The lack of female protagonists in the Assassin’s Creed series has been under scrutiny for years, and with the release of Assassin’s Creed Mirage set for October 2023, it appears Ubisoft may be taking something of a step backward. Set in ninth-century Baghdad, the story will follow Basim Ibn Ishaq, who was introduced in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The new gameplay trailer shows the exciting return of old AC features such as social stealth and hidden blade combat. However, there still remains the issue with Ubisoft and its Assassin’s Creed protagonists.
There is still limited information about Assassin’s Creed Mirage, but if the new trailer is anything to go by, the game is set to reintroduce a number of old AC features that have been missing from the last three installments. The short clip shows off Basim’s ability to blend in with the crowd, sneak attacks with the hidden blade, and parkour moves inspired by Assassin’s Creed Unity. It’s exciting to see Ubisoft is going back to the classic Assassin’s Creed style that’s missing from later games in the franchise, but it appears Ubisoft is reverting to old ways with the singular protagonist narrative, a choice that is reminiscent of the series’ male-dominated past and comes after only half-heartedly addressing the issue.
Assassin’s Creed Has Notoriously Few Female Protagonists
Ubisoft has a long and problematic history with female protagonists in Assassin’s Creed, dating back as far as 2015 with Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. The title features twin protagonists Evie and Jacob, but the latter received greater focus in Syndicate‘s main missions. The prospect of a duel protagonist narrative in Assassin’s Creed was exciting, but this began to change even before Syndicate released, when marketing shifted the narrative towards Jacob and left Evie in his shadow.
A similar pattern continued with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in 2018. Once again, Ubisoft came under fire when it was revealed that the female protagonist, Kassandra, was meant to be the only playable character originally. The inclusion of Alexios as a male protagonist option was made in the interest of not wanting to exclude fans by having a singular female character as the lead. Assassin’s Creed Mirage appears to be returning to a solo, male-driven narrative.
Mirage Returning To Assassin’s Creed’s Roots Isn’t All Good
First introduced in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Basim quickly became a fan-favorite for his morally gray character with a questionably villainous backstory. There’s no doubt that he will be an interesting character to explore in the new game. Spotlighting Basim is, however, disappointing after two games that made female protagonists merely one of two options.
Ubisoft has cited production costs as being a driving factor behind this, but this has already been contested. In 2014, debates sparked around why female protagonists weren’t included in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and according to Polygon, Ubisoft developers gave a variety of reasons, including a statement from Unity creative director Alex Amancio: “It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets.”
At the time, Jonathan Cooper, who was the animation director for Assassin’s Creed 3, provided a rebuttal via Twitter: “In my educated opinion, I would estimate this to be a day or two’s work. Not a replacement of 8,000 animations.” According to Cooper, who also spoke to Polygon on the issue, the animations for male and female characters aren’t that different and require less time and resources than people think. Creating female protagonists as well has already been proven to be feasible by Odyssey and Valhalla, but the series is still overwhelmingly male-dominated.
Overall, the future of female protagonists in Assassin’s Creed is unclear. With the Assassin’s Creed Codename Red seemingly following the open-world RPG style of the new trilogy, there’s still hope that the option to play as a female avatar will return to the series. At least the decision to focus on Basim’s story in Assassin’s Creed Mirage is one step closer to bridging the new trilogy to the rest of the series narratively, but it doesn’t help address the long-standing issue of Assassin’s Creed heavily favoring male protagonists.