Insidious characters have made their mark on the video game industry in a variety of fashions. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed is one of the most well-known franchises to incorporate clandestine practices through the eyes of a multitude of personalities, most of whom gravitate towards righteous morals. Other titles, of course, depict furtive characters and organizations in a more sinister or neutral light, such as the Dark Brotherhood in Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls (TES) series or Agent 47 in IO Interactive’s Hitman franchise. Regardless of any given franchise’s moral complexities, characters who practice subterfuge remain an intriguing part of a game’s plotlines. What, then, are the similarities between the aforementioned franchises’ characters that make them so interesting to players, and where do those similarities begin shifting to unique twists that make each guild distinct?
Generally, beguiling personalities possess, at a minimum, the following three traits: patience, cunning, and persistence. These three qualities create a sufficient foundation upon which covert characters can build to maximize their skills. Assassin’s Creed characters experience countless situations in which they need to practice patience to further their goals, such as when following a target to their destination without being seen to gather important information. Members of the Dark Brotherhood in TES often implement cunning when eliminating their targets, such as in Skyrim when players have the option to loosen a statue’s head to drop it onto their prey. Agent 47 portrays endless persistence with the enemies that frequently try to take his head during his pursuit of his mark.
Digging deeper, the organizations and characters between these games all have one overarching similarity: dedication. The Assassins in Assassin’s Creed devote their lives to protecting the Pieces of Eden and ensure humanity retains its free will. Each individual Assassin may have personal ambitions that serve as a catalyst for their journey’s starting point—such as Edward Kenway’s lust for riches, Connor’s passion for protecting his Native American tribe, or Bayek’s deep-seeded need to avenge his son’s death—but their unique goals inevitably steer them toward furthering the Assassins’ cause.
Moreover, members of the Dark Brotherhood in TES revere Sithis, the “deity representative of emptiness and the void,” and commit their lives to serving him by being harbingers of death. As with their brethren in Assassin’s Creed, Dark Brotherhood affiliates adhere to a core set of tenets. While those doctrines and goals are vastly different between TES’s Dark Brotherhood and Assassin’s Creed’s Order, the core method of achieving those ambitions and adhering to their codes is the same: guile and death. TES IV: Oblivion epitomizes the Dark Brotherhood’s beliefs, but even in Skyrim—where the Dark Brotherhood lost their way and focused more on profit than dedication to the values that brought them together in the beginning—the infamous clique of shadow walkers returned to their Sithis-hailing ways.
Hitman’s Agent 47 stands out more than the previous examples due to character traits that exemplify the stereotypical qualities of secretive archetypes. As deceptive personas go, Agent 47 is a poster child. 47’s central focus is on his targets, and he will stop at nothing to put his prey in the ground, regardless of who stands in his way. Cool and calculating, this one-man death machine is often portrayed as emotionless, ruthless, and unwaveringly committed to his job. Similar to his Assassin’s Creed and Dark Brotherhood counterparts, 47 never leaves a job unfinished. Despite being socially awkward, Agent 47 can turn on the charm when doing so furthers his goals, much like Ezio in Assassin’s Creed II or the player-character in TES. The idiosyncrasies connecting all these stealthy personalities lead to one thing with which ancillary characters regard them: fear.
Fear is powerful—often more crippling than any blade or firearm—and its potency works in favor of these lethal operators. Between the Assassins, the Dark Brotherhood, and Agent 47, someone is bound to be terrified of their ever-looming presence. Just the thought of an Assassin skulking about with their hidden blades sends many targets into a panic, forcing them to make mistakes and fall into a trap. Similarly, the Dark Brotherhood’s reputation as shadowy cutthroats who can strike anywhere and any time keeps the people of Tamriel petrified, wondering if they will be the cult’s next victim. For those unlucky few who have lived long enough to know who Agent 47 is and not become one of his allies or targets, the constant terror of knowing just how dangerous the bald, masterful hitman is with his wide range of skills is enough to keep them in a perpetual state of paranoia. Fear is a weapon utilized by countless paragons of organized homicide.
Organized homicide is exactly what these types of killers spend their lives perfecting. Every contract, whisper, or lead is another mission that improves upon the operatives’ vast skills, or is an opportunity to gain new ones. Subtlety, however, is the most common attribute shared between the Assassins, Dark Brotherhood, and Agent 47. Nothing strikes fear into those who discover a body more than having no trace of the culprit. An operative is not as effective if they cannot escape unseen to take out more targets. Nonetheless, these stealthy characters know how to get their hands dirty if discretion is not an option. Each of these personas also possesses an immense amount of martial skill they can apply in the event they are discovered. The Assassins and members of the Dark Brotherhood are adept with swords, daggers, bows, and many other weapons. Agent 47 is a crack shot with a multitude of firearms and is also proficient in hand-to-hand combat. Across the different games and worlds in which these characters are found, they can all add ‘deadly fighter’ to their list of similarities.
Of course, the comparisons between Assassins, Dark Brotherhood members, and Agent 47 only extend to a certain depth before diverging into individualities that make each order or character unique. When analyzing those differences, gamers are likely to find the similarities are far more pronounced than they once believed. However, first the attributes that make the wealth of macabre characters exceptional must be highlighted and discussed, which OnlySP will be tackling in an additional analysis that will ultimately only scratch the surface of these archetypes.