Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Assassin's Creed III Review

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Raise your hand if you were looking forward to this game's launch for months before it came out. Those of you with your hands down are liars. This game broke Ubisoft's preorder record (previously held by Assassin's Creed Revelations) and I know several people who bought it; unfortunately none of them got it on PC do I don't have anybody to play multiplayer with. What I'm saying is that there was tons of hype for this game, and I don't feel like it delivered on its promises.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the game a lot; but based on the improvements that each game in the series has made, I was expecting more. They promised a huge, open-world game and I was expecting Skyrim with hidden blades. As it turns out there are only four areas total for you to run around in: Boston, New York, the frontier, and the homestead which serves as your home base. I know that there was plenty of side stuff for you to do in each of those areas, but none of them really seemed meaningful; they didn't add to the lore of the game and they didn't give interesting rewards. Hunting is kind of fun on its own but most of the animals I killed were opportunity kills. The homestead had several buildings and craftspeople that you could do missions for in order to get higher quality goods from. But getting more money wasn't something that I was concerned with; I had my hidden blades, my tomahawk, and my pistol. What more could I need? There aren't any armor upgrades or even medicine to buy like in previous games (regenerating health). I quickly stopped exploring altogether and only focused on doing the main story missions.

The story wasn't a disappointment. It had plenty of twists (some more unexpected than others) and I enjoyed the return to the epic decade-spanning narrative style similar to the one in Assassin's Creed II. It is much easier to understand a character's motivations when you have been following his story from before his birth through his childhood and into early adulthood.

You might notice that I said that the story started before Connor's birth. That is because throughout the first few hours of the game you play as Haytham, Connor's father. Many developers have gotten good at sneaking tutorials into plot-critical missions, and ACIII is a great example of that. Haytham and the other characters from the prologue are great; I appreciate Haytham's frank Britishness, Charles' door-kicking enthusiasm, and Hickey's idiocy. As my friend Katie said after he said something especially ignorant, "I wonder what it feels like to be that uneducated."


I'm not sure why Ubisoft enjoys filling my screen with someone's face, but it happens rather often throughout the story.

I have always found the American Revolution fascinating, and I loved the missions that happened during major historical events like the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and the midnight ride of Paul Revere. However, after those early events you stop interacting directly with the revolution. The trailers made me think that you were going to be running around on battlefields, dodging musket balls, and assassinating generals on a regular basis; that happened a grand total of once. George Washington also didn't appear very often. I had been given the impression that he and Connor were going to become friends but he only appeared about four times throughout the game, and they were very brief encounters. All of the other characters seemed to have something to say about him (usually "he's a great man!" or "he is an indecisive leader") but I never got to see him in action and decide for himself. I am looking forward to the King George alternate history DLC.

"Hi there. My name is George Washinton. Now I'm going to disappear for the next 3/4 of the game."
Assassin's Creed III is of course the climax of the "the world is going to end on December 21st!" arc and thus you get to spend some time outside of the animus learning more about the first civilization. Desmond's father is one of the people there with Desmond, and their rocky relationship comes up quite a few times.

I thought that the ending was a little weird. Desmond was given a choice, but the player didn't get to affect that choice. I personally would have chosen differently, but it's not like player choice has ever been something that Assassin's Creed did anyway.

I haven't played any multiplayer, partly because none of my friends own the game and partly because I want to get through as many games in my backlog as possible this winter break. Speaking of which, if there are any games that you want me to review let me know (preferably ones that I already own) and I'll try to fit them into my schedule this month.

The final thing that I found disappointing was the graphics. Every single entry in the series has been significantly better graphically than those that came before it, and I remember them telling us that the textures on the PC version were going to be twice to four times the resolution of the console versions. So imagine my surprise when I find myself face to face with the most pixelated bushes I have seen in quite a while. The game didn't look bad, it just wasn't nearly as good as I was expecting.

I am worried that I am sounding way more negative than I mean to here. I had a blast playing this game, and there are some significant additions and improvements that Ubisoft made. My favorite was the naval missions. These missions were so well done, so fleshed out that they could have been their own game. The experience of being at the helm and shouting out commands to my men so I can line up the perfect broadside is unparalleled. I really hope that someone takes note of it and makes a game that is primarily ship combat of this type. And if anyone knows of a game that is already like this, tell me now.

The other significant addition was much more subtle. The clues system was first introduced to track animals in the forest, but it makes its way into many other missions as well. The idea that the more clues you find, the possible area that whatever it is you are looking for narrows. It extends the idea of eagle vision quite nicely by making it interactive and less arbitrary. Haven't you ever wondered how Ezio is able to see everyone's intentions just by looking at them?

Combat has also been vastly improved. Whereas with Ezio it was often necessary to hold down the block button and slowly take everyone down one by one, with Connor it is much easier to attack and simply block each incoming attack as they came. Many of those blocks would then turn into counterattacks, sometimes even scripted combo kills. Connor attacks with a lot more ferocity and violence than Ezio or Altair ever did, and it feels awesome. It is often much simpler to just stand your ground and kill all of the guards that get alerted to your presence. It ends up looking something like this:

So yes, Assassin's Creed III is definitely worth getting, but make sure that your expectations are realistic before you play it.

As always I leave you with a few more screenshots, and you can see my full gallery on Steam.

EDIT: You can now read my review of the King Washington DLCs.