One of the biggest pieces of criticism leveled at the Assassin’s Creed franchise is its lack of playable female characters. In 2012 we got Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, a spin-off of Assassin’s Creed III starring the Creole assassin’s Aveline de Granpre. But this game was initially released on the handheld PlayStation Vita, which lost major party support and fizzled out in popularity soon after its launch. The next playable female hero would be in another spin-off, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China; but the game’s over-simplicity and lack of development for heroine Shao Jun left fans wanting.
2015 saw the first playable female main character in a main series entry. Evie Frye of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate had her own missions, her own storylines, and her own identity, making her a great partner for her twin brother and co-protagonist Jacob. Evie was sassy, strong, and very no-nonsense; she was the stronger personality of the Frye twins, and the plot threads focused on her revealed to players an independent and fierce young woman with a strong moral code and a determination to get things done, no matter the cost. Evie was a welcome addition to the roster of assassins, and to this day remains a fan favorite.
A Lover and a Fighter
In Assassin’s Creed Origins, we now have Aya. Aya is not the main character of the game — that would be her husband, Bayek — but she plays a key role in the story and will be fully playable in many of the game’s missions.
As to why Aya was created as the protagonist’s husband, and not his sister or just lover, Origins director Ashraf Ismail explained that the development team wanted to build the game’s story around a relationship many people could identify with: one of a husband and wife with sometimes wildly different ideals.
“Assassin’s Creed is a narrative-driven experience, and we wanted a more serious tone to that narrative,” Ismail explained of Origins’ development. “Something that people can associate to, can connect with. As much as [the characters] are these bigger than life heroes in terms of their physical capacities, we wanted to show these are normal people who are dealing with real issues that any one of us could deal with, and the friction and the drama that that can create.
“It’s a husband and wife that love each other very much, but they have slightly different points of views of life,” he said of Bayek and Aya. “And even if they have the same objective and same goal, their views of the world will create that tension. So we wanted to set up a situation where there is chemistry and drama, so husband and wife made sense for a lot of us. It was an easy draw to go to that.”
The Birth of the Brotherhood
In the backstory of Origins, Aya marries and moves in with Bayek when the couple is still young. Bayek trains her in the way of the Medjay, the elite police force he used to be a part of, and Aya grows to excel in combat and the ways of the assassin. But Aya pledges herself as an agent of Cleopatra, the exiled queen of Egypt and soon-to-be one of its final rulers.
The major different between Aya and Bayek lies in their ideas of Cleopatra. Aya is all-in with the queen, convinced she is what Egypt needs and will do whatever Cleopatra asks; but Bayek is not so sure about Cleopatra, and his hesitation causes friction in his marriage. This is similar to modern-day couples, who may be divided on the matters of politics and the many issues and causes citizens fight for in their home countries. These two love each other, but is the political divide too great to bridge?
“We wanted an authentic couple that has the same problems anyone else could have, that run into some serious issues and their personal point of views that lead them forward,” Ismail said. “But it also gives that drama, gives something very emotional, something people can attach to. And it’s not about right or wrong, it’s about how does life unfold and how do you deal with that stuff. We wanted something easy to connect to.”
Aya, in addition to challenging Bayek’s views, has another key role to play in Assassin’s Creed Origins. The relationship between Bayek and Aya, and the work they do in Egypt, will spur the creation of the Assassin Brotherhood, the underground group that fights the Order of the Ancients, and further down the line the Templars, for the entire franchise. These two are the beginning of the ancient struggle, the predecessors of characters like Altair, Ezio, and Desmond.
While Ismail hasn’t revealed yet just what events will spark the birth of the Assassins, he did suggested that Aya’s part to play here is crucial. We’ll learn more about Aya’s role when Assassin’s Creed Origins launched on October 27.