Assassin's Creed III is going to introduce a lot of changes to the series. It will feature a new setting, a new time period and a new protagonist. And one of the biggest changes has yet to be fully explored—the game's soundtrack will be crafted by an entirely new composer.
Jesper Kyd, the composer responsible for the music in the first four Assassin's Creed games, will be handing the musical baton to Lorne Balfe, who along with Kyd contributed to the soundtrack to last year's Assassin's Creed: Revelations. As any longtime Assassin's Creed player likely agrees, this is a substantial change.
Assassin's Creed's stark, dry visual design and techno-retro aesthetic have always been two of its most defining characteristics, but Kyd's music has always been the soul of the series for me. Let's take a trip through the musical progression of the first four Assassin's Creed games.
"Jerusalem" - AC I
Kyd's soundtrack for the first Assassin's Creed is probably the least well-remembered—it was somewhat cold, a mix of middle eastern instruments, chanting, open drones and strings. I was one of those weirdos who loved Assassin's Creed despite and sometimes because of its flaws, but I don't have much memory of the soundtrack. I do, however, remember that it fit in very well with the open, wind-swept sound design. There was a distinct sense that this composer got what Assassin's Creed was about, from a gameplay standpoint. It was a game about sitting perched atop a high spire, surveying the horizon before making a leap of faith. Kyd captured that.
"Venice Rooftops" - AC II
Assassin's Creed II was better than its predecessor on every level (except, perhaps, for how much easier it was)—Ezio was a personable and relatable protagonist, the cities were gorgeous, and the game had much more variety. But the thing that really won my heart was the soundtrack. Two games later, Assassin's Creed II remains my favorite soundtrack of the series.
This theme, which plays while running across the rooftops of Venice, flows through many of Kyd's compositions for Assassin's Creed II. That ascending four note melody, those driving drums and guitars… it's great stuff.
"Home In Florence" - AC II
This kind of track is exactly what set the second game's soundtrack apart from the first one. A shifting, serpentine groove reminiscent of Steve Reich, eventually giving way to wide open pads with sharp, dancing harp notes… all the way to a deep, romantic string part. When this started paying for the first time in Assassin's Creed II, I thought, "Wow, shit. They are really going for it here." It almost sounds like Mass Effect, and perfectly blends the game's old-world and sci-fi sensibilities.
"Rome" - Brotherhood
Brotherhood was an interesting soundtrack. I didn't warm to it as immediately as I did Assassin's Creed II, but over time, I came to enjoy its dark overtones. It features more grandiose choral work than Assassin's Creed II, and is on the whole much darker—strange voices chant in the background, and Ezio's journey through Rome feels much less certain than anything in the last game.
"Borgia Tower" - Brotherhood
This music plays when Ezio is infiltrating a Borgia tower, looking to stir up some trouble (and light things on fire). This is some sinister stuff, dark and pulsing, very different than anything from the other games. I still remember when "Countdown" was playing and the whispering, scary music started up and I thought "Man, what the hell is going on?"
"Assassin's Creed Theme" - Revelations
Here we have the main theme for Revelations. The soundtrack was a joint effort between Kyd and Balfe, though Kyd wasn't involved with this particular theme. I have to say, I don't find it as interesting or memorable as the music from the first three games. It's not bad really, and it still feels like "Assassin's Creed Music," but it lacks that vision that Kyd brought to the first three soundtracks. The Revelations soundtrack is the main reason I'm somewhat apprehensive about Balfe taking the reins for Assassin's Creed III.
Assassin's Creed isn't the only franchise Kyd has left behind—he's also left the Hitman series, for which he was the primary composer for years. It's always nice to see artists embracing change—Kyd's music will be heard on plenty of upcoming games, including Borderlands 2 and Darksiders II, a soundtrack I've enjoyed so far.
For his part, Balfe has been a team member for go-to-soundtracker Hans Zimmer on films like Inception and Sherlock Holmes, as well as Zimmer-scored games like Modern Warfare 2 and Crysis 2. This is an opportunity for him to step away from Zimmer and create his own themes, so I'll be interested to see what he does with Assassin's Creed.
It is, of course, too early to say what that will be; all that seem certain is that it'll likely be markedly different than Kyd's work on the first games. That's fine; good even—with a different setting, vibe and protagonist, different music seems appropriate. Furthermore, Balfe is a skilled composer with a lot of experience, and he's worked on some soundtracks I really respect.
But there's no denying that with Jesper Kyd gone, Assassin's Creed will now be a substantially different experience. Here's hoping that Balfe can step into Kyd's rather large shoes and usher in a new era of sneaking, stabbing and soaring.
There's finally some downloadable content out for Assassin's Creed Revelations, but you should keep your $4. Why?
Stephen Totilo, who wrote a glowing review for Assassin's Creed: Revelations: I'm including a video in this Gut Check in order to show you the coolest thing about the Ancestors Character Pack. If you look at it closely and beyond what I'm trying to show you, you'll see that I haven't played a ton of ACR multiplayer. Maybe, you might say, finger pointing in accusatory fashion, you're not the ideal customer for a $4 piece of downloadable content that adds a Brigand, a Corsair, a Gladiator and a Privateer to a multiplayer roster that already includes 14 other playable characters!
Oh, but I am the right person for this DLC, because I am nearly unprofessionally enthusiastic about most things Assassin's Creed. I also see the hidden value of this pack, which I show off in the video. That value is that you are freed from the multiplayer's standard unlocking system and have access to all of these four characters' special outfits, weapons and taunts from the get go. For $4, in other words, a non-obsessive ACR player like me can enjoy the perk of changing the gear on my character. I've yet to unlock most customization options on the game's default characters.
But... that's it. That's all you get for your $4 with a DLC that appears to break one of the fine rules of ACR. All the other multiplayer characters, you see, were important people that you or your assassin trainees killed in the game's single-player mode. These four new people? They're just identity-less shells. Do you need them? No
Kirk Hamilton, who is lurking behind you in an alleyway: I'm something of a tough sell on DLC. When it's for a game I like, I'm much more happy to hear about it, but even so, I tend to skip all but the most large and substantive bits of downloadable content. I've skipped a lot of Assassin's Creed DLC in the past, and yet I've still gotten dozens upon dozens of great gameplay out of the series. Are these "ancestors" skins something that I'd recommend you buy?
No, they're not. Say, that's a bit early in the gut check for my answer! But there you have it: four skins, some unique kills, and a few customization items are not worth real money. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is still just scratching the surface of Revelations—I haven't even finished the story yet, let alone delved into multiplayer! But more than that, I feel that extra content for a game should be functional in some way—a useable weapon for single-player, a set of quests, a new area. Skins and taunts are the kind of things that should be sprinkled on top as a bonus, not packaged and sold as a standalone product.
The Ancestors Character Pack is thin, it serves no gameplay purpose, and I've got so much Assassin's Creed already that I don't need to spend a few bucks to get any more. Take your time, Ubisoft, and offer us something worth buying. No.
Brian Ashcraft, the AC DLC NPLYR: Okay, so let me get this straight. Ubisoft announces downloadable character skins on the day Revelations launched. The DLC consists of four characters, and it costs $3.99—meaning each multiplayer character skin is one dollar. The question is less whether or not you should be buying this, but rather, should Ubisoft be even doing this. So no, no, no. No.
Gut Check is an off-the-cuff impression of what we think of a game: what we'd tell a friend; how we'd respond on Twitter or Facebook or over a beer if someone asked us "Would you buy this game?" Our lead writer, who has played a lot of the game, decides. Other writers chime in for additional points of view.