Climbing games - Assassin’s Creed: Revelation’s Hagia Sophia
A series about history, architecture, climbing and movement
In the fourth Assassin’s Creed game, Ubisoft wanted to mash together the stories of Altair - the stoic third Crusade neck-stabber - and Ezio - the affable Renaissance-era neck-stabber - into one intersecting tale.
So what better place to forge that connection than the crossroads of the world: Constantinople? A place that straddles Europe and Asia, connects East to West and has been home to Christians and Muslims throughout its turbulent history. The symbolism is so obvious it almost drips from your television.
No building quite characterises Constantinople’s stormy history and cross-cultural shift like the crown of the city, the Hagia Sophia. This extravagant domed basilica replaced two earlier churches, got hit by its fair share of earthquakes and hopped from Christian church to Islamic mosque. It’s like Constantinople in microcosm.
The building was originally a Byzantine (the Eastern half of the massive Roman Empire) church, and built by the decree of Roman Emperor Justinian I. But despite it being one of the most ambitious projects around - a dome-upon-dome construction, with a massive central apex that wouldn’t be bested for almost 1,000 years - it was completed in just five years.
In 537, half a decade after construction started, the Hagia Sophia was built. But despite some marvellous Roman engineering, that rushed job would prove to be the Sophia’s downfall. Literally. Huge chunks of the building fell off in proceeding earthquakes forcing bits to be rebuilt every few hundred years. Eventually, four large buttresses had to be added for stability.
In 1453, the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople put an end to the Byzantine empire and Mehmet the Conqueror turned the magnificent crown of the city into an Islamic mosque. 60-odd years later and here we are - in 1511 as aging (and bearded) assassin Ezio Auditore. And in true Assassin’s Creed style, it would be wrong not to have a scramble around its architecture and to scale that prized dome.
It’s not the most satisfying climb in the Ezio trilogy, I have to admit. That’s mostly because despite the dome’s magnificence — rising 210 feet above the floor, and with a monstrous diameter of 110 feet — it’s still rather squat and surrounded by a messy jumble of tiny roofs at different heights and a handful of poky mini-domes.
It’s tall enough to give a panoramic view of the entire city and the Sea of Marmara (which splits modern-day Turkey between Europe and Asia) and it might be the largest cathedral in the world when Ezio visits, but it’s more about complicated architecture and the load-bearing engineering than soaring view points. It takes less than half a minute for Ezio to reach the absolute peak of its spire.
If you want a taller view you’ll have to scale the four minarets that flank the mosque. These are tall, free-standing spires with onion-shaped crowns, representing a trademark of Islamic architecture.
They give you a nice view of the Hagia Sophia. The ones in tight orbit around the mosque give you a birds-eye view of the interesting roof-top architecture. The two further away give you a complete front profile of the building, unobstructed by buildings.
Anachronistically, in 1511 there would only be two towers by Sophia. The other two date from the Murad III period of the 1600s - over a hundred years after Ezio’s adventure. The towers are also subtly asymmetrical (having being built in different eras), but Creed’s quartet of spires are identical. Well, other than the fact that two have an Animus shard at the top, and another is a map-synchronising lookout point.
Ubisoft script writer Darvy McDevitt admits that the Assassin’s Creed team tweaks history at times. “We put four because we thought that this was the iconic image of the Hagia Sophia,” he said in an interview. However, they didn’t leap forward 100 years and add the neighboring Blue Mosque. A crumbling Roman hippodrome still lives near the Sophia’s base.
While you can quickly scale the Sophia’s dome and perch Ezio atop its crescent moon spire, you’ll still need to be a master of Assassin’s Creed’s platforming tricks and Revelation’s unique hook blade to earn the achievement (or trophy) “Spider Assassin”. This is awarded for climbing from the ground to the pinnacle in less than 25 seconds.
There’s a rhythm to Creed’s movement. Just like how registering the flow of a battle and pressing attack in time with Ezio’s swordplay will unlock combos, you need to get a feel for the rhythm and flow of his movements when scampering up a wall or bounding across rooftops to move most quickly.
Take climbing upwards. Ezio gets a hook blade in this game which lets him reach out and grasp out-of-reach handholds - a slight tweak on the grasp system from earlier games. He can use this to leap up a vertical wall, and if you tap the leap button the moment he secures a grasp you can fire Ezio up again towards the next handhold.
Get the timing wrong and Ezio will put his hook away and grab on with both hands, slowing you down. Get it right, though, and he can dart from outcropping to outcropping like a gorilla in a tree, literally jumping up entire buildings in seconds - and easily grabbing the Hagia Sophia’s achievement.
Just like fighting, feeling the flow is often more about audio than visual signals. You’ll do much better if you listen for that telltale noise of metal hook striking stone, and tapping the button in time. A perfect climb will sound like a perfect drum beat.
The hook blade comes in handy for horizontal jumps, too. If your jump is too short and you’re about to fall, hitting B can make Ezio lunge out and save his life with a last-minute grap. But don’t become over-reliant on it: if Ezio was able to make a clean jump, hitting B will instead make him grab onto the side, forcing you to lose valuable seconds as he pulls himself up. It’s all about risk and reward.
Making good use of the hook blade requires you to learn the intricacies of Ezio’s movements, and get a grasp on the exact abilities of this Renaissance assassin. Knowing how far he can jump and when best to use the hook will give you the edge in rooftop chases, and earn you this tough achievement.
You can go inside the Hagia Sophia, allowing you to see the holy props and intricate mosaics, and how that magnificent dome looks from the inside. But you’ll need to find a whole bunch of collectible objects to get the key - so a blog for another day, perhaps?
You can also purchase it for a whopping 60,000 Akçe. But this blog series is about climbing great buildings, certainly not buying them.
(1 year ago