The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one that I’ve had a number of fears about for a while. Stagnation is a dangerous thing within the industry. After Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, my fear was that the franchise had burned itself out with the yearly release model put in place by Ubisoft. I was hopeful for Assassin’s Creed III, if only because I wanted to see the franchise do something new. Thankfully, it does, but it’s often times buried under bad design decisions that hold it back from the greatness that it could achieve.
For those unfamiliar with the franchise, the story will seem like a convoluted mess. The overarching story follows Desmond Miles, a modern day “assassin.” Both the Assassins and the Knights Templar have been fighting for hundreds of years over control of the Earth. Desmond can access the genetic memories of his ancestors and can re-live their lives through the “Animus” in order to discover the history of his order and train to become a better assassin. However, as he’s discovered more of their history, he’s also learned of an ancient alien group, simply known as “The First Civilization.” This civilization was annihilated by a massive solar flare but before their destruction, they left tools so that it might not happen to the next civilization. Desmond and his group must use his genetic memories to discover how to stop this event before it happens again.
In Assassin’s Creed III, Desmond and his group have discovered an ancient temple of the First Civilization and believe that the key to stopping the Earth destroying event lies within it. In order to access the inner chamber of the temple, however, they must find a key that was collected by one of his ancestors, as well as collect a number of power sources for the temple that have been scattered across the planet. The game follows tradition by placing Desmond in the Animus for much of the game, exploring one of the lives of his ancestors. However, the game features far more time outside of the Animus than in previous games. A number of sections have Desmond fighting in a modern world, with no HUD to guide him. If Assassin’s Creed IV were to take place in a modern world, these sections prove that it could work.
The time spent within the Animus follows Desmond’s ancestor Conner, a Native American Assassin, during the time of the American Revolution. Conner is on a quest for revenge and very little else. The world around him is going through massive upheavals in power yet for the most part he seems uninterested. The game takes a lot of time, however, to explain the reasoning. Conner believes that no matter who controls the land, a great deal of people will still suffer from oppression. The game takes heavy strides to show that during this time “Freedom” meant “Freedom for White, Land Owning Males.” The idea is extremely interesting and not one that we often see portrayed in media about this period.
As with previous titles, Conner has several areas that he can travel through including New York, Boston and a large section of “Frontier” land. Conner still parkours his way through much of the city, but the game has also taken great strides in allowing easier traversal through trees and large forest areas. Specifically, the area of the Frontier land is designed with a great deal of forest area, meaning that you will often be climbing trees. This could have been far more fun but the landscape can often times be boring with very little other than trees and snow. Additionally, Conner feels much slower and clunkier than his previous ancestral counterparts, making this mode of transportation far less fun than before. This makes it substantially easier to simply travel these areas by horseback.
The combat is still designed with heavy stealth elements in mind. Assassin’s Creed III still wants you to try to take out enemies in a quiet manner, either by killing them and hiding their bodies, or through other various means. When out of stealth, the game still focuses on a counter system wherein you counter an enemy’s attack and immediately press a button to perform a kill attack. This is fine for what it is, but it doesn’t allow for much variety and can get extremely boring after a while.
The biggest addition to the game comes in the form of naval missions. These have you controlling a ship on the open seas, often times engaging in combat using cannons. They are well designed and allow for a great deal of control. Even though you are controlling these somewhat slow ships, you still can easily destroy your enemies. They’re a blast to play, if only to break up some of the monotony of the gameplay.
Many of the other trappings of the franchise return. You can still recruit assassins to use to fight for you or to send out on missions to collect money and items. However, the game only has six assassins you can recruit and you can only turn them to your cause after performing a number of small sidequests littered throughout the world. The act of having these assassins swarm down on your foes is still cool, but they seem far more brittle than in previous games. They often times will be injured and will require a number of minutes to rest before they can be used again.
The largest issue with Assassin’s Creed III is just how long everything takes to get going. The game is broken into twelve “sequences” and six of them are spent with a great deal of time in tutorials. It causes the game to take hours upon hours to actually do anything interesting. When it finally gets going, it’s often times well worth it. However, this opening bogs the entire experience down heavily.
Another issue the game has is that much of the time, the stealth just doesn’t work. In an early mission, you will be disguised as a British soldier and will have to sneak through a large area. However, there are a number of “Officers” who, for no real explained reason, know that you’re not a soldier. If you’re discovered, you have to re-start the whole mission over, as the game is absolutely terrible at handling checkpoints. After you get found once, it’s frustrating. However, after getting found six or seven times, it becomes infuriating.
The plot also has a number of issues that are simply tied to how large the franchise has become. One of the main characters in the “real” world is a character from a comic book series. You’re simply expected to know this and you’re given absolutely no introduction to them. Another major plot point from Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, which is never explained in a proper entry in the series, was also explained in a piece of DLC for Revelations. Characters talk about this as though you should know about it. There is simply too much within the franchise for you to know what is going on and as a result, it becomes increasingly difficult to follow. All of this culminates with a lackluster and confusing finale to what the past five games have been building towards.
Assassin’s Creed III should be better than what it is. The franchise has needed new life blood in it for a while now and sadly, this game doesn’t provide it. There are some really interesting thing going on in it but it’s so bogged down by bad gameplay and story design decisions that it’s hard to get too much enjoyment out of it. It’s not an outright bad game but more of a disappointment. That is what hurts the most.