My Thoughts on Assassin's Creed 3
When Assassin’s Creed 2 came out, it was a huge leap forward for the series and it was almost a different game that the first game. Over the years since then, Ubisoft has refined the game systems and generally made improvements. With Assassin’s Creed 3, I was hoping that there would be another huge change in the way this game was played and while there are some nice changes, its not as big a change as it was from 1 to 2. Is that a bad thing? Read on to find out!
I’ll start out with the combat, which had gone through a few changes. For the most part, it largely the same as you will be spending a fair amount of time waiting for someone to attack you so you can counter. The biggest change is what happens after you make the initial counter. In previous games you counter and immediately kill with your equipped weapon. In AC3, you make the counter and time slows down for a few seconds while you decide to kill with your main weapon, your secondary weapon, break the attackers defence or throw them. After the initial kill, you can then continue to chain your kills using primary/secondary weapons with style. The nice thing about this change is that its not just for looks, there are different enemy types and each of them must be taken out in a different way. Some must be killed with your secondary weapon, while for others you need to break their defence before moving in for the kill. All of the animations for this game are new and very gratifyingly brutal as Conner (the new Assassin) will really throw himself into his kills. The animations are so well done that you can almost feel him bury his tomahawk into a persons skull, or break someone’s back. Some of the weapons you will be using are familiar (hidden blades, sword) and some are new, like the aforementioned tomahawk and the rope dart. You also have access to pistols, which raises an interesting question: if this is during the American Revolution, doesn’t everyone have guns? Yes, all soldiers have guns but you have to remember that it took a long time to reload those guns. The military wasn’t bouncin through the streets packin SMG’s or something. All guns in this game are single shot, then the NPC’s (and you) must go through the process of ripping open a pouch of gunpowder, pouring the powder into the gun, loading a musket ball into the gun and then pushing it down the barrel with a long piece of metal. When someone is lining up a shot against you a yellow icon will appear over their head. When you see this you have a few seconds to grab an enemy and use him as a human shield which will block all incoming fire and then give you a chance to close the gap while the other guys try to reload their guns.
The stealth in this game works pretty much the same as all other Assassin’s Creed games. You can still blend with the crowd, though in this game you can blend with any two people. You will still also make use of hay bails, wells, roof gardens etc to hide. There are a couple of new systems implemented for stealth, one of which is the “stalking zone”. These are areas with tall grass, or small bushes that you can hide and freely move around in. You can also assassinate from these like any other hiding spot but unlike other hiding spots, it’s very easy to move from one stalking zone to another so you can move in closer to your prey. The other new mechanic (to this series anyway) is being able to lean up against a wall and whistle to get someone’s attention, then assassinate them from around the corner. It’s nothing revolutionary but it helps when trying to stay stealthy and i don’t know why it’s making its first appearance in this game.
And of course the big staple in these games is the climbing. The cities of Boston and New York is where you will be jumping from rooftop to rooftop, though because they weren’t really built up as much it makes it tougher to go from building to building without running into large gaps that force you to the ground or make you go way out of your way. It’s a little sad since going from rooftop to rooftop in previous games was a lot of fun and it kinda sucks that when I was in a city I mostly just used a horse to get around, only using the rooftops when it helped me complete an objective. But if you’ve been following coverage on this game at all you’ll know that rooftops are not the main focus for climbing in this game, no sir, it’s the tree climbing that is the star. There is a huge world outside of the main cities called the Frontier and your main way of getting around will be the trees. Scattered throughout the frontier there are trees that can be climbed and then you can start free-running along the branches. It may worry you to think about that but trust me, it works pretty well. All of the tree-running is quick and super slick. You only need to press the trigger and hold forward and Connor will run along/swing from branches, glide around tree trunks and leap from branch to branch with easy and fluidity. Another type of climbing in this game is the cliff climbing. You can scale almost any cliff and Ubisoft did a really great job on making cliff walls look natrual. Ubisoft created a new system for this game called “Safe Free-Running”. Basically this means that while you are free-running Connor will never jump from a height that would kill him, which has been an issue in the past. While this does stop unnecessary deaths, it does not alleviate all of the frustrations as Connor will still make jumps you don’t want him to, they just won’t kill you. Another climbing issue I was hoping to see fixed is the one where the character simply stops climbing even though there is clearly a handhold for him to grab onto. To fix this, you have to go back a little ways and then approach the area again for the game to realize there was a path up. I was really hoping these issues would be fixed and it’s sad they couldn’t resolve them for this game.
Assassin’s Creed 3 also has an abundance of side stuff to do. There is a whole new hunting system in play. You can track and hunt down animals using bait or snares, or you can just simply air assassinate them from a tree. Once you’ve made the kill you can then skin the animal and sell their various parts for cash, or use them in the games all new crafting system. There is also an area called the Homestead that you can build up during your journey. You will meet people of varying professions in your travels and can invite them to live on the homestead which opens up various side quests and increases the quality of items you can craft. I really enjoyed the Homestead as the more homestead missions you do, the more you build a relationship with the people living there and at the end it really felt like a big family. It’s also a nice place to go where you don’t have to worry about being attacked by soldiers and can just relax in a tree. There are also feathers, trinkets and almanac pages to find throughout the world so if you’re a collector you’ll love it. The bad thing about the side stuff in this game is that none of it really gets you anything. The collectables just unlock outfits or weapons but in a game where there is no armour and weapon damage doesn’t matter, why bother? Like I said, if you’re a collector then you’ll love it, but if you are looking for some reward that will help with combat you’re better off not doing it at all as it will just waste your time. I personally collected all of the feathers and the trinkets just because I like collecting, but at the end I felt disappointed because the costume that was unlocked didn’t look that great and it didn’t grant me any bonuses like the armour of Altair or Brutus.
And last, but not least is the all new navy combat system. During these missions you take control of your ship, the “Aquila” and perform varying tasks. Most involve blowing up other ships, while a few take you to locations that are similar to the crypts found in Assassin’s Creed 2. It may sound strange for a game like this, but it was a lot of fun steering my ship around and lining up the cannons to take out ships. Or ramming giant war-ships so they could be boarded.I didn’t do a whole lot of the ship missions (which I regret), but I am looking forward to doing them when I go back to the game.
Sadly I cannot talk about this game without talking about the numerous glitches I encountered while playing. Some of these were not very game breaking, like groups of people or animals simply disappearing into thin air. Some of the more annoying glitches were things like map icons not appearing, or restricted zones not being marked so I would get attacked instantly upon walking into a seemingly random area. There was also a glitch were I started getting attacked during a cut-scene. I couldn’t do anything but watch as Connor was smacked around until he died and I had to reload a checkpoint. I also got stuck in a tree which made me reload. One very annoying glitch happened when I had to kill someone, then loot his body afterwards. I killed the guy, which made the guards attack me. As soon as I finished killing the guards, the body I was supposed to loot vanished and I failed the missions as there was no body to loot any more. This happened a few times and was very frustrating. I understand that even the best of games will have it’s glitches, but the amount encountered and the frequency in which they are encountered is inexcusable. This is a game that has been in production for almost 3 years and it should not have this many issues.
Warning: The following section may contain minor spoilers for previous Assassin’s Creed games
As with previous Assassin’s Creed games, there are two story lines running parallel to each other. One plot line takes place in the modern day world. After coming out of a coma-like state in Revelations, Desmond teams up with his father and two other assassins from the previous games (Shaun and Rebecca) to save the world from a solar flare that threatens to scorch the Earth and bring about the end of the world. They have received this information from “The ones who came before” who were a highly advanced race that existed before humans, and were unable to stop a similar event from happening in the past. In order to stop this from happening they need to find a key to a temple and to do that they have to, you guessed it, shove Desmond back into the Animus to re-live one of his ancestors memories. The ancestor this time around is a half British, half Native-American named Connor. Connor’s story starts when he is a child living with his tribe in the woods. Everything is fine and dandy until one day the Templars show up and do him some serious wrong. After that he finds his way to an old assassin master who agrees to train Connor to fight the Templars. It sounds cliche, but what has always made these stories interesting is the setting in which they take place. As I said before this takes place during the american revolution and it treads down the “Alternate History” path which makes the story more interesting. Instead of watching the events of the revolution from the side-lines you actually take part in them. You toss tea overboard during the Boston Tea party, join in on the Boston Massacre and take to the front lines during some of the pivotal battles of the revolution. The pacing of the story was pretty good (about as good as it can get in an open world game), there were a few twists and the ending closed it off in a very nice way. Overall I would say I enjoyed Connors story. The same, sadly, cannot be said for Desmonds. I have never really cared for the future/Desmond story and that is mostly due to the fact that it is given the least amount of time in the games and that it is telling a story on two fronts (at least in this game). On one side, you’ve got the Templar threat and on the other you’ve got the whole apocalypse thing. Both are huge issues and they deserve more game time than they do. What this resulted in was an ending that felt rushed and very disappointing and honestly I think the Assassin’s Creed games would have all been better without the future story line at all. Or better yet, what if they left that part out till the very end? What if you played through all of these games thinking they were just set in those time periods, and then at the end its revealed that you’ve been seeing all this through Desmond’s eyes and from there continue to make a game or two centred only on Desmond and the future. It would give the developers much more time to invest into Desmond and I think it may have worked for the better.
Connor is probably one of my favorite characters in this game aside from one other who I won’t get into due to spoilers. Connor is a no-nonsense type of guy. Someone who sees everything as black and white; you’re either a good guy or a bad guy and if you’re a bad guy you best stay out of his way. Connor doesn’t take sides as far as the american revolution goes, he does what he sees to be right no matter who is on the wrong end of his blade. Because of this way of thinking it makes Connor very naive and even when confronted with a situation that appears to be a shade of grey, he sticks to his beliefs and does what he thinks is the right thing to do. Some people view this as a negative, and I can see why; Connor never really goes through any kind of major character arc. At the end of the story, he is pretty much the same guy as at the beginning and I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. Sure, it’s nice to see a character change and grow through their story, but there’s something to be said about a character who doesn’t waver in his beliefs and stays true to them no matter what situation presents itself. Connor isn’t all violence and revenge though, if you play through the homestead missions you will see that he is also a very friendly, caring and giving individual. He does not believe in owning land and ends up building a great community on his homestead filled with people who call him their friend.
Other than Connor and the one person I won’t talk about there aren’t many characters that stand out in my mind. You meet some of the main guys in the american revolution like George Washington and Sam Adams which is cool, but since these aren’t original characters, there is only so much you can do with their stories.
Ubisoft did a great job creating a massive open world for you to play around in. There are four main areas: Boston, New York, the Frontier and the Homestead. Boston and New York look really great and from what I have seen, they put a lot of effort into re-creating it as closely to the original as possible. The streets are much wider, so you don’t get big groups of random people walking along, but the people who are there feel like more than just wandering crowds. People will have conversations with each other, haggle with vendors and do various other day to day tasks that breathe life into the cities. The Frontier and Homestead are out in the wilderness with little towns and forts dotted here and there and the rest is filled with just as much life as the cities. There are many different types of animals you’ll run into in the wild and they are all very life like. Sometimes I would just sit in a tree and watch what animals will do when left to their own devices. Elk will engage in a fight, grunting and butting heads with each other, wolves stalk their prey and baby deer leap around playfully as their mothers keep a watchful eye. It’s great to see that Ubisoft was willing to put so much effort into making their world feel full of life and it’s something I intend to enjoy more of.
This is the best look Assassin’s Creed game, hands down. The towns are very well detailed and the game really shines with you are out on the Frontier, looking out over the landscape from the top of a tall tree or from a cliff with a waterfall running over it. When you play this game, do yourself a favour and just stop to look around and enjoy the view. You won’t regret it. Sadly the games nice looks is also somewhat of a downfall. It looks fine most of the time when your in the Frontier, but get into a city where there is a lot going on, and you’ll notice that there is almost always a layer of fog off in the distance, covering up anything that is going on and giving the system a break from rendering too much. I guess it’s just a limitation of the current gen hardware but it would have been nice if they could have found some way around this.
I enjoyed most of the music in this game. The main title theme in particular stands out for me and I might even try to get my hands on it to listen to outside of the game. The music that played when you stepping into a tavern was also well done and really made me feel like I was actually there (even though I have obviously never been to a tavern in that era). The rest of the music was decent and always fir the current situation. Sadly I don’t think any of it compared to some of the stuff done by the composer for the last few games; Jesper Kyd. Dont get me wrong, Lorne Balfe did a good job, I just don’t think I will be looking to purchase a copy of the soundtrack.
Voice work for the game was pretty well done and believable for that time period. The main issue I had was with Connor who sometimes sounded like he was just reading from a page. I watched some behind the scenes stuff before the game came out and I know that they had people who could actually speak the native language used in the game, but I’m not sure if that’s just how they spoke or if the voice actor was just having trouble.
All of the sounds effects were great, and I want to give a special shout out to the sounds made when stabbing guys (especially the sound made when burying your tomahawk into a skull) and the satisfying crunch made when stepping through the snow.
So, was Assassin’s Creed 3 as big a leap from 2 as 2 was from 1? The short answer is no, but that doesn’t mean that this game does not warrant its own number after the title. The refined combat, tree-running, brand new animations and naval combat all grant this game permission to fly the number 3. There are also several other things I didn’t get into, like the change in seasons which force you to change your tactics and the way you travel. Sadly the two big things holding this game back from true greatness are all the random glitches, and the rushed feel of the future story ending. Despite those shortcomings, I still pumped 27 hours into this game and after writing this review I want to go back for more. And there is something to be said about that.