Patrice Désilets, creator of the Assassin's Creed franchise for Ubisoft, believes the first game in the series is "the purest" because it gave players a degree of freedom that subsequent games have shied away from.
Speaking to us as part of a feature looking at the making of the first Assassin's Creed, released in 2007, Désilets – who made a controversial move to THQ in 2010 – admits that giving the player so much freedom meant many missed some of the game's finer moments, something that was addressed in the tighter mission structures of the games that followed.
"I like the first Assassin's Creed because it's the purest one," he tells us. "There's a bunch of stories that you can have, but it's all in your head. You have to create your own adventures. Whereas in Assassin's Creed II, we created the adventures for you and you're following them.
"For me, the first one is an amazing toy. The second one is the real game with rules and missions and it's really precise. But personally I like the poetry of the first one. It's pure."
That purity, Désilets says, afforded greater scope for the sort of emergent moments that typify open-world games, which were further facilitated by the game's setting. While the games that followed typically restricted players to one city at a time, the original Assassin's Creed let players travel freely between three cities – Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus – and the countryside between them. With so much space, Désilets believes many players missed some of Assassin's Creed's finer moments.
"Out in the kingdom, with your horse, there are so many places with little setups with Crusaders where you can tell a story," he says. "When you get close to Damascus, there's a guy on a stage and he has 35 soldiers in front of him. If you kill him, they all chase you. I played that and it became my little story.
"With Assassin's Creed, our problem was we never actually asked anyone to do it. Most of the players just pass by those setups. But in Assassin's Creed II, we had a mission for all of them."
It's an interesting point; Assassin's Creed was criticised by press and players alike for being repetitive. Our Assassin's Creed review bemoaned the game's insistence on players scaling viewpoints, pick-pocketing and intimidating NPCs, sitting on benches eavesdropping and collecting flags. There was much more in Ubisoft Montreal's finely crafted world, but most never saw it, barrelling instead through a succession of near-identical objectives.
Gamers claim to like freedom; Grand Theft Auto games don't sell on the strength of their missions but on the scope they provide for emergent play in a large open world. Désilets claims to have done precisely this with Assassin's Creed, and while the game sold more than 10 million copies, it's the more tightly restricted, linear structures of the games that followed which have reaped critical dividends.
The full story of the making of Assassin's Creed, including its origins as a Prince Of Persia game and how Grand Theft Auto influenced Désilets' original designs, is in our new issue. E244 should be with subscribers any day now, and will be on newsagent shelves and Apple Newsstand tomorrow, August 1.