Assassin’s Creed III Review
byon 01-29-2013 at 03:24 PM (744 Views)
As much as I enjoy the franchise, there’s no denying the Assassin’s Creed franchise has suffered from franchise fatigue. Since 2007, Ubisoft has pumped out a number of major games with a healthy stock of additional games to supplement. The past three console games have put players in control of Ezio Auditore da Firenze. However, as the story of Desmond, the central character who has tied the Assassin’s Creed franchise together since the beginning, finally comes to a close, players are introduced to a new ancestor and new era.
Assassin’s Creed II introduced The First Civilization, the ominous Ones Who Came Before, and the great calamity that only Desmond is capable of stopping. With the end of the world approaching, Desmond and his allies must locate a mysterious key to access a secret vault, and find an unknown device which will prevent the destruction of the world, and thus save humanity -- yes, it has become that ridiculous.. However, to do so, Desmond must return to the Animus and discover where one of his ancestors hid this mysterious artifact. While Desmond has been the piece that connected the franchise, the individual Assassin’s Creed games have been more about telling the story of his ancestors and their struggles against the Templar Order. Assassin’s Creed III puts players in control of Desmond’s ancestor Ratonhnhaké:ton (also known as Connor). Connor, the son of a Native American woman and British colonist, unexpectedly joins the Assassin’s Brotherhood to protect his tribe’s land from the efforts of the Templar and those who would seize it for themselves. Through him, Desmond is able to experience the American Revolution and the continuing battle between the Templars and Assassins. All the while, racing against the looming threat of destruction on a global scale.
Let’s get this out of the way – Connor is not nearly as likeable a character as Ezio. Ezio was the son of a noble family in the renaissance and his outgoing personality reflected his status and station in life. Connor comes from a very different position in life, and due to his life experiences, he is a lot rougher and unpolished. He is more confrontational, brasher, and far more irritable. Honestly though, this likeability problem not only plagues Connor, but almost the entire cast of Assassin’s Creed III. The Templar Connor hunt feel like checks on a list and don’t elicit the same hate as characters like Rodrigo or Cesare. Even the major historical figures like George Washington and Sam Adams fall flat. Still, that’s not to say there are no likeable characters. Connor’s mentor Achilles, for instance, serves as the calm voice of reason that guides Connor without controlling his actions and is probably my favorite character in the game. When it was announced, there were some major concerns that the game would devolve into a “good Americans” versus the “evil British” story. It is debatable how successful Ubisoft was at avoiding this flaw, but for the most part, the story focuses on the two groups’ differing visions for the future of America (and how their philosophies drive the colonists fight for freedom against the tyrannical British). This unfortunately leads to one of my biggest criticisms of the game. Now, there’s no denying that the Assassin’s Creed games have taken certain creative liberties with history, but they always succeeded at keeping the Assassin’s and Templar behind the scenes. Connor and his Templar adversaries unfortunately become major figures in the American Revolution. Things like Connor being at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, involved in the Battle for Bunker Hill, riding with Paul Revere, all seem unnecessary and far too forward for someone who is supposed to operate from the shadows.
One constant in the previous Assassin’s Creed games has been the expansive cities and the freedom to explore and traverse these landscapes. However, Ubisoft faced a challenge with Assassin’s Creed III in that colonial America didn’t have the same environments offered in the previous games. Instead of massive cities to explore, much of Connor’s activities involve traveling across the sprawling frontier, using Connor’s free-running to travel from trees, to buildings, to cliffs, to anything else he can scale. Connor is able to scale trees and more easily navigate environmental obstacles than his predecessors. And while it doesn’t have the same feel of the cities of the previous games, Ubisoft has shown that the franchise can travel to new environments without losing its key elements.
Like its predecessors, Assassin’s Creed III is a third-person action adventure game. Players control Connor as he traverses the American colonial landscape, as he sneaks around cities, and as he charges into battle. For the most part, Connor is fairly easy to control, but there are definitely occasions where the game’s freedom of motion nearly gave me an aneurism. Specifically, full synchronization of a few missions required such precision that the slightest misstep required restarting the objective. Thankfully, the synchronization system has been improved and now allows players to simply revert to the previous checkpoint rather than replaying an entire mission after making a mistake. The combat system unfortunately has still not received a much needed overhaul, and most battles quickly revert into sequences of counter chain kills. Seemingly in an effort to diversify the combat, the game offers a number of intricate combat animations for different types of attacks, but whether or not those are worth enjoying will depend on the player. One of the biggest changes to the combat system has been the expansion of the role of guns. While Ezio’s adventures introduced firearms into the franchise, there’s no denying that they were not very prevalent. Connor always carries at least one pistol with him and is capable of disarming guards to take their muskets. True to the time, these guns require significant time to reload, so the game doesn’t deviate too much from the combat of the earlier games. The control scheme has undergone a few (arguably unnecessary) changes, but for the most part, things feel fairly similar. Compared to the previous games, the Assassin’s system has undergone some major changes. Throughout the story, Connor encounters a number of characters who join the Brotherhood. These are no longer the nameless faces that joined Ezio in Rome and Constantinople. Instead, each character has unique objectives that must be completed to earn their service and a specific ability that Connor can utilize in various situations.
People have often complained that the Assassin’s Creed franchise has not offered much outside the main storyline. While players can do things like upgrade cities, buy weapons, or explore hidden areas, there hasn’t been much in terms of real side quests or purely optional activities. Ubisoft appears to have taken those criticisms, and in response, loaded Assassin’s Creed III with so many optional activities it is easy to get lost in the shuffle. Similar to Assassin’s Creed II, Connor has a home area that he can upgrade. However, instead of simply buying upgrades, this is done by completing quests for the myriad of characters that can be recruited to live on the Homestead. These activities range from simple things like fetching supplies from Boston, stopping fights, and driving away thugs, to stranger activities like herding pigs or helping two settlers find love. Undoubtedly, one of the most fun activities is the naval system. When it was originally unveiled, I honestly expected the naval experience in Assassin’s Creed III to be the crux of one or two missions. Instead, Ubisoft developed something that could, in its own right, be its own game. There are a number of optional naval missions outside the main story that allow players to command a colonial battleship and engage in naval battles against the Templar and British alike. However, it’s not a simple sail-and-shoot affair – players can upgrade their ship, use different types of cannons and cannonballs, and even strategically use the wind to overcome some difficult challenges and objectives. While it isn’t the most realistic simulation of colonial sailing (something tells me they could not furl and unfurl sails that quickly), it’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in the clamor of naval combat and the sailing experience.
As I stated earlier, Assassin’s Creed III is the conclusion of Desmond’s story. Instead of simply allowing players to control Desmond during the game’s final sequence, Desmond finally pulls on his hood and uses the skills he has been learning through the Animus. While it certainly is satisfying to finally play as Desmond, there’s no denying that his missions feel toned down and uninspired. Much of this stems from the fact that each mission is far too linear and directs players from point A to point B, to point C, and so on till the objective is completed. Even Desmond’s free-running is incredibly restricted, only having a single path that can be taken for most sequences. Now, I’ve always felt that the First Civilization has been the worst thing to happen to the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The focus of Desmond’s story has shifted more and more away from the battle between the Assassins and Templar and more towards these mysterious beings and their approaching cataclysm, taking stranger and stranger turns. Without revealing too much, the Templar have been seeming relegated to irrelevance in this final chapter, and honestly, the conclusion of Desmond’s story is at best a disappointing close to a five year journey. Yes, the franchise leaves the ending open for future games, but the conclusion leaves an unsatisfactory taste for the direction of the future story.
Assassin’s Creed III was undoubtedly one of the games I was most looking forward to in 2012. As such, it should come as no surprise that it failed to reach my expectations. However, what is surprising is how far Assassin’s Creed III falls short. The game takes too long to truly get into Connor’s story as an Assassin, doesn’t develop its characters well, and the different sequences feel far too disjointed and disconnected. Coupled with the fact that Desmond’s story, the story we’ve been progressing through for five years now, ends with such a whimper, it’s hard to feel satisfied at the end of the journey. Should you play Assassin’s Creed III? If you’ve kept up with the franchise, I recommend getting it just to see how Desmond’s story wraps up and to set up for the eventual later games – but maybe wait till the price drops a bit. If you’ve never experienced the franchise, I can’t recommend this game as an introduction to the series. Still, I’m willing to give Ubisoft the benefit of the doubt and believe the franchise will right itself and overcome this misstep.
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