Assassin’s Creed III Review
Assassin’s Creed III is the third entry in the long-running–no, wait. It’s the fifth, you have to count the Ezio trilogy. Okay, so it’s the–no, wait. What about all the spinoffs? Should we count all the PSP and DS games? There were some iOS and browser-based ones too. So, what, it’s the eleventh game in the series? Regardless, in this long-running, increasingly oddly numbered/named series, Assassin’s Creed III introduces a new character in the Animus and brings a conclusion to Desmond Miles’ story. Whether you love or hate the guy, it all wraps up here amidst 2012 doomsday prophecies, Templar conspiracies, and Revolutionary War era America. The game wound up being a mixed-bag of good and bad features. It was so mixed that it was hard to clearly differentiate discrete bad and good points. Thus, I’ve eschewed our traditional format and combined the columns into a single Like/Dislike feature.
What I Liked/Disliked
It’s nice to see a high profile First Nations protagonist for a change. You know, one that isn’t a horrible stereotype or Turok. The attention to detail given to the Kanien’kehá:ka is impressive. Ubisoft even went so far as to hire voice actors who could speak the Mohawk language to make the experience more authentic. Like most things in this game, the main character Connor (real name: Ratonhnhaké:ton) is a bit of a mix of good and bad elements. He’s competent at what he does and looks fashionable while doing it, but he’s sometimes hard to like–though frankly he’s a big step up from Altaïr. His personality swings from being too earnest to being too petulant and whiny. He lets himself be pushed around by the people around him (up until he kills them) and his voice actor’s performance is often wooden. He sounds great when he’s shouting in anger, but most of his lines are delivered in near monotone. Worse for Connor, the game has an extended prologue where you play as a far more likable character. It’s almost as if the game is doing everything in its power to make you dislike the hero!
To be fair, most of the characters suffer from a degree of wooden acting and unlikability. There weren’t too many performances that impressed me. The people of ACIII simply aren’t as exciting as the people of Renaissance Europe in the Ezio trilogy. I’m willing to give that fact a pass, though, as colonial America was a dour place full of dour people.
History and the game world
The whole dramatized history thing Assassin’s Creed has going for it is perhaps its greatest strength. It’s carried the game in every entry. Personally, I’m a big sucker for colonial era North American history, so this title was particularly resonant for me, though I doubt everyone is going to share this sentiment. Compared to the vast urban sprawl of Florence and Rome from previous titles, this Creed doesn’t hold water. The dingy little frontier towns of Boston and New York are unique in their own right but lack a lot of the character in old European cities. They’re simply not as compelling. The actual frontier was a nice addition, but while I loved trudging through snow and traversing the tree tops, it didn’t hold the same allure that the towers and rooftops of, say, Assassin’s Creed II offered.
The attention to environment detail and inclusion of old pub games like Bowls and Nine Men’s Morris, however, were great. Unfortunately, the inclusion of actual historical figures sometimes came off as a bit forced. Ben Franklin was set-up to be a similar character to Leonardo da Vinci’s in previous titles, but he wound up having only a very brief cameo (fitting, as the real Franklin spent most of the Revolutionary War as a diplomat in Europe, but disappointing from the game’s narrative standpoint). It also felt a bit forced to have the main character present at all the major historic events of the time. I mean, really, Connor just happened to be hanging out in the same room when the Declaration of Independence was signed, shooting the breeze with America’s founding fathers?
The Open World and Bugs
There’s so much to do in this game, it’s mind-boggling. There are a number of guilds you can join, contracts you can pick up from various people, an Assassin’s Guild to run, naval missions, collection quests, and a town building side-story. The game seems to take a lot of cues from Red Dead Redemption, so if you liked playing board games, hunting animals, and exploring the wilderness on horseback, you might find a lot to love here. If you are a completionist, be warned, this game may break you–much like how the amount of side-tasks in Far Cry 3 almost broke Adam. But while there’s a tonne to do, the game is marred by bugs.
True, lots of bugs is often an inescapable reality of open-world game environment; just look at any Bethesda game or RDR. Assassin’s Creed III certainly has its share of problems. If these glitches were mostly hilarious, like those in RDR or Skyrim, it wouldn’t be so bad, but a lot of these problems freeze up the game or lock out certain quests. They’re incredibly frustrating; the worst kind of bugs. This carries over into the Missions Constraints necessary to achieve Perfect Synchronization in each memory. Ideally, these are supposed to add another layer of challenge to the game. In practice, they’re either dull or suffer from issues related to poor programming that make them nearly impossible to complete. Although Ubisoft has already released two large patches that have solved a number of issues, the game remains far from bug free. It seems like a huge misstep for such a high profile game to lack so much polish.
The multiplayer is just as fun as ever. Whether it’s working alone or in teams to identify and kill targets. It’s unique and that’s a huge plus in a market that’s over-saturated with MMOs and shooters. This section is brief because unfortunately ACIII doesn’t add a whole lot that wasn’t already there in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. It’s basically the same experience. Wolfpack is a new mode that requires people to work cooperatively in teams, but it doesn’t work well in action. You need a team of friends to play with. Playing with strangers online is disastrous because no one is willing to work together to achieve the best kills, preferring instead to run around in the open making a nuisance of themselves. With Wolfpack, your mileage will vary.
The Desmond Sections
I’ve never really liked Desmond as a character. I think he’s whiny and entitled, and he isn’t much better here. That said, the adventures he goes are far more interesting than his previous exploits. There are a few modern world segments that split up the flow of Connor’s story and are actually a lot of fun. While mostly distractions, these segments really work to show off how a modern-day Assassin’s Creed might work, were Ubisoft to ever make one. Honestly, if it can maintain the quality of these bits, it could be a lot of fun. The best part is that the Animus’ HUD is absent from the screen meaning the player really has to pay attention to the body language of enemies to know when to attack, defend, or counter. Unfortunately, the ending of the Desmond section is handled about as well as Mass Effect 3‘s.
The ending is silly, contrived, runs counter to the general thrust of the plot up until this point, and ends an epic story that spanned multiple years and games on a whimper instead of a bang. That said, it isn’t nearly as disappointing as ME3 because the game doesn’t give you the illusion of choice in how it ends. So rather than being able to choose between three or four equally useless and similar endings, the game just gives you one disappointing one. Oh well.
What Was Totally Awesome and Probably Deserves a Game of its Own
Wow. These were just supposed to be side missions, but they are amazing. The premise here is Connor patches together an old Assassin ship and gathers up a crew in order to undertake sea-based missions. The controls are simple, but elegant and allow the player to have complete control of their galleon. You steer, control your speed via the sails, and fire cannonballs at enemies. It’s simple, yes, but the game makes the experience utterly immersive. The ship is rendered in stunning detail, every aspect of it animated, with a full crew who perform their own tasks while you captain the ship and shout orders. As you take damage, portions of your ship will catch fire, fall apart, and crew will die. The same goes for your enemies. The simple controls hide just how elegant the whole experience is. A number of different enemy ships and environment hazards require different tactics. Slowing your speed in narrow, rocky corridors, or using chain shots to cut down an enemy’s mast to board their ship are just a few available, though it’s really all up to the player’s imagination. Personally, I loved fully opening up the sails and using my ship as a battering ram. This tactic cut smaller ships in half, but on larger ships it would beach mine on their deck allowing me to use the prow as a shield on one side while I fired my swivel cannons at other nearby enemies.
Better Than: Assassin’s Creed
Not As Good As: Assassin’s Creed II, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
This isn’t saying much. The first title had a boatload of its own problems. There are a lot of things that work in ACIII and Connor certainly makes for a more engaging protagonist than Altaïr, but it never reaches the level of enjoyment that Ezio’s adventures saw. Considering that the Ezio trilogy saw a lot of these problems remedied, it’s pretty disappointing that ACIII doesn’t stack up.
It’s hard to recommend this game at full price. Really, it is greater than the sum of its parts–or, maybe it’s a great experience because there are so many parts that it overwhelms the negatives? As long as Ubisoft continues to release these bug patches, the Assassin’s Creed III experience will improve. All Assassin’s Creed III really does it make me pine for an improved sequel. This game has a lot of problems, sure, but it displays a lot of real potential for the future. I really want Ubisoft to give Connor a chance in some side-games. I want an Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood II or something along those lines. Send him deep into the French Revolution (Lafayette gave Connor the invite in ACIII) or have an older Connor struggle through the American Civil War. The character has a lot of room to grow and I’m eager to see his potential realized.