The Assassin’s Creed franchise was never about choice. Kill civilians or fail a certain objective, and you (as Desmond) desynchronize from the Animus that allows you to relive parts of your ancestors’ lives. It’s not an open world game in that you can do anything—instead, it’s open world in that you can do anything your ancestors’ did.
Knowing that, however, still may make you, as I did, scream at the ending of the game. (I of course won’t spoil it.) Desmond has been reliving the past lives of his ancestors Altair, Ezio and now Connor in order to learn a way to help save humanity from a pending solar event. The how and why of that solution is presented as a choice to Desmond at the very end of the game.
The game – through Desmond – makes that choice for you. It would have been strange and against everything the franchise stands for if you made that choice – and I’m not sure how a potential Assassin’s Creed 4 would go since it’s such a massive choice – but in that moment, it felt wrong for the game to make it.
Despite an ending you watch and not impact, the rest of Assassin’s Creed 3 is a massive playground that both fans and newbies will enjoy. You might not be able to climb the kind of massive structures you saw in Jerusalem and Rome since the game takes place in 18th century Boston and New York, but the best part of the game – the free-running and parkour – remains as strong as ever.
Connor can now slide under obstacles or vault over them with ease. He can even do that while running through certain open buildings. (There’s nothing more thrilling in any other game out there this year than having Connor run around the corners of a room, jumping over a desk or chair, before bursting out into the wide open Boston commons area while being chased by Redcoats.)
He can also climb trees, though by its nature, that style of parkour lends itself more to an obvious path the player must follow. And if you miss that path, well, you’re going to fall.
Hopefully it’ll be into the snow. Yes, weather makes an appearance in the new Assassin’s Creed 3 game. Even more impressive is how your on-screen character reacts to it. You’ll see them struggle against high levels of snow for instance—you won’t just run through it. You’ll hear the crunch of it beneath your feet and see them fail to run through it successfully.
I said “them” because in a somewhat bait and switch (this is a mild spoiler since this occurs at the very beginning of the game) you do not start Desmond’s time in the Animus with Connor. But with someone else named Haytham.
It serves as an extra-long introduction and there’s a phenomenal twist at the end of your time playing as Haytham. But in order for it to remain shocking, you barely learn about Haytham as you’re playing him. It’s more akin to watch this cut scene, go kill these guys for no reason, watch another cut scene and then take a break before doing another mission.
When you get to play as Connor, you get to see his childhood, as you did Ezio. But over the course of the next eight or so hours of playing him, I learned he’s kind of a tool. I get why he’s that way—he had a hard life ever since his childhood. But at the same time… tool.
Ezio wasn’t that way. Perhaps he was too honorable and too likeable, but damn if I didn’t miss my friend from the last three Assassin’s Creed games.
It’s also a bit disjointing to see George Washington and other famous Revolutionary figures Connor gets to meet as what they probably were in real life—conflicted, flawed and ultimately not the saints 5th grade American history might have you believe. Daring to not paint the Redcoats as evil and the Patriots as good is bold and interesting storytelling for Ubisoft to approach.
What might be harder for you to swallow, however, is how much Ubisoft plays with history in this game. Given that I wasn’t a history major, I would have no idea what history they mucked with in the previous games. But since we all have even just a scant understanding of the American Revolution, it still seemed a bit too much that Connor happened to be at Paul Revere’s side during his historical journey. Or that… you know… he helped the Patriots win Bunker Hill because he’s good at telling cannons when to fire.
There are a ton of side quests, but unfortunately, they’re lacking in originality as the ones in Assassin’s Creed were; they’re nowhere near as interesting or as fun as the Ezio ones. (In fairness, I skipped a lot of the side quests that I happened to stumble upon and weren’t found on the map. If I had more time this fall videogame season, I totally would have sat down at the fire and seen what Daniel Boone wanted me to do.)
I did, however, do a lot of side quests that brought artisans to your land. Once you helped them in some way – like rescued them from bad guys – they would move on to your homestead and start making things. Like the wood for a barrel. I’m not really sure what I was supposed to do with that barrel since it was only barely covered in the tutorial, but, I made it.
I figured money would be an issue in the game—because I never had more than 150 pounds the entire game. (As opposed to other Assassin’s Creed games, I never got money rewarded for successfully completing a mission.) Supposedly, you could earn money elsewhere which you would spend to upgrade your ship The Aquila.
Main missions involving the Aquila – aside from one present day mission involving Desmond and a Piece of Eden – were easily the most thrilling, exciting and original in the entire game. It was relatively easy to master the controls of the ship—harder to master combat. But the graphics and gameplay were simply phenomenal. I now want an entire naval game from these developers.
(Speaking of the graphics—wow on the layouts of Boston and New York. Simply stunning.)
You can choose to play Assassin’s Creed 3 as you want. Go ahead and do every single side quest, climb every viewpoint and bring every artisan to your homestead. I hope you do. It was hard for me to find the energy and excitement to do that because as an annual game, I’m starting to feel franchise fatigue. I mean… I’ve been climbing tons of viewpoints going on four years now…
But at the end of the day, if you’re an Assassin’s Creed franchise fan, you’ll want to see the choice Desmond makes at the end. You’ll want to see where Connor fits in to the overall mythology.
You really have no choice. You’ll be playing this.
* Final note: This is a review of the single player campaign. Given timing over the next few weeks, we’ll do our best to provide a review of the multiplayer. *
* Disclosure: An Xbox 360 copy of the game was provided by Ubisoft to the reviewers for the purposes of this write-up. *