Genre: Open-World Action Adventure | Developer: Ubisoft | Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/Wii U/PC | Players: 1 Local/8 Online
Rating: ESRB: M (Mature) / PEGI: 18
Recently, the Assassin’s Creed formula, tried and tested as it is, has begun to wear thin, beaten into the ground with an iterative yearly formula that many feel has become stale. Is a new location and a new time-span enough to reinvigorate the franchise, or is it time we finally unplugged ourselves from the Animus and moved on?
As you step into the shoes of Assassin’s Creed III‘s new hero Ratonhnhaké:ton (otherwise known as Connor Kenway), it’s hard not to be impressed by the new setting. Gone are the affluent, Baroque buildings culture of Rome and Venice, replaced with a more somber and relatable setting. And yet, it’s one far more intimate and diverse than anything we’ve seen in the franchise before. It’s the first of many welcome breaks.
New lead character Connor Kenway is the second. Although he lacks much of the charm and charisma of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, his fresh take on gameplay adds a lot more to the series than Ezio did during his time at the helm of the franchise. Where Ezio would cumbersomely climb large buildings, Connor can effortlessly climb cliff faces. Where Ezio would patiently wait to strike, Connor decimates enemies with a ferocity that is regularly intense and often gruesome. Connor brings a completely new level of immersion to the table, and nowhere is this more noticeable than in the Frontier.
The Frontier is where the most drastic shift in focus for the series occurs. Gone are the unending tiles of conveniently-placed square buildings, and in their place is an expansive wilderness that takes the free-running routes of old in an interesting and far less routine direction.
Although learning how to make your way through the branches and leaves and rivers and crevices can take a little getting used to at first, it quickly becomes a natural experience, and memories of traversing cities and tall buildings fade away as you get wrapped up in the expansive wilderness, and the many distractions it offers.
And boy does Assassin’s Creed 3 have a lot of distractions.
After the inane amount of repetition that plagued the first Assassin’s Creed game, Ubisoft made certain that would never be a problem again. Unfortunately, this seemed to carry an adverse effect of giving the games something new with each title; many of these additions were not always met with approval – few are going to miss the tower defense mini-game of Revelations, or the constant shop buying.
So how does the latest game avoid this, exactly? Diversity and purpose.
Hunting, for instance, quickly becomes one of your primary means of earning money. Connor is a man of the land, and having money thrown at him from rich nobility would make little sense in the context of the early American setting. It’s very easy to get lost in the Frontier for hours, tracking and hunting animals to obtain their pelts or meat, which can later be sold when you later return to civilization. It’s a drastic shift from previous games, but it works seamlessly as part of the overall experience.
Naval battles are another major shift from what we’ve seen before, and it’s also the one feature that had the highest chance of going wrong – this kind of side content does not have the greatest track record in this franchise. Thankfully, it’s an incredibly enjoyable and insanely immersive experience. It’s so well done in fact, that it’s a honest pity Ubisoft didn’t consider a multiplayer competitive mode for the naval warfare. Definitely a lost opportunity.
You’ll often find yourself so engrossed in these diversions, distractions and detours that the main thread of the story will end up taking a backseat to your own emergent experience, whether through intentional design or simply from the overwhelming amount of things you have to. This can hardly be labeled a complaint though, and it would be unfair to consider it one.
It’s a pity with all these things to invest your time into that the combat hasn’t seen an improvement. If anything, it’s taken something of a step back.
Direct combat has never been the series’ strong point, and this hasn’t changed in Assassin’s Creed. The fact that it doesn’t even exist in the multiplayer mode is telling enough, but the system has become so simplified this time around you can essentially win the majority of battles by spamming the counter button and pressing attack. Even the significantly larger size of battles can’t make up for the combat’s ultimate monotony, and it’s the one major failing in an otherwise incredibly robust package.
The direct approach has never been Assassin’s Creed way. It’s at its best when you take your time, and the slow, stealthy approach. Its a game of experiences over depth. With a new world, a new focus and a revitalized sense of identity, Assassin’s Creed 3 succeeds in finally breaking the series out of its iterative shell, and its all the better for it.
Assassin’s Creed III is currently available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii U, and PC platforms for $59.99. A Limited Edition version including extra physical content is available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 for $105.00 on Amazon.com currently.
Disclaimer: An Xbox 360 version of this game was provided to The Gaming Vault by the publisher for review purposes.