The Assassin’s Creed franchise has always been about putting the player into a vast open-world historical setting. We’ve gotten the chance to explore the Holy Land during the Third Crusade, Renaissance Italy and Ottoman Istanbul. It is the latest installment Assassin’s Creed III where the setting is much more familiar and tangible to the US audience because it is set during the time of the American Revolution. Players will connect more with the story because its backdrop is something that they learned about in grade school and is so ingrained in the American consciousness. The setting as well as a host of new features and brilliant graphics make the game must own for fans of the series as well as anyone looking for an engrossing story and hours upon hour of gameplay.
Along with the new setting, the game gets a new protagonist and Desmond ancestor in Ratonhnhaké:ton, a half-English, half-Mohawk youth, also known as Connor, caught up in the Assassin-Templar war. Another character is playable at the start of the game, but telling who he is and his relation to Connor would be giving a major and shocking plot point. As Connor discovers his heritage and gets recruited into the Assassin Order, he crosses path with familiar historical figures such as Samuel Adams, George Washington and Ben Franklin. Spanning the years 1753 to 1783, Connor explores Boston and New York City as well as the Colonial frontier and even the eastern seaboard in the new naval gameplay. Connor is never as charming as Ezio or likable as Desmond, but is still a strong protagonist and his interactions with Achilles, his Master Assassin trainer, are particularly noteworthy. Speaking of Mr Miles, the time spent controlling Connor is periodically broken up by Desmond’s own missions and outside-Animus interactions with Shaun, Rebecca and his father William, as they try to forestall the impending ‘apocalypse’. The British being the enemy in this one does allow for Shaun to make some snarky comments in the database.
The American setting is even poignant to players when they control Connor as he takes part in such historical events as the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which started the Revolution, the Battle of Bunker Hill and even the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Playing through events so familiar to American players adds an extra layer of enjoyment and urgency in completing them. The battles in particular are grand in scope and provide for some big set pieces.
While the main story missions are par for the course of the series, there’s a wealth of things to do. There are trinkets and treasures to collect and doing so helps you fully explore the cities and frontier, but there are new side missions to take up your time. The first set involves the Homestead, which is Connor’s HQ, much like Monteriggioni was for Ezio. In the beginning it is rundown, but in recruiting people to live there, it expands and allows you to make money by managing and shipping products. Ensuring that that your goods make it involves the naval missions. Connor gains the captaincy of the ship Aquila and takes on several missions tracking down and destroying enemy ships, among other things. The franticness of trying to fire on ships and deal with stormy weather at the same time can get quite exciting and provides a change of pace from the usual missions. Recruiting Assassins is back, but you must accomplish various tasks such as freeing prisoners, helping poor kids get food or saving families from harassment. This gives an actual purpose to the actions and a larger scope to the struggle against tyranny that wasn’t had when you would save your potential recruit from a few guards in previous games. If you were to get bored with these side quests you can always go around petting the animals. No, seriously, you can actually do that in the game.
Fast traveling across the vast distances is made easier through accessing the map, though you’ll often find yourself wanting to take the overland route, so to speak. New York and Boston are bustling cities, but it’s the Frontier where the superb graphics are the best. The sun casts realistic shadows and the snow can get so heavy that Connor has to gingerly make his way instead of just plowing through it. Just exploring with the parkour-inspired free running is a treat, but the game adds in the ability to hunt animals, as you can stalk a deer or rabbit through the underbrush or chase down an elk. Running along the branches and treetops, only to drop down on an unsuspecting Redcoat never gets old.
There are the occassional pop-in drops and graphical glitches, but they are infrequent. A counterpoint to the gorgeous graphics is that the models of Desmond and his modern day companions don’t seem as realistic as in previous games, Rebecca’s in particular. Look at Desmond here, then go back and look at him in Revelations and you’ll know what I mean. Another unnecessary addition is that in order to open chests you have to pick their locks and slows the pace when you’re out exploring. The combat system has been completely overhauled and it’s harder to counter kill, thus making the take down of multiple enemies more of a chore. These are just a few minor flaws that might be slight annoyances, but do not get in the way of enjoying the game as a whole.
The vastness of Assassin’s Creed III’s scope is filled with a large variety of things to do that provide for endless fun and exploring. The pacing of the story is slow at the beginning, but picks up considerably as the Revolution gets underway. Even with these minor flaws, the game is still incredibly enjoyable to its setting, graphical strength and story. It is definitely a game that fans of video games should own.