Review by Idzard
"I watched them fight and die in the name of freedom. They speak of liberty and justice, but for whom?"
Disclaimer: This review assumes the reader is somewhat familiar with the Assassin's Creed series, as does the game itself. There might be some mild spoilers in terms of gameplay mechanics, but nothing that ruins the plot. The multiplayer modes are not covered.
The Assassin's Creed franchise has been going strong ever since the first game was released in 2007 and four sequels came out since. While ACII greatly expanded and improved on the original, Brotherhood and Revelations were more or less inbetween games with no real innovations. With a development cycle of 3 years and fans getting tired of Ezio, it is no exaggeration to say that Assassin's Creed III was one of the most anticipated games of 2012. Has Ubisoft managed a leap forward, or simply put out yet another sequel?
Story & Setting
The present' storyline is a direct continuation of Revelations, which ended with Desmond's group discovering the location of the Central Vault in North America. During the game, the Animus is set up inside this temple and has Desmond undertaking various missions to locate and place power sources when he is not experiencing the life of an ancestor. Longtime players might be relieved to find out that, after five games, the overarching storyline finally gets some closure, although it is not entirely satisfactory and leaves things open for a sequel.
The meat of the game once again takes place in the past, over the course of 12 sequences. This time around, the setting is Colonial America between 1754 and 1783, which puts you right in the middle of the American Revolution. It is of note that you don't control Connor, the actual protagonist, till sequence 4, which some may find to be a long buildup in comparison to previous games. Without giving away too much, it is my opinion that this serves a purpose for the plot and once you do get full control, you are pretty much unrestricted. The struggle between Assassins and Templars at various times takes a backseat to major historical incidents, such as the Boston Tea Party, the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Battle of Monmouth. Although Connor generally seems to favour George Washington's side, the game does not withhold criticism on either the Patriots or Loyalists. It even goes so far as to touch on the treatment of Native Americans and slavery, though ultimately these are not a major focus. I think they could have done a little more with Connor's heritage, as he is half British and half Mohawk. At the end of the day it is mostly a story about a young man playing his part in a tumultuous time, becoming increasingly disillusioned the more he succeeds.
Continuously participating in a major conflict makes the game feel fresh and different from its predecessors, though Boston and New York are not nearly as interesting as the cities visited by Altair and Ezio. They are bustling with life more than ever before, but simply lack the landmarks and grandeur of a historical capital like Rome. The developers compensated for this by putting a lot of effort into the Frontier, which is essentially a huge wildlife area where you can run, swim, hunt, climb trees and fight several significant battles. Considering the area mostly serves for (new) gameplay elements, history buffs might not be entirely satisfied.
The graphics have always been rather important to the series, as the overall experience largely relies on exploration of aesthetically pleasing cities and landscapes. Assassin's Creed III is no exception and pushes the 7-year-old Xbox 360 to its limits, the series has never looked better. Particularly impressive are the naval battles, which have a lot going on between the violent sea and enemy fleets. Animation in general has gotten an update, with several new combat animations and overall movement flowing smoothly. Facial expressions have also been tweaked, though the way familiar characters look in this iteration might be jarring to some and the great majority of NPCs is still somewhat bland-looking. The game occasionally suffers from pop-up, drops in framerate and graphical glitches, though I didn't find these things particularly off-putting. The considerable loading times however could get aggravating.
The music in this game adds to a cinematic feel, but the individual tracks tend to be forgettable and I was more impressed with the soundtrack for Assassin's Creed II. This is kind of a missed opportunity, considering the story has some very tense and emotional moments. The voice acting is adequate, at least for everything relating to the actual story, but very generic for most insignificant NPCs and side missions. This could be a result of the dialogue in those parts being bland in the first place, but that doesn't really excuse it. The sound effects however are top-notch, be it the clanking of weaponry, taking down some poor animal or ships firing their cannons.
The basic mechanics should be familiar to anyone who has played the series before, though running and climbing is significantly faster than it used to be. They made it so that if you just press RT while moving, you are basically prevented from unsafe actions, while adding the A button will still make you jump wherever you want. This adds to the flow of freerunning and climbing segments, though not everyone might like how automatic it feels. Finding a viewpoint and having the camera pan around the area never gets old, though for some reason you can't uncover the entire map through viewpoints alone in this game. This adds to the exploration, but can get frustrating if it means you can't find markers for optional missions. On the bright side, you can now instantly teleport to any fast travel location you have uncovered, significantly cutting back on retreading familiar ground.
Besides scaling buildings, Connor can move freely through trees, which is particularly fun in the Frontier as you stalk your prey from above. Combat is still primarily counter-based, though Connor might very well boast the most offensive prowess out of all the assassins controlled so far, making short work of large groups of soldiers with relative ease. You no longer have the option of equipping various pieces of armor, but weaponry has gotten somewhat more diverse. Besides the usual blades and guns, Connor gets a tomahawk, a bow and rope darts, which can be used to pierce targets from afar and even hang them from trees. Finally, there is a new lockpicking mechanic for some doors and chests, something on which your mileage may vary.
There are various ways to hunt in the Frontier, including the usage of bait and snares, though the bow and hidden blade by themselves are plenty effective. Several of the more ferocious animals can attack you, after which they are put down through a quick time event. Pelts and other spoils can be sold for money, though it is somewhat dependent on how much of a completionist you are whether you even need it. Ship upgrades and new weapons can cost a pretty penny, but are by no means required to get through the game, not to mention the best weapons can only be gotten through crafting (more on that later). While it is relatively useless, I still found hunting to be quite fun and it makes the Frontier a much more dynamic place.
The main quest should take about 12-15 hours to complete if you don't get distracted much. Put time into the sidequests and you can easily clock in over 30 hours, though you will find quite a few of these are not very respectful of your time and have you undertake mundane tasks for small rewards. I couldn't escape the impression that the developers didn't want to cut back on the staples of the previous three games, despite having a completely new entry in a different setting on their hands. You can once again recruit up to six assassins and send them on missions, but this is never a part of the plot and seems tacked on just because we've come to expect it. Collectibles this time around include almanac pages (which start floating once you get within a certain range), feathers and trinkets, which can be traded in to gain access to locations not unlike the platform challenges in prior games. You can also loot chests scattered throughout the world, though this time around they're all locked and often contain recipes for crafting.
The homestead of Connor's mentor serves as a base in this game and can be expanded into a village. This requires you to locate and level up workers through missions that are essentially fetch quests. There are almost 40 of these errands and they can get quite tedious, though the end result of it all is a pretty significant plot point and the ability to craft the best weapons and upgrades. Crafting is somewhat tiresome due to how the menus work, but it is rather self-contained in that you can directly buy materials from your craftsmen for further processing. You can also send out convoys to stores you've visited to sell materials and hunting spoils, which will automatically deposit money in your wallet after a while.
The marketing prior to release put a lot of focus on the naval battles, which serve as a fun diversion from the regular questing. While there is not a whole lot to it and rewards are minimal, it's a few extra hours of gameplay that add something genuinely fresh. On that note, the Desmond missions in the present also break up the action nicely, though they are very linear and don't succeed in adding some much-needed depth to the character. It makes you wish they had invested in the present more in earlier games, they had ample time to do so.
Not quite finished
While Ubisoft games are generally buggy, it warrants special mention for ACIII. Despite a patch very shortly after release, there are numerous glitches that can be somewhat annoying. I'm not aware of anything game-breaking, but occasionally having to reload a checkpoint is bad enough as it is. Some of the most intrusive glitches for me were a notification about obtaining a specific item that would pop up every time I entered a new area and one of my convoys being in a perpetual state of attack without me being able to salvage it. There is another patch coming out one of these days, so it might be wise to wait for that one if you haven't yet started playing the game. Some gamers will be more indignant about the need to patch a game twice in the first month after release than others, but I don't think anyone should find it acceptable for companies to put out unpolished products. To an extent, this did affect my score.
The new setting and story progression alone make this a worthwhile entry in the Assassin's Creed series and if you're a longtime fan, you're probably already playing this. Changes in movement and combat mechanics work well, while the game generally looks gorgeous and has a lot going on. One has to wonder though to what extent collectibles and fetch quests still deserve a place in the series, especially considering how great an addition the hunting and naval battles are. Sending assassins on missions and doing trade entirely through menus is becoming increasingly archaic, even more so if all it will net you is money you don't particularly need. Between this and the bugginess, I will hold off on buying next year's inevitable sequel till I can be certain it's been patched and worthy of my time. That said, I enjoyed this game for the most part, even if it wasn't as perfect as one might have hoped. May the Father of Understanding guide Ubisoft.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/21/12
Game Release: Assassin's Creed III (EU, 10/31/12)
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