Syncing Viewpoints: Nothing is True. Everything is Permitted
By Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
After completing Assassin’s Creed 3, there was this sense of disappointment. It felt as Ubisoft had the grandest ambitions for the game, but didn’t quite deliver on the level they were hoping for. There were some parts that were intriguing (naval warfare) and others not so much (stepping foot in every tavern). There was even some resolution to the modern day storyline, with Desmond making more discoveries about the eternal struggle between assassins and Templars.
Unfortunately, Assassin’s Creed 3 is—in this author’s opinion—just the latest entry in what is becoming a new franchise, detaching itself from its assassin roots.
Now, that’s certainly not saying that Assassin’s Creed 3 is a bad game. And there’s nothing wrong with redefining yourself as a franchise. For the most part, the experience was expected from a game in the franchise. The combat is just as fluid as before, there’s tons to do (I’m at about 50 hours of gameplay) and the presentation as far as graphics and sounds are topnotch. There are some parts that really make you wonder what exactly Ubisoft was aiming for with the fifth iteration of the game, despite the three in the title.
Probably the biggest problem in the game lies deep in the core of the franchise itself. While all three assassins went through presumably similar trainings, Connor is fighting for a land that will no longer be his, regardless of which side he chooses. What does he expect to happen after siding with Washington over Haytham? That the colonists will win the war and stay in their current cities, ignoring the temptation to explore the new land they’ve won? The game asks that the player ignore history and the ambitions of mankind, suspending the reality that the goal Connor is fighting for is nothing more than a pipe dream.
The thing is, the game is framed in a way that the pipe dream isn’t necessarily front and center, thanks to all the sidequests. There’s an expectation on the part of the gamer that the game will be more than just assassinations and the premise of an assassin roaming colonial America during the American Revolution is quite tantalizing indeed. And Assassin’s Creed 3 was chock full of hunting, brawling, thieving and homesteading quests, in addition to liberating America from the English.
While all that’s nice, it feels as if the game has moved away from its assassination roots, something this gamer has noticed having played all of them. Assassin’s Creed was primarily assassinations and collecting feathers and flags; gamers enjoyed the core concept but felt the gameplay was tedious and clamored for more variation. After all, sneaking into a crowded room to kill a high-profile target gets kind of old after a while. Assassin’s Creed 2 remedied that, reinventing both itself and the franchise as something more than just a collection minigame. It added a wealth of improvements and cemented the franchise as one worth mentioning among the top titles.
The villa was added as a source of money, feathers were fewer and far between and the world felt more organic. Assassinations were better woven into the storyline, forcing the player to adapt accordingly. Water no longer killed you when jumping in, a gigantic improvement (even though the water never freezes in Assassin’s Creed 3, which, in Boston in December, is ridiculous). Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood introduced recruits, while Assassin’s Creed Revelations introduced the maddening tower defense minigame.
All of these changes were welcome (except for maybe the tower defense), but they also had an unintended side effect. They made the game more about the assassin as a person and less about the assassin’s greater role in the events. There wasn’t so much the impetus anymore to assassinate that dignitary because of his role as a Templar. Instead, there’s Ezio avenging his father and two brothers, Federico and Petruccio, against the Templars. Or Connor seeking William Lee. It’s more about the assassin on a personal level, making him accessible to the gamer.
To an extent, all three assassins are really just extensions of Desmond, a man in the present going through his own personal crises. These crises include the loss of Lucy, the woman responsible for enlightening him about Abstergo, issues with his dad and the burden of saving or destroying the world. Yeah, that last one is thrown in for good measure to ensure you realize the stakes of jumping across rooftops are higher than just falling and being desynchronized.
Desmond accepts his grander role in the eternal battle between Assassins and Templars, but he’s never content with it. In fact, his acceptance sort of flies contrary to the sense of place exhibited by the three assassins. That’s perfectly fine as a character; to have expectations thrust upon you that you don’t entirely agree with. And that may be the part of Desmond that shines through in Connor, as both may realize the futility of the situation and simply go along with it for no other reason than just because.
The problem with that is that the assassin’s selfish motivations sort of belittle all the accomplishments of the character by the player. If your actions are forced so to speak and primarily benefit the assassin’s well-being in Assassin’s Creed 3, what does it matter that you catch Hickey without pushing or tackling anyone in the crowd? What incentive is there to ensure that the ships are sunk within a time limit, other than giving you a reason to play the missions over and over? Altair, Ezio and Connor are motivated by almost the exact opposite of what motivates Desmond, in that the former are fighting for themselves while Desmond is fighting for mankind.
Assassin’s Creed 3 is an amalgamation of different games; with a lot of gameplay thrown in to satisfy the gamer’s thirst for gaming. This has been true of the franchise for a while. In my opinion, it’s gotten away from high-profile stealth kills and moved towards kills as almost an afterthought. The ratio of assassinations to SimCity level management has changed drastically, tending towards more of the latter. Again, Assassin’s Creed 3 isn’t a bad game, but it feels like something new in an odd way.
The assassin’s creed is “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.” The creed propelled the first game to be groundbreaking in all facets. Free running, combat, item collecting. As the series has continued, Ubisoft seems to like the “everything is permitted” part of the creed more, insisting that more and more be put in. Gamers love value in games, but you can’t help but feel that the franchise is moving away from the “assassin” part of the title. Here’s hoping we can rely on Ubisoft for Sam Fisher and an assassin in Assassin’s Creed for our stealth and sneaking around.