Getting off the hype train, we take a look back at Assassin’s Creed 3 and what all it didn’t do well.
The following article contains SPOILERS for Assassin’s Creed 3. Proceed at your own risk. You have been warned. You have no right to shoot us with your shotguns now. Or any gun, for that matter. But crossbows would be fine.
A few weeks ago, I was really excited. Assassin’s Creed 3, the biggest game in one of my favourite franchises was but days, nay hours away from release. I had heard so many good things about it- the trailers looked great, the previews said it was amazing, the information revealed by Ubisoft had me excited. Hell, I even wrote an article on how AC3 could be the best game in the series.
When I played Assassin’s Creed 3, I wasn’t disappointed. I was expecting a great, exciting game, and that is what I got. Assassin’s Creed 3 is a game worth buying. But now that I look back at it, I realize that it’s actually pretty disappointing. Is it because of my unrealistically high expectations? I don’t know. Probably. Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood rank amongst my all time favourite games, and I’m a big fan of the first one and Revelations too. So obviously, there was a part of me that wanted so much more from Assassin’s Creed 3.
Now, before someone misconstrues my words and goes on a curse-spree, let me make something very clear- I think Assassin’s Creed 3 is a great game. I think it’s worth buying and playing through, regardless of your history with the franchise, or even if you don’t have a history with the franchise. When I say Assassin’s Creed 3 is disappointing, I don’t mean it’s a bad game. I just mean it isn’t half as good as I thought it would be, and it has plenty of issues. But it still is, and always will be, a great game. Hell, GamingBolt’s own review gave it a 9/10.
So what exactly was it that makes Assassin’s Creed 3 disappointing? Let’s break it down, point-by-point.
Take a moment and think back to the Ezio trilogy. Think about Leonardo Da Vinci. Think about Machiavelli. Think about Bartolomeo. Think about Mario Auditore. Or even think about Revelations’ Yusuf Tazim. Those were characters that were interesting to watch, that had an emotional attachment with the player, characters that we all cared about. But somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to care about anyone from the Assassin’s Creed 3 cast.
Achilles was a criminally underused character. He was really interesting to watch during the little screentime he had. His father-son relationship with Connor had glimpses of brillance, and there was some real potential there. But the game left him and his relationship with Connor underdeveloped. We needed to see way more of Achilles. We needed to see just how his relationship with Connor developed. Those time jumps just didn’t work for me- I wanted to see him training Connor, I wanted to see the foundations of their relationship, because I just wasn’t buying his fatherly attitude towards him. Sure, it was interesting to see at times, but it rang hollow.
There were others too- Connor’s friend Zio was largely a nonentity. The game had a real shot at creating and showing a meaningful relationship of their friendship here and developing a bond between the players and at least one of the characters, but Zio appeared briefly for only a few scenes, and always as nothing more than a messenger who triggered an angry, impulsive reaction from Connor.
Even other characters like George Washington were underutilized. The game often hinted as his shortcomings as a leader and as a human being, and yet never cared enough to explore those and delve deeper into his character. Maybe it was because of a fear of backash by the American community, but whatever the reason was, it resulted in something that frustrated me, at the very least.
Even the negative characters of the game weren’t as well developed as those in the Ezio trilogy. Thomas Hickey and Charles Lee were forgettable antagonists. They were practically mannequins, robotically carrying out so-called evil tasks. They will never reach the evil heights of Lucrezia Borgia or Cesare Borgia.
But I have to say, Haytham was absolutely excellent. He was the standout point in the entire game, and one of the best developed characters in the entire franchise. I wish to see him more in future games, maybe in a game showing how and why he became a Templar.
But Charles Lee just wasn’t convincing enough, he wasn’t formidable as an enemy. We rarely saw him all throughout the game, and we didn’t know what drove him to do what he did do. He was a mechanical, forgettable villain, and we all know Assassin’s Creed can do way better than that.
Assassin’s Creed games have always had strong protagonists. Excluding Desmond- who, ironically, is the main protagonist of the franchise (or was, till now)- we have been treated to some really interesting characters so far. Altair wasn’t exactly well developed- he didn’t have much of a backstory or emotional depth to himself. He was just sort of… there. But he fascinated us, because of how coolly efficient and badass he was.
Ezio was that and more. There’s just too much to be said about him- he is possibly the best character of this generation. Sure, he came across as a whiny idiot during the first half of Assassin’s Creed 2, but once you’ve played all three of his games, you see what a memorable, charming and exciting character he is. Saying goodbye to him was the hardest thing you will do in years as a gamer, and playing as someone else in AC3 other than the Italian ladies-man just felt off.
Connor- well, he’s a good character. He’s brutal and very efficient, like Altair, and he has depth to himself like Ezio, but somehow, he never achieves the heights those two did. His efficiency is never really shown properly, and you never feel like the badass Assassin you usually feel like while playing AC games. And you just never feel as attached to him as you did to Ezio. He really isn’t that much of a character- there’s very little intimate moments to give you insight into who he is, and very little development of his bitterness towards everything that has happened to him, so much so that sometimes, his motivation feels amiss.
He just isn’t as interesting as Ezio was, or even Altair. Hell, I thought Haytham was by far the best character of the game. I was actually rooting for him at some points, and the parts where him and Connor teamed up were easily the highlights of the game. I just know that if Ubisoft were to make a new game in this Assassin’s Creed sub-universe, I’d want it to focus on Haytham, not Connor.
Remember why we all fell in love with Assassin’s Creed in the first place, back in 2007? Well, there were lots of reasons. But one of them was how much fun it was to scale the buildings of the perfectly recreated cities. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop and climbing up tall skyscrapers without even once touching the ground was a thrill and a joy in the original AssCreed, and has since become a hallmark of Assassin’s Creed’s gameplay.
And sure, Assassin’s Creed 3 sports that as well. Free-running in the Frontier is an absolute joy- running from tree to tree, springing from branches and looking for footholes in the surrounding foliage is still a thrilling ordeal, but what Assassin’s Creed III lacks in is the verticality of cities that impressed us all so much as AC1, 2, Brotherhood and Revelations.
The cities are still immaculately created, perfectly giving off a late 17th century rural America vibe, dripping with atmosphere- we expect no less of Assassin’s Creed. But you just can’t string together impressive, gravity defying jumps in Boston or New York the way you could in Venice or Constantinople or Damascus. Free-running feels a bit off in the cities- there’s not enough height to them. They’re huge and sprawling, I’ll grant them that, but the buildings are shorter than the shortest building you would come across in Rome proper in Brotherhood.
Sure, it’s historically accurate, but one of the most core aspects of Assassin’s Creed has been taken away from us. I know, you can still run around like crazy and pull of impossible, death-challenging parkour stuff in the huge, expansive forest regions on the east coast of Colonial America, but the joy and rush of jumping across narrow, tight streets is no more something Assassin’s Creed can boast of- not with AssCreed 3.
Assassin’s Creed- the original one from ’07- has to be one of the best stealth games ever. It was probably the only true stealth game in the entire franchise. It focused solely on stealth and punished you if you were detected- yes, it sounds a little restrictive and linear, but it was actually very true to the game and what it stood for. It stood for the assassins- an order that is centered around the idea of getting in, doing your thing and getting out (in bed *immature giggle*). One of the most important tenets of the Creed that assassins lived by was to always be quiet and discrete.
This feeling of being a quiet, discrete badass who does his job efficiently and never lets anyone even notice his presence gave a real edge to AC1, and made Altair feel like the awesome character most of us think he was. While Connor was modeled a bit like Altair, what with his righteous and stoic nature, he wasn’t as quiet or deadly efficient. While Altair was all “Hi. You’re dead. Okay, see ya,” and Ezio was “You’re evil and you deserve to die, I’m going to stab you in the throat,” Connor was more like “Motherfucker, take this, axe in your face, canon in your butthole, boom boom, die motherfuckers!”
We wanted a Jason Bourne in the 1700s, instead we got a Marcus Fenix in the Revolutionary War. It’s a good thing the combat in Assassin’s Creed 3 was excellent, because that’s all it was centered around. There was practically no stealth, and the little there was was poorly implemented, and completely unneeded. The game encouraged going all out and slicing Templars’ faces with your tomahawk.
Seriously, Ubisoft should have called the game Badass Soldier’s Creed instead of Assassin’s Creed. If you were always punching dudes in the face and kicking them in their groins instead of attacking them from the shadows like a real ninja, Batman: Arkham Asylum would be called The Incredible Hulk: Arkham Asylum. I want stealth with my stealth games. You’re giving me a game about assassins? Make me feel like an assassin!
You knew this was coming.
Okay, so we’ve had some pretty bad endings this year. Well, there’s been only one, but it was enough to make everyone go nuts, and not in a good way- Mass Effect 3. An excellent game all throughout with a horrible ending. That’s basically what it’s like with Assassin’s Creed 3, except for the fact that the game itself isn’t “excellent”. It’s really good, but not good enough to be called “excellent”.
The ending really sucked in Assassin’s Creed III. Because it didn’t end. It just stopped. Assassin’s Creed 3 is like a bullet train, running at a solid 300 miles per hour, going at an excellent speed- well, after the lengthy prologue which I have no qualms about- when suddenly, the driver pulls the breaks. It doesn’t take a few minutes for the train to come to a dead stop, not even a few seconds. It suddenly just stops moving. And there’s not even any recoil or jerks or anything. One moment, it’s moving like crazy, the other moment, it just stops moving- it’s just standing there, motionless, and the people inside are confused and angry.
Halo 2 fans know how frustrating that is.
Let’s not even talk about Connor’s ending. Let’s leave it be, because it isn’t all that important or memorable anyway. It is a little sad, though, but whatever. Connor’s a little sad.
The worst part of the ending was Desmond doing what he did- when the game showed Desmond facing a dilemma at the end- should he let the world be ravaged, or should he hand over all control?- I got excited. I thought I would get to make this choice, that everything I’ve done would come to a conclusion spectacularly. And what does Desmond do? He decides what he wants to do all by himself, ignoring me like that girl in High School. The worst part? He picks the worst fucking option available. He decides to override the free-will engines and gives all control.
Anyway, that basically just blows the entire philosophy of the Assassin order to pieces. Free will is what they fight for, it’s what we’ve all been fighting for for five games now. And Desmond decides to make everyone meat puppets. So have we been idiots this entire time? Were the Templars right? Did we just waste five games doing what we did for no reason at all? We probably did.
But let’s forget about that too, because I’m in a weirdly forgiving mood toda- NO, I’M FUCKING NOT. Why was there no aftermath at all? Fine, Desmond is an idiot who doesn’t care about free will. But still- don’t we deserve to see what happens after that? No scenes showing the somewhat partial destruction of Earth, no scenes showing what became of Rebecca, Shaun and William, no scenes showing what Abstergo is up to next. I mean, for a game that was supposed to end this story arc, it left a bucketload of threads to tie off.
In before “endings don’t make a game bad”- I know that. Hell, I say that fiercely when someone bashes Mass Effect 3. I don’t want to come across as a hypocrite. I think Assassin’s Creed 3 is a great game, despite the finale, or the lack of it. I just think the last 5 minutes of the game suck more than a New York City prostitute.
This isn’t really a huge issue, but it’s enough to take away from the immersion. We all knew Assassin’s Creed 3 would have glitches, and even before it was released, we were forewarned that it has many of them. So we all knew what we were getting into. And seriously, being as huge as it is, you can’t blame AssCreed 3 for being a glitchy game. It’s an occupational hazard, shall we say, of being an open world title with tons of stuff to do.
But I don’t like it when my horse gets stuck in a haystack and starts having a seizure. I mean, what the hell? It’s either a maniacal horse, or a guy who can fly and fall without hurting a single bone, or swords that are invisible, or people who bump into walls repeatedly, or dogs that appear in front of you out of nowehere and start barking to scare the shit out of you. Once, I threw my tomahawk in a guy’s face, and when I went to get it back, it was buried beneath bodies that the game wouldn’t let me pick up. Needless to say, I played the rest of the game without my favourite weapon. Thankfully, I was on the second last sequence when that happened.
It’s not just that- the facial animations are a bit dodgy. Especially the lip syncing. Sometimes, characters speak with each other telepathically. Their lips don’t move at all. And sometimes, their lips move so much, it looks like they’re having a passionate make out session with some invisible person. And sometimes, the characters don’t say their lines at all. Their mouths just move and no sound comes out. The first time George Washington did that, I freaked out and thought Thomas Hickey had succeeded in his plan to kill Washington, who I thought was having a stroke. I’m not kidding. Then I read the subtitles for the dialogue that hadn’t been spoken and realized it was a glitch.
The visuals themselves aren’t too impressive either. There’s rough edges everywhere, and sometimes you wonder if that fog is there for a visual effect or to cover up the not so impressive draw distances. I mean, sure, the game looks great when you look at it as a whole, from a macro point of view. But up close, it’s full of issues. A bit like Skyrim, but not as extreme.
You know that feeling you get when you play a really good game? When you play any Assassin’s Creed game? The feeling that makes you want to keep going back to the game, the feeling that makes you realize that this game is something special- that X factor. Assassin’s Creed 3 just doesn’t have that. It has some great ideas, but those ideas never come together properly to deliver a proper experience. It’s like the English football team. Full of great players, yet never gelling together all that well- but still a good team.
The fact that so many great features have been removed doesn’t help. For starters, no throwing blades. That flat out sucks. Throwing blades were the best weapon in the entire series, and AC3 just removed them. But that’s very minor. Other important stuff also didn’t make it into AC3- the entire RPG feel you get when you level up your armour, the ability to deeply customize your equipment and weapons, the focus on buying new equipment and weapons. There’s just so much missing here that we loved in the previous games.
I don’t know whether it’s because we’ve all gotten just too used to Ezio and his universe, or maybe if the game actually is all over the place, but Assassin’s Creed 3 isn’t the addictive game that its predecessors were. Something’s missing. That spark. It was that spark that made Assassin’s Creed games so special, and Assassin’s Creed 3 lacks that spark.
Of course it is! Assassin’s Creed 3 is, despite all its flaws, a great game. It’s not an amazing game, not an excellent game. But it’s really good. It’s just that it’s not on the same level as Assassin’s Creed 2 or Brotherhood- or in some areas, even AC1- were. It’s a great game that’s, in the end, disappointing for a hardcore Assassin’s Creed fan who has loved the series ever since he took his first step into Masyaf.