October 5, 2023

16 Min Read

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Assassin's Creed Mirage - The Evolution of the Brotherhood

Assassin’s Creed Mirage is out now on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC via the Ubisoft Store and Epic Games Store, and Amazon Luna, and is included with a Ubisoft+ subscription. Playing as Basim, a street thief who grows into a master assassin, players can explore ninth-century Baghdad and unravel a conspiracy coiling around the heart of the Abbasid Caliphate.

In bringing Assassin’s Creed back to the medieval Middle East, Assassin’s Creed Mirage represents a modernized take on the series’ roots. Like in the very first game, players will experience the story of an initiate in the Assassin Brotherhood (still known as the Hidden Ones at this point), taking on contracts, working out of hidden bureaus, and doing their best to stay stealthy and keep a low profile amongst the populace. This full-circle approach gives us the opportunity to reflect on how the concept of the Assassin Brotherhood has changed since the series’ inception in 2007, from its earliest origins to its most powerful highs and shattered lows. There’s a lot of history to dig into here, so let’s start at the beginning.

No, the very beginning:

Assassin’s Creed II (circa ~75,000 BCE)

“Hang on,” we hear you say. “Everyone knows Assassin’s Creed II, the game that redefined not only its series but open-world games as we know them, was set during the Italian Renaissance! And is also a weird place to begin this list!” And yes, that’s all true, even the “weird” part, which - rude. However, Ezio Auditore’s first adventure doesn’t just explore an alternate history where the Levantine Assassins spread their influence across Europe – it also reveals the origins of humanity as the enslaved creations of the First Civilization, also known as the Isu. As revealed by “The Truth” – a secret memory found by solving puzzles attached to glowing symbols hidden throughout the Animus simulation – the first “assassins” were a pair of human-Isu hybrids named Adam and Eve, who stole a mind-controlling artifact known as an Apple of Eden and used it to spark a rebellion against the Isu. (Told you we were going back to the very beginning.)

These early assassins were experts at free-running, presumably passed down some form of Eagle Vision to their descendants, and wore glowing pink bodysuits (or possibly, uh, transparent ones). We also know they won their rebellion, mainly by dint of humanity surviving an extinction-level event known as the Toba catastrophe – which then kicked off a millennia-spanning secret war between those who wanted to use Isu technology to control humanity (the eventual Templars) and those who wanted to protect free will (the eventual Assassins).

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (circa 431-422 BCE)

Whatever happened in the intervening 74,569 years, the Assassins were virtually nonexistent in Ancient Greece – but scratch beneath the surface of this massive adventure, and you’ll uncover their murky origins. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey introduces the Cult of Kosmos, a shadowy group obsessed with imposing order on humanity, as its primary villains. Their existence planted the idea for an organization that, driven to protect free will, would work as a counterbalance to keep the Cult (and any groups like it) in line.

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A more obvious origin is the Persian proto-Assassin Darius, who appears in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Legacy of the First Blade expansion. In his younger days, Darius formed a conspiracy against Xerxes I, ancient king of Persia, and assassinated him with a Hidden Blade of his own design (worn above the wrist, instead of below it). Darius, along with protagonist Kassandra/Alexios, was also among the first to perform the Leap of Faith, the emblematic swan dive from a high place into a convenient haybale. Aside from his weapon of choice, tactics, and hooded fashion sense, Darius contributes something crucial to the eventual formation of the Assassins – but we won’t spoil what that is here.

Assassin’s Creed Origins (circa 49-44 BCE)

It was in Ancient Egypt that familiar Assassin tropes really began to take shape – the white hood was first worn by Bayek, co-founder of the Hidden Ones (later the Assassins), to ward off the desert heat. The Hidden Blade, passed down by Darius, accidentally severed one of Bayek’s fingers during an assassination – prompting future Hidden Ones to remove their own as a gesture of solidarity and rite of passage. The eagle iconography came from Bayek’s avian companion, Senu, and even the Assassin crest itself was revealed to be the imprint of an eagle skull on sand – a happy coincidence discovered by the series’ creative team years earlier.

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In The Hidden Ones expansion, we also see Assassins begin to take shape as a proper order – one still working out its hierarchy and Creed, but gradually becoming a more formal society, with Aya – now renamed Amunet – at its head. And we see the fruit this bears in…

Assassin’s Creed Mirage (circa 861 CE)

Fast-forward 900 years or so, and the Hidden Ones have become a powerful force behind the scenes of the Abbasid Caliphate. They hold influence with government officials, train raw recruits to become fearsome assassins, operate through a network of secret bureaus, and are in the process of building their legendary fortress at Alamut. They’ve also adopted a familiar uniform much closer to the white robes worn by Altaïr in the first Assassin’s Creed, right down to the distinctive “beak” at the front of the hood.

While Assassin’s Creed Mirage is the newest installment in the series, it’s now chronologically the first game to showcase a number of familiar elements – the noisemakers, smoke bombs, and explosive trap mines employed by later Assassins are all here, as are the throwing knives and blowdarts that allow for silent takedowns. Unlike his successors, Basim can customize these with different upgrades, like poison or bonus damage, that let players tailor his arsenal to suit their playstyle. Also, where Kassandra and Bayek were unstoppable warriors, Basim is a light-fingered, acrobatic rogue whose sword is a last resort when speed and stealth fail – setting the template for the nimble, sneaky Assassins who would follow.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (circa 872-878 CE)

The Hidden Ones don’t take center stage in Eivor’s Viking adventure, but their presence can be felt throughout the world – most obviously through Basim and his apprentice Hytham, who travel to England with Eivor’s brother Sigurd (and through Basim’s mentor Roshan, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, who appears in the free The Last Chapter expansion). While Hytham is credited with bringing the Hidden Ones back to England’s shores, it’s pretty clear he wasn’t the first on the scene – the ruins of ancient Hidden Ones Bureaus can be found from Lunden to Jorvik. Here, you can find notes that hint at Hidden Ones activities under the Roman Empire – and at an evacuation from England during the fifth century, around the time of the empire’s collapse. You can also find scattered pages from the Magas Codex, in which Amunet reappears to dig into the philosophies and tenets behind the Assassin’s Creed.

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Assassin’s Creed (circa 1191 CE)

Another 300-odd years, and the Hidden Ones – now officially known as the Assassins – have become firmly entrenched in the Middle East, operating out of secluded fortresses (like Alamut and Masyaf) to play a pivotal role during the Third Crusade. Drawing on history and folklore about the Assassins, the game established a lot of “firsts” – the legendary Assassin ability to hide in plain sight was taken literally, as Altaïr used social stealth to blend in with white-robed scholars. The spring-loaded Hidden Blade quickly became an indispensable tool for stealth takedowns and dramatic assassinations. And the Leap of Faith – once described by Marco Polo as an act of unquestioning, fearless obedience – was revealed to be a cleverly planned trick, one Assassins would continue to emulate (more for a quick descent than for show) for centuries to come.

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Assassin’s Creed also revealed the survival of Assassins and Templars into the modern day, with the former living secretly in remote, cult-like compounds, and the latter controlling the world through their megacorporation, Abstergo. The modern Assassins were also nearly eradicated in an event known as the Great Purge, during which a sleeper agent infiltrated the Assassins, murdered their Mentor, and revealed the locations of Assassin cells to Abstergo – forcing the survivors once again into hiding.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood (circa 1499-1507 CE)

While Assassin’s Creed II showed us hints of a Brotherhood that had spread across the world, it wasn’t until Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood that we really got to see what they were truly capable of. Key innovations from Assassin’s Creed II, like the ability to wield and fight with two Hidden Blades – without either requiring the sacrifice of a finger – were on full display here, as was the ability to silently dispatch targets from hiding places, from below ledges, or in a spectacular air assassination. Also, additions previously made to the Hidden Blades by Leonardo da Vinci (based on designs created by Altaïr after studying the Apple of Eden) – like poison darts and the Hidden Gun – had effectively turned them from secret knives into wrist-mounted weapons platforms worthy of a superhero.

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But with Ezio now at the head of the Brotherhood in Rome, we got to see what really made the organization tick. By rescuing people threatened by the infamous Borgia family, Ezio could recruit new Assassins, whom he could train and call on at any time to eliminate targets or help in a fight. He could send them abroad to complete missions and gather wealth from around the Mediterranean. And he could buy up property, eventually turning the Assassin Brotherhood into Rome’s biggest real-estate barons. Brotherhood also offered a better look at the full Master Assassin initiation ceremony, complete with a speech delivered partially in Arabic and a symbolic branding (but not severing) of the initiate’s ring finger. But while Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood did a lot to flesh out its titular order, we’d soon see this was just one tiny sliver of the larger whole.

Assassin’s Creed Revelations (circa 1511-1512 CE)

The Ottoman Brotherhood of Assassins, whom Ezio met on his journey to Istanbul, had come up with a few inventions even Leonardo hadn’t thought of – like the Hookblade, for example, a (literal) twist on the Hidden Blade that could be used to descend ziplines, throw enemies, and extend its wearer’s reach when climbing. Where Ezio’s Brotherhood kept their activities relatively quiet, the Ottoman Brotherhood wasn’t afraid of urban warfare, and would routinely skirmish with Byzantine Templars for control of strategically placed Assassin Dens around the city. They also had much louder tools at their disposal, and could craft any number of bombs and explosive mines to distract or destroy their enemies.

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Assassin’s Creed Revelations – being the first game in the series to bring things full-circle – also offers glimpses of Altaïr’s later years, as Ezio tracks down artifacts holding the elder Assassin’s memories. With the help of the Apple of Eden, Altaïr eventually took control of the secretive Assassins and became an enlightened reformer, helping to spread the Brotherhood’s ethos and dedication to free will far beyond the walls of their fortresses and bureaus. Really far, as it turned out.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (circa 1715-1722 CE)

The Assassin Brotherhood is big – worldwide big. And nowhere is that more apparent than in this adventure through the Caribbean, in which pirate Edward Kenway stumbles into the Brotherhood after stealing a set of robes from a dead (and traitorous) Assassin. Black Flag creates parallels between pirates, with their rough attempts at democracy, and Assassins, with their dedication to free will, but never really blurs the lines; besides having a more rigid hierarchy and more severe demeanor (as exemplified by the Maya Assassin Mentor Ah Tabai) the Assassins serve a higher purpose than themselves, and a big part of Edward’s journey is coming to grips with that.

[UN][ACM] Out Now - Evolution of the Assassins article - AC Black Flag

Another big part is getting to bring a mixture of Assassin and pirate tools into battle. Edward’s Hidden Blade didn’t hide a gun, but it didn’t need to – he could carry up to four pistols, and use them in quick succession. Rope darts – good for harpooning enemies and hanging them from tall branches – filled out Edward’s arsenal with impressive Assassin flair, but his biggest and best weapon was his ship, the Jackdaw, which he could use to freely sail the Caribbean and blast other ships to smithereens before boarding and plundering them.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue (circa 1752-1760 CE)

Assassin’s Creed Rogue is a reminder that, as players, we tend to get a very one-sided view of the Assassin-Templar conflict. As Assassin-turned-Templar Shay Cormac, we see the other side – where Assassins, desperate to keep ancient artifacts out of Templar hands, clumsily tamper with them and trigger catastrophic harm. Where they conspire with criminals to extort and poison civilians. Where they could be hiding around every corner, in every haystack, on every roof, waiting to ambush you and the people you’re trying to protect.

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Assassin’s Creed Rogue turns what we thought we knew about the secret war on its head, showing us honorable (if ruthless) Templars and reckless, destructive Assassins who represent free will without restraint. Later entries put the Brotherhood back on the side of unambiguous good – but after this, shadows of doubt always flicker around the edges.

Assassin’s Creed III (circa 1754-1783 CE)

Assassin’s Creed III is, on its surface, about the American Revolution – but beneath that, it’s about finding a place to belong. The story introduces us first to another Assassin-turned-Templar, Haytham Kenway – son of the pirate Edward, and named for the Hidden One who brought the Brotherhood back to England. The story then switches focus to Connor, Haytham’s half-Native American son, a child not of two but four worlds: English, Kanienʼkehá:ka’, Templar, and Assassin. Seeking a sense of purpose and community, Connor finds it amid the shattered remnants of the Colonial Brotherhood – all but annihilated after the events of Assassin’s Creed Rogue – and, later, among George Washington’s revolutionaries.

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Connor’s unique background and training enabled him to bring a broad variety of weapons and expertise into battle, not least of which were his Hidden Blades, which now featured a joint that let him grip them like standard knives, and a unique tomahawk styled to resemble the Assassin crest. While his quest for revenge would eventually leave him disillusioned, it would also become the foundation of the revitalized American Brotherhood – the one to which the series’ first modern-day hero, Desmond Miles, would one day grow up within.

Assassin’s Creed Unity (circa 1776-1808 CE)

In 18th century Paris, the Assassin-Templar war had seemingly cooled, with leaders of both orders maintaining cordial relations and even working toward a truce. When a prominent Assassin was killed at Versailles, his son was taken in and raised by the Templar Grandmaster, François de la Serre. When de la Serre is later murdered by other Templars, the Assassins authorize his adopted ward, Arno Dorian, to investigate and avenge his death. It’s all very genteel, and – like the Assassin-Templar love story at the heart of Unity – seems designed to answer a question asked in Assassin’s Creed III: What if Assassins and Templars worked together? The answer: They’ve tried! It just never quite works out.

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While their leaders hoped for peace, the Assassins of the Enlightenment Era are still well-prepared for their clandestine war. The Phantom Blade adds a tiny, collapsible crossbow to the Hidden Blade, enabling Arno and his compatriots to silently assassinate targets at a distance. And while they still favor the traditional hoods, the Assassin costumes of this era had become much closer to civilian clothing, generally avoiding the bright white of previous generations – the better to blend in while gracefully free-running across Paris’ densely packed buildings.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (circa 1868 CE)

By the Victorian era, the British Brotherhood had all but done away with the robes and ceremonial trappings of their forebears, instead opting to avoid detection with more ordinary street clothes. The Assassins had also been driven almost completely out of London, something the Frye twins, Jacob and Evie, seek to change by uniting the city’s gangs under their own banner.

More so than any Assassin since Ezio, the Frye twins embrace technology and gadgets. Their Hidden Blades are full-on gauntlets, housing not just the blade and hidden darts, but a rope launcher that can pull them skyward or create ziplines between London’s far-flung buildings. Their real weapons of choice, however, are small and easily concealed – revolvers, brass knuckles, kukris, and cane swords, as well as the odd voltaic bomb (an invention of Alexander Graham Bell). Syndicate also shows us a long glimpse of Jacob’s granddaughter, Lydia Frye, who wears an olive-drab update on the traditional Assassin uniform while hunting spies for Winston Churchill during World War I – and who remains the most modern Assassin we’ve played as to date.

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Well, aside from Desmond, of course. And Darcy, who appears in DLC for Watch Dogs: Legion. And now, technically, Basim (we won’t spoil why), whose origins you can discover in Assassin’s Creed Mirage, available now for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC via the Ubisoft Store and Epic Games Store, and Amazon Luna, and is included with a Ubisoft+ subscription. For more on the game, check out how it’s a revitalized take on the series’ roots, learn more about its History of Baghdad feature, and make sure your rig is ready with our rundown of the PC version’s specs and features.

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