I’m a huge Assassin’s Creed fan. I played the first one and absolutely loved it. It had repetitive gameplay, yes, but the setting and the mission design of the main assassinations made the game shine above anything I had played in a while. Yet the flaws were there, and there was certainly room for improvement. AC2 came out and it blew me away. It was easily one of of the best games I’d ever played, and one of the few games I ever played through over and over again. The story was better, the main character was full of personality, the gameplay made just running around the city doing nothing ridiculously fun… It was an amazing game. Brotherhood came out and introduced the concept of recruiting assassins, leveling them up and sending them to missions around the world. It made them better back-up for when you were in trouble and they generated some income to help you purchase goods and buildings (though I still struggle with the design decision to make you able to purchase the Colosseum for a fortune and have it make as much revenue as a blacksmith). The story was good, the setting was good… It introduced optional objectives for full synch, which were half fun, half frustration (I will always hate timed missions). Then Revelations came out and for all the good that it was to place it in Constantinople/Istambul, it competent, if not strong, storyline, with some god-awful design choices (tower defense… seriously? And if you capture a templar tower you better get your awareness meter down in a couple of minutes or your own tower will be attacked… After a while I just gave up trying to capture them). Yet Revelations’ biggest weakness was that if you have more than a couple brain cells and you’re up to date with what’s happening in the world, it didn’t really reveal anything. There was a big cutscene that was meant to shock you and show you how what you do as Desmond will decide the fate of the human race (more on that later…), yet there were hints of the big revelation right up to the end of Assassin’s Creed 1. You had mostly pieced the puzzled together by now, and treating it as a surprise was kind of insulting to the player. The only high note of the game was that Ezio was still an amazing character, even as an old man, and the glimpses of Altair’s life and the bond that Ezio feels between his life and Altair’s amounts to some of the most touching moments in my AC history.
So now we have Assassin’s Creed 3. We have a new character, Connor. We have a new setting, the American Revolution. We have the conclusion to Desmond’s story. What do we have, in the end? The biggest mess of a game I played all year. What I write from this point forward is an means to try to explain just how baffling this game is, just how divided I was with my feelings for it.
First of all, the start of the game, where many people are complaining that it’s slow… That’s, honestly, the least of my problems. If anything, I wish it actually took its time in telling you the story in AC fashion. It doesn’t… The story begins and you’re controlling not Connor, but his father Haythan. The suave attitude that made so many reviewers love him for will only become present later in the game, where he seems to lighten up and take things less seriously. In the first few hours, he’s an arrogant man behaving as though the world could only hope to reach his feet. You don’t get any insight into why he’s doing things (they’re setting up for a plot twist, you see) and you are recruiting a bunch of men who appear the very image of virtue. A group of men who are all in their 20′s yet appear to be at least forty five… (apparently making two different skins for characters, in their youth and as old men, is too much work). The recruiting job is told through several sequences that provide you with little to no free running chances. You’re in the tavern (you’re there a lot, in the first few hours of the game), in the middle of Boston, and you walk out to find yourself in the middle of the countryside. There’s too much Animus white light pulling you away from being compelled by a story you are witnessing unfold, yet are in significantly less control than any other AC game while experiencing it. And when the reveal happens… Wow… It shocks you if you hadn’t already puzzled out the many hints, or bothered to read the database page for Connor’s mother (Last few paragraphs… They give it all away.)
Then the game actually begins, 6-7 hours into it, controlling Connor as a child, playing hide and seek, hunting… Until his mother dies in an attack on her village (it’s not really that surprising, at least not enough to make this a spoiler), and the shock reveal of who’s behind the attack is once again ruined by her Animus database page, revealing information that will only be known to you, in-game, on the 85% completion mark. Then you grow up and run off to find the Assassins so they can train you… Do you search Boston, hostile to an indian man, forging friendships with open-minded individuals who help you find the Assassins? No, you stumble for awhile in the forest and the first place you go just happens to be where you’re supposed to be. You meet Achilles, a black man, an Assassin and he becomes your mentor. The forming of a bond is implied, but never actually showed. Achilles almost never leaves the Manor you find him in, and does little else but complain that you aren’t doing enough. He apparently trained you, but you never see any of that… He shows you the clothes of the first Assassin in the americas, but in my game I only got them after the end credits (maybe it was a bug…)
From then on you meet a bunch of characters, that if you’re not American (as is my case) you will only know a few in any depth, some only by name, and a whole lot of them not at all. And that’s one of the game’s greatest flaws… Connor is apparently deeply involved what happens to the revolution, yet major moments occur because he has someone to kill while the battle of Bunker Hill is taking place. Besides Paul Revere, and maybe Sam Adams, no one asks you to do anything. You’re not an precious asset to the revolution… At the siege of Charlestown you perform a feat that would be amazing if it wasn’t so downplayed by the Colonial General. He’s surprised that you pulled it off (by your own volition, mind you, he didn’t ask for your help), but treats as you’re just some crazy guy… Not like a tool that could severely shift the balance of the war, which, by the way, never once feels like it was anything but a walk in the park for the patriots. Lafayette is perhaps the only one that treats you as a friend (a feeling which Connor does not respond to), yet he is only seen, briefly, three or four times in the game. The assassins that you recruit (a pale shadow of the brotherhood mechanic) feel indistinguishable from each other. Connor forms no relationship with anyone, and that passive nature makes him the worst main character in an Assassin’s Creed franchise. He reacts to the world around him, never showing an ounce of personality (you know, unshakeable convictions or distinguishable traces that are there no matter what happens) and at the same time never reacting to the progression of his mission. Every line is delivered with the same passionless tone. He doesn’t stutter, he isn’t afraid, he isn’t mad out of his mind at something. He finds out something (the second reveal I mentioned earlier) and shows no reaction to it. He responds angrily, yet not even raising his voice, and it doesn’t seem to affect his view of the world, the revolution…
It is perhaps the biggest let-down of the game: It does not reflect Connor’s story. Now, that may seem paradoxal, given what I just said, but that is simply the case: Connor is simply a tool to tell the story of the American Revolutionary War. Assassin’s Creed (remember when they actually had a Creed?) I, II, Brotherhood and Revelations (yes, even Revelations) all gave you a historical context and a protagonist whose tale was set in the same timeframe. That’s it. Historical events were found within Altair’s and Ezio’s storylines. Historical events ARE Connor’s storyline. The Revolutionary cause is the same as Connor’s, and never will the two be apart (even when ample cause is given for them to be so). Characters drove Ezio’s storyline forward, while events drive Connor’s.
It’s also worth noting that it’s supposed to be interesting that he’s half English, half Native American, yet whereas I heard it meant he wasn’t fully accepted in both societies, that isn’t really the case with this game. It makes no difference that he’s Native American… It means that you can have a hunting bow and an axe for weapons, but he doesn’t control them in any way, shape or form, differently from Ezio. Maybe it’s stereotypical of me to want an animalistic (shamanist, even?) influence on his fighting style, but for crying out loud give me something to make him special, to make this new character feel unique. That his dialogue made him sound like Hayden Christensen in Episode II did not help either.
Nothing in this game feels unique, in fact, or even remotely interesting. And I don’t mean the colonial cities, which as expected are wooden two, maybe three, stories tall buildings that after an initial interest all feel bland and the same. New York is more interesting than Boston, but only slightly so. It has more brick buildings than wood ones… and that’s something, perhaps. Nothing excites you… The story’s greatest flaw is that there is no sense of importance in any of it. The signing of the Declaration of Independence is a minute long cutscene with Ben Franklin (the second time you see him in the game and he doesn’t even talk to you in it) lacking any sense of gravity, it isn’t handled in a way that shows you: pay attention, this is an important moment. You could actually miss the fact that what had just happened in front of you was the most famous moment in the American Revolution. That’s unforgivable, and a really poor design choice. Meeting Washington for the first time?
“And this is our Commander, George Washington…”
“Hey, how’s it going… I have to talk to Lee over there.”
Of course the dialogue isn’t exactly like that, but it’s enough for you to understand my point. Thomas Jefferson? Not in the game. John Adams? Not in the game. Ben Franklin? Such a small participation that you’d think Ubisoft would give up and add a baloon next to him saying “Hey kids! It’s Ben Franklin!”, since it doesn’t reveal anything about the man other than “Look how quirky he is!” His point is to introduce the page collecting system and give you a quick one liner during the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That’s it!
And the whole point of placing the game in the American Revolution was to make a case that no side is completely wrong, and that both have their fair share of wrong deeds. It shows us that to the British, it’s about people not wanting to pay taxes (something that Shaun, Desmond’s ally, constantly talks about), and to the Americans, it’s about wanting to rule themselves, even though coloring these notions with ideals of liberty and equality (you’re not present when these important notions were being discussed in the Congress), yet forgetting that it’s only for those who are white and land owners. It is meant to show us in turn, that the Templars are not completely wrong. Except anyone with the tiniest bit of moral compass would tell you that it really doesn’t matter that the Templars might have noble goals, they still behave like cartoon villains, missing only pointy mustaches (talk about a personality shift). “I only wanted to protect the Natives!” And you do that by pointing guns at their leadership? “I only aimed to bring peace?” By massacring the rebel militia? The game is filled with moments where deeds and their reported intentions just don’t add up, which means that instead of showing us a history of ambiguous moral dilemmas, it shows us one hell of an inconsistent storyline.
So… Is there anything good about the game? Well, yes. Combat is more fluid, and while the parkour is buggy as hell (being stuck trying to ‘run up’ a foot long crate during a chase scene is no fun at all) tree running is fun if only somewhat linear (there is literally one right path among most trees). Hunting could be fun if that’s your thing (I love animals, so I flinched every time I had to kill something). The homestead mechanics are awesome and the people you meet and help, perhaps because you interact with them more than any other character in the game, are the closest things to relationships Connor has throughout the game. That you don’t get any money from missions, not even when you win a brawler tournament, is irritating at times, but you’ll never find yourself without money, even more so after you get the huntress into your homestead… which kind of sucked. It came to a point where selling ship masts made less money to you than selling deer pelts. The crafting is, therefore, significantly broken in that regard, and after a while I only sold the pelts and crafted items to help me in my missions, like a new sword or an improved pistol (even though you really don’t need them). I also crafted every single invention, and I have no clue as to why I did it.
There are a lot of side missions to do in this game, to the point I spent one of the few days it took me to finish this game doing nothing but side missions and collecting feathers and almanaque pages. Three points in that regard: 1) Almanaque pages are a waste of your time, and chasing after them asks of you parkour skills that the game doesn’t give you (still got them all, for some reason); 2) Feathers are not only a waste (the reward is the same lame clothes Connor has in the beggining of his adventure), but also personally an exercise in self loathing… Many times I asked myself (why the hell am I chasing feathers in a virtual world… I could be studying); 3)This game feels short… Before you scream at me that it took me close to fifty hours to beat it, I want to clarify that I am pulling this notion out of ‘you know where’ and I have no empyrical data on how long the game is. My point is simple: I went through everything. I went after every chest, every feather every almanaque page, every fort, every naval encounter, EVERYTHING! Yet now it feels to me (again, it’s only a feeling) that the main storyline, the stuff that you do that is actually meant to carry the story forward is really sparse. I can’t help but feel that if I only went to the main story missions I would have finished this game in something like 8-10 hours, and that’s cheating a little since after the earlier portion of the game every story mission is as far away from the previous as possible, forcing you to cross the terrain.
One of the things you can do in the game, though, is naval combat, and it made me want to ask Ubisoft to remake Sid Meier’s Pirates only so I could play this game all year long. It is really fun. In fact, it’s probably the best part of the game. While the notion of balancing two types of cannons, the sails and the wind direction may seem too much for a console game, it works beautifully. You’ll adjust your sails when you want more maneuverability, you’ll change the type of ammo you’re using according to the necessity (normal, heated, chain or grape shot), you’ll fight giant waves in huge storms… On the naval combat itself, it’s perfect. The Captain Kidd missions are even more fun, with different environments to explore, and non-frustrating chase sequences (surprise!), The only issue I have with naval combat is with the damned checkpoints (a problem in both naval and regular missions). Let me give you an example: In a mission you’re to draw an English Man-o-war by taking out seven smaller British ships… After you do that, you fight the Man-o-war and two Frigates… if you die during the fight with the Man-o-war, you have to fight the smaller ships all over again. Don’t get me wrong, they’re easy to beat, but why not have a checkpoint in the middle of the mission? It’s even worse when at the start of a mission you’re supposed to look for an English ship at a really slow speeed until you reach an area. Get desynched in the area? You’re back to the slow mechanic… An example of that on a normal mission? Your first assassination as Connor is that of a man at his house, atop a cliff. You’re on the other side of the river to that cliff. You can’t be detected. You kill six or seven soldiers on the way to the top, and if you get detected as you’re about reach his house, the game will take you back to the other side of the river… Perhaps twenty minutes before you started the mission (if you’re sneaking around).
The checkpoint problem is made worse by the ridiculous ‘optional’ objectives. Near the start, you’re playing Haytham, and you have to infiltrate a fort, eavesdrop on two guys walking around the fort without being detected, all the while completing two ‘optional’ objectives: Do it non-lethaly (I’d have no problem with that if Haytham wasn’t killing people all over Boston without a second thought), and sabotage two of the fort’s guns. Fail at any point in that mission and you’re back before the two even started talking. The final mission, though, of Connor’s storyline is where the two problems (checkpoints and optional objectives) meet in all their frustrating glory. You have to chase someone through the harbor… Yes, that’s the climatic end mission for Connor. Remember when in AC2 you went to the Vatican, to Rome, inside the Sistine Chapel to try and kill the corrupt Pope? Or at the end of Ezio’s journey at Revelations, and the moments at Masyaf? In here, you chase a guy across the same harbor you’ve passed through twenty times before, with no checkpoints and two optional objectives: do not let him further away from you than 50 meters (or feet? don’t remember), and, I kid you not, DON’T SHOVE ANYONE… That’s the optional objective. If an explosion knocked a guy into your path and he flew into your direction… “You shoved him! Failed…” That mission, the last one, is also the least fun mission of the game. For starters, as I mentioned, it aims at nothing. For crying out loud, it’s supposed to be the climax of Connor’s tale, and I can name a dozen missions that are more epic than that. Second, it’s really short, maybe five minutes, yet it took me about an hour to beat it, because a) there’s no checkpoint; and b) there’s only one way to beat it. Choice in how to handle the situation? Nope. To avoid the explosion, you need to vault over the barrels, to get past a line of guys firing at you, you need to step over a crate of fishes… Only one right path in which everything that you do slightly wrong results in desynch…
That’s it… That’s what makes the experience of playing this game utterly confusing and a mess in your own mind if you try to make any sense of some of the design choices. I started this game thinking it would warrant an 8.0, then it bogged down to a 7.0, then you start having fun with Connor and you’re back at 8.0, 8.5… Then things start to come together and the rating in your head goes down, and down until you just want to finish the game and get things over with. Then the end happens (the actual ending, with Desmond), and it’s probably the worst ending of a video game I’ve ever played. Worse than Mass Effect 3? Yes. Now, doing the most I can to avoid spoilers, this is a punch to the face of any AC fan… We were promised the resolution to Desmond’s tale… Yet it offers as much resolution as guy taping a black ‘The End’ cardboard over your TV screen. It ends… for someone. It answers no questions, even more so if you’ve read the e-mails that you get when you’re off the Animus, the image of what will happen when the vault is opened is already within your mind. That makes three in-game ‘OMG’ moments that the game does its absolute best to ruin it for you beforehand.
Every negative review I’ve read so far tells you of how bugs and lack of polish ruined this game… Frankly, that’s the least that’s wrong with it, as in a couple of months and a few patches, they’ll be gone. It does show you that there was close to no testing period with this game, as I can’t imagine anything less than 95% of people who made it to the end didn’t passionately hate the ‘resolution’. Bugs and polishing can be fixed, hell even the checkpoint problems can be fixed, but an unconvincing story, with unrealistic motives, a character as bland as they come, uninspiring settings (why not the French Revolution? The rise of Napoleon?), these things cannot be fixed with a mere patch. This game reminded me of the Star Wars prequels: a long time spent developing the world, the setting and not nearly enough time in giving me dialogue that would make me give a crap about the characters. It is, like the prequels, horribly directed, and staged. With gravitas in expositional dialogues instead of dramatically set cutscenes. To me, to the type of gamer that I am, focused on the story, on the characters, this game (4.0/10.0) is as much of a let-down as they come. If you’re in for the parkour, for the kills… maybe this game is for you. Who am I kidding, most of you will buy this game, if for nothing else to get some resolution to the story you’ve been following for the past six years, but I warn you: I was really disappointed, and you just might be too.
P.S.: Benedict Arnold DLC: Don’t bother.