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Review: Assassin's Creed 3

AC3 is clearly the least well received of the mainline Assassin's Creed games (including Assassin's Creed, AC2, Brotherhood, Revelations, 3, Black Flag, Liberation HD isn't out as of this writing). You'd think there would be a reason for that, but I'm mostly chalking it up to series fatigue and launch issues with gameplay balance.

Assassin's Creed 3 does some things right and other things wrong:

Wrong:

  • AC3 pronounces Concord wrong, and not just once, every single damn time. The VO director thought they knew the right way to pronounce it and they were wrong. This is especially infuriating because they got genuinely difficult to pronounce names like Faneuil right. I suppose I should thank the gaming gods that they didn't bring the player to Gloucester.
  • Brings back repetitive game play mechanics to gain control of city regions, like those used in the original Assassin's Creed. Luckily they aren't the same in every region, but you end up doing the same thing three times if you are a completionist or want to engage with the trading game (you'll get tax rate reductions for your goods if you take control of regions and trade routes).
  • Collectibles that pay off with only a trophy in your mansion (in particular the feathers, it's not that collecting them wasn't fun, it was, but after you get them all you don't get anything for it).
  • Post credits gameplay. You'd think this would be a positive, but the credits are about 20 minutes long, so most people would have gotten to the end of the game and assumed it was a full stop end. I only knew it wasn't because I checked the achievements list.
  • Scotsmen with axes. Enemies that are just frustrating to fight, this is more a category because there are several types that either just block all damage no matter how much you pound on them, who do damage when you block or counter. In a Devil May Cry type game, that's appropriate, but this series is not really about the combat, so it's just frustrating when you are in the middle of a large battle and suddenly there are three enemies who are resistant in some way or another to your kill skills. Combat is what is happening in between the gameplay sequences, it's not the game. This has been toned down over the series, but for some reason it was particularly bad in this case.
  • Bosses with healthbars. Why? I'm an assassin, why am I not just killing these people stealthily?
  • Climbing objects that repeat. This happened in AC1 and AC2 as well, and to a small degree in Brotherhood/Revelations. Climbing that same one tree or the same one church for the 10th time isn't as much fun as the first time. Maybe it's our fault that our churches pretty much all look the same from that era, but the trees at least should be different.
  • DLC that wasn't fun. The Tyranny of King George was fucking horrible. I didn't even make it through the entire first episode because I finally got too frustrated during the spirit walk. Trying to follow glowing white wolves through a glowing white environment with 10 foot vision range and invisible walls everywhere while pursuing a magical spirit elk isn't fun. The rest of the DLC to that point wasn't fun either, because missions where you have to keep up with someone and they run off without announcing their intentions immediately after a conversation that you may have inadvertently tuned out of isn't a pleasant experience. You don't even have time to scavenge some equipment from the soldiers you're killing off.
  • Trading. I basically didn't. It didn't seem like there was any point because you could make more money faster by knifing beavers for pelts.

Right:

  • Sailing. I finished every goddamn sailing mission. They were quick and enjoyable. Occasionally I'd get my ass handed to me by some man o' war, but it was a quick reset and back in the thick of it again. Blowing up ships is fun.
  • Captain Kidd missions. This is collectibles done right. There are a manageable number of objects to collect, you get a payoff periodically, and you can buy a map to the collectibles early in the game. The experience feels like it ties into the homesteading part of the game as well because you've helped reconstruct this ship. The mission areas are cool and add variety to the game, with arctic and Caribbean destinations. Even the treasure item at the end of the questline feels worthy of the effort (although by the time I collected it, I'm not sure it was relevant to me any more).
  • More complex storyline with a lot of grey areas. Connor's targets don't only believe they're doing the right thing because they have a different worldview, but Connor actually believes they are responsible for things they were not responsible for. People in this game don't have common facts, they don't share information, and everyone is pretty much lying to one another even when they are trying to talk face to face. How like the real world (also how confusing). Connor wants to have a peaceful coexistence with his father, an alliance to protect what he values, but he can't get it because they are unable to communicate with one another about Lee.
  • Haytham and Connor, the Templar and the Assassin. From time to time it feels a little bit like Star Wars, but it's a great way to do this story, and makes their final moment that much more tragic.
  • The death of Lee. Connor is totally fucked up, Lee is totally fucked up, through sheer grit they drag themselves away from the city and if Connor hadn't killed Lee, he probably would have died from his wounds anyway. Awesome, and worth mechanical consistency in the game to get there.
  • The Templar reveal. The player feels that much more predisposed to accept Connor's viewpoint of the Templar's activities because of the shock of that reveal. That tiny betrayal by the developer carries it's way through the entire game and there's a reason everyone remembers that moment.
  • A lengthy and complex homesteading storyline that feels like it pays off. You convince all these people to come to Davenport and they actually manage to become a family and progress before your eyes. This is one of the best things about this game.
  • Taking a more neutral position on the revolutionary war. AC's fiction isn't representative of reality (Israel Putnam was not George S. Patton, although the characterization is probably more right than you'd think), but the "patriot" leaders were the quintessential 1%ers. They were acting in their own self interest and they didn't give a crap who got stomped on in their path to their own success. Minorities were marginalized and damaged in the process. Empires are bad too, but they DO have a tendency to grant some portion of their population more cosmopolitan worldviews (primarily the moneyed part, c.f. Benjamin Franklin, world traveler and terror of the husbands of Paris). The course of endless war creates a forced mixing of cultures. There are communities throughout the United States (as in France and England) full of people who were allied with us in our various attempts at world conquest. The British probably would not have protected the midwestern tribes any more than the new republic did, but it might have taken longer for them to get fucked over. Maybe not.

Right/Wrong:

  • Underground Boston and New York. This is a cool idea but the execution felt like someone was locked in a closet and asked to build these underground areas on their own for 6 months. You open up new quick travel points in Boston and New York by traveling through tunnels built by the Masons (fuck knows why), and traversing some mild climbing puzzles, locks, and lamp puzzles on the way. The repetition is what got to me, but most people probably wouldn't spend an hour straight mapping out the entire New York underground like I did. The amount of time needed to unlock those quick travel points is probably more than you'd spend actually walking those distances above ground in the course of the game, so it's hard to justify it.
  • Kanien'kehá:ka. The Mohawk all speak Kanien'kehá. That's awesome. The delivery is kind of flat for most of the characters, and not necessarily up to the standards of the rest of the game's voice acting. I give Ubi credit for using actual first people's VAs. Kaniehtiio Horn, who voiced Connor's mother, though, is actually part Mohawk and group in Kahnaweke. Bulaagawish portrays Connor, though, and he's Crow, which is totally not even an Iroquois tribe.
  • The main native characters being Mohawk is also possibly a matter of convenience for Ubi. Montreal is right in the heartland of Mohawk country, while Boston is ... um ... NOT. The Frontier is representative of a large area, but I think I'd have preferred that it be split up, it's weird being able to walk from Monmouth (Jersey) to Concord (west of Boston). The Haudenosaunee tribes were important in the revolutionary war though, while the tribes nearer Boston weren't really relevant since they'd mostly been wiped out/resettled/adopted western ways after King Philip's war a hundred years earlier.

Ultimately I think this is a must play. It tries so many new things, it's not going to fire on all cylinders, but it does interesting and complicated things that it should be respected for. Just for gods sake don't pay money for the King Washington DLC.

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