I have a rather long history with the Assassin’s Creed games. I remember when the first game released, I thought it was a really great idea to set a game in that particular time period, and the gameplay brought forth some interesting ideas of what we could see in an action title like this. The second title, moving the focus from Altair to Ezio, was a very bold improvement on the fairly linear first title that, in my opinion, was the epitome of the franchise.
Not only was Ezio a great character, but the less linear, more open-form aspects of the entire trilogy that focused on him was great, and it was also awesome to see how the character progressed throughout the years, and what revelations he uncovered relating to the feud between the Assassins and Templars.
With Assassin’s Creed III we get an entirely new main character, Connor, and an entirely new setting, colonial America. While the previous titles have focused primarily on the “old world”, that of Asia and Europe, ACIII moved us to possibly more familiar and recent history of the time surrounding the American Revolution. Instead of introducing a commonplace character for the location, Connor was raised as Native American, even though he also had British blood coursing through his veins.
This time period was a very uncertain time for America in general, and when you take the conflict between the Assassins and the Templars and throw it into the mix, you really get an explosive and intriguing historical time period for the setting of the latest chapter in the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
While we saw some of this to a lesser scale in the previous titles, the setting of ACIII in particular really highlights and plays off of the juxtaposition of the confined city-scapes of mid-18th century colony life and the untamed frontier just outside their gates. The cities feel dangerous, busy and confining while the frontier areas of the game – which cover a much larger land area – feel open, free and, to an extent, safe. I really like that aspect of this title in particular, because, not only does it highlight that difference but the game does a good job of making you see it all as Connor sees it.
You get a glimpse of his life early on – hunting, trapping, skirting the edge of the colonial civilization while still attempting to hold on to the life he grew up living. As you’re jumping through the trees early on during more “tutorial” type segments of the game, you feel that safe and glorious freedom, and you get a sense of what it must have been like, not only for Connor specifically within the scope of the story, but for Native Americans in general during that time period.
Eventually, the story brings Connor to the cities of both Boston and New York. His first trip to Boston is rather memorable for me since, like on his turf in the frontier, the game does an excellent job of depicting how awe-inspiring the city must be to someone who’s never been in such a place before.
Unfortunately, I’m not a huge fan of Connor himself, as a character. I think it’s great that they chose a Native American for the main character here, but unfortunately he never really resonated with me outside of what I just mentioned. Much of his dialog is flat and boring, rarely showing emotion or stretching outside the bounds of that stoic style of speaking, especially in the early game.
Some of the stylistic choices, while culturally influenced, seem overly forced to me, as well, such as giving him a tomahawk to use as somewhat of an iconic weapon, instead of the hidden blades that make him feel more like the assassins we know and love from the previous games. In subtle ways he feels more like a brute force player instead of the stealthy, quiet protagonists that have come before.
Some other characters were more subtle and much more pleasant to have around, such as Connor’s mother, and his mentor, Achilles. I especially loved Achilles’ no-nonsense, yet laid-back attitude, it really seemed like a stabilizing force at various points, especially in the early game.
The visual presentation of the major cities and the frontier itself was very well done. Characters and landscape alike were rendered with care and precision. I’ve been to both New York and Boston a couple times in the last couple years, so various locations resonated with me, and I could – even based on the buildings of that time period – recognize certain locations (Faneuil Hall in Boston stands out, for example).
In the frontier areas, certain things can start to “blend” together somewhat, and this is a design issue because of the requirement to have branches to leap and bound between in the trees themselves. If you look up in any forest-type outdoor area, things look very similar, down to the diameter of the trees themselves.
Also, it’s rather difficult at times to see which trees you can climb and which trees you can’t. It would have been much nicer if you could climb every decent sized tree in the forest, sort of like climbing a column. You wouldn’t be able to stand on the tree if it didn’t have branches, but you could at least climb it and then propel yourself to another, more suitable tree. Unfortunately, there never seemed to be a tree around to climb when I needed one, and the majority of the time I found myself searching for one, when it should really feel more organic than that.
Once you get up in the trees though, gliding through them is a joy. If only the branches would take you in the direction you wanted to go instead of randomly into the wilderness. Sometimes you can jump between two directions, but usually that takes stopping, looking around, then deciding where to go instead of organically finding your way. This may be because some branches are hard to see, or may not feel like they’re close enough, I’m not quite sure. Although, I have to say, dropping out of the trees to get the jump on someone is incredibly rewarding.
Battle mechanics are hit or miss for me. Of course, initially you have but a couple weapons, but as time goes on you get new tools to use in your trade, such as the crazy rope dart, traps for hunting, a gun and the list goes on. The selection of weapons is reasonable; however, things seem way too complicated. Plus, they albeit castrate the cool hidden blades by making the tomahawk the main weapon of choice, and it’s more of a brute force one at that, which almost defeats the purpose.
Dual blades get an extra ability – the fact that you can use them as sort of mini-daggers during a close-combat fight situation, as well as the usual stealth assassinations. I found myself using the tomahawk and the hidden blades more often than anything else, because things like the bow, gun or rope dart are very situational, slow or have ammo that can run out if used carelessly.
While battle does slow down when you attempt to block an opponent, which is nice because it gives you a bit of breathing room to decide what to do with them, fights still seem to take on more of a button-mashing aura. As all true AC fans, I much prefer if a stealth assassination goes exactly as planned, and an escape has few hindrances. Carrying out a mission with little to no extra fanfare is quite rewarding, just like in previous titles. But, even the best laid plans tend to fail more often than not, and you get in the thick of things frequently, which relegates you mostly to button mashing.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the guard AI is straight up way too overbearing. I don’t remember things being so overwhelmingly unbalanced in the previous AC games. I swear if you so much as look at a guard wrong they would chase you to the ends of the earth with no mercy. It’s very difficult to find a place to hide, or even lower the guards’ alertness level, when you’re constantly being attacked and followed. Many times guards tend to come out of the woodwork, not showing up on your map until they suddenly appear at your location and knock you off your feet. Many, many times I thought I was in the clear, not seeing any guards on my map, when suddenly I have a handful on top of me.
I guess the one redeeming quality of the guard AI is that they hit like babies, and you can take a lot of abuse before finally succumbing. It’s difficult for them to actually de-synchronize you, however, running around in circles endlessly and rarely being able to get away from them is practically worse than death.
This really comes to the fore when you’re on a mission in a city and have to perform things in a particular way, or hit checkpoints in a certain order. Also note that you can’t even hit some checkpoints if the guards are onto you; you have to be anonymous. This causes the problem of running too far away from your checkpoint to elude the guards, then continually running into them again to get back to said checkpoint. Rinse and repeat until you miraculously make it.
To increase your anonymity, you can remove wanted posters of yourself or bribe criers or print shop owners to spread different propaganda, however all of these things you can’t do if guards are on your tail. Again, I say that the mechanics here totally defeats the purpose and become too convoluted to the point of being overwhelmingly frustrating.
Finally, add to that the fact that the whole roof-hopping thing is very strongly discouraged within the context of the game, and you lose a lot of what it really feels like to play an Assassin’s Creed title. At least you still have the fun of the viewpoints and usually, when you climb that high, you can elude your pursuers and catapult off into a hiding spot far below.
Another form of combat is present in the game, as well. New to Assassin’s Creed III is naval combat. Early on in the game, you get a ship restored that is in a rather disheveled state in the bay near your manor. This provides the basis for naval travel and combat during the course of the game.
In my opinion, battles seemed overly simplistic, but perhaps that is a good thing. Your ship can be used to travel long distances fairly quickly, but battles may break out as you patrol offshore. You can tell your crew to fire cannons and go into cover when the enemy bombards you. It’s a neat little distraction if you spend a lot of time on the water, but the frontier and traveling by land when you can is much more detailed, less formulaic and just generally more fun.
There are plenty of things you can do if you need a break from the main story missions, as well. Early on, Connor is introduced to a manor to restore, which becomes your homestead throughout the course of the game. You can build up resources by recruiting certain settlers to your cause or by hunting and trapping yourself throughout the frontier.
Those resources can then be used to trade and make money, which you do by sending them to cities via caravan. Each time a caravan leaves, depending on its route, there’s a certain risk assessment, and you’ll have to pay taxes on the goods and so on and so forth. The more you “clean up” the frontier, by recruiting people to your side, turning others against the British and such, the safer it will be for your caravans and, of course, the more money you will make.
This trading system and the whole side quest revolving around restoring the manor was actually great fun – there is seriously a lot of content here, that rarely gets boring. I love things like this included in what is otherwise a fairly linear mission experience to make it through the main story, it gives you the feeling of actually living in that area at that time. Plus, it gives you a reason to get out of the cramped cities for large periods of time if you so desire.
Aside from the single-player experience, which is already rather deep and rewarding, Assassin’s Creed III also offers Ubisoft’s unique blend of multiplayer action which they introduced in the middle of the Ezio trilogy. What I like most, generally speaking, about the multiplayer in ACIII is that it’s unique and different than most other titles of this sort. I feel a lot like when I played Uncharted 2’s multiplayer for the first time – that it was something I could really get into because of how unique it is.
Aside from the standard modes (capture the flag, death match, etc.), ACIII adds in Wolfpack, which lets you team up with three other players to go on the offensive against groups of enemies while the clock is running. If you survive and move to the next group, more time is added to the clock. How far can you get?
In an interesting twist of thought for me, I actually really enjoyed the multiplayer combat here, even more than in the single-player portion of the game. In the main campaign, you’re required to do things and perform in ways that may not be natural or may seem less organic and more forced, and that felt awkward to me, especially considering the off-kilter enemy AI and frustrating blend mechanics.
In the multiplayer, you don’t really have that issue, for obvious reasons, and you’re free to move about how you wish and with little hindrance. It just felt like a more solid combat experience to me.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed III is a great game, and I’d highly recommend it, especially for fans of the franchise. But, it suffers from what I like to call “third game syndrome”. The original Assassin’s Creed was the base, but the epitome of the franchise happened in Assassin’s Creed II and the other Ezio games. Now, attempts were made by the developer, the publisher or whoever to even top that, and instead of doing that, things were made too complicated, too touchy, too overbearing and everything just generally fell flat.
The story, setting and amount of content is awesome, but the main character, combat and general Assassin’s Creed feel are the real losers here. It’s a solid game, but not outstanding and a bit less impressive than I would expect for a new AC game with a new, fresh character. The developers seemed to try too hard to improve, and it didn’t work. Still, though, there’s a lot to do here, and the multiplayer experience is extremely rewarding, so it’s definitely worth a spot on anyone’s game shelf.