Ubisoft has created a massive fictional world in the Assassin's Creed franchise that spans across a variety of platforms all the way to the Nintendo DS to the Microsoft Xbox One and just about everywhere in between. Spanning centuries of history, it's difficult to decide where to jump into the narrative now as a Creed newcomer. Are you better off entering through the Italian Renaissance or during the period of colonial expansion in North America? What about the Crusades? Maybe the age of piracy in the Caribbean? Mike Williams at USgamer has put together a detailed guide of which Assassin's Creed games are worth your time and which you can safely skip. Here's some of the introduction:
The Assassin's Creed franchise as a whole tells the story of the The Assassin Order, also known as the Brotherhood, and their enemies, the Templars. The two forces have been fighting a philosophical war for centuries: the Assassins believe in total freedom for all people, while the Templars believe true peace is achieved through establishing order. The war has been going on since 465 BC, but what we seen in the series started with the Hashashin and the Knights Templar during the Third Crusade. It's from this period that franchise draws its name with the Assassin Order's creed: Nothing is true, everything is permitted.
The conceit of the series is that you're not directly playing the assassins of each era. You're actually in control of their descendants in the modern day or near future. These descendants are using a machine called the Animus to connect to the genetic memories of the original assassins, living through their lives. The Animus was created by a large corporation called Abstergo Industries, which is actually the modern face of the Templar organization. Most games in the franchise have a modern day component, which range from simple loading screens to full missions for the modern day protagonist.
I rented Assassin's Creed II on a curious lark the year after it was originally released for the Sony PlayStation 3 and immediately fell in love with the setting. Climbing around Italy during the Renaissance was so much more fun than I'd expected, and since I already knew some about that point in real life history (thanks to an AP European History course I'd taken back in high school), I felt I was getting more out of the game and enjoying it on a different level than the developers probably intended. Assassin's Creed is a franchise that rewards the player for knowing something about its historical setting. You don't have to know the details to enjoy it, of course, but it certainly helps to have a working knowledge of the era in question. It's also a series that isn't afraid to commit to the surreal. I'll never forget Assassin Ezio Auditore's endgame fist fight with Pope Alexander VI, for instance. I eagerly bought the immediate sequels Brotherhood and Revelations, but it was the buggy Assassin's Creed III that started to put me off the franchise. I barely scratched the surface of its tie-in game Liberation and only played the first few hours of Assassin's Creed IV.
Now I'm making my way through the broken Assassin's Creed Unity for the PS4 and when the game is working, I can feel some of the old magic that drew me into the franchise in the first place. When it breaks (and it breaks often in all kinds of strange ways on a scale from hilarious to aggravating), I'm reminded of why I started to drift away from the Assassins and the Templars. Despite my misgivings and frustrations in recent years, I'm still a fan and still recommend the series overall, but it's not necessary to play every game. Just like an Assassin, you have to choose your battles.