Assassin’s Creed is Ubisoft’s best-selling franchise, which was initially based on the historical facts about the Hashashins, the deadliest medieval order of Middle Eastern assassins who used targeted killings of political and religious leaders to alter the history of Persia, Syria, and Turkey. As such, it was well ahead of its time in terms of racial representation in gaming. The protagonist of the original game was a Syrian assassin, the second one was an Italian, and the third protagonist was of English-Mohawk descent.
If we neglect the sci-fi elements of the franchise, much of the initial Assassin’s Creed games were painstakingly devoted to historical accuracy, and each of them had one thing in common — a male protagonist. That changed when Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation launched and introduced us to Aveline de Grandpre, a fierce female lead of African descent who broke new ground not only in the Assassin’s Creed franchise but also in the wider gaming universe.
We already discussed that the world of gaming severely lacks representations when it comes to female leads of African descent in our Urban Chaos piece, but Assassin’s Creed is among one of the few franchises that actively sought to change that. Aveline’s greatness stems from her unique identity and the context she operates within. Firstly, she was the first female lead of the franchise, which previously focused on male protagonists, mostly against the Eurasian backdrops. The mainline Assassin’s Creed III installment was the first to take place in colonial America.
Following Aveline’s successful introduction, the franchise introduced several other female characters in its mainline titles, including Evie Frye from Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Kassandra from AC: Odyssey, and Eivor Varinsdottir from AC: Valhalla — the protagonist’s gender in the latter is optional. But Aveline’s introduction didn’t just bring much-needed diversity in terms of gender; it also brought further diversification in terms of ethnicity.
Our protagonist is the daughter of a wealthy French merchant and an African mother in 18th-century New Orleans, which allows her character to offer a unique perspective on history viewed through the lens of a woman of color. At the time, New Orleans was a melting pot of various cultures, and the city was rife with the complexities of colonial politics and the harsh realities of slavery. Aveline’s biracial heritage, paired with her societal position as the daughter of a wealthy merchant, allows the character to navigate a world filled with contradictions and dangers.
That’s why Aveline is so important to gaming; her ethnicity and background weren’t just about creating diversity for diversity’s sake. These aspects of her identity were purposefully chosen at the beginning of the game’s development to fit the fantastic narrative in which Aveline, despite her noble upbringing, secretly dedicates herself to freeing oppressed slaves while also eradicating the Templar presence in New Orleans. But the narrative wasn’t the only thing to which Aveline’s ethnicity and background were tied.
Assassin’s Creed III also introduced new gameplay mechanics that were exclusive to the Liberation spin-off, like the ability to switch between Aveline’s three distinct personas. These personas all have their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, the Assassin persona is a fantastic combatant and free runner, but it’s easily detected by enemies, which is something we came to expect from the Assassin’s Creed games.
Aveline’s ethnicity, on the other hand, allows her to don a Slave persona, which easily blends in with other slaves to pass by suspicious enemies and guards and interact with other slaves without detection. As expected, this persona can also free-run and fight, but it has limited access to weapons — she actually has none, and players often have to disarm enemies to gain the upper hand in combat. Lastly, Aveline’s social status allows her to don the Lady persona, which isn’t as suspicious as other personas and thus isn’t as easily detected by guards and enemies.
While dressed as a Lady, Aveline can charm or bribe guards to gain access to restricted areas. However, the downside of wearing a gown with hoops and panniers is that it makes it impossible to free-run. This gameplay mechanic makes Aveline’s identity more than just a plot device; she’s a fully realized character endowed with complexity and depth, and her identity is fully integrated into the game’s narrative that explores slavery, freedom, and identity.
Ubisoft Sofia — Ubisoft’s Bulgarian subsidiary and the game’s developer — didn’t waste Aveline’s potential on a mediocre narrative. In fact, this amazing character was placed in an equally amazing narrative that received an award for Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing from the Writer’s Guild of America. Unfortunately, despite these qualities and critical acclaim, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation didn’t garner the same level of attention as other installments in the acclaimed gaming franchise.
This doesn’t change the fact that Aveline de Grandpre is an amazing character and a much-needed addition to an already stellar video game series. We’re here to bring more attention to her story, which is — sadly — often overlooked despite being a crucial chapter in the narrative of video games as a form of cultural and artistic expression.