Saturday, November 10, 2012

Assassin’s Creed III

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
by J. Adams

I love the Assassin’s Creed franchise. My favorite of the series is probably Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which takes place in Rome during Ezio Auditore’s 3-game story arc. AC: Revelations was also great fun, and I loved Constantinople (which became Istanbul, oddly enough), but it felt like there was a little bit missing. I have been looking forward to AC:III since it was originally announced and, while I am enjoying it, I don’t think it has the same feel as the previous games – and this is rather disappointing.

AC:III continues the present-day story of Desmond Miles, joining his Assassin cell at a cave containing a temple of the First Civilization in the American northeast. Having re-lived the entire life of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the Assassin mentor in Europe during the Renaissance, Desmond needs to find a “key” to the device that has been hidden in the temple so that he can (hopefully) protect the Earth from the coming solar maximum. To do this, he’ll be living the memory of yet another ancestor, Connor Kenway, who was an Assassin during the American War for Independence. Like the rest of the series, the game is split into “memory sequences” that are explored and unlocked as the plot unfolds.

The Good:

The gameplay itself is fantastic – motions are fluid, combat is a blast, and the addition of the wilderness and the ability to free-run in the trees or climb large rock faces is more than welcome. There is plenty to do aside from the main story, including building up the Davenport Homestead through “recruiting” settlers that then allow you to harvest materials and craft goods. There are “Mountaineer” challenges that take place in the game’s “frontier” area (the less settled areas of the northeast during the period of the Revolution, containing towns like Lexington and Concord) that consist of hunting animals or debunking wilderness myths from the colonial period.

You can also sail your own ship, the Aquila, along colonial-era trade routes up and down the eastern seaboard and into the Caribbean. The naval gameplay is simplified, so it’s easy to pick up and take part in naval battles, fort attacks, and route patrols. The naval gameplay is so good, in fact, that if Ubisoft were to make a spin-off title based only on running a ship, I’d be among the first in line for a chance to play.

The core of the Assassin’s Creed gameplay is, more than anything, evolved. It’s more fluid, more fun, and more engrossing than ever before.

The Not-So-Good:

I’m not going to go so far as to say that there’s anything “bad” about the game – there really isn’t. I find a few things concerning the plot and the presentation to be a little disappointing, however.

  1. A HUGE plot point is dropped onto the player and, if you’re like me and didn’t purchase the “Lost Archive” downloadable content for AC: Revelations, you’ll pause your game for about an hour while you research what the heck happened. In the interest of preventing spoilers, I’m not going to go into any detail.
  2. The game actually begins with a player character other than Connor – a man named Haytham Kenway. While he does turn out to be fairly critical to the story, the entirety of the first three Sequences concerns Haytham with the end containing one heck of a twist (which, again, I won’t reveal) and a rather amusing achievement. The problem I had with this is, while Haytham is a critical character, I feel that his story being told in this way – by being a player-character - isn’t really all that crucial and actually detracts from Connor’s own story.
  3. Connor himself isn’t really all that likable. One of the reasons that Brotherhood is my favorite is that I really enjoyed the character of Ezio Auditore. I thought it was great fun to play through, essentially, his entire life from birth. To me, the decision to choose the time period in which the game takes place may have been a slight mistake – the game tries to put Connor into a fairly central role in this conflict, but because there is so much going on around it, it’s very easy for both Connor and his story to be lost. I feel like Connor hasn’t been developed as much as could be.
Despite those few negatives, Assassin’s Creed III is a solid game that I’m more than happy to be playing at last. I do hope that Ubisoft becomes aware of these few missteps and works to rectify them in future installments – if they do, it might result in the first perfectly executed game I’ve ever played. 
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