Assassin’s Creed III, the long awaited final installment of the Assassin’s Creed: Desmond trilogy. After going through Assassin’s Creed with the legendary man who founded and raised the Assassin Order in Masyaf, Altair Ibn La’ahad, we went to Italy and Constantinople to journey with Ezio Auditore da Firenze in the next three installment, the legendary Mentor of the Assassin Order who raised the Italian Brotherhood and Turkish Brotherhood in the next three games. Now, the series has shifted to the American Revolutionary War period for the final installment of the Desmond trilogy and we got a new protagonist in Connor Kenway (Ratonhnhake:ton). How does this one go compared to the old ones, let’s find out below…
Storyline: 8.0 / 9.5 (with all Homestead Missions finished)
Without giving any spoilers here, I have to give two different scores because I know there will be a lot of people who will just run through the main missions without giving any regards to the Homestead Missions. I have to say up front that the heart and soul of the story here lies in the Homestead Missions, NOT in the main missions BY FAR. The main missions will just deal with the struggles of the American indepence and Connor’s quest for revenge, just that. But to know the real Connor, in a more personal and intimate way, you have to play through the Homestead Missions, where he is really fleshed out and you really get to know the man behind the Assassin hood.
I particularly love the developer’s touch where Connor drops his hood everytime he is back on the Homestead. It gives you a real sense that there, he is really home. There, he can really just become himself without the trappings of an Assassin. And yes, you will see a different Connor in those missions than the Connor in the main missions. And you are really, REALLY, missing a lot if you don’t see the closure given in the final Homestead mission. It is far more emotional and tells a far better story than the entire main plot. So be sure to play those missions to the end or you won’t get your money’s worth.
The main storyline itself is far more personal than Altair’s and Ezio’s. It really doesn’t talk much about the Assassins vs Templars as they are almost non-existant in the story. It’s much more about Connor’s personal war against the people who hurt him and his journey to protect his village Kanahseton. It’s more about Indians vs the English colonial conquest with a little bit of the American Revolutionary War thrown in. He fought for the Patriots because he thought it would bring the best for his village’s future. You don’t really have a sense that you’re fighting the Templars here. It’s a whole different feeling compared to when Ezio was fighting the Borgias where you feel it was an Assassins vs Templars fight.
What I do love, is how the story tackles controversial issues that are still relevant in the modern context such as racism and religion. Connor was an Indian from the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) tribe. His master was of the Caribbean descent (think Jamaican, those people oftenly stereotyped with the word “reggae”). Both were non-religious, yet later you will find a Catholic priest wandering in the Homestead and you will help him build a church. It will also deal with issues such as slavery, freedom and diversity later, and it is handled in such a beautiful way, that you will not be able to hold back from shedding some tears once you come to the final Homestead mission. Yes, Homestead mission, not the main mission. It’s worth repeating over and over again because it’s THAT AWESOME – yet I have a feeling that many people won’t play it through and do it justice.
The main gameplay has been a lot more simplified than the previous games. Health recovery items and armor has been removed from this game. Instead you get a set point of health (or “synchronization” as the game likes to call it) that will regenerate over time. Outside of conflicts, i.e. when you have killed all the enemies, it will regenerate very fast to full health. Also gone is the “four body parts” scheme in the previous game where the four buttons are mapped to the head, left hand, right hand and legs. Now the top button is used for “tool” (guns, snares, darts), left button is used for melee attack, bottom button is for fast walk/jumping and right button is now used for contexual action (interact, talk, steal etc.)
In combat, you can’t just mash the counter button like before because now you have to time it correctly. Once you successfully block the attack, the game will go into slow-motion where you can choose to counter-kill the enemy, disarm him or throw him. It might be difficult at first, but with practice you’ll get used to it. You can also chain-kill enemies after you did your first counter-kill to an enemy like Ezio did before in Brotherhood and Revelations.
– Naval Missions –
Ah, Naval Missions. This is one thing that I like so much about the gameplay. Basically, later you will gain control of an Assassin naval ship called The Aquilla and become its… I mean, HER captain (because you simply does not call a ship “it”). You’ll go hands-to-the-wheel here, so you’ll navigate the ship yourself by taking the wheel of the ship, as well as barking orders to control the speed such as “full sail” and “half sail”. You’ll also choose the ammunition type of your cannons, order your crew to fire your swivel guns and main cannons, and also duck to avoid incoming fire. It gives you a real sense of being a captain of a ship and to date, this is the most enjoyable gameplay I’ve ever enjoyed on any Assassin’s Creed game. You can forget about those chariot rides and flying machines on Assassin’s Creed II and also the oh-so-deplorable den defense minigame in AC: Revelations.
You better brush up on your naval battles skills because some of the naval missions are main missions. And it’s kinda difficult too, unless you’ve honed and mastered your skills by doing those naval side missions (called “Privateer Missions” here). Did I tell you that these missions take part on the East Coast and the Carribean? Well, here’s more. The guy who becomes your first mate here, is voiced by the same guy who played Mr. Gibbs, Jack Sparrow’s first mate in the Pirates of the Caribbean. They even got the same look and kind of the same personality, believing in superstitions and such, so in a way, you can feel like you’re becoming Captain Jack Sparrow in this game!
– Assassin Recruits & Contracts –
There are some missions called Liberation Missions here where you have to free a district from Templar influence by working together with a “rebel” of that district. Later on, once you’ve done their missions and freed the districts, they will become your Assassin recruits. You can only have six recruits, but what I like is that your recruits are distinct and unique here. They’re not just randomly generated nobodies like your recruits with Ezio. All six of them have distinct traits, personalities and back stories, and you can even talk to each of them to know more about them in the taverns. They can also no longer be killed, but if they are injured in combat or fails during contracts, they will have to recover for five minutes and you can no longer use them during this period.
Which brings us to the Assassin contracts, which have been SEVERELY downgraded from Brotherhood and Revelations. You no longer have to find pigeon coops or Assassin dens to access the contracts, the menu is available anywhere at the press of the LB/L1 button. The missions are also not as varied as before, and the Templars cannot fight back. So it’s only a process of managing your recruits to finish the easy contracts first so they can level up, and then finishing up the harder ones. Once they’re done with all the missions, you’re done, you’ll get no more missions and your recruits will have nothing to do other than helping you in battles. It will be only after you restart the game that the “additional contracts” (you’ll see what I mean once you get there) becomes available again, which is strange and tedious in my opinion, if not a bug in itself.
Graphics have been massively upgraded here with the use of the new ANVIL NEXT engine by Ubisoft, which has been developed for quite some time. Even compared to Revelations graphics, it still represents a huge leap, which I will score only about 8.0 by today’s standards. You can see more details, more expressions and more animations by the characters, especially in the movement of their eyeballs and contours of their faces when they change their expressions. When you compare the cutscenes between AC3 and Revelations, you’ll quickly notice the differences. The only thing to regret is that the modern day characters have undergone a huge make-over and reinterpretation in this engine, making Desmond and Shaun Hastings especially far, far, FAR uglier than ever before. Especially Desmond. Who looks just like… I don’t know how to describe it, see it for yourself and then puke.
The characters inside the Animus look a lot better, fortunately, which makes me think that the modern day characters and the American Revolutionary War era characters must have been designed by a different team (maybe). Since you’ll look a lot more at Connor and co. than Desmond and co., it’s not a really huge problem actually, but still jarring the first time you look at their “new” faces. Well, maybe that’s a good thing too, because you’ll have an easier time hating Warren Vidic with his new, uglier mugshot.
The best use of the ANVIL NEXT engine comes in the naval battles. If you’ve seen the naval battles gameplay trailer then you’ll know what I’m talking about. The water animation, the weather effect, the way the ship moves about, the animation when you change the speed of your ship or change your type of cannon amunition… they’re nothing short of STUNNING. The battles that take place during heavy storms will quickly remind you of the maelstrom scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (yes it’s that good) and there’s one huge battle that will be very reminiscent of a famous painting.
Nothing lacking in the sound department. The characters that come from Britain have thick British accents while those that were born in America have their own distinct accents, depending on their background and where they came from (remember the topic on diversity). It’s only that I prefer Roger Craig Smith’s work on Ezio compared to Noah Watt’s work on Connor. Roger brought more nuances and life to his characterization on Ezio and I just love his Italian accent. Connor seems to be a more flat and lifeless character, but maybe that’s part of the writing of his character.
Trivia: Noah Watts provides voice, facial and motion capture for Connor. He is a Native American actor who is a member of the Crow tribe and descendant of the Blackfeet nation.
-Spoiler: Highlight to Read!-
He also possesses English ancestry on his father’s side of the family, just like Connor.
-Spoiler: Highlight to Read!-
Characterization: 8.0 / 8.4 (with all Homestead Missions finished)
Well, this is a hard one to talk about without giving away any spoilers, but I’ll try. Many people (me in the past included) have compared Connor with Altair and Ezio, with many noting that he’s not as interesting as Altair and Ezio. Well, after playing this game through and through I can say that Altair is Altair, Ezio is Ezio and Connor is Connor. They are all different personalities, they have their own strength and weaknesses and they have their own different reasons to fight their battles.
Connor came across as a more naive and hard-headed character because of his past. He did not have the luxury of other senior Assassins mentoring him and giving him guidance like Ezio did, other than his lone master. He also had to fight in difficult battles and face difficult situations at an earlier age. At age 28, Ezio was still nothing, and he was only formally inducted as an Assassin in that age, even though he began his journey as an assassin at age 17. Ezio only became the badass that we all knew and love after he was in his early 40s – the same moment he was starting to grow beard in Assassin’s Creed II.
In Assassin’s Creed III, Connor already had to face his difficult battles since he was 17. Most of the important battles during the American Revolutionary War happened when he was in his early 20s, so he was thrust into deep conflict far earlier than Ezio did. This made him very naive, rebellious and only able to see the world from his own point of view, in black and white. If you’ve seen the “Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen OVA”, in a way Connor had the same character as Kenshin had when he was at a young age. This made him interesting, in my opinion, but in a different way than his two ancestors.
The main weakness in this game is that there’s actually not that much character to develop. You only have two major guys on the Assassin side – Connor and his master, and five guys on the Templar side – again only two of them majorly developed. Compare this to the multitude of cast you had on the other Assassin’s Creed games and you’ll quickly see why this game is regarded as the weakest point in the entire Assassin’s Creed series in regards of story and characterization.
That said, the Homestead missions do give you a better insight into Connor’s character, that’s why I’m giving some extra points here to the characterization if you play them. You’ll see him outside of the Assassin situations, where he is just being himself. These “private” moments played an important part in the character development in earlier games, such as Ezio’s relationships with his sister, his mother, Da Vinci, Cristina, Machiavelli and finally Sofia. It’s still not as strong compared to the earlier games though, but it’s worth playing through them to know more about Connor’s character.
Length and Replayability: 8.0
Other than the main storyline, there are the Privateer missions, Naval missions, Liberation missions, Brawler missions, Hunting missions, Frontiersmen missions, Homestead missions, Almanac gathering, Underground exploring, item crafting, etc. Basically you will almost never run out of things to do in this game. Completing all of what the game offers you can take you about 50-60 hours, and even after all that maybe once in a while you’ll want to replay some of the missions because they are just so fun to play, especially the Naval missions. There is also multiplayer gameplay in the second disc, but I don’t think it is usable here in Indonesia…
Notes on Bugs and Patches:
There are a lot of notable and game-breaking bugs present in the first version of the game, but as of this writing, Ubisoft has released multiple patches adressing many issues present in the earlier versions. I played the game on Xbox 360 and this review is based on the gameplay experience with the latest patch available (Thanksgiving Patch, November 2012). You should get your game patched immediately to enjoy the most from this game, because some of the earlier bugs can get really annoying…
TOTAL SCORE: 8.8
While not as good as Assassin’s Creed II, it’s still worth playing, especially if you’re a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series and you’ve been following the entire series. In my opinion, this is just a bit better than Revelations but still a little below what Brotherhood was. Grab it, play through it entirely, do all the Naval missions and especially the Homestead missions, and you won’t regret getting this game. It’s one of the games that I’ve had the most fun playing with this year, and that speaks a lot.