The crossbow is a ranged weapon consisting of a bow assembly mounted horizontally on a handheld stock with a built-in firing mechanism. Unlike a bow, its range is conventionally shorter due to its heavier, yet more powerful, projectiles known as bolts. Crossbows vary in size from those too large to be carried in one hand to relatively portable ones that complement the mobile, stealth operations conducted by Assassins.
During the Third Crusade, crossbows were a part of the Assassins' arsenal; the Master Assassin Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad carried one with him during his mission to save Acre from the Crusaders in 1190. Alongside standard archers, crossbowmen such as Nazim were regularly deployed as city guards.
Utilization of crossbowmen among European militaries rose dramatically in the 14th century. During this period, crossbow bolts were conventionally carved from holm oak with arrowheads forged from iron. Beginning with their reign in Rome under Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia began investing more on crossbowmen and arquebusiers whereas they had previously relied on archers for the bulk of their ranged units.
In the same vein, the Assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze purchased a crossbow for 12,800 florins upon arriving in Rome in 1500. From then on, the crossbow would become his signature ranged weapon, one which he utilized effectively throughout his campaign against Templars in Rome and Constantinople.
During the Inquisition, the Spanish Brotherhood used their own model of crossbow. The weapon's ivory stick featured engravings picturing medieval Assassins fighting Templars. The Assassin insignia was less conspicuously carved in the crossbow.
The repeating crossbows of the Ming military could fire multiple bolts in rapid succession. Guards equipped with these weapons were regularly posted on high vantage points such as balconies, the watchtowers of palaces and forts, or behind the crenellated walls of the Great Wall of China.
Behind the scenes
Gameplay as Altaïr ibn-La'ahad
The crossbow was first featured in the official trailer for Assassin's Creed where the protagonist, Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, is depicted with the weapon strapped to his back as he approaches a Hospitaller knight, who is conducting an execution at a public square. When he is spotted, he charges at the gallows, draws the crossbow to dispatch one of the guards to his left before killing the other guard and his query. Despite this scene, the crossbow is not actually available as a weapon for the player in the game.
In contrast, both the mobile adaptation of the game and the spin-off game Assassin's Creed: Altaïr's Chronicles features it as a weapon. In the latter, the crossbow first becomes available when starting the memory "Great Angry Wall". When using it, the player becomes immobile, but the crossbow automatically locks onto any enemy target in range who is unobstructed by an obstacle. A hit from this weapon is always an instant kill and also will not necessarily alert the enemies to the player's position.
In the mobile game, the weapon is more versatile. It can be utilized to kill enemies at a safe distance, to trigger gear mechanisms, or to shoot down flame-holders to light torches. The ammunition of the weapon can be refilled by walking into a weapon recharge point.
Gameplay as Ezio Auditore da Firenze
The crossbow appears as a usable weapon in a main installment for the first time with Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Unlike the shorter-ranged Hidden Gun, the crossbow allows the player character of Ezio Auditore da Firenze to kill enemies from a distance without drawing attention to himself. It is easier to aim, virtually inaudible when fired, and can be used in a variety of acrobatic positions. Its main trade-off compared to the gun is firepower although in most cases, it would still be an instantaneous kill.
Alongside its stealth capabilities, the crossbow can also be utilized in open combat as a bludgeon and even be used to counter enemies' attacks and defend against horsemen. It is accompanied by its own unique kill animations which involve finishing enemies with a shot from the weapon. Alternatively, it can be manually fired at close range. These shots will be instantaneous kills as usual but doing so will automatically force the player into a reloading animation during which they will be hapless.
The player's quiver initially starts with a carrying capacity of fifteen bolts, but this can be increased in increments of five up to twenty-five bolts with upgrades. While the first upgrade can be purchased as a tailor shop, the largest crossbow quiver requires the completion of the "Pulling Threads" shop quest for the tailor of Tiber Island.
The crossbow returns in the next instalment, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, with identical gameplay mechanics.
Bugs and inconsistencies
A common bug when counter-attacking with the crossbow is that the firing sound fails to occur while a point of inconsistency is the damage dealt with the crossbow between the player and the player's Assassin apprentices. In Revelations, it takes more than one crossbow bolt for the player to kill a Byzantine Almogavar or an Ottoman Janissary despite a shot being performed by an apprentice killing them instantly.
In certain promotional art for Brotherhood, including the E3 trailer, Ezio Auditore is seen equipped with a different crossbow to the one he actually wields in the game. This particular crossbow has the same design as the ones used by crossbowmen.