Assassin’s Creed will go down as one of the defining franchises of this generation. Assassin’s Creed III brings us the fifth entry to the series, and the fourth in the last four years. From the start, I’ve seen enormous promise in Assassin’s Creed which has left me equal parts enamored and frustrated. After feeling completely drained by Altair’s adventure, but rebounding to incredible pay offs with Ezio’s brotherhood, I had no idea if AC3 would fall or fly.
Whether or not you enjoyed the Assassin’s Creed II trilogy, everyone was ready to move on (even Ezio). Thankfully it was apparent from its original announcement that AC3 wasn’t going to take the cue to change lightly. I came to Assassin’s Creed III almost entirely for the changes shown on the box art: the American Revolution setting and the new assassin (Ratonhnhaké:ton aka, Connor). Coupled with the setting change Ubisoft has also added in forest/frontier traversal mechanics and naval battles on top of the four games worth of open world goodness that the series has become known for. Assassin’s Creed III’s ambition may be its most inspiring feature, but the cracks between the core Assassin’s Creed gameplay and its various supplemental pieces begin to show soon after their impressive introductions.
Journey to the West
I could not wait to dive into the setting of Assassin’s Creed III. The American Revolution was always been a fascinating period of history for me growing up and is even moreso as an adult who’s able to read different perspectives than what were in my schools’ history books. Two historical highlights in particular stand out in the early portions of the AC3. First, there is Benjamin Franklin, who almost without prompting, proceeds to have a 5 minute conversation with your character about the benefits of the lovemaking skills of older women. Then, there was the time where I ended the game by accidentally killing George Washington for getting too close to my hay bale hiding spot. You also get to participate in several pivotal moments leading up to and through the revolution including the Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, and the Battle of Bunker Hill.
In order to integrate your assassin into the shadows of history, all Assassin’s Creed games take some liberties with history itself. These twists and loose interpretations have been some of my favorite moments in the series, but in AC3 they feel much more forced. I enjoy being a hero or a pivotal character in video games, but this time around, my character’s personal involvement with so many historically significant events started to cross the line to the point of being ridiculous and only succeeded in taking me out of the moment as a player.
The assassin experience excels when you control the character who effortlessly initiates the first in a long line of dominos leading up to an important event rather than having to take a sledgehammer to every domino in the line. While immersion in the story and setting could have been handled more cleanly in AC3, the sheer amount of historical scenarios and information surrounding you at all times more than makes up for it, especially with the nice touch of having Desmond’s English associate, Shaun Hastings, providing his own personal commentary on the historical info in your Animus database.
Isolated shiny objects
The new assassin, Connor, is Half-Mohawk and Half-English and easily has the most intriguing backstory to any of the series’ protagonists. I also appreciate the narrative tie-in where his skills relate to his upbringing among his tribe. Not only is the effortless sprinting among the treetops of the frontier one of the game’s greatest improvements, but leaping out from the foliage for an air assassination with a tomahawk is my new favorite means of dispatching enemies or defenseless rabbits. Connor also picks up a vicious new weapon, the rope dart, which can be attached to prey from high above and then used as a means to safely land on the ground while you simultaneously hang their corpse. In short, Connor can handle himself, physically anyway.
Connor’s true limitations as a lead character are displayed moreso in his social interactions. Like so many video game protagonists with a good heart, Connor is constantly taken advantage of and finds himself as the errand boy for everyone from his mentor to a random farmer to George Washington himself. Connor is a proud individual trying to avenge his mother’s death and protect his tribe, but he’s also naive and socially awkward to the point being immature and unlikable. While it’s certainly possible to get past an unlikable hero, in a game as huge as Assassin’s Creed III, it can really test the player’s resolve. I did find myself cheering for Connor in the last act as he came into his own, but the journey to get there had already taken its toll and I had grown completely indifferent to him as a hero.
This nagging flaw of a failure of immersion is best encapsulated by the Assassin’s Creed III’s awe-inspiring naval battles. Rightly the most talked about new addition to the series as they are technically brilliantly, exciting to play, and a joy to the senses. I loved every mission, and I played all of them. I also found them to be completely pointless (even the ones integrated into the main story) and nothing more than distracting filler content. While I understand their inclusion due to the importance of the naval battles of the war, it was just another stretch that went a little too far for this game world.
No carrots in the frontier
The naval battles by themselves are forgivable on their technical merits and fun factor, but everything else that makes up the optional tasks in world of Assassin’s Creed III fall apart before the player’s eyes. This is coming from a rabid open-world collector and completionist who normally finds the most random of side missions worthwhile.
The low point of these optional quests are the homestead missions. Helping your mentor, Achilles, build a small town of talented tradesman and do-gooders was neither interesting from a story standpoint or from an economic standpoint. As I’ve said, Connor isn’t exactly at his best when involved in conversation, so the reward of having him talk to a bunch of throwaway characters as he improves their lives is anything but. On the flip side, improving the skills of your homestead’s inhabitants does help your trading abilities, but I found no direct use for money in AC3. The default weapons served me well through the entire game, and everything that you can purchase at best serves for making the remote side tasks more accessible. Optional quests should serve to flesh out open world games and have always been a high point for me with Assassin’s Creed games. I was overwhelmed with the tediousness of the optional tasks in Assassin’s Creed III as they all have little to no pay off.
The lack of pay off sadly begins to bleed into the main story missions which could have been the game’s saving grace. The concluding sequences did not have the dramatic flourish or the enjoyable mission types to salvage the Assassin’s Creed III experience. This is true in both Connor’s adventure and in the overarching story involving Desmond Miles and his team of modern-day assassins as they try to prevent a world ending disaster and battle the Templars. I don’t think Desmond’s story should make or break the Assassin’s Creed experience for anyone, but it has become pitifully generic and needs to be put out of its misery.
Indifference became a major theme for me throughout the back half of AC3. I was a good soldier and tried to keep my head up for as long as possible, but I found myself wearing down with every rough corner the game threw at me. I will admit that I continue to be impressed by the scale of Assassin’s Creed games, especially considering the aggressive release schedule of the series. AC3 may be fifth entry in the series, but it’s the first with Ubisoft’s new AnvilNext game engine. Assassin’s Creed III also has had the longest development cycle since the original game, so it is surprising that it turns out to be the roughest technical outing for the series since the original. AC3‘s full of glitches on the Xbox 360 even despite its massive patches. From odd animation loops to deer spawning inside of mountains and mission-ending errors, AC3 asks for a lot of patience from its players. When these technical issues are combined with the disjointed feeling brought about by its vastly different gameplay offerings, Assassin’s Creed III is a major step back for the franchise.
Assassin’s Creed III squanders the potential of both its American Revolution backdrop and its layered lead character in favor of becoming a package of disconnected and mediocre games instead of the great game it should have been. There is a lot to love about Assassin’s Creed III, but finishing the game is more about overcoming the experience than enjoying it. Fans of the series should definitely play AC3 but temper their expectations of progress for the series, while newcomers may want to explore a previous entry or wait for Ubisoft’s next assassination attempt.
In addition to the review score, Horrible Night also provides a value score based on price and content of the game at the time of publishing:
Value Score: 4/5 – Quantity boosts the score here, and if you know what you are getting into and want it, there are 40+ hours of gameplay in the single player alone. Throw in the always intriguing and “better-than-it-should-be” multiplayer and for better and worse AC3 is one of the more filling games out there.
Giant Bomb (images)