There is merit to the notion that some stories are timeless: a wayward teen fulfilling a greater destiny, fathers and sons reconciling, age-long struggles between bitter enemies founded upon opposing ideals. They are tales we’ve heard before, yet time and again they persist through the years and reinvent themselves in untold fashions. In the Assassin’s Creed legacy, these themes are all utilized to craft a story thousands of years in play. What once started as a science-fiction experiment taking place in ancient history, Ubisoft has come a long way to evolve the AC titles into encyclopedic chapters telling a much grander story beyond itself. What began with Altair, Ezio improved, and with Assassin’s Creed 3 Connor aimed to perfect. Packed with the most robust amount of side quests, exploration and secrets among all titles, yet faltering on providing a strong final chapter to finish the history-jumping trilogy, Assassin’s Creed 3 is an ambitious evolution of the saga that nearly perfects gameplay and emotional impact. but fails to give Connor’s story a proper context (or finale) in Desmond’s present-day struggle.
When it was revealed that AC 3 would take place during the American Revolution, many were worried that such a drastic change location would prove too vast to accomplish the breath-taking visuals and trademark free-running the franchise has been known for. It will only take but a few minutes meandering the streets of Boston or vaulting through the forests in the wilderness, however, to recognize that the spirit of the franchise is alive and well. While previous entries emphasized towering cathedrals and florid architecture, AC 3 emphasizes the beauty of nature itself and the evolution of people coming from small beginnings to create something greater than themselves. All four seasons are put to effect both in showing the passage of time and freshening up the usual grey overtones in the cities. From the first hour of playing, AC 3 feels very different from its predecessors, but in a good way.
With so much effort put into making Ezio Auditore a person of believable conviction and emotions, it almost seems unfair to compare him to AC 3’s protagonist Connor. Going from boy, to teenager and into adulthood, Ubisoft does an excellent job of weaving Connor’s slow maturity with his eagerness to be an assassin. Spanning several decades, Connor grows slowly, but with direction and reality. The evolution is made stronger by the presence of Achilles, Connor’s mentor and father figure. Arguably one of greatest supporting characters in any AC story, Achilles fills a role that, until now, was largely empty or stretched across several minor characters. Reserved yet demanding of respect, Achilles is both an antithesis and a future inevitability for Connor as he travels down the path of the assassin. What starts as a tale of vengeance evolves into a larger struggle against the mysterious Templars, and it takes nearly the entire story for Connor to understand his role in what is happening around him.
The internal struggle is bested only by the external, however, as AC 3 provides the best scripted missions and events of the entire franchise. Utilizing key moments and battles of the American Revolution, Connor bears witness to some eye-opening skirmishes and events. As the AC franchise has evolved, the missions have drifted toward more rigidity, focusing on short bursts of intense actions that have only one solution. It is a necessary sacrifice in order to maintain a higher level of action. Thankfully, the colossal amount of side missions are a welcome distraction from the main story. Hunting, treasure seeking and liberating forts and citizens are all simple systems that do well to entertain and keep you busy, but it is the naval battles that are a true delight to play. Whether it’s a fleet of scout ships or a daunting galleon, each trip out to sea guarantees an eloquent dance of circling ships and hurtling cannon balls. The controls mirror the feel of trying to turn a giant ship in raging waters, adding more realism to the already voracious waters.
Completing most side missions give rewards tying into AC 3’s unfortunately-complicated trading system. In an attempt to replicate the city-building aspect from Ezio’s games, Connor can rebuild Achilles’ manor and attract more people to settle nearby, opening up more options for crafting and trading. The system is meant as a guaranteed stream of revenue for Connor to purchase new supplies and recipes, but what little tutorial provided fails at properly describing how to go about this entire process. Moreover, finding money to purchase upgrades is never a real problem, as Connor will come across dozens of treasure chests brimming with supplies and plenty of money.
One of AC 3’s biggest missteps, and some might argue it has been since the very first game, is the inclusion of Desmond’s story. Fans of the AC saga will no doubt be interested to see how the science-fiction elements of the story play out, and many will not be happy with what they find. The complete lack of a climax or any resolution in the present-day story is made even more befuddling by how polished and diverse Desmond’s missions are, especially considering how few there are. Desmond’s experience outside of the animus are a welcome change of pace for the player as we finally get to see how Desmond’s skills can be utilized in the modern world. By placing such focus on Connor’s story, Desmond still remains in the periphery of the game and the overall importance of his inclusion in the AC 3 feels diminished–a missed opportunity for the AC series to go in a bold direction.
As a game, Assassin’s Creed 3 offers more than any of its predecessors and delivers with polish and streamlined mechanics. The combat has never been easier, and free-running through forests becomes second-nature very quickly. With so much to offer, AC 3 is a very enjoyable game that provides more than enough avenues to explore outside of the main story. As the finale to a bold trilogy spanning the past, present and future, however, it seems to stumble across the finish line rather than following through. It is never a simple task to complete such deep stories in a way where everyone is left satisfied, but the missed opportunities and frequent glitches and bugs cannot go unstated. However annoying such things are, Assassin’s Creed 3 largely delivers the revolution we were looking for–both in 1776 and in 2012.
See you in the next level,