Assassin's Creed is a franchise most gamers are at least familiar with, now consisting of five main entries and numerous supporting entries spanning multiple gaming platforms. For the first time, a main Assassin's Creed game hits a Nintendo console (on Wii U's launch day, no less!) not long after appearing on the competing platforms. Is this game worth picking up among the numerous Wii U launch titles? Will new Assassin's Creed players enjoy jumping in so late into the series?
Being primarily a Nintendo-only gamer, this is the first Assassin's Creed game I have ever played. I was a bit apprehensive about starting the series with a late entry, but I still enjoyed it in the end.
For those new to the series, the main story element to keep in mind is that all the games revolve around a guy named Desmond who lives in the modern world. Each of the different Assassins you've seen on the covers of the games is actually an Assassin from a different time period; Desmond uses a virtual reality machine called the Animus which reads his genetic memory and allows him to participate in the lives of his Assassin ancestors. Once you play the game, you'll realize why Desmond is doing this: it's all tied to the 'eternal' conflict between two groups: the Assassins and the Templars.
Desmond's on the left. I wonder who the lady is?
I did jump straight into the game without having much knowledge of the prior AC games, but not long after, I had a great desire to really understand Desmond's story because I was genuinely interested in how each game relates to the other, and I'm glad I did. For newcomers who don't have time or resources to play the previous games, I strongly recommend reading and/ or watching videos summarizing the events of those games.
Assassin's Creed III is a third-person action adventure game with an emphasis on stealth and moving undetected. During most of the game you will be playing as Connor, the Assassin featured prominently on the game's cover. As Connor, you will progress from one mission to the next in order to advance the story. Your map will always show where your next mission will begin, but it's always your decision whether you want to head straight to that next mission or take part in a side/ optional quest.
As an assassin, you have a large number of moves at your disposal. This is one of those games where the controls can be pretty overwhelming at first, especially since every button (including both the analog stick click buttons) is used, but the game eases you into it with a somewhat long story intro that is heavy on cutscenes and light on actual gameplay. This lengthy intro actually turned me off the game at first, but I'm glad I kept playing, because the game becomes very enjoyable once the world opens up to you.
Your moves center on the different ways you can kill your targets. Usually you will want to be stealthy, as it lets you kill without drawing attention to yourself or raising alarms. Whether you hide in wait for the right time, or end up involved in a fight against multiple opponents, your character will have many different methods of handling any given situation. For example, when forced to fight off multiple enemies, your character can rely on countering to block and attack any enemy from any direction, making the combat fluid and entertaining to watch (especially with the different kill animations, some of which feature dramatic camera angles in slo-mo). I love some of the details like when Connor is waiting behind a corner waiting for his target to walk by; you'll see his body shift slightly from head to toe in a very detailed way as he tries to stay out of sight yet ready to strike in an instant.
Being attacked from all sides... no problem for Connor!
Your character is also extremely acrobatic and can traverse virtually every kind of structure, building, obstacle, etc. in the environment with ease, due to the 'free-running' ability. Basically, your character can scale walls, run swiftly across fences, slide, leap from one small perch to the next while remaining perfectly balanced, all accomplished by holding down the ZR button. However, there were times when I just wanted to run away from my pursuers, but because of the free-running, Connor would try to scale a wall if I got too close, which ended up hurting me in the end. That is, it doesn't always help and can actually hinder you at times when you don't need it. Having said that, free running works beautifully for most of the time; there's nothing quite as exhilarating as running through the trees, leaping from one tree branch to the next with ease, watching as the world below you remains completely unaware to your presence.
Running through the trees is awesome
Connor also has a lot of different weapons and tools that will help, though they are quite numerous and many of them were pretty much unused by the time I finished the game. However, I haven't completed all the optional objectives in every mission, so it's likely those items may still come in handy in more than one instance.
I do appreciate the different modes of transportation the game offers. You can instantly call your horse from most locations and be on your way. The game has a fast travel system in place (select your destination on the map and instantly warp there), though you're forced to unlock many of the fast travel points on your own, which can be quite tedious with the massive environments. Being able to explore these large environments also comes at another high price: looonng load times when going from one major area to the next. The wait can be excruciating; I had to change my strategy many times on when deciding what to do next so I could avoid moving into a new area unless I had to!
A nice stroll on horseback
This game features many side quests, many of them revolving around exploring the massive environments, most of which I greatly enjoyed: there's things like searching for feathers in hard-to-reach locations, infiltrating heavily guarded forts, naval missions (where you command a ship out at sea and take part in cannon battles with enemy ships), hunting animals, assassination contracts, delivery requests… the list goes on and on. However, it's not always obvious what your rewards are for completing them or if it will even make a difference to finishing the game. Having done quite a few of these missions and understanding what the rewards are, I'm somewhat disappointed these weren't better integrated into the main game or resulted in meaningful rewards.
I do want to point out how awesome the naval missions are; they're quite spectacular and make for a fun and entertaining diversion separate from the standard on-foot action. Hunting animals is also a welcome feature; it's mostly optional (there are some mandatory missions that will teach you the basics and result in you killing a number of animals) and will provide for a great source of income, allowing you to buy the stuff that will make your life easier (such as new weapons and ship upgrades). One of the side quest categories centers around the 'hunting society' and can easily take up much of your game time due to enjoying the challenge of hunting different kinds of animals in a variety of ways.
An impressive aspect of the game indeed... makes you feel like you're in that Depp Pirates movie even!
One of the more interesting concepts of the Assassin's Creed games is the Assassin participating in real-world historical events. Without spoiling too much, you'll take control of Connor during many important events during the American Revolution (last half of the 18th century). It's fascinating to get up close and personal with these different historical figures and places (you meet Benjamin Franklin early in the game, as an example), thinking about whether this is what life was really like back in those days and how accurately these historical figures are being portrayed. In the end, this delightful mix of fact and fiction makes for great entertainment, yet can also cause some confusion when you're constantly being introduced to such a large number of important people. I mean, I haven't played too many games like this one where I had to repeatedly go into the game's 'encyclopedia' database to read more about the characters. For example, I have to remind myself: why is this mission important? Why am I going after this guy or that guy? You could argue that a complex story line where you can't even tell the good guys from the bad is a good thing, but sometimes I feel this game pushes it to the point of me not really understanding what is going on, even as I'm trying hard to pay attention to everything. I also had to wonder to myself many times how much of the story is based on actual events and which parts are only a part of the Assassin's Creed world.
A fine evening, gentlemen.
Not long after getting into the story, one thing will become very obvious: the game's environments are very beautiful and lively. The first time in the game when I could freely roam the massive environments… I honestly was amazed by the incredible attention to detail and spent most of my time just looking around and exploring before even heading off to my next mission. Whether you're riding a horse through lush forests (I can't be the only one secretly hoping for a Zelda game that looks like this!) or gazing from the top of a building over the colonial cities of Boston and New York, every area is wonderfully crafted. To further accentuate this attention to detail, the environments transform significantly when the seasons change as story unfolds over the span of years, and whether it's raining, snowing, etc., be prepared to spend time appreciating your surroundings (even the shadows seem to be cast just perfectly). However, with the good, comes the bad: the game has some unfortunate pop-up, particularly when you're moving quickly.
Lots of fantastic views in this game
It's also worth noting that being in the Animus allows for some cool special effects that provide a reason for the player to see items highlighted or visual indicators pop up; it's all there because Desmond is seeing it.
My other complaint about the game, related to its graphics, are numerous glitches. Some are just strange yet harmless, like enemies who sometimes land in the most awkward and unnatural positions imaginable after you kill them due to the nature of the rag doll physics. I've had an instance where my horse went halfway through a boulder and remained stuck there (check my Miiverse post!). Or sometimes when I'm picking a lock and the camera zooms in, the picklock is going through the wood (nowhere near the keyhole!). This kind of stuff won't impede your game progress, but it does break you out of the immersion as the game tries its best to create these realistic settings everywhere you look.
Unfortunately, glitches are not just limited to weird visuals. There were some missions where I couldn't trigger the appropriate action: in one mission, you have to stop some thugs who begin by walking toward a house, then proceed to break down the doors and windows. Once the thugs reached the house and started to destroy it, a meter appeared on the screen indicating how much 'health' the object had before the thug accomplished the mission. No matter what I did, I could not attack the thug once that meter showed up; all I could do was press up against them and wait unit the 'you failed' screen appeared, no matter how many different button combinations I mashed. I seriously thought it was a game-ending glitch, then I realized I could accomplish the mission if I stopped the thugs before they actually reached the object they intended to destroy. I doubt this was how the mission was designed to take place. Another time, I had to complete a mission while ensuring another character stayed safe by my side, but often the character simply wouldn't follow me, resulting in an instant mission failure again.
In other cases it simply seemed the game was being very unforgiving when it came to how it wants the player to perform actions in a very specific way; otherwise it won't work, though it seems obvious you're doing the right action. In one example, you have to fight a guy using only your fists, and you must rely on objects in your environment to damage him (like a glass bottle on a table). Even though I was standing right next to those objects, the action simply wouldn't trigger. After many attempts, I finally pulled it off, but I felt I was successful more because of luck since even then it was not clear to me where the game wanted to me to be and when it wanted me to press the right button.
Overall, as good of a job this game does over the first two or three hours of explaining the game's rules to the players and showing everything your character can do, there is still quite a lot left up to the player to discover on their own. There are a lot of little gameplay details that are tucked away, with most players probably unaware of them unless they start scouring online guides. For example, some of the icons on your map are labeled but never explained in any way what their purpose is (oh vigilantes…)!
The music in this game can be very moving, though it's a bit limited, unfortunately. Since most of the time is spent in the open world, you won't hear music most of the time but will be treated instead to the sounds of your environment (which is fantastic by the way). However, there are definitely some great music compositions during important moments in the game.
The GamePad adds some nice features to the game that I really appreciate. I played using the option for 'Optimal GamePad use,' which results in having your entire HUD info on the Gamepad, consisting primarily of the mini-map. It took a while for me to become accustomed to averting my ways away from the TV screen to look at the Gamepad, but it became second nature. Besides, I consider this sort of like training for future Wii U games that will require a lot of back and forth looking between the two screens. As an added bonus, you can play the game entirely on the GamePad if you so desire. The GamePad also has a handy 'call your horse' icon for quick travel!
Having said that, I can easily think of additional ways the GamePad could have been utilized to streamline the game experience. For example, I would have loved if the item crafting and resource management were more easy to navigate by using the touch screen to go through all the different lists and categories. Instead you have to navigate everything with the d-pad or analog stick. I won't knock the game too much for this since this is a launch title, but I hope future iterations of the franchise use the GamePad even more.
The game also features a fairly well crafted online multiplayer mode, with various options such as killing targets and eluding your pursuer when you become a target. This mode features a large number of unlock abilities as well as bonus points for killing targets in a variety of ways. Unfortunately I have been unable to find random matches online when I hopped online in the past few weeks!
This is a massively scoped game, highly ambitious and with an obviously large budget. There's plenty of stuff to do, and most of the time it's quite fun. However, at times a lot of elements just seem to be there for the sake of existing rather than adding meaning to the overall experience. The game seems to lose focus when the developer attempts to cram as much as possible into the game, leaving a desire for some gameplay aspects to be more fully developed. The completionist in me pushed me to do as much as possible long after the credits had rolled, and even 35 hours into the game I'm only at 78% complete. The story definitely kept me going, as I was always eager to see how these different characters would develop and whether Desmond would succeed in his accomplishing his mission. Despite its issues, I was impressed with what the game had to offer, and I'm glad to have finally experienced Assassin's Creed.
Having spent some more time with the game, have you determined how much is fact vs. fiction? I think of Forrest Gump when you mention this, and how he was responsible for all these things (teaching Elvis to dance, wiping his muddy mud off and some guy becomes the Smiley Face guy, "hey, you just stepped in S!" "It happens."), is it like that in a sense?
I haven't really gone back and looked up the events to see how much they are based on fact or not, unlike my buddy @PogueSquadron did for AC II. However, seeing how AC III involves American history, I am much more familiar with some of this stuff compared to the plots of the other games that take place in different countries; things like the Boston Tea Party, "Paul Revere's Ride," George Washington's role as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and so forth. Obviously the fiction is obvious when the Assassin participates in these events, so yeah, it's kind of like Forrest Gump if you look at it that way!
Yeah, they've done that with all core Assassin's Creed games. If you're familiar with the historical period, it's more obvious. Americans will get that most of the stuff that goes down in ACIII are core parts of the American revolution and that many of the supporting cast are real folks.
But the first one was like this too... Robert de Sable actually was the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, for example, and was prominently featured in the first AC game. A lot of Altair's targets were real people as well. Piri Reis from Revelations was a real life Ottoman admiral, etc.