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This article will consolidate the recaps for all the games in the Assassin's Creed series.
Spoiler alert: This page contains unmarked plot spoilers. Read at your own risk.
The Assassins and Templars are two factions that have been vying for power for thousands of years. The Templars' goal is to bring Order by stripping humanity of its free will. To that end they are willing to enslave and murder, engineer wars, and commit countless atrocities. The Assassins' goal is to safeguard the freedom of humanity by selectively eliminating those people who would seek to dominate it, which typically means the Templars.
In addition to the surface conflict, the two sides are fighting over artifacts left behind by an ancient civilization known only as The Ones Who Came Before. They had a glorious First Civilization that was destroyed in some sort of catastrophe, and they left behind bits of their technology -- known as the Pieces of Eden -- which, among their other uses, can enslave the minds of humans. The Templars want these to cement their control over humanity. The Assassins want them to keep the Templars from getting them.
The modern day incarnation of the Templars is a Mega Corp known as Abstergo. Using technology reverse-engineered from the Pieces of Eden, they have built a device called the Animus, which allows its users to relive their Genetic Memory in a holographic projection. They employ this device to research the lives of individuals who had contact with other Pieces in order to discover their locations. However, the Pieces of Eden have their own purpose: to communicate a final, crucial message from the First Civilization.
Desmond Miles is a modern-day descendant of the Assassins but didn't believe in any of that mumbo jumbo until he was snatched off of the street by Abstergo, a Mega Corp that is the modern front of the Templars. They compel him to use a device called the Animus which can access the Genetic Memory of his ancestors. You see, Desmond has a unique bloodline -- one that prominently features several Assassins who had close contact with the Pieces of Eden, and Abstergo hopes to plumb his memories to find their location.
His captors are a Templar Master by the name of Warren Vidic, who is the principal author of the Animus program, and Lucy Stillman, a scientist who knows the ins and outs of the Animus and appears to be sympathetic to Desmond's plight. As Desmond works in the Animus, she secretly helps him access internal Abstergo emails revealing what seems to be an Assassin scheme to rescue him. There are also cryptic references to a Subject Sixteen, who was his predecessor in the Animus program -- he is Subject Seventeen. Sixteen apparently went insane through overexposure to the Animus and committed suicide.
Desmond relives the rise to fame of a Persian Assassin named Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad who lived during the Crusades. At the start of the story, he is brash and arrogant, and violates the Assassin's Code on a mission to retrieve one of the Pieces of Eden for his master, Al Mualim. He is stripped of his rank after a symbolic death and forced to relearn his trade by killing nine targets assigned to him by Al Mualim. Each is a Templar who has committed vile acts in the furtherance of their cause. The final target is Robert de Sade, a vicious killer who leads the armies of the Crusades on behalf of King Richard.
In each mission, he hears things from the mouths of his victims that cause him to doubt the rightness of his cause. When he returns to Al Mualim, he learns the truth: his master is also a Templar who used Altaïr to eliminate his rivals for power. He attempts to use the Piece of Eden to control Altaïr, but fails. Altaïr fights and defeats him, and when he holds the Piece of Eden, he is astonished to see a vision of the entire planet, with the locations of the other Pieces of Eden marked on it.
Vidic pulls Desmond out of the Animus, having discovered the information that he sought. Desmond is told that he will be killed, since he's no longer needed, but Lucy convinces Vidic that he might still have value if the locations of the Pieces of Eden don't pan out. They leave him alone in the lab, when Desmond makes an astonishing discovery. Altaïr's Eagle Vision -- his ability to see things beyond the perception of other people -- has somehow communicated itself through the Animus to him. He sees cryptic messages written on the walls, floor, and ceiling of the laboratory, apparently in blood. The game ends.
Assassin's Creed II
This game opens at the exact moment that the previous one ended. Desmond Miles is alone in the Abstergo lab under stay of execution, pondering the meaning of his newly discovered Eagle Vision, when Lucy Stillman returns. She reveals herself as a sleeper agent for the Assassins and tells him to come along, that they are escaping. He will be killed if he remains, but if they join her cell, Desmond can use the Animus they built to explore more of his ancestors' memories, both to learn more about the Pieces of Eden and to exploit the Bleeding Effect to learn the skills of the Assassins.
Desmond's Eagle Vision comes in handy as they make their way out of the lab, and on the way to a secret hideout they meet Lucy's allies: a Playful Hacker by the name of Shaun Hastings and a Wrench Wench by the name of Rebecca Crane. Lucy gives Rebecca the memory chip she stole from Abstergo's Animus, which contains not only Desmond's memory sequence but also that of Subject Sixteen, Desmond's predecessor in the Animus program. Sixteen apparently left encrypted messages in the Animus that only Desmond can recover.
This time, Desmond is exploring the memories of a more recent ancestor, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Born to a wealthy Florentine banker, Ezio enjoys a carefree youth until the dirty politics of Italy catch up with him and his father and brothers are framed and executed for treason. Obeying his father's last request, Ezio opens a hidden chest and discovers a set of Assassin robes and gear. Thus begins his initiation into the Order.
Making his base in the villa of Monterrigioni, Ezio embarks on a long journey through the cities and political intrigues of Renaissance Italy on his quest for revenge. He takes down the Pazzi family first, his family's direct murderers, and moves on to other noble families implicated in the conspiracy. Along the way, he befriends a number of august historical personages, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Caterina Sforza. He also discovers the subtle machinations of the Templars behind it all.
The trail ultimately leads to Rodrigo Borgia, the would-be Pope. He is a master Templar and seeking to gain control of several Pieces of Eden, among them the Apple of Eden (a different one than Altaïr's) and, it turns out, the Papal Staff. Ezio manages to intercept the Apple and recover it instead. He prepares to face Rodrigo but before he can do so, all of the people who have helped him over the years reveal themselves as Assassins and officially induct him into the Order.
Outside the Animus, Lucy and the other Assassins express their concern for Desmond's well-being. The Bleeding Effect is rapidly granting him Ezio's skills but he is having hallucinations and other symptoms of excessive Animus use. The various Assassin cells around the world are being hunted down by a concerted effort from Abstergo and time is running out. Their only hope is to discover the location of Ezio's Apple of Eden so they can prevent Abstergo from acquiring it.
Ezio confronts Rodrigo Borgia, now Pope, in the Vatican. Rodrigo has the Papal Staff, but Ezio has the Apple, and a battle of mystic forces ensues. Despite Rodrigo's treachery, Ezio prevails, but the fires of his quest for vengeance have cooled and he elects to spare his foe's life.
The Staff and the Apple combine to open a secret vault beneath the Vatican built by The Ones Who Came Before. Inside, Ezio finds not the treasure or wisdom that he hopes for, but a holographic projection of a member of that ancient race. Calling herself Minerva, she addresses Desmond himself, using Ezio as a conduit. She tells him of an ancient cataclysm that befell the First Civilization and warns Desmond that he has only a short while to locate the other Vaults before such a disaster will happen again.
In the epilogue, Abstergo attacks the Assassins' hideout and Desmond confronts Vidic one more time as he uses his newfound skills to defeat Abstergo's security forces. Vidic retreats, but the Assassins flee to seek a new hiding spot to continue their search for the Apple.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Desmond, Rebecca, Shaun, and Lucy, on the run from Abstergo's security forces, make their way to the modern day Monterrigioni, now an archaeological site. By doing so, they hope that proximity to the long-time home of his ancestor, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, will help Desmond synchronize better with the memories. However, it carries a corresponding risk to his sanity, as he is increasingly having trouble distinguishing between his reality and Ezio's. He reenters the Animus in the hopes of discovering where Ezio left his Apple of Eden.
Back in Renaissance Italy, Ezio returns to Monterrigioni, bearing the Apple and victorious in his conflict with Rodrigo Borgia, but confused over the meaning of the cryptic message he found beneath the Vatican. He is given little time to relax, as the villa suddenly comes under siege by an army under the command of Cesare Borgia, Rodrigo's son. Cesare has come to reclaim the Apple. In the ensuing battle, Ezio is wounded and his best friend Mario is killed by Cesare. Ezio heads for Rome to avenge Mario's death, but passes out from his wounds.
He awakens in Rome, having been brought there by an unknown person. He discovers a city that has fallen into despair and corruption under the crushing influence of the Borgias. The Assassin presence there is minimal and its economy is in shambles, while Cesare lives in pomp and debauchery and plots to conquer all of Italy. Consulting with Niccolo Machiavelli, Ezio determines that the best course of action is to undermine Cesare's base of power by reclaiming Rome from his control.
Over the course of months, Ezio recruits new Assassins to revitalize the Brotherhood. He renovates local businesses and recruits to his side the Mercenary Guild, the Thieves' Guild, and the Courtesans' Guild. He finds his old friend, Leonardo da Vinci, forced to build machines of war for the Borgias, and sets out to destroy them and burn the plans. He finds Cesare's allies and financial backers and kills them. He also confronts and uproots a pagan cult fomented by the Church in order to drive people into its arms.
By the time Cesare returns to Rome, his power is broken, his armies are leaderless, and his money is gone. He appeals desperately to his father for aid, but this time Rodrigo has had enough. He attempts to poison Cesare, but his sister Lucrezia (who is also Cesare's lover) reveals the plot. Cesare murders Rodrigo with his own poisoned fruit and then attempts to seize control of Rome using the Apple. Ezio, however, has been watching the whole time and beats Cesare to it. Using the Apple, he singlehandedly crushes Cesare's remaining forces until the would-be tyrant is arrested for treason by the new Pope.
Ezio has defeated his enemies yet again, reclaimed the Apple, and stands atop a revitalized Rome. Accordingly, the other Assassins now name him the Grand Master of the Order. He has one task left, however. The Apple has shown him that Cesare will escape his imprisonment. Ezio sets out to hunt him down, and finally confronts him years later in Spain. In the ensuing battle, he throws Cesare off a wall.
That is the end of Ezio's fight, but not Desmond's. He views one final memory: of Ezio sealing the Apple in a vault beneath the Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli. With all the signs and portents giving them a mere seventy two days until the catastrophe of which Minerva spoke in the previous game (and not coincidentally, the launch of the Templars' Mind Control satellite), Desmond's team travels there and discovers the vault.
Inside, Desmond alone can see and hear visions of another representative of The Ones Who Came Before. Calling herself Juno, she talks of their society creating humans and attempting to bestow upon them their powers of Knowing, but succeeding only partially. She tells Desmond that he is not ready, but that he must go forth and find the remaining member of their triumvirate before time runs out. When he touches the Apple, she takes control of his body and forces him to stab Lucy with his Hidden Blade. Desmond falls into a coma, and the remaining Assassins, shocked and grief stricken but with no other options, put him back in the Animus to protect his psyche while they ponder what to do next.