Assassin’s Creed III released on October 30th,2012 for PS3 and Xbox 360 while the PC and Wii U versions are still to arrive. The game is the 5th console installment from the open world action adventure franchise developed by Ubisoft Montreal. It features a new game engine called AnvilNext that provides breakthrough improvements to the game’s mechanics. Since it is the third part of Desmond’s saga, a new character is introduced as long with a new historical period. Assassin’s Creed III improves staple mechanics while revisiting old ones and polishing them to deliver a new experience.
AnvilNext: Breakthrough Improvements
The first Assassin’s Creed title gave birth to the franchise capturing many fans with its open world possibilities and free roam gameplay. Though it began to define a genre, its repetitiveness didn’t help much with gameplay aspects. Assassin’s Creed II was built with the basic foundations of the first title and brought many improvements to both visual and gameplay aspects that made the series enjoyable. Then yearly releases like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations took those improved aspects and reused them while introducing new mechanics while keeping them fresh. Assassin’s Creed III needed to be Ubisoft’s most ambitious game yet, so they went all out with creating their game engine AnvilNext. AnvilNext was able to push the boundaries of Assassin’s Creed II and take them to the next level. Various improvements were added such as dynamic weather systems, total number of NPCs in an environment, tree and cliff navigation, character performance, graphical output and even naval battle simulations.
The Dynamic weather system used in Assassin’s Creed III not only gives a new visual effect for players to experience with, but it also delivers gameplay possibilities. Snow is added this time making thick snow deformable, taking details for each foot print leaving a trail while staying consistent. Rain begins calmly while slowing developing to a thunderstorm covering the main character, NPCs and even objects in the environment. The details giving to these elements with rain emphasizes and wet clothes, animals, even the environment’s wet soil turned into mud can be seen by the amount of detail presented with AnvilNext. Landmark recreating also increases it’s precision and the attention to detail is astonishing. NPC characters seem to be more organic and vivid, like observing different animals are interacting with each other or different activities taking a certain amount of time to complete from various characters.
The main objective of Assassin’s Creed has once been “climbing buildings”, this time it has become “climb anything you see climbable”. This is where tree and cliff navigation give more gameplay possibilities and new experiences for players. Tree navigation seemed to be a challenge for developers as trees don’t have a determined shape or size, so they had to create trees that looked climbable and believable. Cliff navigation mixes climbing building with organic cliffs and rocks waiting to be climbed by players. Though tree and cliff navigation works to a certain point, it doesn’t complete the “climb anything” phrase. Trees have different similar structures for players to recognize such as monkey bars dressed as branches, beams also dressed as branches and so on. Rock climbing does not guarantee that all rocks can be climbed due to the game having boundaries, but it does feature strategic places of where to climb and gives a good experience.
Character performance and graphical output has been amped up to show the amount of detail from facial expressions to body language. Though some cutscenes do lack emotion with certain characters or some conversations take a while to show the expressions, it add up to the experience with different character interaction.
Naval battles simulation, this is one of the major selling points of this game. Water simulation has never looked so.. fluid. Combining ships destroying each other while implementing the dynamic weather system that turn calm waves into a huge thunderstorm resulting in an epic naval battlefield. As the battle develops, the amount of waves and rogue winds deliver a grade of difficulty while maintaining a good aim while striking enemy ships.
The Assassin: Connor Kenway
Connor is the newest assassin protagonist to star in this installment of Assassin’s Creed. As I said goodbye to Ezio and Altaïr, I hoped Connor would be a step up in both movement and flashy assassinations. Connor is an assassin of mixed heritage, he was bred from an English father and a Native American woman. His mixed heritage let’s him feel like the outcast in the cities, in the Homestead he is among friends. Connor’s animations are built from the ground up, making him look more agile and nimble while running or tree-running while he is just making more effort because of his bulkiness.
Connor’s arsenal is the most packed from the previous assassins; He can slice enemies with his traditional Tomahawk, hunting with his trusty bow or even one shot kill most enemies with his pistols. Of course, Connor also possesses the staple hidden blades, but with a particular twist. One of Connor’s hidden blades is twistable and let’s him equip it as a knife giving him the ability to mix with other weapons and be one of the first duel wielding assassins. While Connor is interacting in a humble way with other NPCs, in combat he exceeds killing his enemies brutally and mercilessly. The AnvilNext engine even makes a slow motion movement when Connor finishes the last enemy from a group. Ubisoft Montreal has managed to create another believable assassin.
Connor does not possess the charm of the italian Assassino Ezio, nor he shows to be a cheerful character when the moment tells it to be. Connor is a character that strived to make justice, but with killing before thinking. Connor does take his role of Assassin pretty serious, with not caring what happens with the Patriots and Loyalists. Connor believes in defending his people, and searching for the greater good of them.
Playgrounds: New York, Boston, Frontier, Homestead
With every new installment in the Assassin’s Creed series, players get to explore and interact with different environments. While Assassin’s Creed III maintains the building climbing formula they have added new types of navigation. Once players get into the campaign we see the protagonist arriving to Colonial America in the city of Boston. Crowd animation has changed this time. People can be seen looking for groceries on street markets, chatting in groups, planning riots, fishing, working crops, etc. In Assassin’s Creed III we see the inclusion of animals, which both can be found at cities and on the Frontier. Domestic animals are found in the cities which can be pet, yes you read that right. Dogs, cats, turkeys, pigs all of these animals, Connor can interact with them. In the cities, players can encounter orphans, which in this installment will be equal to the traditional beggars, though they don’t do much once Connor starts free running. In this installment, players can say goodbye of running into accidental NPCs assassination due to them being disabled. Though crowd interaction scraps the traditional “blend into a group of four and turn grey” by blending with only two and maintaining Connor’s color palette without being touched, Assassin’s Creed III does not feature special conversation with Connor and the blended NPCs.
While shopping in Assassin’s Creed III, players can discover up to three different shops in each map, offering small, blunt and heavy weapons with some firearms and color palette swaps for suits. One benefit is that if players need to equip a certain gear, they can visit the shop and equip what they want at no additional charge, this including outfits. Aside from gearing up Connor for battle, players can also use the ledgers to craft items that can be used to craft other items or those that can be crafted for side missions. Convoys are a new feature included in Assassin’s Creed III to help players build their economy. The occasional peddler will spawn in the map offering consumables for Connor’s tools. While the cities feature viewpoints, they lack variety with the majority being historical churches. Underground networks are to be discovered by Connor, if he wants to fast travel. Players guide Connor, which carries a lantern, exploring dark corners and sewers to reach different fast travel points featuring puzzles like a few magic lense, lock picking and gear alignment minigames. Lighting up various light sources if not obligatory to the player, but it helps see some light while exploring.
The cities are filled with various taverns that feature many other minigames to spend time on, like Fanorona, Men’s Morris, Checkers or even a game of Bowls against Commander George Washington. The AI provide a great challenge for those who lack skill at these minigames, which could cause some frustration. Harbor Masters provide a free fast travel to outside locations such as New York, Boston, the Frontier and various Naval Battles and Privateer Missions. Assassin’s Creed III continues to add variety including old and new types of side missions. While revisiting previous installment side missions, players can take the job of a courier, where they must deliver letters to NPCs scattered throughout the map, sadly no time limit to provide a challenge. The fight club has been updated where players before entering a tournament, must defeat several brawlers throughout all maps. Other side missions include investigating various rumors Connor hears with men located in the Frontier. Almanac pages are scattered in every map and Connor is tasked with capturing them for Benjamin Franklin. Though the familiar Assassin’s Creed II racing side mission were not featured in this installment, it could be considered that the Almanac Pages replaced this minigame. Side missions are fun, but with no decent rewards like parts for new gun or gear or a piece of armor, makes them not that satisfying after completion.
Not only Connor could manage to scale buildings this time, but also trees and cliffs. Enter the Frontier, a massive map featuring a lush and natural environment, filled with creeks, wildlife, rocks, trees, etc. It is a fresh playground where players can experiment the smoothness of tree running or the new hunting system. The Frontier is a map that is about 2.5 the size of Rome from Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. It is divided in various regions where players can explore and lose themselves from the immensity of the map. Aside from Hunting players can participate in capturing forts, which where introduced for the first time in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. The forts follow the same mechanic from the previous installment: infiltrate the fort, kill the captain and blow the powder reserves. Forts during that time had similar structures, but leaving forts without being standalone missions with side objectives, makes the experience semi-enjoyable. While tree running, Connor can navigate through similar shapes that players can identify and thanks to safe free running, players need not worry about falling down from a high ground and resulting into desynchronization.
The Homestead is by far the best feature environment-wise for Assassin’s Creed III. While dear Ezio liberated sections of cities, there was a need of a unique and personal community for Connor, hence the Homestead. The Homestead is a separate map in Assassin’s Creed III, where players can encounter unique characters that will help Connor build the economy. Each NPCs has its name and professional, whether it be Dr White the medic of the community or Lance the Woodworker, they are what the Homestead stands for. Various missions can be completed for each member and they will provide upgrades, should players decide to help them. These upgrades provide Connor more crafting options that he can take care of at Achille’s Manor. By the end of the game the community has grown and becomes social, not only with themselves, but also with Connor.
Combat: Fresh and New Ways To Kill
A new installment of Assassin’s Creed demanded a revision of the combat system. In previous Assassin’s Creed games, players waited to be attacked to start counter kills. The AI was not that great and aggressive, and that needed to change. Connor can fight with almost anything (and by that meaning no brooms). The Assassin can make use of his trusty Tomahawk to kill enemies and transition from one to another like butter. Since the game has been in development for 3 years, it’s hard to say which games inspired the change in the combat system. No more mannequin control layout this time; Players can now attack, counter, break defense, use enemies as meat shields, counter kill, disarm and even use tools such as animal snare or pistols to get rid of enemies. Due to Connor being the first duel wielding assassin, players can select from the trademark hidden blades, fists, tomahawk or swords as main weapons while pistols, animal snares, trip mines and arrows can be selected as tools. Players can wait for enemies to attack to later trigger a counter kill, a disarm move a tool kill or even throw their enemies. Not only one enemy can be killed but two of them can be eliminated with a double counter kill featuring flashy assassination moves from Connor making players drop their jaws in the savageness of the assassin.
A good move while redesigning the combat system is that players can say goodbye from carrying multiple medicines. It’s either kill or get killed, but thankfully after successfully escaping or completing a fight, Connor’s health replenishes. Enemy archetypes were introduced in Assassin’s Creed II, and while Assassin’s Creed III is no exception of this, the various archetypes challenge players to think ahead of new strategies to defeat them. Regular soldiers can be defeated any way the player desires to. When facing grenadiers, players cannot jump into a combo kill because it will be stopped. The fighting system does feature a fresh new control layout and various enemies to fight against providing different challenges.
Systems: What’s New and Updated
While this review has touched lightly on various new gameplay systems the game offers, this section will give more details. Hunting gives a big role for the player in Assassin’s Creed. It helps with the economy, crafting, and even trading. Different species are scattered throughout the Frontier and it’s divided in various hunting regions so players can locate specific animal species to hunt for. From hares to bears, Connor is tasked to kill the wildlife and skin them for various goods. Inoffensive animal types are fast at running and don’t present a threat to Connor while others will try to kill the assassin such as Elks, bobcats, cougars, bears and wolfs. Using tools such as rope darts and pistol shots damage the animal pelts, so players might want to think twice before getting a pelt which has reduced monetary value. Other tools such as animal bait and snares provide a faster way to hunt small animal types such as hares, foxes, raccoons,etc.
The crafting system provides Connor options to create new items to be sold, traded or even used for side missions. Special items can also be crafted such as pouch upgrades, new guns, upgraded capacity for convoys,etc. The crafting system seems like an experiment due to it being one of the ways players can earn coin from. Trading gives player the opportunity to send out different land or sea convoys to deliver them to their destinations in exchange for profit. This is the fastest way to gain money, but it can also provide a challenge if players have not liberated any fort. If this is not taken in consideration, convoys can be attacked and Connor will have to travel to that destination to defend it or lose the convoy.
Naval battles are a new game feature that has captured quite the attention with the amount of details from the changes in the weather system. From calm waves to rogue ones, players will steer the Aquila and use their skill to sink other ships. Players can become prepared by upgrading their personal ship with multiple cannon types, hull reinforcements, etc. Wind does affect the speed at which the Aquila navigates, so players will have to keep an eye on the minimap to see where the wind blows. Privateer missions are the equivalent to forts, though they provide different objectives and variety. Once these missions are completed, users can lower the risk of sea convoys being attacked.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood introduced the gameplay mechanic of having other assassins helping out. This time, the assassin’s Connor recruits are unique, each with a name and a background and a certain ability that can help Connor throughout his journey. They can be recruited once Connor liberates a certain district from the cities. Whether it be starting a riot or blending as a prisoner while the other assassin’s mask themselves as Loyalists, the abilities do provide gameplay opportunities. Customizing these assassins is not possible, but more mission could have been included to strengthen their bonds with Connor.
Assassin’s Creed III refreshes many of its systems and brings new ones to the table. The storyline does feature memorable moment, but fails to manifest Connor’s emotions due to pursue of justice. Historical characters were featured but lacked more interaction with the assassin, same goes for various NPCs. Crowd interaction serves as a refreshed blending mechanism and Ubisoft could start focusing more on social stealth. Tree navigation is a new way to explore environments, perhaps the developers can come up with more shapes to expand the navigation and take players to higher places. Crafting is a new experiment and could be improved if more crafting options were added along with more special items. The new combat system is the way to go, no more feeling invincible against opponent and provides a challenge to players. Assassin’s Creed III introduces Connor, vicious and brutal in combat, while shy to manifest his personal emotions towards others. Perhaps this could be explored in another standalone title. Assassin’s Creed III is a great game and does feature some buggy moments, but the experience stands out thanks to its new systems.
This review was done only for the Single Player campaign mode of Assassin's Creed III.