Trying to finish Assassin's Creed III this weekend, for about the 3rd or 4th time I might add, has reminded me of an unueasy feeling I've been having about the folks making Assassin's Creed.
Now, I really love the original Assassin's Creed. It's not perfect, but it was still an awesome idea that I still think pulls off some of the concepts better than any other game in the franchise. Assassinations themselves, which were the primary draw in the original game, are not only boring as all fucking hell in Assassin's Creed 3 (I'll get into why later) but I've only performed a couple after many hours of playing the game. The game is called Assassin's Creed, but most of the encounters I've had with bad dudes involve half an army of obnoxious "tough guy" enemies that ignore all of the mechanics of combat save for one. This stands in rather stark contrast to me trying to sneak my way to a point of my choosing to dive down on my prey from, like the original Assassin's Creed allowed the player to do.
That being said, one of the things I really liked about Assassin's Creed, especially the first two games in the franchise, is the combat. I think the counters were a bit tricky to pull off in the original in some kind of annoying ways rather than purely challenging ways, but they were also very smooth, very predictable, and very satisfying to pull off. I feel like Assassin's Creed II really nails the feel of the combat, making it even smoother and more fluid than before.
But as I played on in the series, I noticed a pattern. One that started from the first sequel, Assassin's Creed II, but wasn't really an issue for me because it was small enough that it wasn't a bad thing, just a different thing. I'm talking about the "tough" enemies that resist your combos, counters, grabs, etc. In AC2, they weren't an issue because they felt spread out, you'd encounter one or two but rarely would they make up any significant portion of the enemies you saw. Towards the end (where Assassin's Creed games have always struggled in my opinion with this exact issue) this changed and things got a bit annoying, but it was a very small sequence of the game. In Brotherhood, I couldn't help but notice that there were even more of these guys. It started to be pretty cumbersome to have to fight in some instances because of it. There was almost always a few guys in the group that were going to completely ignore any of the finesse you were using, and in fact punish you for attempting to use any.
But man, the "third" game in the series takes that to a whole new level. I'd say 70% of the enemies I've been fighting in this part of the game (with a completion rating of around 30%) have been these "tougher" enemies. Before, it made the combat less interesting because all I could do was hit X on em till they died. There were other ways around it, but not nearly as many with the normal enemies. In Assassin's Creed III however, this troublesome trend becomes even worse because they've tipped the scales to the point where it makes the combat drag out significantly longer, which means I'm tending to end combat with very little health. Now, to be fair, this is also in part due to some really and truly awful camera design (a significant step back from previous games) that makes it impossible to get a view of the action around you. As well as this, the countering can be pretty janky, especially if you're busy with another guy. Sometimes, hitting the button totally works, others not so much, and others still you don't know to hit the button because no prompt shows up so you assume there's nothing to worry about. But still, fighting those tough enemies makes the combat far too simple, far too lengthy, and goes beyond making it boring but actually quite frustrating.
As a sort of parallel to this slow change to the nature of the game, there's another pretty major issue I have with the combat in Assassin's Creed III, which again has come to a peak after steadily growing over the course of the franchise. It's the number of dudes on screen in combat scenarios. In the original game, you rarely engaged more than a few guys at once, and once you did that you usually had time to run off and get to safety. In Assassin's Creed III, A fight started with three guys turns into 50, half of them being the tougher enemies. And that's just messing around in the open world with stuff like liberation missions. Go to a fortress, and you'll have 10 guys spawning around you ready to shoot your ass, and another 20 swarming around your area trying to kill you. It's obnoxious. It's not even that it's difficult: I rarely die in the game. It's just not fun to engage in that kind of combat. The reason the combat is cool the way it is in Assassin's Creed games is that it's quick, and efficient. You rip apart a group of guys and seconds later you are already gone. But as the series progressed, it became more and more of a "just keep fighting until there's no one left to kill" kind of game, which isn't my idea of a fun time. Especially in a franchise that started as something of a stealth game.
I feel like rather than fixing what was broken and focusing on the strengths of past games, Assassin's Creed III exaggerates past problems (probably because they feel each time "has to be" bigger and badder), hinders the strengths of the gameplay, and strays much, much too far from it's roots.