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Ubisoft’s Alternate History DLC is a Bad Idea

/ Oct 30th, 2012 5 Comments

Assassin's Creed 3

Assassin’s Creed 3

The Tyranny of Washington,” for those who have not already heard, is a DLC package that will be available for Assassin’s Creed III. It will present an alternate ending to the game where our beloved first president will instead become our first King and a hated tyrant. Taking a brief look at the character of Washington and the historical facts will show why this is a really bad idea. For those that have not checked them out already, be sure to read about Assassin’s Creed 3 Season Pass Includes George Washington as KingThe Evolution of Assassin’s Creed, and Assassin’s Creed 3 Liberation: What We Know.

The “Nicola Affair” may be the root of Ubisoft’s idea for a King George Washington. What really happened was that a colonel in the Continental Army, named Lewis Nicola, wrote to Washington suggesting that he use his popular influence and command of the army to stage a coup against congress and make himself king.  Washington immediately responded by writing back, “…you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable.” He then told Nicola to “…banish these thoughts from your mind & never communicate, as from yourself, or anyone else, a sentiment of the like nature.”  Washington was staunchly dedicated to the idea of a democratic republic and opposed the idea of a king. Surprisingly, however, many of his contemporaries did not share the same sentiments.

Nicola’s letter was inspired by what he saw as an inefficient congress and the failures of other republican governments. Prominent American leaders such as John Adams and Alexander Hamilton also shared Nicola’s fears. They sought to establish a strong central government and favored a king-like figure to head it. Hamilton saw the British constitutional monarchy as one of the best forms of government in the world and hoped to create in America a similar institution. Even Patrick Henry, the lawyer who famously exclaimed “Give me liberty, or give me death!” saw the American presidency as leaning toward monarchy: “If your American chief be a man of ambition and abilities, how easy is it for him to render himself absolute…  Away with your president! We shall have a king: the army will salute him monarch.”

While it may be surprising or even disturbing for people today to learn that many of American’s older leaders wanted a powerful monarch at the head of our country, it is important to remember the context of the times. The most successful governments were all monarchies, and in the face of widespread debt and uncertainty after a long and painful war, a king would have offered stability and direction.

Given these facts, it is easy to understand why Ubisoft might want to explore an alternate reality where America elected a king. However, what is hard to understand is why they picked Washington. Despite being the only man ever to be unanimously elected into office, he refused to serve more than two terms, keeping to his republican principles. “History is our playground – and AC teams have always loved playing with historical facts and their consequences as a way to better understand a time period,” Sebastien Puel, Ubisoft’s Executive Producer, tried to explain of the choice. The problem with this DLC is that it does not provide a better way to understand the time period. It misrepresents a major historical figure while simply pandering to the democratic sympathies of contemporary Americans.  Even if a king was elected in the U.S., and especially if it was Washington, he would not have necessarily been a tyrant. In all likelihood his position would have been based on the British Constitutional Monarch, who exists today as a nice old lady who enjoys parachuting out of helicopters.

If Ubisoft really wanted to explore this idea of an American king as a way to “better understand a time period,” they should have chosen a more plausible character. Benedict Arnold, who was almost as great a hero as Washington, could have been the perfect option. After being mistreated by his superiors and feeling wronged, Arnold attempted to help the British infiltrate West Point and seize the fort there, which could well have ended the war. What if Arnold succeeded in doing so, but also obtained an Apple of Eden? He would have been in a great position to let the British and Washington destroy each other, and then use the Apple and the Templars to secure a seat of power, ultimately becoming king. Using Arnold instead of Washington would provide an opportunity to examine why a great American hero ended up committing treason, and would give players someone who they would not mind stabbing to death.

Historical quandaries aside, the precedent that this DLC may set is troubling. What makes Assassin’s Creed (AC) so great is the fact that playing it is a lot like reading a good book. The games are page-turners, and they keep your attention by using real history to make the story come alive. This element brings a level of intelligence that is often missing in other games, and it really makes the AC series special. The idea behind “The Tyranny of George Washington” departs from all of this. One writer from The Escapist excitedly hopes that the success of this DLC campaign will encourage Ubisoft to develop more alternate history campaigns and predicts one “in which Connor teams up with Teddy Roosevelt to defeat Mecha-Hitler. In space.” If the next installment of Assassin’s Creed features a 200-year-old Connor and a 100-year-old Teddy Roosevelt battling a robot dictator on Mars, fans of the series’ realism will cry. The DLC really just seems like it will be a package of cheap thrills simply meant to raise a little more revenue.

Alex Theologidy

Alex Theologidy

Associate Contributor at Gaming Illustrated
Alex is a newcomer to Gaming Illustrated and part of the editorial team.
Alex Theologidy
Alex Theologidy

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  • http://www.gamingillustrated.com Jonathan Anson

    I think you’re being a little too critical of this idea and fail to see the silver lining of DLC like this. True that this is one alternate history scenario that seems a little far fetched, it might just encourage players to read history to find out the facts regarding this DLC just like you have. It’s kind’ve like how the game Samurai Warriors encouraged me to do research on the actual events that inspired it and become more learned on the period it recreates.

    That said though, you have to admit that to some degree the idea of what would happen if America had become a monarchy instead of a representative republic is fascinating to think about or imagine.

  • Veranor

    Who cares… the ending sucks. They pulled a ME3. Now go SPOIL!

    • Brian

      I cried a little when I finished watching the ending.

  • Dan

    I think you’re looking too far into this. Assassin’s Creed already takes huge liberties with the gaps in the historical record – what we play is not historical fact, though it has a basis there.

    I also think Ubisoft has been and will be pretty upfront about the non-canon aspect of the DLC.

    The fact is, this is the best possible use of DLC, in my opinion. It’s not chapter 13 of the game, or cut missions. It’s a totally optional, non-critical way to continue to enjoy the game’s setting and gameplay. People who want the Assassin’s Creed 3 story don’t have to buy the DLC because they got the whole game when they spent $60 on the disc.

    This is a far better precedent for the player, as it means that there is no “premium” edition of the story, a la Mass Effect or Alan Wake, where the story either continues or is more fully understood with the DLC. You fracture your audience by doing that. Why would you do this to people? If they play the single player, they want a story. We don’t sell books with 12 chapters, and then deal out the “missing” chapter 7 and a chapter 13 with good closure.

    No, the non-canon “evil” george will just be a fun side-story, and it will benefit everyone. Think of Red Dead Redemption’s “Undead Nightmare”. Just a fun little jaunt.

  • Joee

    Key word “alternate ending” And washington wasnt a saint so why not put a tomohawk in his face.

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