Review: Assassin’s Creed III
Assassin’s Creed III (Playstation 3 [reviewed], Xbox 360, PC, Wii U)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal (various other Ubisoft studios)
Genre(s): Action, Open World
Released: October 30, 2012 (PS3, X360), November 13, 2012 (Wii U), November 20, 2012 (PC)
ESRB Rating: M – Mature
I’ve not attempted to hide the fact that Assassin’s Creed has been my favorite franchise of the current generation, or that Assassin’s Creed III has been my most anticipated title of the year. I had incredibly high expectations going into this game, and truth be told maybe I had that bar set a little too high.
Since the game’s release, I’ve pumped into a little over 20 hours into the single player and I’m about 45% on the completion scale. I have a ton of stuff left to do, although I finished the main story in about 12 or 13 hours. And let me just say right here in the beginning that it has been a mostly fun 20 hours. This game is the biggest Assassin’s Creed game to date by far. The world is massive and it is absolutely loaded with stuff to do. Ubisoft Montreal and their sister studios have crafted a hugely ambitious title. Perhaps too ambitious for the current generation of consoles.
STORY: Ignite the Revolution
I enjoy history, of all time periods, but my favorite period is the American Revolution. I’m real big on that concept of liberty and limited government. I was already hyped for the next Assassin’s Creed game after beating Revelations last year, but when it was announced in February that Assassin’s Creed III was going to be set in colonial America and that you’d be fighting the Revolution and hanging out with some of the Founding Fathers, I was completely ecstatic. Favorite game franchise meeting favorite time period just isn’t something that happens very often.
As with every Assassin’s Creed console title, there are two stories here. The main franchise story is of course the present day with Desmond Miles. This is the story that began in the first game and has slowly played out over the course of now five games. The second story, and the one you’ll spend the most time with, is based in colonial America and surrounds the new Assassin hero Connor.
Up until this game, I’ve felt the Desmond missions/story was the big weak point in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The Desmond sequences in the first game were so boring and such a chore that I dreaded ever having to exit the Animus. They got a little better in Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood, and then the bottom fell out in Revelations with the horrible first person puzzle platforming sequences. Factor in an increasingly convoluted sci-fi story, and its easy to see why Desmond gets so much hate.
You can safely read this as I’m not going to spoil anything Desmond related, but truth be told I really enjoyed playing as Desmond in this game. It truly was the culmination of everything that he had underwent in the previous games and what the story was building towards. This was the first time in the franchise where playing as Desmond was fun and never once boring. I wish there would have been more to it; this was the one game where I honestly would have loved to have more Desmond missions. As far as the ending, which is getting a lot of hate on the Net, I enjoyed it. It made sense to me, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the franchise goes next.
As far as Connor is concerned, his story was really hit and miss. I don’t know what I was expecting, because I knew the American Revolution was the backdrop to Connor’s story and not the “main thing,” but I was expecting more. I loved the twist in the beginning with playing as a character that wasn’t Connor for the first few sequences, and the big twist at the end of one of the early sequences (which if you pay attention and know your Assassin’s history you’ll see coming). I enjoyed the young Connor stuff as well.
The problem with Connor’s story is that it spanned too long a period of time, in such a short amount of time. There’s a huge disconnect with the Revolutionary War. There are moments of epic scale, but the large scale battles I was expecting to see and taking part in largely weren’t there or weren’t anything like what I was expecting. Outside of a few missions, it’s easy to forget that there’s even a war going on and especially what time it is because it just ahead so much. Even meeting historical figures like George Washington is underwhelming.
I think the game would have been much better in terms of story had they did the early Connor stuff and then fast forwarded to the outbreak of the war and confined the story into just two or three years. In trying to be epic, the game really lost its scope in the story. Things don’t make sense, and if you’re playing on the PS3 with the Benedict Arnold missions installed you can really get confused shortly after meeting George Washington. I met Washington and then stumbled into a Benedict Arnold mission not knowing what it was. I was treated to a cutscene of Connor basically yelling at Washington about what he (George) had done and never to call on him again. What? Even after completing the story, I’m still not entirely sure what that was all about. Again, it’s all underwhelming.
Ultimately, Connor is more Altair than Ezio. Ezio was easy to connect with and he was a fun hero character. Connor is a rather boring character with some sweet moves. There’s nothing to connect too. There’s a big disconnect with the story Ubisoft tries to tell with Connor during the cutscenes and what actually happens in the world. He’s supposedly a guy who cares about justice and all this, really a good guy, but then the game throws you in a world where if you even look at a guard funny you find yourself swarmed with a seemingly never ending supply of guards. You end up with a bloodsoaked Connor standing over the dead bodies of about thirty or so guards for no real reason.
But of course the only Assassin’s Creed game to have a remotely good story was Assassin’s Creed II, so I’m not at all surprised that the Connor story isn’t particularly good. These games are always about the world and the gameplay, and that’s where the game truly succeeds.
GAMEPLAY & COMBAT: Become the Master Assassin
As much as I love the historically accurate settings of the Assassin’s Creed games, it wouldn’t be my favorite franchise if I didn’t really enjoy the gameplay and controls. Ubisoft has tweaked some things with this latest outing, but thankfully the game still plays wonderfully (for the most part) and the controls have been simplified.
You no longer have to have hold down a trigger button and a modifier (X on PS3) to sprint/free-run. Now you just hold in R1 and you never have to stop; holding R1 will allow you run and then automatically begin climbing all the way up a building and keep on running. You don’t even have to jump if its a reasonable distance as it’ll automatically jump if you’re holding in R1 and can safely make the jump. You can still press X to make no longer jumps, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to grab hold of a ledge if the building is too far away for the auto-jump to work.
Combat has also undergone a change, and the end result is, to me, a really great blending of Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. We’re back to the original game’s regenerating health (although you’re not gaining more and more health as you synch up). This forces you to play smart. If you’re getting it handed to you in combat, which is a littler harder this time around, you can no longer use a medicine to instantly boost your health back up. You’re going to have to either kill everyone before they kill you, or escape.
As I said, the combat is a harder this time around. The series has never been difficult by any means, but Assassin’s Creed III is much more in line with the original Assassin’s Creed. I actually died, several times, in combat during this game and that’s just something that didn’t happen (outside of being stupid) in either of the last three games in the franchise. It’s much more timing oriented and a lot less about button mashing, this makes getting counters a little bit harder (as opposed to previous games where it’s been near 100% for the easy kill). The AI is a little more aggressive, although you’ll still encounter plenty of guys attacking one-at-a-time which doesn’t really make sense when you’re watching this guy slaughter dozens of soldiers.
Since Assassin’s Creed III takes place during the period guns were replacing swords, it’s common to see soldiers line up and shoot at you with their muskets. The great thing about this is if you grab an enemy, you’ll use them as a human shield against the bullets. It is one of many awesome ways to kill redcoats (and bluecoats!)
The previous Ezio titles have featured the little pistols, but you’ve never had the ability to aim it. Now, you can finally aim your ranged weapons. There’s plenty of different pistols, muskets that you can pick up, and of course the bow. I love using the bow. It doesn’t always kill a soldier, especially at a distance, but it is a tremendous amount of fun to do. Since beating the game, I’ve found myself hanging out in the trees in the Frontier hunting animals from up high with the bow. And that’s a lot of fun, to the point where it has been delaying my doing all the side stuff and getting to 100% completion. I’ll get there though.
The best new weapon though is, without a doubt, the rope dart. Performing stealth kills and double assassinations with the hidden blade, ranged kills with guns or bows, and the always fun poison darts are all great; hiding behind a corner, whistling to get a guard to come near me, and stabbing him in the neck without him ever knowing what happened is tremendously fun. But nothing comes close to using the rope dart successfully for the first time though. There’s really nothing like stalking your unsuspecting victim in the tree tops and then hitting him with the rope dart and hanging him from the tree. For a game that features some really amazing kill sequences, there’s perhaps nothing more brutal than the sudden hanging (would be better if they kicked around fighting, but whatever). You can also use the rope dart from the ground to pull an enemy towards you, or just strangle them with it without having to hang them from the tree.
GAMEPLAY & COMBATPART DEUS: Become the Master Captain and Homesteader
There have been two big additions added to the series with Assassin’s Creed III: naval battles and a Homestead. The naval missions, of which there are a couple of story based missions but a good many optional side missions, are in a word incredible. It looked good in the videos and demos we saw, but I had my doubts as to how much fun it would be and easy it would be to control the ship. After spending quite a bit of time with the naval side missions, I can easily say that the naval missions are my favorite addition to the series yet. To go one further, I’d really like to see Ubisoft expand on what they’ve done here and make a pirate game. The mechanics here at that good and it really does feel like it could be a separate game.
There’s a lot of strategy at play during the naval missions, and a lot of things you’re going to need to be aware of. You may encounter a bad storm with some pounding waves, all the while you’re engaged in battle with three different ships. You’re going to have to learn to time your shots in between the waves, and when to fire and when to take cover. When you factor in that these missions look absolutely gorgeous, you end up with missions that are incredibly immersive and realistic. You can even upgrade your ship (which is expensive) and fire different types of cannons. Just sailing in the open water on a sunny day is highly enjoyable.
The other big addition is the Homestead. We’ve had similar stuff to the Homestead ever since Assassin’s Creed II, but it has been so expanded upon and refined here that it might as well be considered as completely new. In the previous games you had to restore the villa and then full cities by purchasing stores after liberating sections of a city. While there are sections in Boston and New York that you will want to liberate, as well as forts to liberate, you aren’t doing so to purchase stores. Instead, the benefit is a reduced tax rate and risk rate for your trade.
That’s right, I said trade. No longer can you purchase a store and have a ton of money automatically added to banks waiting on you to withdraw it. You’re going to have to work for your wealth in Assassin’s Creed III, and that’s going to require doing Homestead missions to get artisans and workers to settle on your homestead and turn it into a thriving and peaceful community in the forest. These missions are amongst the easiest in the game, but there are many of them and you will want to do them all. The characters that can settle on your homestead (it’s all optional) are really well developed characters, and each serve a function. After they settle, you’ll be able to do missions for them that will level them up and in turn they’ll be able to give you reduced rates on their goods and be able to craft better products.
You’ll earn recipes and be able to craft a ton of different items across a range of categories using your homesteaders. You can then send your crafted items and your resources to New York, Boston, and the Frontier through land and sea convoys. Sending convoys of goods out to stores is your primary way of making money, though like I said you actually have to work at it this time and I think that’s a good thing.
In addition to the settlers, you’ll also be able to recruit a few folks from Boston and New York to become Assassin’s by completing “liberation missions.” Instead of using these Assassin’s to wipe out all guards with an Arrow Storm or fight alongside you (although they can be used to fight with you), you’ll be able to use these Assassin’s to set up ambushes and my favorite ability the escort (amongst other abilities). The escort sees your Assassin recruits dress up as redcoats (or bluecoats) and escort you through a restricted area as their prisoner. This is perfect for getting into forts and close to captains stealthy.
The homesteading, crafting, and Assassin recruits are all big time refinements over the similar aspects of previous titles in the series. I love just hanging out on the homestead and watching the people go about their virtual lives.
GRAPHICS: Come Explore Colonial America
Different people with report different things here, but personally I didn’t experience any issue whatsoever with screen-tearing (which has been in previous titles) or any noticeable drops in frame rate (again playing with the PS3 version). There are some times where objects will flash a little like something was layered slightly over it (if you’ve ever tried to make a map in the PC game Black Hawk Down and misaligned something, that’s what it reminds of). That hasn’t happened often though, and it’s gone away the closer I’ve gotten to the item.
Of course there are some issues with some textures not looking all that good (most of the time I noticed this it was foliage on the ground and leaves in the trees). Not a big issue to me, especially for a game of this scope that has so much going on within the world. At the same time, there were occasional instances of texture pop-in, but even this I found to be rarely noticeable.
One thing I don’t like graphically is the blood, especially in cutscenes. It looks nothing like blood,;it’s look like a slightly transparent piece of red cloth sitting above a persons face and chest. Likewise, I don’t understand why characters can’t stand up properly or walk properly. That’s not just an issue with this game, but rather with most games. Why must characters always be hunched over and knees constantly bent? This is especially laughable during some of the present day stuff, in which characters look like zombies all hunched over.
There’s also a lot of jaggies on objects and people (but mostly trees), but overall Assassin’s Creed III is a beautiful open world game. Of course it doesn’t look near as good as a small and linear game like Uncharted, but it’s still really good looking. Colonial America certainly wasn’t as colorful as Renaissance Italy, nor were the towns as big, but there’s a definite charm with the new American setting. Boston and New York have been wonderfully reconstructed, and they’re connected by a vast frontier (which has small settlements like Concord and Lexington) and a homestead. You’ll encounter forts that you’ll need to liberate, and random events. In short, there is a ton to see and do in the colonial America setting and just walking around watching the world and exploring is incredibly fun.
The world is part of what makes Assassin’s Creed III so great. Ubisoft has added seasons and dynamic weather. What was once a beautiful green forest will become a snow covered forest that slows you down (traveling in the snow up a hill is amazing, it actually feels cumbersome and Connor reacts in a realistic manner. Speaking of realistic, the weather is another great addition to the series. It may start off sunny, but clouds can gradually take over and next thing you know its starting to rain, and then it’s a dark downpour. The only thing about the weather I don’t like is that the citizens don’t react to it. Who cares if its pouring down rain, the road needs to be swept.
Going back to the naval segments, I think these are the best looking missions in the game. The water, the ships, and the battles all look wonderful. Taking to the high seas, which you’ll have to do a couple of time in the main story is just a pleasant experience that you’re going to want to do the optional naval missions. I’ve already said it, but it needs repeating; the naval battles are the best addition to the series since AC2 revamped everything from the first game. The first time you see a navy mission begin, you’re probably going to have a “WOW” moment. It’s truly breathtaking stuff.
MULTIPLAYER: Assassinate Your Friends, Courtesy of Abstergo Entertainment
Multiplayer is back and some big improvements have been made. If you’ve played any Assassin’s Creed multiplayer since it was first introduced in Brotherhood, you’ll be right at home here. They haven’t rocked the boat here. It plays the same and has many of the same modes. The big change is that you can now have three abilities and the game changer is that they’ve removed the stun prompt. You don’t have to worry about a button that is only used for stuns appearing above your head now when you’re close to your target. Stuns are now mapped to the kill button. Enter the blend group that your target is in and they won’t know that you’re out to kill them simply because a O (PS3) appears above your head. Now it’ll be the same X that pops up to kill a target.
Stuns are impossibly hard though, you just have to be aware now instead of having it handed to you. You can’t kill human players that aren’t your target, and you can’t stun anyone other than your pursuer. If you’re in blend group or somewhere and you know the person who just came up to you is a human player, all you need to do is look above their head. If they’re a human player and they’re not your target but they have an X above their head, they’re about to kill you. Stun them. If you guessed wrong (and really the whispers should help you), then you will have killed a civilian. Unlock the previous two games, killing a civilian no longer causes you to lose your contract. Instead, your kill/stun button will be on a cooldown. That means you won’t be able to kill anyone for about three to five seconds, nor will you be able to stun your pursuer. In short, killing a civilian doesn’t severely punish you, but it can lead to your death or to being stunned, so killing a civilian should always be avoided as much as possible.
Assassin’s Creed III introduces two new modes to the game; the team based Domination mode, which is a variant of King of the Hill. If you’ve played any Max Payne or Uncharted online, you’ll be more than familiar with the objective here. There are zones that you want to control and then protect.
The best new addition, as far as I’m concerned, is the co-op Wolfpack mode. This mode can feature four players teaming together to assassinate multiple AI targets. You have a time limit, and the objective is to complete all 25 sequences. To do this, you’re going to need to score enough points to reach the next sequence, which means you should be going for quality kills but in a timely manner. Unfortunately, what happens a lot of the time with random players is it becomes a mad dash to see who can kill the most targets.
I don’t understand why people want to play the game that way, especially when its point based and the way to score the most points is with skillful kills. For example, the other day I was stalking a target that I had locked. I was almost to incognito and already had my focus (which was also a bonus objective), when a teammate ran past me for the kill. What would have been around a 600 point kill ended up being a measly 150 (200 if you count my ground finish). Just unnecessary and really selfish since it in no way benefited the team and wasted my time; I could have gotten the 150 point kill several seconds earlier.
Assassin’s Creed multiplayer is still just as fun to play as it was in Brotherhood, and even more so now with the refinements made and the addition of co-op. Online has been smooth in my experience for the most part. There have been instances of lag occasionally, targets disappearing, and even servers being completely down, but it has largely been a positive experience. Even when the servers were down and I was in “limited mode,” I simply played Wolfpack solo offline and had a blast with it.
BUGS & GLITCHES: Rat Infested Streets, Bug Infested Game
Unfortunately, there is no getting around the fact that Assassin’s Creed III is riddled with bugs and glitches. The trade off for big open worlds with a ton to do seems to be bugs and glitches. I’d put this game more in the camp of Red Dead Redemption, although it has far more glitches than I ever encountered in that game. It is at least playable on the PS3, unlike Skyrim which the more you played on PS3 the more likely it was to become an unplayable piece of junk.
The most important thing to me is that I didn’t run into any game breaking bugs in my over 20 hours with it so far. I have had to restart fort missions because the captain of the fort wasn’t actually in the fort, just a dot on the screen where he should be. That’s pretty much my only frustration with a bug in the game though.
Of course with glitches they can often be funny, but more often than not they serve to remind you that you’re playing a video game and to break the immersion. Early in the game there was a cut-scene where a guy was talking and his mouth wasn’t moving. There have been plenty of instances where the voices have cutout during cutscenes for just a few seconds.
Plenty of people and animals have “disappeared.” What I mean by that is they’ve seemingly fallen through the world. For example the fort captain mentioned above; that happened twice. Another instance was the first time I saw a couple of cougars. One was laying on a big rock, and I went down and slaughtered it so that I could skin it. Another cougar attacked me but ended up falling off the rock. It then tried to climb back up the rock only to slide back down and I never saw it again. Of course the red dot stayed on my mini-map while I was in the area, and I could even hear it, but it wasn’t there. As a result, I was unable to skin the first cougar I killed because you can’t skin an animal while you’re in combat, which the game still thought I was in.
The thing that really irks me and breaks the immersion, and its really a pet peeve of mine in games, is the disconnect between in-game and cutscene when it comes to Connor’s outfit. You’re given a white Assassin’s outfit; it’s the same one you see on the cover and in all the trailers. But as with previous titles, you can purchase different color outfits from general stores. I went with the black and red outfit like I always do. The problem is that the game fails to show Connor dressed in it during any cutscene. Whenever a cutscene appears, he’s right back in his white outfit until the scene ends. I HATE that, and they didn’t have that issue in the previous games so I really don’t understand how they let it in this one.
There are plenty of other glitches to see, and if you play the game for more than a few minutes it probably won’t take long for you to see one. There are plenty of issues with clipping (Connor’s braid through his neck in a cutscene, a flag through a ship’s side, and people clipping through the street and buildings) and for some reason carriages/convoys are driven by magical horses that don’t need to be steered (the driver will sit with his hands in his lap, there’s not even any straps or any effort given to pretend that character is actually driving the carriage.
It is by far the glitchest Assassin’s Creed game that I’ve played. I don’t quite understand what happened considering this game had a three year development cycle and has supposedly been in alpha stage (essentially complete and fully playable) since February. Maybe the game was too ambitious or there’s just too much to do without their being issues, but it just seems like the game probably could have used another couple of months worth of polishing. It had a big day one patch, but it really needs another one.
FINAL VERDICT: An Exciting Revolution
Assassin’s Creed III may not be the most polished game in the series, and it has a rather disappointing story, but these shortcomings are more than made up for considering the game is just so much fun to play. I don’t pretend to speak for everyone, but I play games to have fun and would rather play a really fun game with a ton of glitches than a boring game that’s extremely polished.
At the end of the day, when I turn Assassin’s Creed III off, I begin looking forward to turning it back on. I’m enjoying the game now after I’ve beat the main story than I ever did playing the main story. There’s so much to see and do, and I’ve yet to get bored during the 10 or so hours I’ve sunk into the game after wrapping up the main story. I highly recommend taking the time to do all of the Homestead missions and the Naval missions as these are some of the best additions the franchise has ever seen.
It may not be the runaway Game of the Year that I was expecting, but Assassin’s Creed III is definitely in the running for my personal GOTY even despite its glaring issues. I’m actually considering buying the game again for Wii U just to see how that version plays. Any fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise should absolutely love this game provided they can look past the bugs and glitches (which I know some people can’t). It nails it where it counts most to me; run and replayability. Between the single player and the multiplayer, I’m hard pressed to name a game I’ve had more fun with all year long, and there have been some extremely fun games released this year. Pick this one up ASAP.