Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India (not the catchiest title, so hereafter ACCI) is nominally historical fiction. I say nominally because just like Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, ACCI fails to actually engage with any of the history that it touches upon. Unlike Syndicate, ACCI doesn’t promise to tell any kind of story, and so is less disappointing, but is nonetheless somewhat confusing in its approach to real events. And since the game instead tells a dull as dishwater story about rescuing a princess (yes, really), maybe they could have used some of what really happened to make their game more interesting and less tropey.
ACCI is set in nineteenth century colonial India and uses this to its fullest aesthetic advantage. No, seriously, this is a gorgeous game, and even though this piece isn’t supposed to be about that I can’t go without mentioning it. Look at it!
And unambiguously dark skin on protagonist Arbaaz Mir too!
Unfortunately, this setting isn’t used for anything else beyond that. At some point, you’re made aware that the British colonisers are fighting Afghan forces, but it’s never explained why. This is supposed to be the part where I explain it to you - except that there were two Anglo-Afghan wars in the nineteenth century (there were three total. Stay classy, Britain) and from the game I don’t even know which one it was supposed to be depicting. Both had to do with Britain and Russia’s competition for influence in the area, though, and it’s strange that this is never mentioned what with Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia coming out in a couple of weeks.
So, the Anglo-Afghan war (whichever one it was) is used merely as a quirk of gameplay that will prevent British soldiers from being alerted by seeing a dead body – they’ll assume they were killed by sniper fire. This isn’t too surprising or condemning, considering the complex politics of the war wouldn’t have been of particular interest to Arbaaz, whose primary motivation at this point in the game is to retrieve the Koh-i-Noor.
A quick briefing on the significance of the Koh-i-Noor is in order then. The Koh-i-Noor is a huge diamond found in India in the thirteenth century. Unsurprisingly, due to its huge value, it has been fought over ever since. Three guesses who owns it now? Britain. Of course it’s Britain. We stole it from India in 1849 and never gave it back, even though the Indian (and Pakistani, Iranian, and Afghan) government have asked for it even in recent years. (David Cameron, our Prime Minister, told them “If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty” like…Dave that’s the point if your house is full of stolen furniture you can’t be acquitted just because you wouldn’t have anywhere to sit.)
True to its course, though, ACCI doesn’t mention any of this. In game, the Koh-i-Noor is said to be a Piece of Eden, an artefact left behind by a precursor race that has supernatural powers. (Though what exactly these powers are is never explained.) The Templars, the Assassins’ rival faction, but functionally in this case the British occupiers, have stolen the diamond. This is where archaeological imperialism is basically screaming for a discussion, but the game makes absolutely no mention of it.
Moreover, by the end of the game, the Koh-i-noor is in the hands of the (Indian) Assassins. Hooray, Arbaaz has the diamond and the princess and all is well, except that it makes no sense for the Koh-i-noor to have returned to Indian ownership. As I’ve said many times, I don’t particularly care for historical accuracy (and in this case the Koh-i-noor being a supernatural object clearly shows that this isn’t what they were going for) but I do care about what a game’s use of history has to say. In this case, I think it says a few things. It says that there is no interest in condemning the wrongs of the game’s setting. It says that real settings with real suffering are mere aesthetic backdrops. And it says that a nuanced story is less interesting than one long fetch quest and then a short damsel in distress sequence.