Assassin's Creed 3 Review

By Morgan Webb - Posted Oct 30, 2012

Excellent and extensive single player combines with engaging multiplayer to make this game not only a great time but an excellent value.

The Pros
  • Unbelievable amount of single player content
  • Fluid combat is full of brutal animations
  • Engaging story keeps you interested and educated at the same time.
  • Multiplayer provides a thoughtful alternative to the standard online shooter.
The Cons
  • Crafting system menus are a bit clunky.
  • Don't make me sit through the whole credits to get to the epilogue.
  • Sometimes the game doesn't handhold through the more complicated mechanics, but I have faith that the average gamer won't have issues.

Assassin's Creed 3 Review:

Clear your calendar, it’s time to learn about the next 50 hours of your life. Assassins Creed III bursts onto the Revolutionary War scene with fluid parkour, brutal combat, and endless amounts of revenge. You play as Connor, a Native American caught up in the epic struggle between Assassin and Templar.

*********IF YOU ONLY READ ONE PARAGRAPH, READ THIS ONE*********

There is an unexpected story arc and a major spoiler that everyone is going to be tempted to tell you. I will just say that you play as an additional character, and leave it at that. I had the luxury of experiencing this without expectation and I wish to extend the same courtesy to you. So if someone tries to tell you who you play as, who the bad guys are, or any ‘twist,’ tell them to SHUT UP and leave you alone...though I suppose you could be more polite about it than that. In any case you should probably start playing asap because the Internet is not composed of tubes, it’s composed of spoilers (and broken dreams).

 

 

Now Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Review

Assassins Creed III takes place during before, during, and after the American Revolution, but don’t expect a patriotic love letter to the founding fathers. Instead you will find a historically accurate and fairly cynical portrait of our country’s founding. There will undoubtedly be some controversy about this, however I think it is more patriotic to learn about (and from) our actual history than worship some romanticized version that never happened. Our founding fathers were human beings. They were noble. They were selfish. They made the right decisions. They made mistakes. The only ones who come out well in this game are of course the French, who are accurately represented as winning the war for us. In fact, next time you think about making a Freedom Fries joke, remember that the French are the ones who gave us our freedom in the first place.

This does not mean you should try to pass your college history exam solely based on this game. However playing and experiencing battles, locations, and events will help you visualize and understand history, and I very much enjoyed my refresher course. If you go so far as to read the accompanying database entries while you explore, you will impress your teachers, just try to omit the part about the evil Templar plots. For better or for worse, an understanding of the American Revolution is more relevant to the modern gamer than the machinations of nobles, popes and kings during the Italian Renaissance, so the time and effort that was put into historical accuracy is much appreciated.

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There is also a non-historical side of the Assassins Creed series centering around modern day Desmond Miles, who travels back in time through the Animus to experience the genetic memories of his Revolutionary War era ancestor, Connor. If you have been frustrated with the Assassins Creed series playing coy with the plot, you will be very happy with this game - we get lots of answers and lots of wrapping up. You do not need to have played previous Assassins Creed games to understand what is happening.

I will admit, and I know many people disagree with me, that I have never been particularly fond of Desmond. He was always so boring, just a plot device to get me into the real action. But since getting to know him better in Revelations and now in ACIII, he has grown on me, and his missions were some of my favorite in the game. I am looking forward to seeing more of him in the future.

Assassin's Creed 3 

When One Button Makes All the Difference

If you wanted to freerun in previous Assassins Creed games, you held down both the right trigger and the A button (for ease I am using the Xbox controller in my example, but it works the same on both consoles). This would make our dear Ezio accidentally leap off buildings to his death. Everyone has screamed at their TV “NO EZIO WHY WOULD YOU THINK THAT’S WHAT I WANTED??!?!?!?!? YOU REALLY THINK I WANTED YOU TO JUMP TO YOUR DEATH? WHY WOULD I EVER WANT THAT? ARGHARGHARGHHH” Well ladies and gentlemen, no more! A simple control change has fixed everything. Now, to freerun, all you do is hold down the right trigger and you will safely leap from building to building. If you can’t actually make a jump, you won’t jump. If you still want to ignore the game’s warning and jump to your death (or, more likely, just down to the ground), a simple tap of the A button will send you flying. An additional advantage is that now your right hand is freed up so you can have total control over the camera with the right stick.

Another simple but nice feature is fast-travel straight from the map. Are you in Boston but want to be in New York? Just open your map, select the tunnel entrance you want, and you will be transported there instantly.

Assassin's Creed 3

Oh, You’re Here for the Stabbing, Aren’t You?

Combat is fluid and intuitive. Countering is still a major component, but each time you will be asked to choose how you will counter, and different strategies work with different enemies so you need to consider each situation individually. Combat animations, as are typical in Assassins Creed games, are brutal and plentiful.

My favorite weapon is the Assassin's Tomahawk, but there is the usual full complement of light and heavy weapons, and you will no doubt find your favorite. A weapon that is much less fun this time around is the firearm. In Ezio’s time, the fanciful (and apparently magic) pistol popped off without much thought. Now, in a nod to historical accuracy, you must reload your weapon each time you fire, and this takes forever - though I am sure it takes much less time in the game than it actually did back then. Additionally, when you shoot your gun every hostile force in the area is now alerted to your presence, so you will often think twice about using that gun and instead reach for the swift and silent bow and arrow. You can eventually upgrade your guns but for most of the game I found them to be more trouble than they were worth.

Assassin's Creed 3

Building with Brick

Revolutionary era Boston and New York aren’t my favorite cities in the series. For one thing, the buildings aren’t as high as in previous games, which of course is no fault of the designers, wedded as they are to architectural accuracy. In order to stretch the ascent, they balance you atop hilariously thin crosses and weathervanes. However any urban shortcomings (heh heh) are more than made up for by the frontier, a vast cliff-filled expanse that lets you synchronize misty valleys and snowy fields while perched atop dizzying waterfalls and massive old growth trees.

You need some way to get up those mountains, and rock climbing is an extremely welcome addition to the series. You cannot climb every cliff, but you usually can when you need to, and there are visual cues that help determine which rockface will accept your advances. Even better than rock climbing is tree running. Imagine how fun you think it will be, and then triple that. It is stupid fun, and you feel so talented and cool while you do it. I couldn’t get enough of it, and I avoided the lame boring ground whenever I could (also there are scary bears down there). My only complaint is that you couldn’t climb every tree, but that’s just because I always want too much of a good thing.

The much vaunted naval missions are as entertaining as advertised, though there were fewer than I would have liked (see above re: tree running). You captain your ship and control a small gun as well as your side mounted cannons, and much of the money you make will be spent on expensive upgrades to guns and armor. Naval missions are not only a great change of pace, but many lower the shipping risk of your high-profit naval trade routes. The best part is that naval missions also sometimes give you the opportunity to board other ships with swords drawn and guns blazing. Yes, you board pirate style! This never, ever, ever, in any way, gets old.

Assassin's Creed 3

Pirates Don’t Kill Bunnies, Do They?

Killing people is OK, but why do I think we’ll hear from activists about the endless slaughter of all creatures great and small? The Frontier is teeming with wildlife just waiting for you to come along and put them out of their misery. There are several ways you can do this - you can use bait and hide in a bush, you could follow clues that lead to good places for snares, or you could use a projectile weapon, though this is not recommended as it might ruin the valuable skin’s resale value. Large or dangerous animals won’t go down as easily as the lackadaisical little beaver. For example when you get too close to a bear, a quick and satisfying quick time event is triggered. If you pull it off, you will get a clean kill and a flawless skin to sell.

I understand that they needed to balance the rewards of hunting without punishing those who don’t want to kill rabbits for an hour, so you can manage without it. You do get skins and other resources from hunting, but most (not all) of these are also available from your crafters later in the game. There are also hunting challenges that keep you coming back for more. I enjoyed hunting, and not just for the fond memories of Red Dead Redemption. It filled the otherwise empty frontier with lots of things to stab, and we wouldn’t want those hidden blades to get rusty, now would we?

Assassin's Creed 3

Assassins Don’t Just Destroy, We Build!

There are a large number of missions available that allow you to build your homestead from a random patch of ground into a random patch of ground with a small village on it. These missions vary in length from trivial to time consuming, and you will find them scattered around the homestead area as well as in the cities and frontier. I recommend you keep up with your homestead missions, don’t put them off until you are almost done with your main story, as they are the only way to start up your crafting economy. Without your homestead humming along, you will be terribly poor and unable to afford all those expensive ship upgrades you’ve been drooling over at the port.

My only homestead complaint is that I was a little sad my village didn’t grow up around me. Everyone’s houses were hidden off in the trees. The people were there, walking around, chatting, always happy to see me, but I missed the feeling of accomplishment that would have come from surrounding my house with a growing and bustling village.

You can craft saleable items to increase the value of the products you farm. You might not get that much money from apples, but add them to a barrel and you get fabulous cider that everyone will pay for. If you craft one item over and over in rapid succession it will become more expensive to create each time, a mechanic intended to keep you from just finding one profitable item and sticking to it. However the constant need to examine recipes and buy ingredients from the clunky stockpile menu makes this a bit time consuming. Late in the game you can just purchase ready made bear pelts from your craftsperson; selling them overseas will net you enough money to spring for whatever naval upgrade you desire. There are some weapons and upgrades to your character, such as a welcome dual holster, that you can only get through your crafting system. All in all crafting was a welcome mechanic that worked well but had a little room for improvement, mostly in the menus.

Sending convoys laden with goods from your village can be done over land or sea, and the tax rates and loss risk will be determined by other missions you’ve accomplished. This process is also slightly hindered by the clunky menu system. You have to scroll down and across to individually enter each pelt, then scroll down and across to choose where to send it. This becomes a chore when you are the proud owner of 15 pelts.

Assassin's Creed 3

A Revolutionary Value

This game has a ridiculous amount of content. There are whole portions of the game and major mechanics that I haven’t even mentioned here. There are endless collectables that you actually want to collect, like peg leg trinkets that open up pirate-style searches for hidden treasure. There are hidden forts that need to be liberated, chests that need to be looted, and citizens that need to be saved. There are missions to liberate zones in both New York and Boston that eventually let you recruit new assassins to your cause. You then send these assassins on missions of their own, or just use one of their many modes, such as ambush, bodyguard, or marksman, to make your own life easier. The naval and land based missions are all replayable with additional objectives for full synchronization. There are multiple groups that each offer side challenges, such as a hunt for Bigfoot. If you want to unlock fast travel locations, you’re going to need to explore the extensive underground tunnels. Just when you think you’ve done everything, you find more fully voiced missions, more things to collect, and more bad guys to kill.

There is one place where there is too much content. Don’t make me sit through the epically, mind-bogglingly long credits without the option to skip. I’m sure the Budapest HR manager is a very nice person but it got excessive. Let me at least skip them after I’ve watched 10 minutes. Everyone in the universe worked on this game and now I know them all personally. I know this is a nitpick, but you need to watch the credits if you want to get back to your game, where you will have a lot left to do, including experience the important epilogue.

Assassin's Creed 3

Stab Your Friends and Family!

When you finally finish everything in single player, there is so much more fun to be had in multiplayer, which is completely separate from the single player experience. It is presented as being a commercially available online game created by Abstergo Entertainment, the game development arm of the Templar-run corporation. You play in a number of locales that were from the game, and some that were not, such as an abstract and partially rendered New York City.

Skills from the single player will translate to your multiplayer experience, where you try to sneak up on or chase down your targets, with bonus points for finesse. Assassins Creed multiplayer is a refreshing alternative to the idea that all console multiplayer has to be a machine gun twitch fest. In team-based modes patience, communication, and smarts are all essential to winning.

Manhunt, where teams take turns evading or tracking each other, is back, and will likely remain an extremely popular mode. Two new modes have been added - Domination and Wolf Pack. In Domination, teams fight to hold three points on a map. This is a fast paced but strategic mode, as you need to coordinate attackers and defenders on the fly without giving away your position.

Wolf Pack is my new favorite mode, and I anticipate it will be popular. It is purely cooperative. As a group you are assigned targets, and as you make kills you earn points that translate into extra play time. These targets can be scattered around the map individually or all clustered together. In the second case, a single rogue assassination could alert all the targets and remove the time-extending point extravaganza of a good multi-kill. Communication is a must in this mode.

Assassin's Creed 3

If you hate cooperation or are just a traditionalist, you still have your basic deathmatch and capture the flag modes. No matter what mode you decide is your favorite, it will both level you up and earn you Abstergo Credits. Credits can buy you new costumes and character models, as well as extra abilities and perks. You start out with two full sets available, and soon have the ability to customize your own ability set. At higher levels you will have access to crafting, which lets you customize and upgrade existing abilities, such as by increasing the duration of an effect.

They have cleverly included an additional storyline within the multiplayer. Since you are playing a game ostensibly created by Abstergo, the “developer” offers content rewards for leveling up. It might be a creepy commercial for Abstergo, or a fake developer diary. However the game has been hacked by Erudito, a mysterious person or group that is sympathetic to the Assassin cause. When you complete small challenges, such as killing several enemies in a row, you can unlock the content as edited by Erudito to show the dark side of Abstergo. The player must then decode what is going on for herself.

Ubisoft has promised that this storyline will continue post launch. For example, there will be periodic events by Abstergo or Erudito. All players have a common challenge, such as to collectively perform one million kills, and when this goal is achieved new storyline content is released to the whole community. The tallies will be console specific, and wouldn’t it piss Xbox owners off if the PS3 owners got to see the content first?

Since the game is “hacked,” you can shortcut the level requirement for abilities and character models by purchasing, with real dollars, Erudito Credits. They will buy you any ability or character you want without all that pesky leveling. The same content is available either through legitimate means or through purchase, so there is nothing you can buy that you can’t have if you are willing to put the time in. I actually don’t mind this system. The perks and abilities aren’t so game changing that a brand new level one player could dominate a match if they ponied up enough money. You can’t just buy a better gun, you still need experience, skill, patience, and most importantly, talent to win. This just means that if you have a job and three kids you can still get that perk you’ve got your eye on.

A side note for multiplayer - when you buy the game new, a Uplay Passport code will be included in the case. If you buy the game used, you can assume someone will have already redeemed the Passport. This will have no influence on your single player experience, and you will be able to access all of the multiplayer modes and content. However you will not be able to use multiplayer perks and abilities over level 10. This seems to be a very fair system. If you buy the game used you will still be able to enjoy almost all that the game has to offer. If you like the multiplayer enough to level your character past 10 and want the additional abilities, then I think it’s fair for you to pony up the 5 dollars for the Passport.

If you traditionally come to Assassins Creed for the single player, you should check out multiplayer too, even if you are not traditionally an online gamer. It is not just a cheap add-on. It is a fun, thoughtful, and welcome addition to the excellent and lengthy single player campaign. It manages to catch a rare balance between strategic and fast paced gameplay, and if you give it a chance I think you will get hooked.

Assassin's Creed 3

Is Anyone Still Reading?

I know this has gotten long. I am sorry for that. There is just so much to do in this game, so many pieces of the puzzle, that I wanted to make sure I gave the game a fair shake. Assassins Creed III is not perfect. It is not the every-pixel-in-it’s place Portal 2. There were a couple times when my mission objectives weren’t perfectly clear. There were some slow loads and some visual spasms. There were some clunky menus. Some of the more complicated mechanics need a little brain power from the player - though this is preferable to being hand-held through the whole game. But there is so much story, so much multiplayer, and so much stuff to do that your average 10 hour game should be terribly ashamed of itself. In this economy, you can’t do better than Assassins Creed III.

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Editor's Note: Assassin's Creed 3 was reviewed using an Xbox 360 copy of the game; however, we also played the PS3 version, and found no differences. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.