An Architect’s Love Letter to Assassin’s Creed

I’m currently an architecture student and honestly, studying this has made me love video games more.

The reason being that studying this has made me notice and appreciate one of the important things in a video game. That being the environment.

More specifically, the architecture used in a location as it not only shows how it is important for the “game design” of the game but also how it is crucial for the story. 

Let’s say for example, if the developers want to show the mood of the location, they would choose an architecture style which suits that mood. That being said, I do have to study a lot of architectural styles, their elements, somewhat how the culture affected that style.

While I was studying this, it honestly reminded me of one thing and one thing only, which is Assassin’s Creed.

Hagia Sophia in Assassin’s Creed Revelations

If someone were to ask me “what is my favorite game?”, I would reply by saying that it would be Assassin’s Creed. Not a specific game but the entire franchise. One reason being is that it always fulfills one of the requirements that I look for in a game which is “open world”.

The other reason being that the games are set in real events that happen throughout history. I’m a history freak and seeing particular events in the game made me love the franchise even more. Also not to mention, even meeting the famous people like Leonardo Da Vinci or President George Washington made my heart race. 

Well, back to the main topic, the reason which made me reminded me of this franchise is the architecture seen in those games. Well you might be wondering why I’m making a big deal out of this as since the game is set in actual places, it will also show the architecture of that era as well.

Which is something I agree with, but the thing is that Ubisoft is giving an architect like me a chance to explore the architecture styles that were used in that particular era, up close and personal and for that reason I will always be eternally grateful to them. To be on the same page, an architectural style is a representation of an art form in a building making its features and structures historically identifiable. So let us go on a journey to explore these architectural styles shall we?

Egyptian Architecture (Assassin’s Creed Origins)

Egypt, the land of pyramids, mummies, cats and also the place where the reboot of this franchise started. The Egyptian architecture is mostly based upon the religion there. The Egyptians created the most impressive structures of the ancient world.

As pyramids are built to be tombs for the Pharaohs who were worshipped as gods, temples are built to be houses of worship for the many Gods and Goddesses in Egypt. When you journey across Egypt you will find a lot of them. When do you get into a city, you will see houses made from mud-brick which are used as residential homes.

(Noticeable Places: Great Pyramid of Giza, Abu Simbel Temple)

Greek Architecture (Assassin’s Creed Odyssey)

Greek, the place where everyone is familiar with due to the Greek Pantheon and obviously, Santa Monica Studios’, “God of War” franchise. If anyone played the game some might noticed that important buildings are in high places or near a cliff. Its because the style was mostly based upon one thing, which is the climate of that area.  Greek was situated in a peninsula and due to that tangible aspects like the Sun path and wind directions were used. 

Due to this, it permitted an outdoor lifestyle as it clearly seen in the architectural style. The temples are always situated in breezy hilltops, open aired theaters were made on a sloping terrain to name a few. The Greek architecture is mostly known for its intricate details, architectural compositions like balance and symmetry, and the orders. 

Orders are a type of design style which is used on the columns on the façade of temples and even nowadays in government buildings. There are 3 types of Order, 1) Doric, 2) Ironic and 3) Corinthian and not to mention these 3 have their own characteristics, Doric shows masculinity while the other two shows femininity

(Noticeable places: Parthenon, Temple of Hera, Delphi Theatre)

Roman Architecture (Assassin’s Creed II, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla)

Both Roman and Greek Architecture were referred to as “Classical Period”. The Roman architecture was mostly a continuation of Greek Architecture but the Romans were like “anything you can do, I can do better”, and they did improved a lot of things.

For Romans, architecture was an expression of power. The old buildings you see in both Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is part of this lifestyle as that is where the Roman Empire started. When you play Assassin’s Creed Valhalla you might come across buildings and ruins that have this style and this because at one time the Roman Empire did reach England.

(Noticeable places: Colosseum, Bath of Caracalla, Partheon)

Byzantine Architecture (Assassin’s Creed Revelations)

Constantinople, the home of the Byzantine Empire and this architectural style. There is nothing much to say about this style as in this style, there is no emphasis on the design on the exterior of the building. Rather, they emphasize on designing the interior with colorful ornamental mosaics and glass tiles. This style have some features of other styles like Islamic. 

Things happened and the capital of the Roman Empire was moved to Constantinople and since the empire was Christian, it affected the style a bit. Instead of the tradition shape of a cross which is how Basilica’s are designed, they wanted to have a centralized plan and due to this the buildings in this style are really, “bulky”.

Domes which are seen in the mosque were actually part of this style and it made it famous. Also, the Byzantines were also smart enough to design and create pendentives. They are a structure designed to support the dome and its because of this, you are unable to see any columns in the room where a dome is.

(Noticeable places: Hagia Sophia, Galata Tower, Topkapi Palace)

Gothic Architecture (Assassin’s Creed Unity, Assassin’s Creed II)

Among all of the styles, this is my personal favorite. The style which had one objective: to make man humble and glorify God. This style mostly originated in France but did spread across Europe. There were distinct features of multiple versions of this style depending on certain countries but in France, it was height and verticality. Not only it gives the idea of man humbleness but also it promotes spirituality.

Rather than the previous styles I mentioned, this style well, its easily noticeable from the outside as it kinda gives off a spooky, evil villain lair vibe. It has large pointed spires, flying buttresses, rose windows on the façade of the building to name a few. Ornamental details like gargoyles are seen on the spires. 

The Milan Cathedral in Venice, Italy is the inspiration behind the one of the most iconic locations in Dark Souls, Anor Lando. The path you take to go to the building right after coming down the elevator in the location is actually a flying buttress. Using these style elements as part of the game design was exciting to see. If anyone is interested in checking out this style there is also a really good building named “Basilica of Saint Denis” in Assassin’s Creed Unity’s Dead Kings. The building is in ruin and due to this you are able to check out all of the characteristics of this style with ease.

(Noticeable places: Notre Dame, Basilica of Saint Denis)

Renaissance Architecture (Assassin’s Creed II, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood)

This style was born when the Renaissance era started in Florence but it was mostly a rebirth of old using the elements of the Classical Period and improving them. Mostly symmetry is seen but it was in this style that it was proposed to design the façade of a building. The Domes were a feature of this style. Also the order which I mentioned above is also used.

The beginning of Assassin’s Creed 2 is actually when Renaissance started and throughout the game you will see this style getting developed. This is the first game where a building caught my eye and started to appreciate it.

(Noticeable places: Florence Cathedral, St. Peter’s Basilica)

You are able to see all of these styles throughout the franchise and the mentioned buildings in their respected games. Also, among all of the architectural styles these are among the most famous and well known ones. If anyone is wondering why the subheading are architectural styles rather than the name of the game, is because the subheading shows the timeline of the styles seen throughout history in order but not one after the other.

Ubisoft uses an artistic approach rather than a detailed one. This was known due to multiple news articles mentioning that the people can use Notre Dame in Assassin’s Creed Unity as a reference point when rebuilding the building after that terrible fire incident. Reading those articles did make me happy that a game was used as a reference for a project. 

It’s all of these reasons why I love this franchise more and I would love to play them again just go look at the buildings alone. Whenever each game is made Ubisoft does tonnes of research and that is seen on the game. That is also seen in a feature of the rebooted games known as “Discovery Tour” in which you are able to explore places and their history. I know that the fans are divided because of the reboot but at the end of the day gamers should show gratitude for what they are doing.

I hope that reading this article would make people go check out this franchise once again. Knowing all of these and jumping into the game once again will show a different experience as the things you are able to climb in the games are the characteristics of that architectural style.


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