Assassin’s Creed III Retrospective
By: Kimberly Kuxhause
Assassin’s Creed III is where the First Civilization crisis, and the end of the world, comes to a head. The game not only has to tackle a lot of narrative ground by finally concluding the “Ones Who Came Before” mystery arc, exploring the Revolutionary War and Connor’s past, but also revolutionize (pun intended) gameplay that had become stale and repetitive in previous titles. The solution to this problem came with a bold choice: assassins on the frontier. Commercially the game did very well and received positive reviews from critics, but I, along with my fellow gamer friends, were more than a little skeptical.
First, I’ll outline the positives of the new gameplay areas. Fast travel is a lot faster now that the map can be used to travel instead of the tedious need to find a fast travel station. There’s the added bonus of discovering these locations underground and solving puzzles related to the Freemasons, a nice historical tie-in. While the player doesn’t renovate cities, they do upgrade their own ship and homestead. In addition, the player can make money by expanding their homestead, hunting for pelts, or using both to craft items for sale on caravans. The hunting system is an entirely new gameplay aspect, one which might take some getting used to but does provide a liberating escape from the main storyline. There is more than enough land to explore, tree tops to climb, and animals to hunt in the huge environment that is the Frontier. The Aquila naval missions provide another completely new gameplay feature, which has enough content to support hours of play. It provides a nice respite from hunting and Templar missions, balancing out the various components of the game.
Dual wield is a nice option to have, along with the many new weapons options given, such as rope darts, a tomahawk, and a bow and arrow. However, the weapons selection isn’t as manageable as the previous game. One has to flip through the long list of secondary weapons to get to the one wanted. If you’re looking for the horse whistle option, it’s almost quicker to just go and steal one. Liberation missions replace assassin recruitment missions. While the new assassin abilities cover more than just aiding you in battle, a maximum of six are available and the missions themselves show up only at certain points in the game. Collection fans can still get their fix through gathering Franklin’s almanac pages, but only if you can catch them which makes these small extras a little more entertaining to obtain. The changing weather now featured in the narrative is surprisingly important, as some missions are only available in certain seasons. Free running is a lot faster than in previous games and is a much needed improvement to ease travel in a complex environment. Climbing buildings and avoid guards no longer need excessive weaving or button smashing.
The homestead missions do contain some significant issues, however. Some missions are only available in certain memory sequences and before/after certain memories, making them a hassle to complete. If you’ve gotten to memory sequence 8 without completing a few, you’re likely to be in a spot of trouble as these missions will be gone forever. In the previous game, side missions are available throughout the sequences, so the sudden change from one to the other might mean that this aspect of the game is overlooked. It especially becomes an issue when trying to craft and sell items, as the player finds they are never given the skills necessary to do so. Oher areas for improvement include the tree top navigation. While the new ability to explore the canopies is a definite plus, allowing new ways to stealthily attack your enemies, the paths within the treetops are fairly limited. There is not much freedom to go where you want and if you make a mistake, be prepared to find another tree to climb. As a final note to conclude my review of the gameplay, the human shield option, absolutely necessary for attacking guards, is difficult to execute properly. Perhaps I need a few more years at the game, but I don’t think I’ll ever truly get the knack of it.
With regards to the story, I must say I have always praised Assassin’s Creed storylines, whether it’s in the first game or the most recent. The game itself relies heavily on narration and as it’s carried the series on through the years it’s absolutely critical to achieve that rich narrative in each title. Assassins Creed III accomplished that richness, with extra to spare. The past details the life of Ratonhnhaké:ton, also known as Connor, as he searches for revenge, joins the assassin’s cause, and fights off the Templars, or more specifically, his father. As we have come to find, tragedy is an assassin’s best friend and there is more than enough in Connor’s life. In fact, unlike Ezio or even Altair, his does not end well. He goes out hoping to protect his tribe, but at the end of the game they are still forced to move across the country despite Ratonhnhaké:ton’s aid towards the American cause. We see America’s future reflected in his eyes, and it’s not the free or tolerant place it pretends to be. The twists and turns within his life are well done and thoughtfully considered. The only issue I have with his storyline is the meeting with his father, Haytham Kenway. The two characters seem to recognize each other right away, and know of the other’s existence, but to the player’s knowledge they had never met before. It’s an issue that brought me slightly out of the game, as it is an event I would have liked to see.
Compared to other games, we get a lot of playtime as Desmond as he collects the Temple’s power cells. I found it to be a beautiful send-off to the character as we finally get to use the training he gained from the bleeding effect. Desmond returns to America, having discovered the assassins need a key to prevent the impending 2012 disaster. First, I must commend the creators’ choice to fully explain the First Civilization situation and close that chapter in this game instead of drawing it out further into the series. It lends the current day story a grating sense of urgency that propels the player into the next phase of the game. Exploring the hidden temple allows for the exposition needed to flesh out this arc and bring the game to a tipping point. We see images of Juno and Minerva, two wonderfully mysterious characters, guiding Desmond towards his final decision, whether to prevent Juno’s escape or the world’s destruction. The tragic choice between two evils that Desmond faces really lifts this story above others in the series. After all, it involves the death of a character we’ve gotten to know over several games and numerous missions. Saying goodbye to that story, that complex character, tugs at the heartstrings. It transformed Assassin’s Creed into something much more than a game or a story to explore, but a philosophical debate between right and wrong. It’s the human desire to make the world better and do something selfless for others.
I admit, at first I was devastated to see Desmond go. However, I later recognized that his leaving opens the way for revamping the story that is so central to the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The next major hurdle, preventing Juno’s tyranny, would require a fresh narrative. Overall, I think the game fared slightly worse than its predecessor. The new elements and compelling storyline were enough to redeem the game, but glitches were many and at times the narrative slowed too much for my liking. My interest in the series wavered, especially with Desmond now removed from the narrative. What in the world would come next?