Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review #128: Assassin's Creed III

 The best Assassin's Creed since 2!
 Ever since Assassin's Creed became a yearly franchise it suffered from a steady decline in quality. Storylines became shorter while side activities grew repetitive and obnoxious. And now we have Assassin's Creed 3, the number isn't just for show as the series went a rather large overhaul.

 As per norm, the story focuses on two time periods, present-day has Desmond and his assassin allies trying to save the world from a catastrophe, and Ratonhnhake:ton aka Connor, an assassin of Mohawk blood trying to do right for his people during the American revolutionary war. Unlike most recent games, Desmond's side of the story is a bit more fleshed out, with three present day missions set around the world, plus, the actual conclusion to Desmond's story. Connor's has two parallel storylines going on at the same time, the optional Homestead missions which feature a ton of rather cliche'd, but endearing, storylines and the main storyline itself. The story is pretty good, but it does have a couple of oversights(Some which are explained in the novel, some which have no official explanation at all) regarding Connor and Haytham. Characters are a strong point in this one, Haytham in particular standing out as one of the best characters in the series so far, and now all your Assassin recruits have been fleshed out via optional conversations that flesh them out neatly. All in all, a decent story line, although it takes a bit before it gets going, Connor doesn't get to wear the Assassin robes until Chapter 5!, with great characters and a lot of optional depth.
 The very first thing you'll notice is that the controls have been streamlined for the better. Basically, you can do as much as you could, but with less button presses. For example, running and sprinting are now one and the same, tied to the R1 button, while Parrying doesn't require holding the R1 button anymore. At times, muscle memory will fail you, but after getting used to it, the new controls feel much better. Gone are the shallow bombs, tower defense and Borgia/Templar influence liberation missions, replaced by much meatier side content. For starters, hunting, there's wild-life living on the Frontier, some are harmless, some yearn your flesh, and in order to end them you get tools like bait or traps. Another new addition is Naval combat, which is much more fun than it should. It does feel a bit out of place, like the tower defense mode from Revelations, but unlike that mini-game, Naval combat is incredibly fun and there's over a dozen different missions to partake in.

 Borgia/Templar Influence has been replaced with liberating forts from the British, however, these are completely optional, not getting in the way of your income, besides, each fort is completely different from the other, while they do all play out the same in the end, they at least offer some variation in how you must approach them, besides, there's only seven of them. Finally, we have the whole tunnel system, probably the worst side-activity in the game, which is used to open up various fast travel stations throughout Boston and New York. It wouldn't be an Assassin's Creed game without collectibles, and the game offers them in spades, from  Feathers in the Frontier and Almanac Pages, Chests and Peg Leg trinkets around the cities, there's no shortage of stuff to find.
 AC 3 finally gets the economy right! Previous games either gave you too much money(2, Brotherhood) or too little(Revelations), but AC 3 makes it so that the amount of money you earn steadily increases as the game advances and you can buy more expensive stuff. The whole renovating mechanic is gone, changed by improving the Homestead. Improving the Homestead consists of over a dozen of optional side missions which see Connor recruiting people into his homestead. These people set up their trades in the homestead, allowing Connor to buy materials for cheap, and then you can either sell these materials or craft them into better stuff and sell them for more money. Homestead missions open up as you go along, so that you can't craft the really good stuff(Which includes the better weapons as well) until later in the game. The game has a very neat pace at which you are allowed to do stuff, which is something Brotherhood and Revelations really needed, unlike Revelations, you can no longer get the best stuff by chapter 3! Which reminds me, the whole armor system is gone, which is a shame, but in the long run it matters little.

 I don't know if I've made it clear yet, but there is a lot of content in the game. There's a ton of Naval combat missions, homestead missions, a ton of activities and minigames and other really interesting sidequests. There are assassination missions(Very simple "Assassinate X target"), courier missions(They are not even timed!) and Brawler missions in which you have to fisticuff your way through various opponents. Then we have the really good ones, the Frontier Tales and Hunting Missions. Hunting sees you tracking special breeds of animals and then hunting them, while Frontier Tales have Frontiersmen telling Connor about a folktale(The headless Horseman, a Kraken, a UFO, etc) and then you have to find the origin of said rumor, these consist mostly of going from one place to another and then pressing circle on certain spots, but it's really cool to see where the mundane origins of these rumors! And if you thought you were done, you'd be wrong. Instead of recruiting random NPCs and getting them into Assassin's robes, you know must complete a certain set of missions to trigger a "Recruit Mission" in which you recruit an NPC, up to six, for your assassins. As previously stated, all six of them have different personalities, backgrounds and designs, which is a step up from the generic NPCs from the older games.
 Assassin recruits have also received a major overhaul. Sadly, the extremely overpowered "Arrow Storm" attack is gone, kinda. Instead of simply summoning your allies, you now get a lot of different functions for them. You can have them escort you, as if you were a prisoner, in order to enter guarded areas, you can set them up to attack anyone who dares step into a certain area, you can have them follow you as bodyguards, you can have them attack from afar(Similar to Arrow Storm, but not as good). As cool as all these functions are, it would've been neat if they forced you into using them, as the game is still quite easy as not to need the use of these. There's new weapons as well, rope darts, guns and the bow, besides the gun, there's no real reason to use any other as your sword can get the job done just fine. To be fair, combat is now harder than ever, with a lot more enemies that are only vulnerable to a certain form of attack(Counter attacking, Disarming, crushing their guard or using environmental attacks), and with enemies swarming you dying is now easier than ever, however, as a whole, the game is rather easy, just not AS easy as previous installments.

 It seems to be a recurring thing, but graphics are once again, much better than previous installments, at least when it comes to details on the character models. Boston, New York and the Frontier are all beautiful to look at and a refreshing sight, and the new weather system(Snow, Rain, Fog, Summer) is pretty neat. HOWEVER, neither Boston nor New York have as many high buildings as Italy or Constantinople, a minor loss, but it's quite noticeable. But, as per usual on AC, there is a lot of pop in and clipping. For some reason, character's clothes still clip through the horses, but even worse, during cut-scenes character's clothes will try to overlap each other, which is pretty jarring, not that seeing a ton of foliage just pop up in front of you out of thin air isn't. Music is fairly good, although not as memorable as previous games, and the voice acting is really good for the most part, with Haytham standing out(Not only is the character is extremely engaging, but the voice actor performed an outstanding job at delivering his lines).
 Before wrapping up, it's worth mentioning that the game houses a fair amount of bugs. The least offensive being people disappearing in the distance. There's a couple of big offenders that are hard not to notice, one being that music will stop playing for no reason what so ever during certain missions and the other being the Percentage tracker getting stuck. I understand that pushing a game every year is a must for Ubisoft, but they could put more effort into quality testing.

 Not since Assassin's Creed 2 had I had this much fun with a game in the franchise, heck, after Revelations my interest was waning rapidly, and then AC 3 came along. It's a fantastic game in every regard, it might not have the same impact as AC 2 had, but it stands on its own legs just fine. And Haytham is the best character in the series. Just saying.
 8.5 out of 10.

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