to return to an idea I've had for sometime, a true Assassin's Creed spy story. How would the series look if you cranked that idea of historical espionage up to 11? What would it look like in the Cold War?
Now there are plenty of reasons I think this period could work: it can be charming and flashy as we've seen in the campier spy stories of the past half a century, is so morally complex there's plenty of narrative and philosophical conflicts to explore with the benefit of hindsight and unlike other ideas for titles focused on a contemporary period, the secrecy of the conflict will help avoid the gameplay problem of it simply becoming a shooter. Going guns out simply wasn't an option, can't risk making the Cold War hot after all, so stealth and blades will still be a main approach.
The problem then is making a narrative and choosing the specific time and place. The Cold War was BIIIIG, like far too big to ever condense into a single story. Do you want a Cuban missile crisis or a Vietnam War? At first I felt like international 60s exploration would be good, moving from city to city, collecting information on targets, but its scope felt too unrealistic. It's when I settled on what I think to be the perfect setting for this type of game: the fall of the Berlin Wall.
For those who don't know (which I assume won't be many people), I'll do a very quick overview of this period in history. After World War 2 Germany was split, with Western Germany going to the Allies and Eastern to the Soviets. This also included the capital city of Berlin, however because the city was located in the Eastern side of the country, Western Berlin was walled off, with the Soviets hoping to stop their citizens fleeing to the West. After two decades of this walled off city, in 1989, the communist leaders were ousted from power and the wall was torn down by citizens and soldiers alike. By many historians, this is seen as the last breath of the Cold War.
This will be as modern as the series would have gone, and explore something that people still alive today experienced, maybe even players. This wouldn’t be the first time a game would do this (Call of Duty has used the Cold War as a setting plenty of times), but it is important to show respect to the reality of the suffering. Know that I did my research into the period, and believe if Ubisoft were ever to do this they should consult people who were their to best understand the era.
Like Syndicate, the narrative will take place over a single year, as you take the final actions to ensure the wall is destroyed. The player, a German Assassin looking to reclaim her nation, will travel between West and East Berlin, gathering and manipulating information, taking down targets, and setting up the final nail in the coffin of the Cold War.
Now I said that this was inspired by a tweet from AC: Landmarks and this is where I’ll tie it back in. Landmarks posted a question, would you like to see another Templar lead Assassin's Creed game, and honestly I think this game would be an excellent opportunity to return to that concept. The protagonist would be an Assassin, but rather than relying solely on the Brotherhood, I imagine this period being an excellent opportunity to return to the ideas of a Templar Assassin unity.
Cold War inspired insignia by Reddit user ThatOneEnemy
The Cold War was complicated, and the Assassins Creed lore matches that. Templars seemingly had power over Stalin while pushing corporate America through Abstergo. So I’m imagining it as such: Templars attempted to twist Russia into a totalitarian state but it was an experiment that they lost control over, by the 80's when Gorbachov was in power they had no footing in Russia. Meanwhile they were hedging their bets in Abstergo Industries which would become their main operation going forward. Now both Assassins and Templars have a reason to want to bring an end to the Cold War, and annihilate the threat of a nuclear war. You could even have Templar traitors be working with the Soviets, prepared to counteract any Assassin activity.
It’s an interesting position to be placed in. The player, a German Assassin named Matilda, simply wants to free her home, while the Assassin Brotherhood is hoping to turn Germany into a new Assassin stronghold after nearly a century of defeats. Abstergo and the Templars offer help, arguing that this is an issue everyone wants to see resolved, but really are just hoping the Assassins will fight their battles for them. Matilda becomes a pawn in all this, pushed and pulled in every direction, her own struggles manipulated by others for their own gain.
This can then affect gameplay. While I do love Rogue, it failed to fully capitalise on the “Templar fantasy”. If we’re going to be allied with Templars we should pick up some of their tricks, so missions will not only be focused on eliminating targets but manipulating information. Imagine sequences focused entirely on breaking into military compounds to alter records and data; the player could even be given a selection of choices, with opportunities to alter guard routes, or cause in-fighting. Your goal after all is to destabilise a decades old government, that doesn’t just happen by getting rid of a few people.
In this game we'll be pulling the series into the "information age", with 24 hour news, television and mass broadcasting. The manipulation of information was becoming a warfare tactic, one the Soviets had mastered for decades with altered photography and repressed journalists. The gameplay mechanics will reflect this, you're no longer a blade in a crowd but also a pen, ready to tear up falsified "facts" with a single swipe.
This could be exemplified by the removal of the real East Berlin ruler Erich Honecker, a man responsible for multiple atrocities who was in charge of the construction of the wall and was forced to resign less than a month before the walls destruction. He would make a perfect final target, wherein the player must maximise their use of Templar tactics, to establish a wide conspiracy and expose the truth in a way that would see Honecker's reign come to an end. It would be a perfect distillation of the idea of covert war, wherein an Assassination would only cause more chaos and fear but information could lead to a peaceful solution.
Honeckers life is genuinely fascinating aswell; in his youth he rebelled against the Nazi party, being sentenced to hard labour by the Gestapo. Once freed by the Soviets he built a thriving political career in East Germany and enforced totalitarioan rulership, reportedly leading to the death of around 1,000 civillians. His role as a Templar defect seems to write itself, joining the order after the fall of Nazi Germany only to leave to follow his own beliefs, before being ousted and sent to trial in his old age.
The city would also aid in this idea of mixing tactics, with the division forcing different kinds of approaches. East Berlin would have a heavy military presence, with a strict wanted system. Killing isn’t a particularly viable option, because if a body is found major sweeps of the area would be conducted by heavily armed soldiers. Espionage and Templar tricks will be your main tool here, you’ll have to distract not attack. It would also allow a return to the AC1 style of Assassination missions, where once a target has been taken down the city will go onto red alert and you’ll be detected in an instant. West Berlin will function more like a traditional AC game, where you’ll have a chance to use your tools and gadgets more freely. Your focus will be taking down targets who for different reasons are doing everything in their power to make sure the war carries on. These could be war profiteers, or bigoted generals who just want to see the “Commies” annihilated at all costs.
Travelling between the sides will also take effort. The “wall” wasn’t just a wall, in fact there were two heavily armed walls with the Death Strip (a trench full of mines and other deadly traps) between. Traversing this will be a parkour and stealth challenge, where you’ll be forced to consider the risks and take effort when manoeuvring the territory. The difficulty will encourage players to finish all the tasks in either half of the city before travelling to the other, providing them with more obstacles.
Other historical figures can aide in this, such as the Pastor Christoph Wonneberger who helped rally people to protest against the Soviets. While in real life he was positioned in Lepzig (a city south of Berlin), he couuld
The narratives end then will be bittersweet; after taking down Honecker you will watch over the people as they tear down the wall. Yet as one by one the bricks removed, many of the secret powers who started all of this remain unharmed. The Templar allies you’ve made are now enemies again, and Matilda’s simple goal is twisted by the powers that be. She will even have to reflect on the actions she took, considering whether her alteration of information is moral, and if it will evevn be sustainable. Germany is a free nation again, but the fight never ends.
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.
Finn's writing covers a wide scope, with releases so far including reviews, interviews and stories. He is known in the AC Community for his 'Pitching an Assassin's Creed Game' series, all of which you can find here on TOWCB website!