Assassin’s Creed II was excellent. Brotherhood was good. Revelations was… rather unnecessary. While AC II might have been a revelation, the actual titular Revelation was suffering from diminishing returns. Thankfully, having finally left behind Ezio’s story, we move onto a new century, a new setting and a new hero. Now having played Assassin’s Creed III, I can confidently say that it’s shaping up to be as revolutionary a shift as AC II was to the first game, presenting a great new take on a popular formula.
The world of Assassin’s Creed III is vastly different to previous titles. Colonial America is mostly wilderness, and the few settlements that have sprung up have nothing like the urban density of Jerusalem, Rome or Constantinople. Boston is a not an urban playground; a mass of rooftops for you to leap and run across. The broad avenues and lack of development mean that much of the urban exploration will have to be closer to the ground. That said the city feels alive. Far more so than the teeming anthills of Renaissance Italy ever did.
However the highlight here is not the cities, but the vast frontier that dominates much of the in-game world. Trees, fields, rivers, cliffs. A far cry from the focus on built environments of previous games. Thankfully, traversing it is a breeze. Apart from slogging it on foot or riding your horse, free running amongst nature works smoothly and intuitively. Flitting across the tree tops, scaling up cliffsides. Yes you can breathe easy as of the most worrying aspects of the game is not actually a cause for concern. It also looks fantastic.
But aside from providing a new type of terrain to free run across, the frontier is a mass of wildlife. Some of them will attack, others will flee. Either way you can kill them all and harvest the remains for sale. Whilst I didn’t get a chance to explore the economic system in depth, there definitely is one and much of it is centred around your homestead. Similar to the Villa in Assassin’s Creed II, you get a manor house with its own set of lands. Throughout the game you can recruit a number of civilians to live and cultivate your land via sidequests. A huntress who was attacked by poachers (whom you would subsequently hunt down from the tree tops) or a carpenter saved from a group of bandits. Recruiting them will give you resources over time. These resources can then be crafted into better and more expensive items or sold for profit. From what I saw, you can create trade caravans for hopefully huge profits.
For the protagonist, we have Connor Kenway – a very different man to Ezio or Altair. No flashy swashbuckler or methodical initiate, Connor is intense, more than a little short tempered, and brutally efficient. A fervent believer in freedom and justice (enough to call out one of the founding fathers of the American revolution about the man’s slaves no less) Connor doesn’t move so much as prowl or fight so much as maul. Combat in Assassin’s Creed III is considerably more vicious than in previous games. Rather than quick, smooth counter strikes, Connor’s two weapon combat style with its rolls, flurries of attacks and jumping strikes, is spectacularly brutal. And, in a thankful change from previous games, combat is more difficult than before too. There is a greater emphasis on timing, a range of enemies, stronger foes and the dangers posed by opponents who are heavily outfitted with firearms.
Connor’s motivations and short temper were well on display in the few storyline missions I played. Aside from his personal quest to kill the unscrupulous businessman threatening the lands of his tribe, he also blew up tea shipments to forward the revolution and recruited a marginalised Frenchman into the Assassin’s order. That last one was particularly noteworthy as the assassin had an actual name and character, rather than the endless interchangeable minions of Brotherhood and Revelations. It’s a safe assumption that the recruits will be limited in number.
Lastly, and perhaps most radically, you can don a pirate hat and become an Assassin of the Caribbean. As the Captain of the Aquila, you can sail the eastern seaboard, rescuing merchant ships, battling against the British navy and hunting down a Templar naval captain. The sea battles are quite a novel experience, as you sail through waters dodging obstacles, steer your ship to present broadsides and take down enemy ships with a barrage of cannon fire. It’s entertaining, well implemented and rather challenging at times, though that may have been because I hadn’t upgraded my ship with a thicker hull and better guns. Trying to take down an enemy fleet is pretty bad odds when naval warfare back then required a great deal of cannonball trading.
As a whole, Assassin’s Creed III is shaping up to be a worthy iteration of a popular series, with new ideas, smooth gameplay, great presentation and a vastly different feel to previous titles. Hopefully the entire finished package is just as fresh and exciting as the short couple of hours that were put on display.
Assassin’s Creed III will be released in Australia on the 31st of October.