Game of the Week: Assassins Creed III

I’ve played all the main games in the Assassins Creed series. I’ve enjoyed most of them. The only one I haven’t finished is AC2: Revelations. I’ll probably finish it up sometime, but after the excellent Brotherhood, it didn’t really grab me. As I mentioned previously, I was really looking forward to III since it took place during the American Revolution. It was a bit tempered when Ubisoft announced the DLC covering the tyranny of George Washington. While I appreciate a little authorial leeway, that’s just stupid. You don’t deny the essential characteristics of a person to tell a story. It would be like a tall, pacifist Napoleon or Ghandi as an assassin. I decided to pretend that DLC doesn’t exist and try to enjoy the game.

I don’t believe it’s possible to spoil something you learn in the first minute of gameplay, but if it bothers you skip this paragraph. You don’t start playing the Assassin that’s on the cover of the game box, Conner Kenway. This plot device actually works very well for the game though you could argue it goes on a bit too long. Unfortunately, it only works the first time. I’d imagine it would be less effective even on a second play through. Still, I enjoyed the prologue and appreciated that they were trying new things with the series.

I wish they’d kept that level of creativity up. Really, most of the excitement in the narrative comes exclusively from meeting interesting historical personalities. So you get to meet Ben Franklin, Paul Revere, Sam Adams, Israel Putnam and George Washington among others. It’s neat to swept up into the events of American Revolution. However, thinking back on the actual assassins side of the story was quite bland with near pantomime characters. The only morally ambiguous character is rather unlikable. Don’t get me started on the ‘present day’ storyline or politically correct mocking of the founding fathers. Good thing the real events are so compelling.

Really, this is an open world action game. And the action is good. While they promise a major control upgrade, really you just spend less time feeling out of control. Less controller bashing is good and helps you feel more like an action hero. Fighting has a good variety of weapons. Each manages to feel somewhat different while different classes of weapons feel wholly different. Sometimes there are a few too many cute gimmicks in the fighting, but if you use all your tricks, you can dispatch even the toughest enemies quickly and brutally. I sometimes wonder if we’re not getting too many choices in combat. It lets you change things up or find an arsenal that suits your style and stick with it.

Movement does seem improved this time around. Even with the variable terrain of the wilderness area, you spend much less time jumping randomly in the wrong direction. It still happens and is frustrating, but the frequency is down considerably. There aren’t the grand structures in colonial America that we had in the previous games, but they did throw in some epic rock climbing. Too bad there’s no tactical advantage in it unless your hunting down an animal.

There is a hunting portion of the game. Mostly, it feels ripped out of Red Dead Redemption. That’s probably a good thing and it lead in to one of the areas of the game that most held my interest. I don’t know if it was intentional, but the developers set up quite the contrast between Europe and America. In the Italian games, you were the noble land holder collecting taxes from your budding empire. In America, you’re a small businessman buying and selling goods trying to make a profit. While the basics of settlement building remain similar, actually throwing in an economic sim makes for a completely different (and more compelling) game. It doesn’t hurt that building your homestead is also based on helping people .

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the seafaring portion of the game. Early on, you gain command of an assassin frigate. It’s rather more technologically advanced than the other ships you face. Even fully upgraded, you often be outgunned. This makes for some fun tension as you try to maneuver to get the best of your varied opponents. It is a very simplified sim, but it’s pretty impressive for being such a small portion of the game. Trying to fight a naval engagement in the pitched seas of a fierce North Atlantic storm is a sight to behold and some of the best fun in the game.

Overall, while there are some worrying signs for the future of the series, this is the best game since Brotherhood. The flaws never conspire to bring down the fun of the game. In an open world, there’s always something interesting to do, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself until the end.

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