Its focus on character development heavily harms its gameplay, but denying the sheer extent of the game’s world and content is impossible
The Assassin’s Creed franchise is known for its size and ambitions. In fact, it is so remarkably big that it took Ubisoft two games to get all of its details down, and the result was one unforgeable masterpiece in Assassin’s Creed II. Coming at the heels of a series of minor releases derived from the franchise’s Italian endeavor, the third major installment of the franchise feels a little bit like a step back; not because it is humbler or plays it safer than its predecessors, but because – much like the original title – while it is a triumphant success in some areas, it feels awkward and dull in others, as if the team behind the game suddenly forgot some of the lessons so effectively learned from the first game’s reception. For that, while being greatly enjoyable in certain points and invariably impressive, Assassin’s Creed III never succeeds in rising to the stellar level of its mesmerizing predecessor.
It all starts when Desmond and his crew locate the temple that holds the secret that will save mankind from destruction. Upon finding the door, though, they discover that they are missing not only the key to open it, but the power sources to activate it. The solution, as expected, involves having Desmond relive the life of one of his ancestors in order to discover the key’s location.
Connor, our brave new assassin, is the fruit of the quick relationship between a British templar sent on a mission in the United States and a native woman, and he grows up to be an assassin whose targets are deeply involved in the American Revolution. Therefore, players will explore key locations of that conflict, such as Boston, New York and the little towns in their outskirts; meet historic figures; and aid the rebels in their quest for freedom. As it has become a standard for the series, the story is wonderfully told through impressive cutscenes made very believable by the game’s great visuals and the good actors employed in the voice acting.
Though undeniably interesting and very exciting, the game’s plot is indirectly responsible for the two biggest issues found here. First of all, Assassin’s Creed III features, by a good margin, the most ambitious story development the series has ever seen. The game is not satisfied with simply focusing on Connor’s life as an assassin; instead, it chooses to start from a point way before it all began: the departure of Connor’s father, a man named Kenway, from Britain.
Through a sequence of small hops to advance through time, we see and play as Kenway meets Connor’s mother; the boy is born and plays with his friends as a child; grows up to be a leader in his tribe; and, finally, decides to train to become an assassin after he goes through a life-changing incident. The fact is that the game is so enchanted by the telling of its story that nearly half of its missions are spent getting things started.
Before Connor is truly free to roam the expanse of the game’s world, five of the game’s twelve sequences will be finished. In Assassin’s Creed III, gameplay serves the story; and not the other way around. As a consequence, the title’s first half comes off as dull and extremely restricted.
The second issue derives from the game’s setting. As compelling as it may be to watch the revolution be born and then be a part of it, the large scale war is not exactly a scenario that is favorable to the style of gameplay the series thrives on. Assassin’s Creed II shined, among other reasons, for the design of its missions, which often involved sneaking around, finding different ways to hide, and managing to kill a target silently.
While Assassin’s Creed III does offer a few missions like that, there are too many where Connor must either simply lead a battalion, fight out in the open, or warn troops of incoming attacks. The game ends up being more about a huge conflict than back-alley tactics that would usually be performed by a silent assassin. The war-related missions can be thrilling, but they do not capture the series’ essence as well as the stealth ones do. It is a change of philosophy that will please some, but make most wonder why exactly such a shift occurred.
It’s a shame, because in its gameplay, Assassin’s Creed III – as expected – offers a wide range of alternatives that can be employed to remain anonymous. If players choose to avoid combat, Connor can rip posts off of the walls, bribe street preachers to talk about something other than his recent exploits, pay the presses that are printing the posters to stop doing so, start riots against the British, hide amongst the crowd, or use his uncannily impressive skills for climbing.
Examining enemy patterns and the environment surrounding them in order to find a way to perform silent kills has always been one of the most engaging actions in Assassin’s Creed games, and here they remain a clear prowess, even if those skills are not as frequently used as they should have been.
When the alternative chosen to handle some of the missions is direct combat, or if Connor’s stealth skills are not sharp enough to make him invisible; then players will be treated to a fine combat system. Connor can defend opponents’ attacks, break their defense, and attack. The game offers a wide variety of weapons that can be equipped – even some fire weapons – and though enemy variety isn’t exactly a highlight, the battles remain entertaining and challenging all the way through the whole game.
If the fifteen-hour main quest has not remained solid in its quality during the transition between installments, the sidequests that populate the title remain engaging, and it feels like they have grown in numbers too. In fact, there are so many of them that according to the game’s counter for percentage of completion, only about 30% of it is done once the main quest is wrapped up.
Many quests that appeared in previous games of the series make a return. Connor will have to deliver letters, free prisoners, find high viewpoints in order to clear areas of the map, collect page’s of Benjamin’s Franklin almanac, recruit other assassins, engage in combats, find treasure, and find and break into heavily guarded forts that are hidden throughout the game’s enormous world map.
In the end, more than twenty hours can be spent simply exploring the world and finding its secrets. What is most fascinating about this sort of experience, though, is that sometimes the secrets are neither collectibles nor anything that contributes to the game’s completion percentage, but small nuggets of details that show how much care was put into this ridiculously big world.
Boston and New York hide the old buildings and locations that are now known worldwide, or at least in the United States; while the Frontier, a forest-covered area with many hidden small towns, hides nice little places, creeks, waterfalls, mountains and people that add many layers of content to a game that is already swimming in impressive depths. Though the distance between goals might often be long, it is punctuated by little encounters that give it a lot of meaning.
Out of the numerous side missions the game presents, three are brand new and clear highlights. First of all, there is Connor’s homestead. A big peaceful piece of land amidst all the chaos where Connor decides to build a small community under his protection. At first, it is an abandoned location, but little by little Connor will come across people in need of a home, and by helping them out players will get them to move to the homestead, and aid in its development and quality of life, which makes it the game’s most satisfying quest.
Secondly, as a native, Connor has developed the ability to hunt, and there is no better place for that than the Frontier. There, Connor can locate and kill many kinds of prey, such as hares, bears, wolves, foxes, and others. The capture of each animal requires a different approach, either direct or using traps, and trapping animals either in large numbers or by using unique techniques will fill up huntsmen challenges, which are both numerous and entertaining to perform.
Lastly, halfway through the game, Connor acquires one mighty ship, allowing him to perform naval quests behind the wheel. Those missions, that hint at the incredible awesomeness that Assassin’s Creed IV would turn out to be, usually vary from navigating troubled rocky waters without taking much damage, to fighting a number of British vessels either through fire and cannonballs, or by boarding them. The ship’s controls are easy to learn, and the ability to upgrade many of the vessel’s parts in order to be able to tackle tougher challenges makes those quests a real test of skill. In addition, they also happen to be extremely thrilling and exciting, serving as a great break from the game’s regular missions.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed III has more content than the average gamer is able to handle. Unfortunately, that overwhelming amount of tasks and the nice design of its overworld are terribly marred by a central quest that is more focused on telling a story than providing players with an exciting gaming experience. It has its moments and it features a very solid group of side-missions that pushes players to explore its world, but the outcome is a title that falls far away from the level reached by its direct predecessor and successor alike.