Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Templars
We, the Assassins, hold these truths to be self-evident: that nothing is true, and everything is permitted. Assassin's Creed 3 has been hyped for a while now, but does it live up to it? The game takes a few daring leaps with the series, a direction in which some fans have not been so happy about. What's new? What's the same? What's the big deal?
This review will attempt to remain as neutral as possible, and most importantly break the game down for both fans of the series and first-time players looking to buy or not. We'll address some of the changes from previous titles, the ups and downs of the new mechanics, some of the game's glaring shortcomings, and a few things that ultimately will have to left up to you, the reader. The review is broken up into segments with concise summaries immediately following each.
Graphics have never been any small part of the Assassin's Creed series. Ever since Assassin's Creed came out in 2007 graphics have been a high point in the series, in fact. It was hard not to gaze in awe after climbing to the top of your first “view point” and panning the camera around to view the land and cityscape that went on as far as the eye could see and, often, was entirely explorable. Even with the large render distance, huge open environments, and objects populating the screen at any one time, Assassin's Creed as a series has typically done a great job in utilizing system resources to manage it all. Assassin's Creed 3 is no exception.
Playing through the game I'm met with very little texture pop-in, something of which I am not in the least bit fond. And when it did occur (and it did, on rare occasion) it happened in a way that I found rather pleasing. Most games like to “pop in” their textures, usually in blocks. I'm sure you've played a game and seen what I mean – the blocky or blurry wall, NPC, or sign. Assassin's Creed 3 implements a method that I, at least, had never seen before where objects in view that still need to be loaded “materialize” in a rather surreptitious manner. I hardly ever caught it in the act, and when I did it was already nearly done and the object was loaded in smoothly with no “pop.”
The graphics overall are definitely on par with gaming standards these days, and overall is content with that. The game looks great in high definition, with eye-popping vivid landscapes and detailed textures for all of the important stuff. Where I felt it really stood out was the newly introduced naval sequences, and the way it displays (and controls, though that's hardly a graphics concern) the water of the game. Quite possibly some of the best water I have ever witnessed in a video game; I do not know what else to say other than seek a video demonstration of it.
Character animations are generally improved, too, specifically combat animations. There are some new freerunning mechanics (discussed later) that required new animations and they all flow beautifully, but I was particularly happy the first time I blocked an enemy attack and countered. Assassin's Creed titles always bring in new and exciting counter/kill animations, but this title's combat animations must be among the most pleasing. All of the animations flow very smoothly together and make for fluid combat, and freerunning.
Because they effect no notable change in actual gameplay, I'll mention here that the addition of weather (and seasons) is well received and well executed. Snowy weather is seldom experienced until you are able to choose so yourself, but dynamic weather is always active and from an instant it could go from sunny to stormy. The newly implemented weather system could conjure a light sprinkle, or full on downpour. In winter, rain is replaced with snow flurries and white-outs.
Lastly, the HUD is entirely compartmentalized and customizable. This is a huge plus in my book, and a feature that more games really need to enact. You can entirely turn off the HUD (leading to a very unique cinematic experience, I may add), or just bits and pieces as you see fit. Map, weapon displays, health, assassins, you name it.
-Vivid high definition landscapes
-Little to no “pop-in”
-Outstanding water is simply mesmerizing
-Overall improved animations, from freerunning to combat
-Weather is a subtle but welcome addition
-Compartmentalized and customizable HUD
-Experienced no fps slow-down or lag throughout entire game
-In a few instances, objects spawned inappropriately (such as an item in a character's hand in a cutscene)
Sound, from score to voice work, is important in a game like Assassin's Creed, which tried to spin a very strong narrative. Almost everything in the game is voiced (returning characters voiced by returning actors), and at some points can briefly seem like an interactive movie. And it's mostly voiced very well. All of the main story-related dialogue is pretty well written, and very well voiced. Characters are voiced to be period-accurate as best as possible, meaning you're going to hear authentic native American dialogue, to cockney English accents, and everything in between. It's an incredibly interesting blend.
What I'm ultimately going to have to detract points for, however, is almost all of the non-story-related scenes. Much of the side quest dialogue is not only poorly written (bland, generic), but it carries over to the actual voice work itself. A lot of emotion is lost from the voice actors, and it's almost as if they didn't even want to be reading those portions of the script. Notable exclusions to this are the homestead and naval side missions (discussed later), but those are just a fraction of the offered side missions. I realize they're called side missions for a reason, but it's almost a chore listening to some of these NPCs talk about their task at hand with little to no emotion and through bland, boring dialogue.
The score is well done though I found it mostly forgettable. At no point did the music really stand out to me, apart from the title theme – and you don't really hear that except during the credits, or if you're going to just sit at the menu. There were a few exciting scenes in which the music roared and made the mood, but these were typically optional parts of the game and it was generally underwhelming for the entirety of the game.
Back on the up-and-up, though, are the sound effects. They're all great, but to really exemplify my point I had two examples stand out for me during the game. One is the sound of the snow crunching beneath your feet – so subtle, so easy to overlook. The other is the sound of your ship's cannons firing (and subsequently barraging an enemy ship). Both of these sounds in their own ways were wholly satisfying each time they came about, reminding me that they paid attention in this regard from the small to the large.
-Excellently voiced main portions of the game, with a wide interesting cast of voices
-Sound effects, from the subtle to the super, can really set the mood
-Poor writing, voice acting, and timing plague most optional parts of the game
-Generally underwhelming score leaves some of the atmosphere to be desired
Assassin's Creed 3, like the previous main installments (non-handheld), are direct sequels in the truest sense: beginning precisely where the previous title ended. This immediately places a handicap on any new players looking to jump into the franchise, as the series' plot could be somewhat, or entirely, lost to new players as soon as they stick in the disc. The game makes a little effort to help out players just starting now with a quick intro movie that “sums up” the precursors' plots, but it's pretty hard to compact four games worth of story into a few minutes of video.
Like previous Assassin's Creed titles, the player takes the role of a “present protagonist,” and a “past protagonist.” The present protagonist, Desmond Miles, has been the main character since the initial game in 2007, and gives the player access to the past protagonist via a fictional machine called the Animus. The idea is that by using this machine to explore a person's “genetic memory,” they can relive ancestors' lives and learn things – in this case, the location of a hidden so-and-so. As explained in previous titles, the Animus cannot simply call up a specific memory to learn what they want to know immediately. Instead, memories must be played out in order chronologically to “synchronize.” Herein lies your task as the player: to play out the life of the past protagonist, your goal ultimately being to reach a crucial point in this ancestor's life which will let Desmond learn something of critical importance.
Because of this format, the series has always generally had two plots unraveling side by side: the present, and the past. In this title you live out the past life of Connor, an Assassin from eighteenth century America. To a new player, this may quickly become too convoluted. In addition to not having most of the backstory from previous titles, the new player will be expected to keep up with not only the goings-on of Desmond and Assassins from the present, but of Connor and his dramatic life from the eighteenth century.
The present aspect of the game is handled is very bite size chunks, however, giving new players a fighting chance. The vast majority of the game is played via the past protagonist, Connor, and follows his trials and tribulations as a half-English, half-native American man fighting for the protection of his peoples. The perspective of this title's protagonist is a refreshing unique third-party take on good versus evil. There are the colonists, and there are the British – each are righteous in their own minds, and unjust in the other's. But to Connor we're given an outside look at the conflict, one in which both sides are the invaders.
The perspective of Connor is one with which players are meant to not immediately empathize. It's a breath of fresh air in today's game market which skews the lines of good and evil, of right and wrong. I suspect there will be many times you ask yourself “is this right?” as the game utilizes a few plot mechanics to quickly establish a moral ambiguity.
Ultimately, however, the game is a continuation of the modern story; Desmond's story. A story that has spanned four titles to get to here. As such, quite an expectation has been built up – in this regard, new player's may actually benefit (from not having built up expectations). Being one of the players that has been following the series from 2007 and completed each title, I felt the plot of the present and the continuation of Demond's story in this title left a lot to be desired. Naturally I won't spoil more than that, but I'm sad to say I consider it a detractor to the game's overall score.
-Unique and interesting plot
-Protagonist sets the player in a unique set of shoes
-Plot (of the past) should keep you on edge
-Protagonist is wholly original and not just a rehash of previous titles
-New players immediately at a disadvantage having little to no explanation of plot prior to this title
-Two plots may be hard to keep track of for new players (and indeed, for some returning)
-Five games later and overall plot still leaves something to be desired
The core gameplay to Assassin's Creed 3 remains the same formula from the previous three titles: large free roam action adventure, with some platforming sequences. There are enough little tweaks to this iteration however that set it apart from the games that came before it.
One of the most significant changes in Assassin's Creed 3 is the introduction of freerunning mechanics that actively includes trees (I call it “treerunning” - get it?). This mechanic is particularly useful in the large wilderness section of the game, the Frontier, as buildings are few and far between. It doesn't lose its usefulness in city limits though as sometimes the gap between two buildings can be managed with a tree in between.
At face value, the added treerunning isn't too different than the freerunning schemes that were already set in place. Controls aren't at all different and essentially the tree branches are just beams you can walk on. To make it really seem like its own big addition to the game, a few new freerunning mechanics were introduced to make navigating the trees feasible. Your character can step around an obstacle in his way as long as there is another beam on the other side (for example, stepping around the trunk of a tree from one branch to another on the other side). Additionally, your character can now navigate Y-shaped sections of trees (or otherwise), either passing through them or using them to climb even higher into the tree (if there is something higher to climb onto).
The most pleasing part of this added aspect is that they were not utilized solely for the trees. Both the obstacle navigation and Y-shaped segment navigation is implemented in more than few places other than trees in building structure, fences, and etc.
That's naval, not navel.
Entirely new to the series, the player is capable of captaining a ship and take to the seas for varying purposes. Most of the time you'll take to the seas optionally; there are a few chains of side missions that take place exclusively at sea. A few times however you will be forced to participate in naval battles for the sake of the story and plot progression.
As previously mentioned, getting onto your ship each time is worth it just to see the open seas again. Atop that, though, the naval sequences play quite enjoyably. They're simple enough (and explained thoroughly enough) that no player should really have trouble understanding what is asked of him or her, but they're still challenging enough to require a little use of tactics against some enemy ships.
The ship can be upgraded (with hard earned money, and no small amount either) to be swifter, more deadly, better armoured, or have various additional shot types (such as cannonballs that light on fire! I mean come on, that alone is awesome!). These will aid you in your endeavours to rid the sea of pirates, protect allies from enemy aggressors, hunt for a buried treasure, and more.
Whereas hunting Templars is by no means a no concept to Assassin Creed fans, this title takes hunting in a more literal sense. Being half-native American (and raised that way), Connor is an expert at living off the land and hunting for his food (and other resources). This is reflected in the new hunting aspect of the game.
You can hunt everything from rabbit to bear, and use any method from attacking your prey head-on, to methodically setting a trap and luring it with bait. While one sounds tedious and useless, the game rewards those more methodical and patient with better (and more) resources from the kill. Resources can then be used to sell for a pretty penny, used for a side mission, or used for crafting other goods (explained in a bit). So you may think twice before rushing in recklessly.
Hunting primarily takes place in the large wilderness section of the game and the prey you will find may vary from area to area, so learning where certain creatures live may become part of your hunting ritual. There are few times this mechanic is required to progress the story at all, and is almost wholly optional.
The Homestead (and Crafting)
In previous Assassin's Creed titles, the player was able to purchase various properties for varying reasons, usually for monetary assets. That same general idea resurfaces this time around but with some majour plastic surgery. Your main base of operations for the game is an area known as the Homestead, which begins barren and boring when first encountered save for a lone old manor. Unlike previous iterations you no longer simply purchase property, but much in attitude of the era you must complete side objectives for characters to convince them to settle on your land and help your community grow.
As the Homestead grows, more and more missions will open up for either recruiting more residents or upgrading those who already live on your land. By convincing people to settle on your land you gain access to their services, be they blacksmiths or lumberers. Many of the settlers will be complementary (such as a miner, and a blacksmith) who will provide services to each other allowing you to benefit even more.
Instead of directly buying goods or services from these NPCs, however, you're tasked with consulting a crafting screen which will give you access to all their services and resources. You may use a miner's talents in conjunction with a blacksmith's to make yourself a fancy new blade. Conversely, you may utilize a tailor to craft up shoes and hats – not for you to wear, but instead to sell for profit.
Growing the Homestead and using the newly implemented crafted system is entirely optional, and is in no way tied to the plot. In fact, it could be skipped over entirely with no real detrimental effect on your play – you could still hunt for plenty of money, though you'd admittedly miss out on a few things that are only obtainable via crafting. Still, though, each and every time I completed a mission for one of the settlers it was exponentially satisfying to watch them settle in my little community and grow until, eventually, I had a small village outside my door.
Freerunning and Combat
Both are cornerstones to the gameplay, and both have been tweaked for this title.
The controls in general have been simplified throughout the game, but in regards to freerunning the actual mechanics have been tweaked slightly to become what they refer to as “safe freerunning.” In previous titles holding both RT and A were required to freerun (climb, jump, etc). Now holding down just the RT button will activate “safe freerunning” in which your character will actively climb, jump, etc as long as it's “safe.” That is to say that holding RT will still not make the character jump from unsafe heights, and will not make leaps beyond a certain distance. This ultimately leads to easier navigation on rooftops and through trees.
Pressing the A button while freerunning still functions, and can be used to force your character to do things he wouldn't do during safe mode – like jumping a wide gap or dropping a very high distance. It also will make your character climb Y-shaped intersections (when possible), and fluently pass over low objects without climbing on them (like fences, short walls, logs, or merchant stands). This overall leads to a smoother interaction with the environment.
Fighting controls have also been simplified from previous titles, and the use of RT (previously the parry button) has been abolished. Now, simply holding B will initiate the parry stance, while timing a short press of B will initiate counters. From a counter you can throw (B), disarm (A), or kill with your main weapon or equipped tool (X or Y). Less complicated combinations of button presses to execute your combat commands leads to smoother and more enjoyable, but no less challenging, fights.
Rather pleasantly, combat commands will now also take into consideration the objects and environment around you when executed. Your actions, counters, and kills may very well differ when you are near a wall, ledge, table, or barrel. Add in double counter-kills, and the combat this time around is arguably the most refined that the series has ever offered.
Assassin recruits make a return from Brotherhood and Revelations, with slight alterations this time around. They more or less replace the factions from previous games – the courtesans, monks, thieves, and mercenaries. They're also no longer randomly generated as you recruit them; they're NPCs with stories of their own. And as you recruit each one, they'll make a new Assassin skill available to you: from the very basic and straightforward assassination, to more complicated ruses like having them dress up as guards and feign escort you behind enemy lines as a prisoner.
Various minigames in the form of mostly board games are available for the player to pass time (or make some money). They're probably not games you've ever heard of: Fanora, Nine Men's Morris, and Bowls are the three main games added. Bowls is like Bocci Ball, but Fanora and Nine Men's Morris are interesting board games that I had never seen anything like before. They can be enjoyable time passers, and on their harder settings can be downright frustrating.
Fast travel isn't new to the series per se, but Assassin's Creed 3 allows players to utilize it unlike the other games. Now when a fast travel station has been unlocked (not always an easy task), you can warp directly to it from the map granted you aren't in open conflict or in a mission. This not only includes instantaneous map-to-map travel, but allows players to quickly navigate inside of a map too (such as from the very south of New York, to the very north of New York).
The introduction of single player leaderboards leads to an interesting sense of competition even when offline, as you can compare every stat from time spent playing, to total distance walked, to number of bears hunted with friends or the world for the day, week, month, or all time. Even if not used to compare with friends or strangers from around the world, this allows you to track pretty much any stat you could imagine for yourself.
The rest of the game (that is not a main story line mission or covered above) is spent exploring, finding collectibles, or completing side missions of the most arbitrary design. The collectibles, which are nothing new to Assassin's Creed, are as tedious as ever but are at least revealable with a purchasable map. The only improvement here are Almanac Pages, a collectible that can actually be fun as they try to run away from you as you near them.
The side missions for various “clubs,” such as the Boston Brawlers, are monotonous and boring. They do, at least, offer a list of challenges to be met which in some cases really can be challenging. They can be completed at any time and are rather manageable. But the actual side missions handed out by them and other clubs are pure garbage – running letters around town just to hear each recipient say thanks, killing arbitrary targets (that offer absolutely no challenge whatsoever) scattered around town, or going half way across the game world just to investigate some clues (and then do so again in another part of the game world). They are almost utterly without substance and the game would be no worse off without them entirely.
Glitches and Bugs
Unfortunately, an undeniable issue with the game (straight out of the case) is the overwhelming amount of glitches that plague many players' games. Assassin's Creed 3 is without doubt the most big-ridden Assassin's Creed title in the series. There really are too many to list, so I'll be concise.
Luckily, very few are actually game-breaking. So few of them that I'm comfortable telling you not to worry about that. Through my play I had a few glitches prevent me from progressing a mission (never a main mission, either), but restarting from the last checkpoint or altogether restarting the mission would always fix the issue. Other glitches I experienced included persistent redundant tooltips, doors I had unlocked resetting, a graphical hiccup here or there, and guards becoming hostile for absolutely no reason (particularly in New York).
There are more, too, that many other players have run into. Many are not game-breaking but that does not change the fact that they are numerous and annoying. They are so rampant that I simply cannot give Gameplay a full score with all of these inexcusable glitches. It's detrimental to the game when you are doing something in a game that is not working, and you assume it's a glitch before you assume you're simply doing it wrong.
As soon as you load up multiplayer this time around, you're immediately aware that they put significantly more effort into this aspect of the game. The rousing success of Brotherhood and Revelations' multiplayer must have really pleased the developers.
Multiplayer in Assassin's Creed is played out similar to single player – all the freerunning mechanics are still there, and your objective is still to kill others while avoiding being killed yourself. Seems like a simple enough concept, but it's really a deeply tactical game of deadly cat and mouse. Simply scoring the most kills will not win you a match, as winners are determined by points. And points are determined by kill quality. Running around blindly will get you nowhere, as you get huge point bonuses for using cover, remaining undetected, using skills at your disposal, and varying your methods of felling your foes.
The multiplayer interface has been wildly altered. Users can stroll through menu categories like friends, options, character customization, and more with the LB and RB buttons and from the home screen can join matches. The revamped interface comes hand in hand with all new multiplayer skins and maps (which can be set in clear or stormy weather).
A few game modes are done away with, but two new game modes premiere as well: Domination and Wolf Pack. Both a team game modes, but both are very different than each other and the other available modes. In Domination, two teams fight for control of checkpoints on the map. Each team starts with one and must capture the others to keep a steady stream of points incoming. Teams must balance defending their already captures points with trying to capture new ones. Wolf Pack is wildly different than the previously available modes in that it's entirely cooperative. Players team up to take down computer controlled opponents while racing against a clock, and although it's cooperative that doesn't mean you can't fight for the top spot in points.
Each session, whether you won or not, nets you your point total in experience points, which goes towards leveling your multiplayer account up – the higher the level, the more customizable your personas can be and the more skills you'll gain access to.
-New treerunning mechanic makes navigating even more enjoyable
-Naval missions are a nice break from normal game play
-Expansive hunting mechanic added for those that desire to utilize it
-Extensive side mission chain based around expanding your Homestead can leave player feeling accomplished
-Controls for freerunning and combat simplified and generally smoothed
-Fast travel makes moving a cinch for those in a hurry
-Acclaimed multiplayer returns better than ever with new game modes and skills
-Side missions are initially unmarked on map in a massive world, leading to a lot of blind searching
-Bulk of side missions are bland, boring, tedious, and without substance
-Minigames on hardest difficulties can downright infuriating
-Glitches and bugs inexcusably rampant (right out of the case; not accounting for updates)
Down to the nitty-gritty of the review now. My playthrough of the single player campaign included every main mission, every naval mission, and every homestead mission. I moderately employed the use of fast travel, and collected little to no of the collectibles. I did less than half of the side quests. With all of this, the game net me between thirty and forty hours. Buying the game new at sixty dollars, you're looking at a little over half an hour of playtime for each dollar spent when you play through the single player game alone.
If you spend the time to do all the side missions, collect all the items, and basically all around 100% the game, I suspect you should easily surpass an hour for each dollar spent. Furthermore, if you enjoy the multiplayer aspect of the game, there is plenty of leveling up to do and stuff to unlock for your online character. This can lead to many, many hours of gameplay per dollar spent.
-Near endless replay value if you enjoy the multiplayer aspect of the game
-Even without all the optional stuff, single player game should net around 1:2 hours to money ratio
-As a single player game alone, the game has very little to no replay value
Should you buy it? My overwhelming reply to fans of the series is: why are you reading this? Go pick it up now and give it a thorough playing. The gameplay elements have only but improved and become smoother, so if you enjoyed the previous three you should enjoy this one too. As for what to make of the story, that's up to you. For new players who have never played an Assassin's Creed before, I'd highly recommend it for fans of other action adventure games, or free roam fans. The game has a lot to offer in these departments and does so in a unique game setting.
Total Score: 9.0/10