Assassin’s Creed 3 Could Have Made Us Care About Templars

Warning! This editorial is pretty much all spoilers for Assassin’s Creed 3. If you want your story experience with the game to remain intact, you should just leave right now. Go on.


When you fire up Assassin’s Creed 3 and first enter the Animus, the machine that transports you to the 1700s for the “past” portion of the game, you’re met with an interesting turn of events. Despite the fact that we’ve been hearing about the Native American hero of the game, Connor, for months, you start the game playing a white English dude by the name of Haytham Kenway.

As it turns out, you spend the entire first quarter of the game as Haytham, following him through assassination missions and freerunning as he searches for the temple that Desmond discovers in the beginning of the game. And then the big kicker comes — it turns out that Haytham is the father of Connor, and that he isn’t a member of the Assassins at all: he’s one of the evil Templar. In fact, he’s their leader in America.

Whoa.

Or at least, “Whoa” is clearly what the developers hoped you’d say. In reality, I found myself saying, “Ugh.”

The reason is that Haytham is an incredibly good character, especially in terms of the Assassin’s Creed series. He’s deep, rounded and sympathetic. He’s interesting and driven without being obsessed. He’s clearly intelligent. He’s clearly a believer in his own cause. He clearly is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals, good or ill.

It’s in the first few moments after we leave Haytham that Assassin’s Creed 3 squanders its best opportunity to tell an awesome story instead of one that’s only pretty good. Immediately after we join up with Connor, the situation changes. Even though we’ve spent a few hours not only warming up to Haytham, but helping him establish his Templar Order in America and growing fond of his allies, we have to start hating them since they’re the mortal enemies of Connor. And so, Assassin’s Creed 3 turns Haytham’s second-in-command, Charles Lee, into a cruel bigot and convinces Connor that Lee (and by extension, Haytham) is responsible for the death of his mother. Connor’s hatred of Lee persists throughout the game and colors his relationship with Haytham when they finally meet up later.

It’s a great dynamic, to have father and son on different sides of this enduring conflict, but while Assassin’s Creed 3 effectively plays with our notions of “good” and “bad” in terms of the Founding Fathers of the United States, they fail to do so with their own story conventions in the Templars and Assassins. The time we spend with Haytham reveals that, while he can be ruthless, he’s by no means evil — he just sees things differently than Connor. This would be a great opportunity to explain to us the Templar point of view and to humanize it; instead of just making one group “good” and the other “evil,” Ubisoft could have made one group “human” and the other group “also human.” It would have been a challenging dynamic.

Instead, it’s a completely botched opportunity.

We get to see Haytham again later in the game, and he’s just as compelling as Connor’s estranged father as he was when we were controlling him. He actually shames Connor by being a much more rounded and interesting character. In the end, however, Connor cuts ties from Haytham without ever having a meaningful conversation with the man, when the poignant question — Why are you doing what you’re doing?! — is screaming to be asked by the game. At no point in the Assassins’ Creed series have the Templars been anything but self-serving egomaniacs.

Haytham is different, though. He was formerly an Assassin and was brought around to the Templar way of thinking. He remains a merciful and just man when he can be one. Though he kills and tortures, he also spares lives and goes out of his way to help innocents. And yet he subscribes to the Templar viewpoint. It was a perfect opportunity for Ubisoft not only to show us what that viewpoint was, but to challenge Connor, and us, as complicit in the murders of many, many Templars over the course of the game series. What if we were doing the wrong thing in killing those men?

Ubisoft even goes so far as to make us wonder as we’re moving through Assassin’s Creed 3. Each of the Templars we assassinate has something to say about what they were planning, and why they weren’t such bad folks. One talks about how he meant to purchase land held by Connor’s Mohawk tribe in order to protect it from the Patriot settlers (who eventually take it from Connor’s people anyway); another claims that his position as a British commander at the Battle of Bunker Hill was to prevent war, not ignite it.

Connor dismisses everything the Templars have to say as lies and deception, and it’s really, really unfortunate that we’re given such an easy out for our own murderous actions and Connor’s murderous decisions. What if the Templars really did have the best solution to the problem? What if they weren’t just reduced to Bond villain status for the sake of giving us a reason to stab some guys?

I’ve said on more than one occasion that I’d love to see a Haytham Assassin’s Creed game, because that character deserves to be explored and utilized. He’s the best thing Ubisoft has yet created in Assassin’s Creed, and it’s a bummer to see him squandered before being summarily executed by Connor. Their relationship was interesting, but could have been the most compelling bit of storytelling in the series. For a game that challenges our notions of our own history and the good of our revolution for us Americans, it seems like an utter shame that the game didn’t take the chance to question our bloodlust and whether wielding the Assassin’s blades have been good for the world they’ve created as well.


Follow Hornshaw and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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24 Comments on Assassin’s Creed 3 Could Have Made Us Care About Templars

folklore

On November 2, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Great article. Sounds like ubisoft missed a golden opportunity. I would have really liked to have a reason to listen to the Templar speeches before murdering them. It would have been even better if they through a optional side parts, showed what it might have been like if they hadn’t died. By optional i mean like books or notes scattered through out the world.

Atonnis

On November 2, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I could not agree more with this article. Haytham was a character I really grew into quickly. He had charm, wit, and a solid, depth that really warmed me to the game after I had worries I’d get involved with the characters in this game like I did the previous ones – the same worries I had with Ezio before I got to play as him.

Part of me can’t help but wonder if they added Haytham in half-way through development when they realised that Connor comes across as an attitude-ridden, constantly whining, never respectful……well……. I didn’t like Connor. I tried to warm to him, but every time I even started to settle into him (probably through taking away my stress through the application of severe amounts of violence against small woodland critters) he just went off on another pissy rampage. He never seems to be about taking on adversity, just more about stabbing everyone when he doesn’t get his way.

Atonnis

On November 2, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Oh, on a side note – I’m still considering Stephane Chapheau as possibly my favourite character of the game – just for that absolutely brilliant rampage through the streets of Boston when he completely loses his rag over getting robbed.

Wesker1984

On November 3, 2012 at 8:35 am

Who cares?? It’s not Mass Effect, so it’s not relevant.

R.J.

On November 3, 2012 at 7:22 pm

This is definitely something that seems like a missed opportunity. As Phil mentioned, the Templars Connor kills don’t consider themselves the bad guys, which I suppose is fairly standard, but this time we actually got to see them before and see that perhaps there was some sort of benevolent intention that at least started them on this path. In one optional conversation, Desmond asks his father if the two groups had ever considered working together, especially since the world is at stake. They discuss that the two groups are completely incompatible, but it gets boiled down to simply control vs. freedom. I really thought that with how this game started they would show us that not every Templar is a complete villain, yet once the big reveal happens it seems like there was a switch that turned them into bad guys.

Jimbo

On November 4, 2012 at 9:05 pm

…lazy Ubisoft Writers…

Angek

On November 4, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Sounds like Lazy Ubisoft Writing…

weedle

On November 5, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Haven’t finished the game yet, but Connor kinda disappoints me too XP
He’s a bit too rude, abrasive, naive, bland, etc etc. And he doesn’t have a tenth of the style Haytham does.
Stephane Chapeau’s awesome too, with characters like those around, Connor doesn’t come off any better. Stephane and Haytham both had moments that that made me cheer at the screen (Stephane’s very subtle assassination technique, for instance). Connor just makes me facepalm.
Then again, I’m also the sort of guy who’d be a Templar over an Assassin any day, so there you go.
I’m hoping Connor undergoes decent development throughout the course of the game, like how Ezio went from being slightly annoying to actually quite likable throughout his arc, but I’m not holding my breath.

Ian Brett Cooper

On November 14, 2012 at 2:28 am

I agree. I’d go further, in that I really didn’t like the Connor character at all. He was dull, dimwitted and whiny. Haytham, on the other hand, was charismatic, intelligent, heroic and interesting. A lost opportunity indeed.

Auditore

On November 28, 2012 at 2:55 am

Haytham heroic? You guys must be templars.

Frank

On December 1, 2012 at 1:53 pm

“Best thing Ubisoft has yet created in Assassins Creed” Taking it too far there. Ok you have a high opinion of Haytham as Many have taken from AC3 . You forget to mention that each and every Templar who spoke himself Up was contradicting with his actions. One of the speeches in-game presents the Idea that no matter what action someone is taking, they believe they are in the right. Alot of people are becoming Templar sympathizers simply because Haytham as a character outshone Connor in the sense that he appeared more experienced. Ezio Wasn’t so enlightened and Bad ass in 2 but when Brotherhood hit and he was older, wiser and completely kick-ass. Its just a pity that connor won’t get that chance to be shown as a Seasoned assassin. But for everyone to jump ship like this? god damn guys! I thought we were Assassins?! ;p

Phil Hornshaw

On December 1, 2012 at 4:47 pm

@Frank

I definitely think there was more to Haytham being more interesting than Connor than his experience level. I was able to relate to Haytham more, and Connor tended to be a bit of whiner and sorta dumb. But it wasn’t that Haytham was the better assassin, it was that he was actually had reasons for his actions. And as for the other Templars, this is the first game in which I felt like Connor’s actions were the wrong ones. Even though the Templars always try to justify their actions, killing them all without really knowing what they were doing was another reason for not liking Connor. The point was, the Templars didn’t seem like bad guys, and Connor tended to murder them without really figuring out all that was going on. Haytham, on the other hand, seemed more measured and thoughtful about dealing death — at least to some degree.

Stephen

On February 3, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Maybe they will make another game based around Haytham’s point of view? I’d love to see that personally it could add a great aspect of who’s actually evil if any side actually is

CoCoBean

On February 17, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Maybe making us dislike Connor and like Haytham is Ubisofts way of warming us up to the templars for future games

Phil Hornshaw

On February 17, 2013 at 6:17 pm

@CoCoBean

That could be cool.

Bob

On March 8, 2013 at 6:02 am

@Phil Hornshaw
It could be cool, but as usual, Ubisoft will go for the least cool option when writing their stories. For example, remember the ending of AC Brotherhood, where Desmond stabs Lucy? The forums were alight with ideas and theories. My particular favourite: The 21/12/2012 had already passed, the world had already ended, and what we were actually seeing was Desmond’s memories, being re-lived by his son in an Animus, with Ezio’s memories being a memory within a memory. That would have been a worthwhile plot twist, and allowed for present-day AC3 to be set in a post-appocalytic world with a less-boring, more intelligent protagonist than Desmond.

Instead, at the end of AC3, all we are left with is a half-hearted attempt at a plot twist that does nothing more than reduce all of those previous, and possibly mind-blowing plot leads to a worthless set of Ubisoft MacGuffins. The ending of AC3 is simply a slap in the face for anyone who played the previous games and theorised about how great an ending the series could have had.

Jesse

On March 11, 2013 at 10:49 am

Just started playing the game recently and this is a great article.

Haytham is such a great character I’m tempted to say it was a mistake to include him, because his presence made Connor a very unlikable character. Not “unlikable” as in a bad person, just very, very dumb, naive and generally clueless. And yet he’s somehow the “Savior of the Revolution?”

It’s like Ubisoft went with the Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader thing, only with Luke being even more infantile.

Connor

On November 4, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Well I agree on your criticism that Connor never really asks himself “why he does what he is doing”.
But you didnt mention the most important thing about this plot hole, the main problem with the story of ac3:
After Connor finds out that Washington destroyed his village and killed his mother nothing changes.

I liked the story a lot but that point makes it really difficult to be satisfied with it, Nothing changes!
Remember the reason connor became an assassin was to protect his people and more than anything else to have revenge on the ass who burned his mother.

So the assumption that Charles Lee may have been responsible is enough to make his whole life revolve around killing charles while the fact that it IS washington changes nothing? Doesnt Connor get that everything he did was unlogical? Not only supporting washington – also the support of the patriots is totally against the interests of him. Remember he doesnt care for assassins brotherhood, he wants his people safe PLUS haytham is his father. STILL he is willing to kill him knowing that anything that drives him is not true.

Logical would have been: When Connor finds out Washington destroyed his village he assassinates him and remembering johnson’s words when he dies he joins Haytham and the templars to get rid of the patriots and gain control of the land the natives live on to protect it from the government.

Mahalo

On November 8, 2013 at 5:25 am

Okay I liked Haytham as much as all of you yes I warmed up to him and his Templar subordinate’s,but I also warmed up to Connor and yes I agree with the fact that the Patroit’s ended up taking Connor’s people land’s as being total bull and yes I agree that the Templar’s had a point Pitcairn when he died,Johnson when he died. Church not so much,Hickey wasn’t actually a Templar so he doesn’t really count. And I really did hate Lee even if he did not burn down Connor’s village admit it he’s an a** and freedom as Haytham said may be dangerous but power is just as dangerous if not more. It corrupt’s even those with the best of intention’s.

Anon

On November 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Haytham was not formerly an Assassin. He was already a Templar at 22 when he discovered his father was an Assassin. Just an FYI.

James Abrahams

On November 14, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Totally agreed! Haytham was an awesome character and interacting with him was amazing

sinabey

On November 15, 2013 at 3:32 am

I think the main reason for connor’s actions to feel wrong is that it contradicts both with the entire assassin school of thought and the very discourse he has throughout the game.

An example for the latter is that I found it a very miserable attempt to show haytham as a villain through many dialogues where he ruthlessly disposes people as soon as he’s done with them and connor is horrified with this. if this was a game of doctor who and the only accessory connor had was the sonic screwdriver, then it would fit into the legacy of the character. But, after butchering hunderds of people up to that point – most of which is probably just for fun – it just is redundant and hypocritical as a part of his script. You might think killing the redcoats for fun is not necessarily something connor did and it’s your own choice, but considering the fact that even killing animals and not skinning them desynchronize you, then I expect that it’s something that connor character can do, within the boundaries of the story universe’s logic.

The way he contradicts with the assassin school of thought (or just the assassin’s creed) is that even though he fights for freedom, he is obsessively hellbent on revenge that he doesn’t leave anyone room for manoeuvre. he argues with everyone, extremely intolerant, kills on sight, dismisses every attempt of dialogue, disses achilles. When you add on top of this the last words of dying templars who try to explain themselves in a way that actually sounds plausible, there is no way for you not to pause for a second and think “why not?”.

the bottom line for me is, if both characters existed in real life, i’d love to hang out with ezio, but having connor around would stress me out. of course these are different story arcs and history of the two characters are completely different. it is unfair to compare a native orphan raised by a hermit assassin to a self taught renaissance man of a formerly wealthy family, rubbing shoulders with the people of highest intellect of his time. but still, as the main article suggests, ac3 felt like there were a lot of good opportunities to be pursued and yet they were shallowly addressed and hence wasted through the process. Even though the concept is very appealing, maybe the father and son in different sides story arc should have never been addressed here and left for edward and haytham to explore thoroughly. this way we could get to see what drives an assassin to change factions and the half measure attempts to humanize the templars would provide a very fruitful setting, maybe good enough to be explored on a separate game of its own.

Michael Irizarry

On September 8, 2014 at 11:18 am

Hey man, I so I agree with you mostly but I feel Ubisoft did humanize the Templars. Throughout the game Conner found himself respecting his father, and seeing the honor in him even though he was a Templar. But one of the main divisions between the Assassins and Templars, and one of the main reasons they always fight is because the Templar’s methods are too extreme for them. They inherently want the same thing, but the Templars look at the world with pessimism outlook, only offering an extreme alternative that the optimistic Assassin’s can’t accept, for reason of their own self-righteousness. Regardless the Templars have proven throughout the series to use less than moral means to manipulate and achieve their goal. The Assassin’s exist to achieve the same mission but feel that the methods the Templars employ are far to immoral for them. Instead of both groups trying to agree on common view, both sides find the other side uncooperable and will continue to fight each other. This war against each other, has only alienated and undermined each other throughout history.
Juno is the only character really painted as evil throughout the series. I do hope in the end, Templars and Assassins will have no choice but to have work together, both of their creeds allowing each other to cooperate. Juno using the ancient technology to enslave humanity, is completely against the Templar’s own creed which to protect humanity. The Assassins want to free humanity at all cost, so they will obviously be opposed to Juno’s dark intent as well. Unfortunately I find it far more likely that Juno will simply trick the Templars into helping her, then betraying them and enslaving them then using their resources as her weapon against the Assassins. What I found most interesting is how Desmond acted like a Templar in his last few minutes. Desmond had the chance to protect humanity, or free humanity. In the end he chose to protect it from Juno, at the sacrifice of their potential freedom…Imagine if Abestergo starts training their new recruits with Desmond’s memory and through him all his ancestory.

Phil Hornshaw

On September 8, 2014 at 11:26 am

@Michael

Good points all, but it can’t be denied that the Templars seem to recruit plenty of power-hungry jerkfaces, and I often feel like it’s just to help you feel like you’re on the right side of murdering a bunch of folks. But the whole idea does have me interested in Rogue when it comes out later this year. I actually spoke with one of the producers at PAX about this very idea, since Rogue is about an assassin-turned-Templar who then hunts down other assassins (basically Darth Vader). Sounds like Ubisoft is looking to further explore this aspect and if there’s anything that still interests me about the AC universe, it’s this.

If you care to read it: http://www.gamefront.com/assassins-creed-rogue-preview-a-templar-you-can-believe-in/

Anyway you make a good point about Desmond, too — ultimately he DOES choose the Templar path of what is essentially well-meaning subjugation. I’d be interested in how the templars respond to some of these ideas. When they come off as not-bad guys, they’re way more interesting. You might be right about the Juno angle eventually meaning Templars get tricked into helping her (their power-hungriness feels like it’ll play in line with that thinking — could easily become a Mass Effect 3-style Cerberus situation), but it’d be way MORE interesting if the Templars and the assassins eventually joined forces against the common enemy.

Then again we might never get that far since Ubisoft doesn’t seem like it’s going to be bringing this series toward a conclusive arc anytime soon.