Ambition hasn’t been part of the Assassin’s Creed playbook for awhile now. Ever since Ezio’s debut, the last two spin-off titles felt like cash-grabs to strike while the iron’s hot. They didn’t do much to push the story forward, and their gameplay innovations varied wildly from great (the ability to call out fellow assassin’s for help) to bafflingly awful (tower defence). Though I’ve gotten some enjoyment out of these two games (more the first than the second), I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the real next step in the series.
Sporting a new world, a new main character and numerous revisions to its gameplay, Assassin’s Creed III has no shortage of ambition. In fact, had it delivered on everything it set out to do, this really could have been one of the best games ever. Unfortunately, this same ambition is the root cause of its many shortcomings.
Moving the series from the Renaissance to the American Revolution brings forth a number of fresh opportunities. The strongest of which is by far the story, which is extremely well done. It expertly weaves in a number of different plots and subplots into a cohesive experience in a way that kept me enthused throughout. Having a better understanding of American history over the Renaissance also gave more weight to the proceedings, as I came into it knowing some of the major characters and events that took place. I also love the worlds they’ve crafted, from the bustling city streets of Boston, to the wilderness of the Frontier. It’s particularly satisfying to traverse through the trees, which feels very different from rooftop jumping of the series’ past.
Speaking of characters, I felt that most of the characters were very well portrayed, save for the new protagonist, which is a huge shame. Ezio was such a likeable guy, but Connor comes off as a blank slate. Besides following the well-worn Native American stereotypes and being an overall naive guy, he doesn’t do much to illicit much empathy for him. This is particularly disappointing, because the setup of his character and the primary conflict around him is excellent. If Connor returns, I’d love to see him fleshed out a bit more.
My biggest gripe with the last Assassin’s Creed game was that it had too many disparate gameplay systems that didn’t service the core gameplay in any meaningful way. Particularly, the tower defence battles were flat-out terrible in every way. III does away with a number of systems that bloated Revelations, including the tower defence. Fighting has been tightened up to make it not feel like a mindless button masher while enemies attack you one-at-a-time. You no longer have to worry about buying and managing real estate. You also don’t have to manage your health much, as a form of health regeneration has been put in place.
Though Ubisoft took away a lot, they also added a lot, too, with varying degrees of success. Pirate ship battles are amazingly well done, and the few you partake in are some of the highlights of the game. Everything else though, feels tacked on and doesn’t do anything to make the core game better. Heck, even some of the core gameplay systems have been rendered moot based on the direction of the game. You can fight through the game just fine with your hidden blades and hatchet alone, making virtually every other weapon useless. The entire economy is useless, as there isn’t really anything meaningful to buy. This makes pickpocketing and hunting useless. You can do a number of side missions to improve your main homestead, but that doesn’t really amount to anything. Even Eagle Vision, which has been a staple since the beginning, is useless, save for one or two mandatory instances of it.
From a mechanics perspective, this series has really lost its focus by trying to do way too many things at once. In III, it’s a jumbled mess of mechanics that all work well in isolation, but fails to come together with any sort of cohesion. Next time around, I’m hoping Ubisoft takes a long and hard look at what they have in place, and strip it down to its bare essentials to create a more solid experience.
With any open world game, there’s going to be a certain level of jankiness that is bound to crop up as you go. Of the Assassin’s Creed games I’ve played, this one is by far the least stable. On my first ride on a pirate ship, I tried to jump on a railing, but jumped straight up a good 80 feet before falling to my death. I’ve run into a few scenarios where I managed to trigger sequence breaks, which stopped me from making progress. One chase scene in particular was infuriating, as a myriad of bugs and game design flaws made the act of capturing an enemy way more difficult than necessary.
For a game that overall I enjoyed, I spent a lot of this review harping on its faults. Ubisoft laid the groundwork for Assassin’s Creed III to be incredible, but the game shoots itself in the foot with poor design choices, lingering issues that have plagued the series for quite some time, along with new technical bugs that sometimes break the experience. For fans of the series, it’s still worth playing through for the great story. When it’s clicking, it’s also really fun to play. Unfortunately, it’s clear to see that this should have been so much more.