Assassin’s Creed III
Developed by: Ubisoft Montreal
Published by: Ubisoft
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, Nintendo Switch and PC
Originally released in October 2012 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Assassin’s Creed III represented the biggest shift in the game’s status-quo since Assassin’s Creed II as it transitioned away from Renaissance Italy to Colonial America in the 18th Century. With a new protagonist and time period, the game underwent a dramatic redesign as it moved away from its usual city locales and instead embraced nature with extended wilderness and ocean exploration. Structurally, the game shares a lot in common with Red Dead Redemption, released two years earlier, in that players can hunt down wildlife and earn money through selling pelts and other useful parts. While the game does feature traditional town rooftops to traverse, most of the game experience is located in the Frontier and Ubisoft does a brilliant job at allowing the player to weave through the trees at a fluid and fast pace. It’s definitely more satisfying than climbing up the side of buildings and immediately distinguishes the game from its predecessors.
It wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed game without plenty of side-quests and Assassin’s Creed III ties most of its optional missions to the Frontier, encouraging players to explore urban legends, hunt dangerous prey or take on the most fearless brawlers in Boston and New York. The game also expands upon its typical HQ base mechanic, with players developing a homestead for villagers to set up home in. Each villager has a specific role in the community, coupled with short narrative-driven missions and crafting recipes to aid progress within the game. This more character-driven approach to the hub-building ties into the settler attitudes of the time, as Connor helps build his own family. Populating the homestead with distinct NPCs, each with characters and personalised missions, makes Assassin’s Creed III’s world feel like other sandbox franchises, particularly Fallout and Grand Theft Auto.
The central story at the heard of Assassin’s Creed III revolves around a father and son, and the game subverts expectations by having us play as Haytham Kenway for a few hours before we are given control to the true protagonist, Connor. This bait-and-switch is fun, but it causes the game to have a very slow start as the first few hours are quite linear and mission-driven. It is some time before the player is given the traditional Assassin’s Creed hidden blades and let loose on the world. Despite its slow start, I quite enjoyed the complex father-son relationship between Haytham and Connor, especially sequences which saw the two forming an uneasy alliance. My knowledge of Colonial American and the founding fathers is limited to say the least, but I liked how Ubisoft once again weaved the fictional war between the Templars and the Assassin’s in amongst historical facts. Famous historical figures become friends and enemies and events such as the Boston Tea Party end up being set-pieces to some of the missions you embark upon. The game also addresses (and possibly concludes) the long-running Desmond Miles plot, which has been threaded throughout the past four games. As with each of the previous games, this framing device isn’t quite as interesting as the story within the Animus, and I hope future games reduce or remove the present-day elements.
One huge addition to the franchise is the introduction of naval combat. Treated more as an optional side-quest than an organic part of the story, players can captain the Aquila on many voyages to hunt for legendary treasure or reduce the risk to naval trade convoys. I enjoyed the naval missions, although they were very limited in design – either chasing or wiping out enemy ships. At times this section of the game felt like an afterthought, or a test for the subsequent Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which apparently incorporates the naval elements more prominently. The crafting system was also massively overhauled from past games with a huge list of items that could be made from objects sourced from the homestead and its inhabitants. While this looked impressive, I only really used it to craft the essential items to attain 100% completion, and it never felt intuitively incorporated into the story. It would have been more fun to see weapon and armor progression tied directly to this to give a sense of advancement. As it is, the weapons and clothing choices in the game didn’t really impact upon the gameplay and felt cosmetic more than practical. As with some of the previous Assassin’s Creed games, this section would have benefitted from a “less is more” approach.
Graphically, Assassin’s Creed III: Remastered is one of the most beautiful games I’ve played on the Xbox One, and I loved exploring the Frontier during the various weather changes or seasons. It was particularly awe-inspiring to stalk the trees during the snow and descend with speed onto an unsuspecting deer for an instant kill. There is an impressive amount of detail to this new game and while I prefer the streets of Rome to the beginnings of the United States of America, I cannot fault the wonderful world design on display by the guys at Ubisoft. Once again the game feels crammed with lots to do and see, and I attained a full 100% completion after about forty hours’ worth of gameplay. This particular re-release comes with additional single-player DLC, The Tyranny of King Washington, which is a fun “What If?” alternate reality where you can gain supernatural animal abilities that power Connor up dramatically. With roughly ten hours of gameplay, this is a substantial addition to the game and the animal powers switch up the playing style enough to keep things fresh and fun.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed III marks another massive leap forward for the franchise, although it does shift away from its roots to mimic some of the other sandbox games out there, most notably Red Dead Redemption. Connor is a strong protagonist and hero, and while he isn’t quite as charming as Ezio, I found myself engaged by his journey from child to Master Assassin. The game itself felt uneven at times, holding back a lot of its exploration and free-roaming until a significant percentage of its campaign is completed. Where Assassin’s Creed II was perfectly paced to showcase Ezio’s development into an Assassin over many missions, Assassin’s Creed III lacks that same rhythm. Grander in scale than its immediate predecessors were, Assassin’s Creed III serves as a worthy conclusion to the Desmond story-arc and reminds players of the diverse stories that can be told through the Animus. Next up, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation.
Score – ★★★★ ½
Assassin’s Creed III is available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC from Amazon. It is also available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch as part of the Assassin’s Creed III: Remastered collection from Amazon and direct from the Xbox Store.