Climbing trees has never been this much fun.
Altair, Ezio Auditore Da Firenze and now Connor Kenway. Generally speaking, videogames that change their main characters have a tough time of it. People will form a bond with a character and want to continue their adventures. It doesn’t matter if the gameplay has stayed the same or even improved, changing the main character is a risk, especially if the new character is not particularly likeable.
We didn’t really get to see much of Altair in the Assassin’s Creed series, but Ezio has been a solid hero through Assassin’s Creed II and the sideways sequels that have been released in recent years. He had style, charisma and a sense of history.
But with the latest installment, Assassin’s Creed III, the setting has changed, moving from Renaissance Europe to the American War of Independence, and with that has come a new character. Connor is half British and half Native American, and no where near as instantly likeable as Ezio, or even Altair. Whilst it is fairly easy to become embroiled in his tale, from his early days learning through play the art of the Assassin, through the destruction of his village and the death of his mother at the hands of the Templars, to his enrolment in the Order of Assassins and his quest for revenge, it is just not easy to actually like him. He’s a bit on the miserable side you see.
Don’t get me wrong, he can deal death with the best of them. But Connor just doesn’t have that same purpose in his stride, that feeling of historical wisdom, that sense of scope. It is difficult to put my finger on what I don’t like about the character, but I would bet I am not the only one.
So let’s move on and discuss the sense of scope in a much more positive way – the setting for Assassin’s Creed III. It is quite difficult to say anything about this latest game without comparing it to the previous titles, so let’s start with bigger. The sprawl of closely placed buildings across which to run may well be gone in ACIII, this is the “New World” after all, but they are replaced with large cities in which the player can actually enter the buildings, smaller settlements offering a wealth of side quests and opportunities, and the wilderness.
The cities of New York and Boston are the playgrounds this time around, and the level of detail is astounding. The cities are huge and bustling with life, making them a real pleasure to spend time in with wide streets dotted with trees to aid those rooftop jumps. But it is the wilderness that really stands out, providing much of that free-running experience that has been so impressive in the previous Assassin’s Creed games. There is a real flow to running through the environment, climbing and leaping from tree to tree. The fact that seasonal changes come in to alter everything around the player only makes the free-running experience more enjoyable.
Speaking of flowing, the combat has experienced a slight upgrade, giving it a more flowing quality similar to games such as Batman: Arkham City. The player smoothly deals death to one adversary and the next, with counter strikes and a variety of different ways to attack. It is impressive and feels comfortable, perhaps leaving it too easy to focus on combat over stealth. In fact, it seems that the simple task of losing yourself in the crowd has become more difficult this time around. These are little changes to the formula that we know, but changes nonetheless.
In other areas, things have changed very little. The Homestead acts as Connor’s base of operations and it is here that the player can indulge in their management skills as they build up a small village, filled with traders and the like. It is a handy place for getting discounts, but also for learning a bit more about our uncharismatic hero. Then there is the chance to set up an Assassin’s Guild and have other assassins aid the player in their quest. These little features that have been taken from previous Assassin’s Creed games make a welcome return.
But something completely new sees Connor take to the seas for some Naval adventuring. The combat at sea will undoubtedly raise a few eyebrows, but is incredibly fun nonetheless. Controlling the ship is simple and getting embroiled in ship to ship combat is incredibly exhilarating. But, above all, it is cinematic and beautifully played out.
And the same can be said for the rest of the game. Assassin’s Creed III is absolutely stunning. The detail within the cities and settlements may be impressive, but it is when wandering the wilderness, perhaps indulging in a spot of hunting, that it becomes easy to just stop and take in the splendor of the view.
The length of the single player game is entirely dependent on how easily the player is distracted by the huge number of things to do other than follow the story. If you manage to avoid playing games in the tavern, helping districts to revolt, exploring the massive game world and the myriad of other things that the player can do, you are still looking at 20+ hours, which is a hefty chunk of playing time. Realistically though, you are probably looking at weeks of heavy gameplay before requiring the inevitable DLC.
Of course, that doesn’t even include the multiplayer game, which has been brought more or less in tact from the previous Assassin’s Creed Revelations. Once again, it is a game of cat and mouse as the player is tasked with assassinating different targets without being assassinated themselves. There are a bunch of different modes available, including the new Wolf Pack mode that has the player working within a team. The multiplayer game may not be for everyone – it tends to be more slow and thoughtful than most multiplayer games, but it is full featured and worth spending time playing if you can slow down enough.
Introducing a new protagonist may not have worked out as well as Ubisoft had hoped (sorry, I don’t like him), but fortunately the rest of the game easily makes up for Connor. Assassin’s Creed III is massive, beautiful and incredibly playable. Fans of the series will not be disappointed, and newcomers will be in for a treat. Easily one of the best games of the year.