AC3 offers variety of mechanics though not franchise’s best.
Those who are familiar with the Assassin’s Creed franchise know a bit of the complexities that have been fleshed out by developer Ubisoft. Since 2007 we have followed the story of Desmond Miles as he rejoined the mysterious group known as the Assassins in their fight against the Templar. We’ve followed Desmond into the Animus – the machine that uses genetics to grant the user the ability to relive the memories of one of their ancestors – as he trained using the experiences of Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad and Ezio Auditore to learn the ways of a master assassin. And we’ve been enthralled by the developing story arcs that saw Desmond fighting, not only to save the Assassins from the growing power of the Templar, but also to save the world from destruction. Assassin’s Creed 3 – the fifth home console title in the series – follows the same formula as its predecessors. More mysteries involving the First Civilization are fleshed out, Desmond’s small group of Assassin’s are still on the run from the Templar, and Desmond must use the Animus to relive the memories of one of his ancestors to unlock the way forward.
Unlike past Assassins Creed titles, Desmond’s story has been drawn out significantly to the point that infiltration and assassination missions are now intertwined into his limited gameplay. Though each Desmond mission acts as a stopgap between Animus missions, Assassin’s Creed 3 really shows the potential of having a future title set in current times, rather than the past.
As with past Assassin’s Creed titles, AC3 has two main plot stories; Desmond’s experiences outside the Animus, and the story of one of Desmond’s ancestors. Where AC1 placed players in the shoes of already established assassin, Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad and AC2, Brotherhood, and Revelations focused on the memories of Ezio Auditore as he grew from a teenager out for revenge to a tired-out elderly man, AC3 turns to a new ancestor, Connor Kenway. Unlike his ancestors, Connor did not grow up in a family surrounded by Assassins and Templar. This protagonist was raised by his Native-American mother and knew little of his English father. Players are given the opportunity to relive pivotal moments in Connor’s life as he grows from a boy into a young man during the Revolutionary War. Connor’s story for revenge soon becomes entangled with the war between the Patriots and the Redcoats as well as the Assassins and Templar. This places Connor in the middle of some historical moments in American history. Connor’s understanding of the world plays a big role in his sense of justice and right, and he constantly questions the morals of those around him. Instead of backing the founding fathers as our history books always do, AC3 shows some of the consequences of war and the hard choices that had to be made for freedom.
Ubisoft has a track record for creating historical settings and does not disappoint in AC3. The setting of AC3 centers on Boston and New York City during Revolutionary War times. These settings allow Connor to be involved in, or even put in motion, some historical events such as the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s Ride. We even see sequences where Connor commands troops in battles such as the Battle of Bunker Hill. Though these sequences do seem coincidental at times, we see the ambition put forth on Ubisoft’s part to try and get players to feel as though the Revolutionary War is upon them. Unfortunately, as some gameplay elements are gained, some elements that have been present in past Assassins Creed games are lost, such as the need to climb buildings and run across rooftops. In past Assassins Creed games, the settings were in cities that were hundreds of years old and had time to develop into massive sights. AC3 takes a different timeframe, long before the massive skyscrapers of the current New York City skyline, in a time where the city was still in development, eliminating the need to race across rooftops and I found myself either running to a destination or riding a horse.
Similar to the gameplay introduced in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Boston and New York City feature ways to lessen Templar control and gain Assassin allies. Both cities have liberation contracts in which you assist by performing various tasks that differ from district to district. For example, in the poorer sections of town you will need to burn contaminated blankets or carry the sick to a doctor, while in the farmland you will need to protect farmers as they collect their crops or save civilians from violent Redcoats. After completing all the contracts in a district you have the option to go on a mission and, if successful, recruit a new assassin.
Many of the main story missions are assigned at the Davenport Homestead. This location acts as Connor’s home base and has it’s own set of development options. Starting out as only a few structures, the Davenport Homestead can grow over time by completing Homestead Missions. These missions add various non-playable characters to the homestead that produce resources that are used for crafting new items and trading for income.
Outside the developing cities of Boston and New York City lies the massive frontier featuring mountain ranges, trees, rivers, and lakes. The scenery here is one of the most detailed I’ve seen in a video game since Red Dead Redemption, but may be one of the most overlooked features in Assassins Creed 3. The ability to fast travel to different areas allows players to completely overlook the frontier portions of the game. The scenery isn’t all the frontier has to offer though, a new hunting mechanic has been added to Assassin’s Creed 3 in which animals in the frontier can be captured and skinned for funds. While some animals, such as deer, raccoons, rabbits, and foxes will run away from you if detected, other animals, such as cougars, bears, and wolves will openly attack you if you get too close. This adds new mechanics to the game and can actually take some time to master. The cleaner the kill, use of one arrow or one stab with your hidden blade, the more the animal skin is worth. This element encourages players to use bait or traps to capture animals, rather than shooting them with a bullet.
Speaking of bullets, Assassins Creed 3 adds a few new weapons to the assassin arsenal. First is Connor’s signature weapon, the Tomahawk. After acquiring the Tomahawk after sequence six, Connor uses it as his main weapon and as a way of zipping across ropes like a zip line. The Rope Dart can harpoon enemies while they are on foot or horseback, and can be used to hang enemies from trees. Pistols and Muskets are also new features in the game, each powerful and usually cause a one shot kill. The downsides of using these weapons are the long reload sequence that must be fully completed without interruption in order to shoot the next round, and using these firearms will alert other nearby enemies of your location. Though Muskets act as a bayonet in close combat situations, and act as a way of defending and attacking in close quarters. The Bow and Arrow is by far my choice for long-range attacks as it is quieter and has a shorter reload time. This new edition is also a great weapon to use during hunting.
Arguably the greatest editions to Assassins Creed 3 are the Navel Missions. In these missions, Connor captains a ship along the eastern coast of America and battles British Navel fleets for control of the area. Upgrades to the ship’s equipment can be purchased and enhance the durability and power of the vessel. A variety of cannonballs are also made available with their own status effects.
Some of the biggest problems with Assassins Creed 3 may lie in the fact that this franchise has been put on a yearly release schedule. We’ve seen the biggest leap in basic gameplay development from Assassins Creed 1 to Assassins Creed 2, which gave players a two-year gap between games. But since the great success of Assassins Creed 2, Ubisoft has opted into releasing a new AC game every year. This has left AC3 marred with basic gameplay that has not changed enough from its’ predecessors and a large amount of glitches that impaired my overall enjoyment of the game. Assassin’s Creed 3 also suffers from a large disconnect between it’s side missions and the main story line. In past AC titles, side missions added to the overall storyline by rewarding players with new weapons, a large sum of money, or some story elements that added to the understanding of the world. In AC3, players can choose to completely ignore the side missions, and will not lose much from the experience. In this respect, the game falls short. The new fast travel mechanics even made it easier to pass up these side missions. Though I was able to get to the next story mission faster, no longer was I stopping along the way to complete a side mission that was marked on my map. The plot points of the main storyline were so interesting that they left me ignoring the side missions in favor of getting to the next story beat. Though some of the side missions can be entertaining, the developers did themselves an injustice by disconnecting them so much from the main storyline.
Though I did enjoy the majority of my experience with Assassin’s Creed 3, I can’t help but feel a bit burned out from the yearly release schedule. The franchise has come a long way, but is not adding enough gameplay innovations to completely justify a yearly release cycle. Though Desmond’s story has seen some resolution in this latest release, Ubisoft has left enough room to continue the franchise and has already planned another release for quarter 4 2013. Will the next Assassin’s Creed impress enough players to convenience them to come back again? We can only wait and see.