The Assassin’s Creed franchise has for over a decade, won over the hearts and minds of its fans with the stories, the Assassin’s and Templar war, the gameplay and historical settings. But for twelve games the music of Assassin’s Creed has truly become for me at least, one of the most iconic in all of gaming. Now Ubisoft is giving fans across the world the opportunity to relive all the amazing moments of the franchise with ‘Assassin’s Creed Symphony’ as the music and lives of each game are brought to life by a 80-piece orchestra and choir in a two hour show utilising a musical repertoire from across twelve Assassin Creed games. This was going to be a night to remember!
Which is exactly what it was, an amazing unforgettable night and not just as an Assassin’s Creed series super-fan, but as someone who is a real fan of video game music and how brilliant and immersive that music can be when playing the games that the musical scores accompany. Making my way to the Eventim Apollo (formerly the Hammersmith Apollo) around thirty minutes before the doors opened for ticket holders, and my brain could have been fooled to think I was about to walk into a gaming convention like EGX or Gamescom for all I could see where Assassin’s Creed clothing in the forms of tee’s, jackets, bags and some amazing fans even cosplaying for the event. There really is something to be said when sharing your own passion for any video games with other passionate fans.
As I took my seat and saw the stage, it began to really dawn on me just how many people it takes to bring to life the musical score of an Assassin’s Creed game, looking on at all the seats and instruments waiting the 80 piece orchestra and choir to take to the stage. Sitting there as other fans to their seats and just taking in the electric atmosphere of the venue. Just before the show’s start time of 8pm, the stage began to fill with the musicians before the Music Director for Assassin’s Creed Symphony, Ivan Linn came to the stage to applause from the audience. Serving as conductor for the evening, Ivan addressed us and giving us permission to laugh, cry and scream during the performance as this would not be the usual “stay quiet until it is time to clap” musical performance.
As you can see from the photo, there is a giant screen above the orchestra which plays footage from each of the games starting off with an arrangement showing every Assassin from their trailers playing to the main Assassin’s Creed theme and I won’t lie when I say this opening gave me visible Goosebumps as the power of the music silenced the audience, some of which were still taking to the seats after getting drinks from the bar, which is a personal pet peeve of mine by the way!
The first half of the performance covered the early games in the series starting with AC1 and Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, before moving on to the Ezio Saga and ending with Assassin’s Creed Liberation and Aveline De Grandpre. It has honestly been a good few years since I revisited the first AC Games, with the piece starting with where the whole series began, with Desmond Miles being forced to enter the Animus by Dr Warren Vidic of Abstergo and it hit me that Assassin’s Creed is not just based on the historical settings and each Assassin but also of Desmond and his road to becoming an Assassin himself who is thrust into the way between the Assassin’s Brotherhood and the Templars. The music alone brought back my own memories of playing this series for the first time as I remembered experiencing the same moments shown on the big screen myself, remembering clear the follow missions and taking out the enemies such as Garnier de Nablus, Abu’l Nuquod and Robert de Sablé. As the music from the different regions in the first game of Jerusalem and Acre were played you can hear the difference in the style of the music, each piece reflecting the region is just one of the amazing details about the musical scores to Assassin’s creed Games.
The Ezio Saga received a huge cheer from the audience and a very loud woo from me as this saga is still my favourite gaming trilogy to date. From Ezio’s birth in AC II to the moment he could only watch helpless as his father and brothers were murdered in front of him, to seeing him mature as an Assassin to start rebuilding the Assassin’s in AC Brotherhood to the moment where in AC Revelations, a much older Ezio finally makes his way to Masyaf and finding the remains of Altaïr, his life and experiences very much shaped and cemented my own love of this series and the music of that saga laid the foundation for all the games to come. Showing just how the music is as much a part of the formula that has made this series such a success, watching the footage on the big screen with the power of the music being played by a live orchestra elevated all my memories so much that the huge smile I had on my face made the person sitting to my left tap me on the shoulder to just say “wow” to which I could only reply “I know”. It was also a nice bonus to see Aveline from AC Liberation, the first playable female Assassin in the series get her moment to sign to a beautiful arrangement which closed out this first half.
During the 20 minute intermission I tried to collect my thoughts because the first hour just flew past as I was completely lost in the fantastic performance and trip down memory lane and it was clear from the reactions of the people around me and those racing to get drinks and merchandise from the store, but the atmosphere was joyful to be in.
The second half opened up with the Colonial Trilogy, starting with AC III and the story of Connor, which incredibly managed to take the now infamous opening three hours of the game where you play as Haytham Kenway and turn into a single 3-minute musical montage before we meet Connor. Connor is actually one of my favourite Assassin’s in the series and reliving his life and journey was another Goosebumps moment for me. But this was also the ending of Desmond’s story as his sacrificed himself in order to save the world but also mean releasing Juno of the Isu and triggering the next phase in the modern Assassin and Templar war. When set to such beautifully performed live music, both the tragic stories of Connor and Desmond perhaps had more emotion for me revisiting them through this performance then as I had when originally playing AC III.
AC Black Flag perhaps received the biggest cheer from the crowd, clearly a room full of wannabe Pirates, as Edward Kenway brought the audience to the vibrant Caribbean and the sea shanties of The Jackdaw, Edwards Ship. This arrangement also answered my initial query about whether the Assassin’s would be shown in chronological or game release order. For me this arrangement of music ended with perhaps the loveliest moment, as the orchestra played the instrumental version of ‘Parting Glass’, the song that closes Black Flag’s story, with the choir softly coming in towards the end which lead to a mini sing along between myself and the people around me, though I was very quiet with my singing. What did come as a welcome surprise was the positive reaction from the audience to both AC Rogue and AC Unity, with Shay Cormac of AC Rogue, the once trainee Assassin turned Templar and how the final moments of that story lead directly into the start of Unity with the love story of Arno and Elise in Revolutionary Paris, a tale of forbidden love between an Assassin and a Templar. Though both games had less than positive reaction on release, in a room full of die-hard series fans, the music brought the stories of these games to life in a remarkable way especially when you see Arno and Elise’s journey set to the incredible score of the game.
The second biggest cheer which came as no surprise, came when AC Syndicate appeared on the screen, set in lovely Victorian London with Assassin’s brother and Sister Jacob and Evie Frye. With London being my home town and having huge pride when the series showcased London, watching the footage and the feeling the music washing over me just triggered so many memories such as ignoring the story to just go and climb such iconic buildings Big Ben and St Paul’s Cathedral and doing parkour across the river Thames. There was also a very lovely moment when a fan cosplaying as Evie Frye in full costume stood up and a received a very lovely cheer for herself.
Finally, we have the marvellous games of AC Origins and AC Odyssey which is where the series evolved yet again to become more RPG focused over a pure action adventure game series. The music of Origins with the story of Bayek and Aya whose stories lead to the formation of the first Assassin’s Brotherhood was simply breath-taking as the screen took the audience back to Ancient Egypt to a time before Assassin’s and Templar’s existed but where the dark forces that created factions was working to take control of Egypt. I did appreciate that both Bayek and his wife Aya who has a significant role in the series, getting equal time in the segment. AC Odyssey also got a massive cheer from the audience, with the story focused on Kassandra as lead character and Alexios as the sibling turned bad (fans will know that players can choose to be either character with the other becoming the sibling). As the footage played on the screen I just couldn’t help being overwhelmed by the performances of the orchestra and choir as it hit me just what a journey the AC Symphony had taken me on. When it came to an end the audience immediately took to their feet for the first of three standing ovations the performers would receive amongst the 4 encores, we had with a lovely sea shanty from Black Flag and a rousing electric guitar rock riff of the main AC theme.
The night came to a close with those responsible for bringing the arrangement of so many musicals scores by composers Jesper Kyd, Lorne Balfe, Brian Tyler, Austin Wintory, Sarah Schachner, Winifred Phillips, Elitsa Alexandrova, Chris Tilton, Ryan Amon and The Flight. Over a decade and twelve games full of some of the most intricate and astonishing music in just two hours of an exception performance by the orchestra and choir. A nice touch was having the voice actor behind AC Odyssey’s Alexios, Michael Antonakos come on stage to speak to the crowd about what makes the Assassin’s Creed series so magical for fans being the stories being told, the history being shown and the lives of amazing characters and the lessons we can take away from them.
This was an thoroughly exhilarating night as a fan of the games and of the music that filled my head and heart with so much nostalgia and great memories of playing all these showcased Assassin’s Creed games but as I was on my train home, still taking in the wonders of the performance, it dawned on me the Assassin’s Creed Symphony not only took me on a journey with all of the Assassin’s but it was also taking me back as a fan on my own journey through the games. My time with Ezio as I followed him from his birth to his death to feeling the pain and anger of Connor as he battled hatred and racism to protect his world from one being forced onto his people and country, to be a pirate on the Caribbean as Edward Kenway only to see how a choice needs to be made whether to be selfish and self-serving or to dedicate your life to protecting the way of life to others and then to Ancient Greece and Egypt, to a world that was still very much trying to find its own feet and through the stories of Assassin’s Creed, seeing that the modern world in which we live still struggles with many of the themes the games featured in their own stories.
As I sit here on my sofa putting this review together, I have the urge to just fire up my console and replay every single game with all their music still in my head from the performance, seeing the Assassin’s on the big screen and reliving not only their lives but my own memories of fallen in love with this series and the games. Last night’s performance in London was the premier of the AC Symphony in the UK as it will not return now until April 2020 to Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow and I absolutely insist that if you are not just a fan of the games but of the incredible music that brings so much of their stories to life, that you book your tickets now and prepare for a celebration of this iconic and amazing series in all of gaming. An evening never to forget and a shared experience with other Assassin’s Creed Fans that has reignited my passion for this much beloved series. My hands are still sore from all the applause and it was worth it.
Tickets and information about Assassin’s Creed Symphony as it continues its world tour can be found here: https://assassinscreedsymphony.com/