Assassin’s Creed 3 Review

Assassin’s Creed 3 (AC3) is the latest episode in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. As most Assassin’s Creed followers know, the games generally pivot around two time periods, being the present, and the past, which is visited through the Animus and the character, Desmond Miles. AC3 is a new game with a new world (pun intended, seeing as it’s set in Colonial America) and new characters.

Gameplay

AC3 is a busy, busy game. There’s lots of things to do. You’ve got naval missions, brilliant thing if you rather enjoy the idea of sailing (old world sailing, that is, with lots of bombing. It’s a classic of the period), and there’s the usual ‘helping people around’ missions. There are homestead missions too, where you can, basically, hire these conveniently homeless people back to your place in exchange for whatever it is that they specialise in. If you fancy, you can also chase after Benjamin Franklin’s papers all over the city. Guild challenges from Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (AC:R) make a return, though they are not issued by anyone officially and are now simply called ‘challenges’.

Changes

As with every new instalment, changes were naturally bound to occur.

There’s still the weapon wheel, for one, but its key had been switched from ‘Q’ to ‘R’. While it’s not that massive of a change, it does take a while to get used to. The interface of the weapon wheel has changed as well. In AC:R, you’ve got two large wheels, and before that, it was one huge wheel with everything on it. In AC3, it’s a bit different. When you hit and hold ‘R’, you’ve got a new, dark blue screen coming up, and instead of seeing a full wheel on each side you get something that looks like a dial. It’s quite brilliant, being a lot cleaner and generally neater looking, On the left, what used to be the primary weapons has now been re-labelled as simply ‘weapons’, and all your main equipment is there, and on the right, ‘secondary weapons’ is now ‘tools’. Not surprising though, since that includes hunting equipment like snares and baits.
Which brings me to my next point – hunting. One new change in AC3 is the introduction of hunting. Yes, you do get to hunt things in the Frontier now. It’s quite in line with Connor’s heritage as a native, and it seems to serve as a tribute to it. There are a couple of ways to go about it, as well as various animals you get to hunt. Once you’ve slaughtered your target, you get to salvage all sorts of stuff from the dead corpse – tooth, pelt, etc – which can be sold at general stores. It’s quite helpful, if you want to make a couple of extra pounds (yes, the currency is the British pound), and it’s rather enjoyable if you’re into that sort of thing.

Stores have also changed. Instead of having several specialty stores all over the city, a general store has replaced them. It’s a pretty nice change, being able to buy everything at one spot instead of having to run all around, and in the store, there’s also an accounts book for you to settle your trading. (Sure, it makes no sense to have something that personal and private available at every general store, but it really is a lot more convenient than running back to the homestead to deal with trades.)

Money is also a bit different. There are no banks here, maybe because in this game the British didn’t think the Americans deserve a bank (hah), or it’s a meta thing. Regardless, earning pounds is now a lot more of a tricky issue, since you can’t just dump all your money into the bank and wait around to collect interest. It does raise the challenge a little, and unless you really are invested in trading goods, you’re not going to have a lot of money to spend. On the other hand, you don’t really have to run around the Frontier hunting just to raise a little bit of money – people that you hire to work at the homestead usually gather enough surpluses for sale.

Weapons

Connor, unlike his predecessors, has a preference for the tomahawk, instead of the sword. He’s ambidextrous too, so when the tomahawk is equipped he’d be carrying the small axe in one hand and a knife in the other. For some, it’s a nice change from seeing swords, swords, and more swords, but for people who do love the long blades, you can rest knowing that swords can still be equipped. You just have to buy them first, because the tomahawk and hidden blades are Connor’s default weapons, so no swords for free. The assassin tomahawk that is iconic of Connor, which you receive when he’s recognised by his mentor as an assassin, is also pretty balanced and is a great weapon to work with, so unless you really, really hate it then there’s no reason why you absolutely have to buy a sword. Still, it’s nice knowing that the choice is there.

AC3 also introduces the rope dart, which is a brilliant piece of a thing. Brought to the brotherhood by a Chinese assassin named Shao Jun, rope darts function as a sort of portable harpoon. You fling the pointy end into someone and you can then drag them towards you. It’s great for those pesky enemies with long weapons, which are especially plentiful in AC3, being the time of rifles, muskets and bayonets. Another fantastic use of the rope dart would be to impale an enemy with it while you’re sitting at a height such as from a tree, and then jump off it with the rope, hanging the victim. Or you could do it in reverse and drag someone down from a height. Or you could use it to pull someone off their horse. Either way, it’s a great addition to the arsenal. Sure, throwing knives were taken out, but who needs those when you’ve got these.

Setting/Environment/Map

Unlike the games’ predecessors, where you get to enjoy immensely majestic architecture in Venice, Rome and Florence, there’s not much to gawk about in Boston and New York. Frankly, most of the buildings look more or less the same, and while you do get tons of important historical sites like Old North Church, there just isn’t anything that can match up to seeing places like the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, or the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence. Granted, that’s not so much the fault of the game maker, since there isn’t much that can beat the awe-inducing architecture of Renaissance Italy.

You do get to experience lots of outdoor environment though. The Frontier is expansive and immense, and coupled with the game’s seasons it makes for a fantastic experience. If you enjoyed running around in the wild in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, this is rather like that. Scenery is beautiful, and while it’s not as detailed as the graphics in Skyrim, it’s still a beautifully painted setting that has been created. A great deal of missions and tasks are set in the Frontier as well, so there’s no risk of not being able to enjoy it to the fullest.

Plot

As mentioned, the games revolve around two time periods.

The plot in the past is, without giving away spoilers, quite clever. It is, it really is. You can sense a certain development on the writers’ part, and they seem to be a little bolder and daring in terms of writing, and it’s great. In any case, I think you’ll find that you liked it as much as I did.

On the other hand, there’s the plot set in modern times. It came under heavy criticism for things like less-than-substantial writing and a lack of development for highly potential characters, among other factors. In AC3, most of the threads left hanging from the previous games are more or less tied up. But is it alright? To be fair, in a way, it is. But at the same time, it does feel a little absurd and ridiculous. On a slightly unrelated note, fans of Desmond will be pleased to note that he does get a lot more screen time.

Characters

Above all else, AC3 does have a lot of wonderful characterisation. If there’s any part of story writing that the writing team excelled in in particular, it would be this. Like the plot, it’s hard to say much without giving anything away, but Connor is a lot like his predecessors, Altaïr and Ezio, and at the same time, not quite too. There’s exploration of his relationships, which (minor spoiler ahead) runs brilliantly parallel to that of Desmond and William Miles.
At the end of the day, though, it’s wonderful writing.

Miscellaneous

Quite evidently, AC3 draws a lot of inspiration from Skyrim. This has been confirmed by Ubisoft developers, and it’s obvious in the gameplay. Regardless, AC3 is still very Assassin’s Creed like, and this inspiration only served to create even better gameplay.

AC3 also assumes a lot. It assumes that the player is not new to the franchise, which is a plus point for most of us, because nobody really wants to sit through an entire tutorial teaching you how to hit something when you already know how to. In fact, that’s the worst part of most games. If need be, however, there are tutorials available in the menu screens.

Another thing that it does assume is that the player is caught up with the game’s storyline since the first game. While most players are indeed so, it is not just the games that are taken into account, but also other aspects of its franchise, such as its short film and its comics, where Shao Jun and Daniel Cross first appeared in respectively. They might seem like new characters to the player, but fact is, they’ve been introduced for a while now. It’s not points against them, or for them, for that matter, but it is something to take note of. Not visiting the franchise’ other media would rather affect the player’s overall appreciation of the universe.

Final Word

AC3 is a great game. Over the years, there’s been a lot of development and more changes, both for better and for worse, though thankfully, AC3 sees the most of the former, and the result of it is a great game that is pulled together. Combat is brilliant and engaging, and writing is splendid and exciting. This is a game that is definitely worth playing.

Ratings: 4.5 stars out of 5

Assassin’s Creed 3 is a Ubisoft game and is now available for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Windows PC.

by Chua Yuxuan
© POPCulture Online 2012, All Rights Reserved.

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