Design ruminations: Cristina

This post gets a little long and rambly. My apologies. It’s been in the works for over three months now.

I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood recently. I’m not sure why I decided to go back to it, but the launcher notified me of a free expansion pack that I’d never installed, so I decided to give it a try. As always happens when I play an open-world game, I was distracted pretty much immediately from what I set out to do.

In Brotherhood, there are a few special memories that revolve around Ezio’s former lover Cristina, who appears briefly in the beginning of Assassin’s Creed 2. Ghostly images of her can be found throughout Florence and Venice, and trying to talk to them will trigger a flashback. I want to talk about one in particular.

The memory takes place in Florence, shortly after Ezio’s father and brothers are executed. Ezio is determined to give them a proper burial. Cristina accompanies him to the gallows, where they find that the bodies have already been moved to the river for dumping. Ezio plans to cut his way through the guards on duty in order to get to them, but Cristina begs him not to. “They did nothing wrong”, she says. Ezio argues that following orders unquestioningly makes them just as guilty as the men giving the orders, but eventually relents and agrees to spare their lives by sneaking around the patrol.

Ezio must now carry the bodies of his father and brothers to a boat on the river, avoiding soldiers along the way. At this time, killing any of the guards results in a mission failure and returns you to the last checkpoint. Despite the forced stealth, it’s a poignant scene. The walk from the pile of bodies to the boat must be repeated three times, while Jesper Kyd’s haunting music plays softly in the background.

Once the last of the bodies is delivered, Cristina meets Ezio by the boat. He asks her to come with him as he flees the city, but she declines, saying that she needs to stay with her family. Ezio gives Cristina a necklace “So we’ll always be together”, and the flashback ends as he departs.

From a continuity perspective, this mission couldn’t have ended in any other way. It’s already been established in the previous game that Ezio leaves Florence with only his mother and sister.

But what if she had agreed to come along?

At the beginning of Assassin’s Creed 2, Ezio is a foolish young man who thinks all of his problems can be solved with violence. The formative influences in his life don’t do much to convince him otherwise — his brother Federico helps him in street brawls, his sister Claudia is more than happy to let him beat up her cheating boyfriend, and Uncle Mario, the leader of a group of mercenaries, is arguably the reason Ezio sets off on his quest for revenge.

The one exception to this rule is Cristina, as we’ve just seen. What would the story have been like if she had accompanied the Auditori family out of Florence? Would Ezio still have followed the same murder-filled path, or would Cristina’s influence have been enough to make him approach his missions differently, and select his targets more carefully?

I really like the idea of a protagonist that struggles with pursuing his own agenda while remaining true to the people he was close to. I’d love to play a game in which every kill made it harder for the player character to remember the face of someone whom he used to care for; where it got harder and harder each day to make it through without killing anyone, but her memory helped him to persevere.

Ah well. It’s probably too much to hope for.