Some of my thoughts on Assassins Creed 3. There are some spoilers.
The game starts out really slowly as you start a long way from the real beginning of the action and story. You spend hours getting going, though the first few chapters the character you play with has ramifications towards at the end of the game, but the payoff doesnt work out very well.
Loss of identity
This is more of an open world game than anything else. This feels more like Red Dead Redemption than Assassins Creed to me. You end up doing so many chores to random characters that this feels more like a Rockstar game than Assassins Creed. Yes, I realize many missions are optional, but still. The fact that you are an assassin almost seems forgotten, there’s not that much assassinating going on anymore. The feathers, assassination contracts etc feel like an afterthought in this game, legacy that had to be respected, but kinda just dropped into the game without much thought.
Corey May is an amazing writer and the whole writing team has done an incredible job with research and dialogue, but while the game has lot of great writing, like the all the data in the Animus written by Shaun, whose sardonic tone has been well maintained throughout the franchise (even though he’s material was written by another person for AC3 than before), the story and events in AC3 didnt resonate with me.
The ending especially, at least they give you an ending and dont cop out too bad like they did in Mass Effect 3, the conclusion of Desmond’s arc and the whole franchise up to this point, is weak. Worse yet, it all feels really rushed. The fact that the world is ending due to the solar flares and that there is real threat in the air, is never sold convincingly to me as a player, so at the end of the game I was wondering what my motivation really was for doing all this.
I really liked the fact that the story isn’t so black and white, all pro on Assassins. You get both sides of the story so to speak and nothing really is clear cut. The writers really succeed here and many of the supporting characters, the historic ones, are shady and you dont really know what their agenda is, everybody’s got their own. This works out really well in the game. Connor is more of a cog in the wheel than really bossing things around which is very different to Ezio.
There is a huge amount of systems in the game from hunting, to your assassin recruits to trading your homestead’s workers produce etc to merchants in the towns. You have to liberate city zones to gain new assassins. This was very unclear to me. So you see a Assassin mission on the map, you go there, you free the would be assassin and you think you got him into your team. You dont.
You have random events in the cities that you have to perform (free tied down characters, help beggars, eliminate random enemies etc) and once all are completed, you get the assassins task that unlocks the person for use in your team. The problem here is inconsistency.
Everything gets shown on the map with the exception of the assassins/liberation tasks!. That’s a design mistake. Maybe the reasoning was that the designers wanted random elements that just pop up when you wander around town, I can understand that. However, none of this is explained, I was at the second to last memory sequence in the game when I randomly completed all the assassins/liberation missions and then got the “main” liberation mission popping up on the map. When I did that, I got the assassin into my team. I didnt see any explanation of this, in the in-game manual.
The homestead is the new Monteriggioni. It’s not as good, though it’s cool. So you do Homestead missions which lead to people moving near Connor’s house and you start getting an town/economy. They all produce various stuff form ore to wool, which you can buy from them. Then you can combine all those materials with recipes to produce new things like barrels, carriages, furniture that you can sell. It took me until halfway the game to realize that I could actually manufacture carriages which move around all my stuff into the stores in the cities, who buy your stuff and you get paid. Moving stuff into the carriages is done in a menu, which is really fucking slow. You have like 10 slots to which you place a single item. So I couldn’t quick select 10 elk skins to put into a carriage, I had to add each one separately.
You dont see this nice overall view of all the things your Homestead folks build. Sure, you can walk around the area and see the people, talk to them and see their houses flling up the homestead, but Monteriggioni was so visual in terms of improvements you did to it. That’s what you need, real visual feedback of the money you are spending and the work you are putting in. You get a bit of that with the boat you get to upgrade in AC3, but that wasn’t much fun.
The naval combat is amazing looking. Every mission looks absolutely stunning with superb lighting, athmosperic effects like fog and fire and the ocean itself just looks incredible. I felt like I was really out on the sea when I played these missions. They are quite easy to play through, but very satisfying as you blast other ships with cannons and see your crew doing their thing on the deck.
Lack of freedom
There’s a few story missions which really force you to play them in a certain way instead of letting you exploit Connor’s many tools and skills. One of these missions comes up really early on in the game and was really annoying. Its the one with Haytam, I think, and you have to sneak into a base and first hide in the hay and then follow two dudes talking with Washington being one I think. I hated that mission. Another one is at the end where you chase John Lee. I think it took me over 30 tries to get through this badly scripted sequence.
Having said that, the level of of polish in general in the game and in the missions is quite good even before the patches considering the size and scope of the game, but in three missions I managed to break the scripting and not trigger the following events which is really unforgivable. I had this happen in the Desmond level in the stadium catwalks.
Ezio was an incredible character. I still remember uncle Mario and the dead little brother Petruccio from Assassins Creed 2. I applaud the writers going for an indian lead character, but Connor left me cold. He’s detached, he lacks personality and the worst thing is that the cast of historic characters, so many are rolled out that I really didnt who I was dealing with and why. Haytham being Connor’s father just doesnt pay off very well either.
Some of the Desmond sequences, especially the ones based in the main cave area your team is in, are weak. I cant believe that the one character that ties all the games together gets such a weak treatment. The gameplay in the cave is about putting power cells into place, but I had no idea where to find them, nothing is sign posted at all.
When you get these power cells you are supposed to slot them into various spots in the cave complex. I really didnt know where, I just stared climbing around and then some cut scenes triggered and I had no idea how many cells I had left to place as I didnt place them as soon as I got back from the Desmond missions, I went back to the Animus. So I had no idea how many I had to find in the cave.
Also as you get these batteries in various short Desmond missions, one in New York, one in Brazil and so on. How come none of the chaos erupting around the world due to the solar flares is not showing during these missions? This is a missed opportunity of selling the drama that is supposed to unfold in the world while Desmond is trying to save it.
The last Desmond sequence part takes place at Abstergo, which is a great idea. This is from where franchise started, you should go back and get closure. But, come one, Desmond walks in, you kill a few guards and then get to Warren Vidic and he just dies. What a rushed anticlimax. Daniel Cross and Warren Vidic… come on man, integral characters in the universe and they get dealt in such a quick fashion. Very disappointing. Not to mention chasing Cross was very broken. I kept trying to grab and tackle him, not knowing if I could do it or did I have to wait for a scripted sequence to happen.
Assassins Creed 3 looks a lot better than the previous games. The quality of character animation is superb, clearly much improved. The frontier itself especially is a great achievement. The enviroment feels natural, it feels alive. The lighting is often stunning and the frame rate for the most part is quite smooth and stable. The problem is that the Desmond sequences feel visually less polished than the rest of the game even down to the character’s facial animation.
Still, a game of this magnitude all these systems, short load times, is a stunning technical achievement, no question.