Assassin’s Creed: Revelations dropped this time last year, continuing the series’ trend of annualization. Yes, Assassin’s Creed III is here again this year, but it is not another annual entry: the game was developed alongside Brotherhood and Revelations, and the extra time spent here is clear. Assassin’s Creed III is massive, packed with an insane number of missions, side quests, collectibles, time-wasters, and areas to explore, while the Revolutionary War serves as the perfect backdrop for this feature-crammed game.
As some singer probably sang once, we’ll start at the beginning because that’s the best place to start. Be warned: if you’re looking to hop into Connor’s boots and stab Englishmen left and right, you’ll be in for a slow ride. The game has 12 total chapters, and you’ll have to reach the sixth before you really get into the meat of the game. During this slow burn, you’ll meet a great cast of characters, including Connor’s assassin mentor, mother, and childhood friends, and the whole intro ends with a fantastic twist. While the remainder of the game is a roller coaster of killing and exploring, that coaster takes a long time reaching that first drop.
Once you finally get into what makes Assassin’s Creed III an Assassin’s Creed game, you’ll have an overwhelming number of things to do. Frankly, this is the Skyrim of action/adventure games. Assassin’s Creed III has four main regions to explore: Boston, New York, Davenport Homestead, and the Frontier. The best parts of the game happen in Boston, where you’ll do the bulk of your free running and mission-completing; New York is the same deal, but on a smaller scale. Davenport Homestead is basically an evolution of the merchant system from previous games, as well as the game’s hub. Finally, the Frontier is an amazingly huge zone, full of animals for hunting, feathers for collecting, and trees for climbing.
As stated, Boston is where Assassin’s Creed III has the most to offer, and it’s the place where you’ll encounter the likes of Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. You’ll spend plenty of time leaping from rooftops and ships, battling and running from redcoats. Combat is unchanged from previous entries (still a basic counter/disarm/attack pattern), but Connor has a handful of new toys to play with. Fists are nice, and the series staple hidden blades are here, but Connor’s tomahawk is incredibly fun to use. He also carries a bow at all times, allowing for Green Arrow fantasies with every kill…assuming you have arrows, which are quite scarce. You’ll have a reliable pistol, and you can always grab a musket from a gun rack or a fallen enemy, but the best new weapon in Assassin’s Creed III is the rope dart. The rope dart is exactly what it sounds like: a dart attached to a rope. With it, you can pull an Indiana Jones, snagging and dragging enemies toward you; you can even use the rope dart as a noose to hang them.
Movement and blending in are also improved. While previous games allowed you to blend in by falling in with crowds or sitting on benches, Assassin’s Creed III allows you to blend in contextually. Approach a corner to stick to it and peer around the corner, walk with a crowd to merge with them, or walk up to any bar stool or bench to simply rest and make yourself undetectable. This streamlining is great for stealth, but not for action. See, all acrobatics are relegated to the trigger buttons. Previous entries used a run button plus a free run button to get around obstacles, but Assassin’s Creed III uses a single button for both running and maneuvering around obstacles. This is great for exploration, but you’ll frequently find yourself accidentally latching onto ladders or windows while trying to chase down a target.
It’s not just you who gets these upgrades: friendly AI has seen great improvements. In many circumstances, you’ll be able to hang back and let your buddies take down every guard during a fight. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for enemy AI. While opposing forces detect, pursue, and attack like always, they have odd patrol and path-finding behaviors that are easily exploitable. Lead a troop to water, and he’ll most likely jump in, causing his own death.
Boston and New York are where you’ll have the most fun, but the Davenport Homestead is where you’ll get into Assassin’s Creed III‘s economics. Here, you can recruit merchants to live and trade on your land, bringing in the cash. These merchants usually have to be saved in a side mission, making recruiting them for than just a menu-scrolling meta game. Once you’ve populated your land with loggers, farmers, explorers, and the like, you’ll be well on your way to making the Homestead quite the economic hot spot.
The last, and certainly not least – because it’s bigger than all the others combined – of Assassin’s Creed III‘s territories is the Frontier. Here, you’ll find buildings and ships swapped for trees and rock faces. These are new to Assassin’s Creed players, but they fit the game’s mechanics perfectly; you’ll quickly learn how to spot sturdy branches and rocky footholds while getting around. The Frontier is also where you’ll do most of your hunting. Connor can fire his trusty bow, set up bait and traps, or simply charge at animals with weapons drawn to take down and skin the creatures. These pelts and other parts can then be traded with merchants for further funds. Do enough hunting or exploring, and you’ll be invited to clubs, another of the new additions in Assassin’s Creed III. At its core, a club is simply a checklist of objectives like “skin X number of bears” or “jump from X number of trees,” but the new mechanic just adds more to this already chock-full game.
This laundry list of features is only part of what Assassin’s Creed III has to offer. Side quests task you with things like enacting special assassinations or delivering letters, sending you all over the game’s world to complete your objectives. Collectibles make a return as well. The Frontier is where you’ll find the expected feathers, and Boston houses numerous pages of Benjamin Franklin’s various almanacs. Oddly, these pages cannot be simply picked up like normal collectibles: once found, you have to chase them down as they glide away. Locating one is a task in itself, so the addition of chasing down these collectibles is a little strange. Also, there is no equivalent of glyphs or The Truth in this game. It’s not a requirement by any means, but it was the best part of Assassin’s Creed II. Not having even a similar feature is disappointing.
As with past games, Templar control plays a large role in the side quests of Assassin’s Creed III. You can engage in skirmishes with tax collectors to reduce their influence, but the biggest way to fight back is by taking control of forts. Each fort has a set of objectives, and completing each turns the fort over to Assassin control. In the same vein, recruiting assassins is streamlined. Where past games required you to train assassins through specific locations, Assassin’s Creed III relegates the entire process to a menu, accessible at any time with a trigger button.
In infomercial land, this is where we’d say “but wait – there’s more” because Assassin’s Creed III also adds naval combat into the mix. “Mix” is the key word here, as the sections really bring about mixed opinions. It’s a nice addition, yes, but the combat is nothing special or new: steering a ship while firing cannons is just unoriginal. It just feels like an new mechanic for the sake of having more to do, not a fun, must-experience addition.
We also need to quickly mention the technical issues with Assassin’ Creed III. Fail states were sometimes triggered after missions were completed, and floating objects were not uncommon. One scene even played out in its entirety with not a single character actually moving his mouth, leading to a very interesting telepathic bar scuffle. Still, the sheer scope of the game makes these issues seem insignificant, the same reason we forgive pop-in and loading in Fallout or Elder Scrolls.
Assassin’s Creed III needs to be looked at from three perspectives. When scrutinizing the technical aspects of the game, issues are present. At a zoomed-out level, the plot is strung together like the limpest puppet on the stage. You’ll notice we have not mentioned Desmond in this review: this is because Connor’s exploits during the war are completely separate from Desmond’s present, save for the game’s ending. The back-and-forth with Ezio in previous games is totally absent here; pacing issues abound in the plot. However, it’s that mid-level look, that moment-to-moment, set piece-to-set piece experience that makes Assassin’s Creed III worth playing. Running through the Battle of Bunker Hill, participating in the Boston Tea Party, looking on as George Washington is put in charge of the war – these are moments that must be experienced for series fans, history buffs, and just plain old gamers alike. The people you meet, the places you visit, and the propaganda you remember from history class that you’ll see posted on buildings make Assassin’s Creed III absolutely worth playing…just don’t look too hard into its plot structure or technical aspects.