After Assassin’s Creed II I had no interest in ever picking up another Assassin’s Creed game ever again. Florence and Venice were beautiful, but the gameplay was tiresome and repetitive, and the sci-fi plot is a major irritant to what could just be a decent historical game. Getting to travel to Rome in Brotherhood never interested me, and I’ve never touched the game. Thus I was both pleasantly surprised and a bit irritated that the subsequent game in the series was to be set in early 16th c. Constantinople. I did not want to go back to the series, but given that the game is set in an historical epoch in the city I have studied more than any other I decided that I should check it out. The Steam summer sale began this last week and when the game went on sale I purchased it, having no intention whatsoever to pay the full price for game I will probably never spend much time with beyond exploring the city. Having spent a few hours exploring I can now share a few thoughts on the city.
Terminology disclaimer: I will be calling the city Constantinople. The game calls it Constantinople on the map in game. The official Turkish name of the city at this time was Constantiniyye. The name Istanbul is not Turkish, and appears in the tenth century in the Arabic works of al-Masudi.
After a fairly painless tutorial level the game drops you in Galata, a tiny suburb north of the city. My first impression of Galata was that it was very flat. Anyone who has climbed from the Golden Horn to the Galata Tower knows that it is a short but moderately steep hike. The game does place the tower on higher elevation than the docks below, but the whole area is much flatter than the real Galata. Wandering around Galata felt like I was back in Assassin Creed II‘s Florence, which was an immediate cause for concern. Other than some stylistic texture changes, it did not feel unique. Although the vista of Constantinople’s minaret-studded skyline was impressive, I was disappointed in the game’s rendition of Constantinople up to this point.
Fortunately, the game does not confine to you to Galata for much time, and before long I was on a ferry across the Golden Horn. Although the game gave me some forgettable mission to accomplish, I immediately set off exploring the city. After climbing some minarets to get my bearings, I set out for the Hagia Sophia. Although dominant in the skyline of the city, the Hagia Sophia’s size feels about right compared to the people who wander around it. I have not done the math to check the scale, although I do think that in terms of the general skyline Assassin’s Creed II‘s Florence may have captured the sense of the real city better. (I cannot comment on Venice as I’ve never been.)
I also do not know the accuracy of the scale of Florence’s Duomo in Assassin’s Creed II, but it felt right for Florence. It utterly dominates the skyline and is so much larger than all the buildings around it that its size seems even larger. The Hagia Sophia in Assassin’s Creed Revelations also seems to be about the right size, but it does not quite get the sense of its surroundings right. The building may be large, but the Fatih Camii is also large and has its foundations set on higher elevation than the Hagia Sophia. Essentially, what I am not liking about the skyline of Revelations‘ Constantinople is the sole dominance of the Hagia Sophia as the largest structure on the horizon when the city’s geography does not allow it.
Approaching Hagia Sophia I noted two things. For one, a Byzantine arcade was in ruins. This courtyard to the Hagia Sophia is no longer extant and I do not know when it was destroyed, but it was a nice acknowledgement by the game that it was once there. On the other hand, I did not see the Column of Justinian with his equestrian statue on it. To be fair, I did not go around the building completely so it could be there, but the game supposedly started in 1511. From what I can tell, the statue was at least partially standing in 1515.
From the top of the Hagia Sophia I got a chance to look around, generally to much alarm. The Mese was non-extant, and the closest thing to it was a covered area that is probably the Grand Bazaar.
As I looked towards the Great Palace district I was surprised to see what looked like a banded column. Hoping that it was not what I thought it was, I descended and proceeded to it.
My fears were realized – the Forum of Constantine and Constantine’s porphyry column was completely in the wrong spot.
However, I had glimpsed the hippodrome from the top of the Hagia Sophia and soon set out west. Although the verdict on Assassin’s Creed Revelations’ Constantinople may look gloomy at this point, I became more impressed with it was I travelled into the western part of the city but that will have to wait for later.