Monday, 28 April 2014

Thoughts on Assassin's Creed 3

There will be spoilers throughout this post.
I finally finished Assassin's Creed 3 and I can't help feeling very underwhelmed. When it first came out I was excited; the art looked beautiful, the time period sounded like an exciting leap and in my opinion, it couldn't be worse than Revelations. Enjoy a very quick summary of my Assassin's Creed game opinions (I haven't played the DS spinoff games so they aren't included):
  • AC: A great game with a decent enough plot, however it became repetitive quickly and so the latter half was more tedious than it should have been. Ending was odd; don't like Desmond.
  • AC2: Fantastic. Took what was great in the original title and improved upon it tenfold. My only complaint was that stupid flying mission. And the ending was silly again. Go away Desmond.
  • AC Brotherhood: Somehow even better than AC2. I get to have my own gang of assassins? Awesome! I get to climb around one of the greatest cities in the world? Super awesome! I don't have any complaints about this game. Except for Desmond.
  • AC Revelations: More of an epilogue to Brotherhood than an actual sequel. Yes, the city and culture was interesting but they didn't really bring anything new to gameplay. The hookblade wasn't great and making/using new bombs was tedious and frustrating. This game was more emotional for the character of Ezio getting old than really progressing the overall AC plot. Overall, this wasn't a great game. Desmond is annoying.
  • AC Liberation: I played this about half way through AC3. I loved the idea of a female assassin and being able to disguise yourself depending on the mission was great. It also had new weapons specifically for that game so it brought something new to gameplay. Also, no Desmond! Ubisoft are finally hearing my complaints! 
So when AC3 was announced with a brand new character and time period, I was excited since it was time for change in the assassin's universe. But once it came out, the problems appeared.

First of all, I didn't like Connor much. Ubisoft started this series with a general badass of a protagonist; I couldn't get attached to Altair since he had little emotion, but he was good enough. They replaced him with Ezio; a great, well-rounded character and then replaced him with a monotone puppet of angst. I ended up preferring Haytham because at least he had personality traits! Connor is out for vengence... great, but what else? Both Connor and Altair had the problem where their mission was the only thing that mattered to them and it left very little room for character growth. Ezio was funny and charming while also serious about what he has to do. Aveline led a secretive life where you saw the person she has been raised to be but you saw who she actually is as well. She's worried, she's curious and these are important traits for a character to have. It makes them more three-dimensional. Given the choice of conversation with either Connor or a brick, I'm going to choose the brick. I'll probably get more of an emotional response at the very least.

When I play an RPG I want to see characters that have a fun side as well as the duties they have to perform in order to progress the storyline. Everything with Connor was so forced I just found myself bored by him. Altair is slightly forgiven for being as interesting as a dead earthworm since the series was very new and the protagonist didn't really need opinions to move the plot. He's grumpy and stabs people a bit too often, that was all we needed to know. But now that this is the fifth game in the series, I would like to feel something for the protagonist other than boredom!

Throughout the game I found myself wondering what the core gameplay mechanic of the game is. In the original it was, oddly enough, assassinating people. Each mission led to the next assassination and it was what we expected. Now in each mission there was some bizarre new mechanic that would usually never be used again. So you spend a few attempts learning how to accurately fire the cannons and then never use it again. There are so few core assassination missions that they should probably consider changing the title. I suppose you could say the free-running is the core mechanic now but there's only so many houses and conveniently grown tree branches you can run around on before it gets a bit dull. Also the title "Parkour Creed" doesn't have the same ring to it.

As far as new gameplay mechanics are concerned AC3 did attempt something different by introducing the naval missions, which had a lot of potential (enough to base AC:IV on apparently). The only problems with these missions were the fact that it once again deviated from what should be the core objective of the game: assassinations. Also you only ever have to do it once again after the initial tutorial near the end of the game. All of the missions only serve to open up trade routes so you can get money, which you spend on improving your ship, which you use to go on naval missions to get more money. It's a viscous and pointless cycle.

My other gameplay issue is the fact that 'Run' and 'Climb' are the same button. This unfortunately makes running in a straight line nearly impossible as Connor has the irritating habit of climbing on every barrel and crate that's in his line of sight, often letting the target get away during chase missions. Yes, there's a beautiful view from the top of that crate Connor, but don't you think you should be trying to stab someone instead of smugly looking down at people from an extra foot of height? No? Well fine then.

It's also pretty irritating that the historical aspects of the game are more about politics now. You get to interrogate a few people but the majority of your problems can no longer be resolved by assassinating people anymore. Time to change the title to "Debater's Creed"?

While we're back on the issue of plot, Connor is barely connected to the future plot of Desmond. For me this isn't a huge issue as I find the Desmond plot incredibly tedious and about as useful to the overall game as a white crayon. I'm more interested in the historical plot but after 4 games of attempted context I've come to expect some kind of link as to why Desmond needs to follow that particular ancestor. Also, why does he need to follow them through so many years of their life? Desmond could have skipped Haytham altogether and just got to the part where Connor gets the artifact and hides it. There's no need to watch him witness the signing of the Declaration of Independence at all. Also some mention of Connor being related to Altair and Ezio would be lovely. I do enjoy some context now and then.

Now, lets talk a bit about Desmond. In AC3 his dad plays a bigger role and I think this is just some desperate attempt of finally clawing a personality together for Desmond due to the fact that for the last 4 games he's had the personality of a slightly leaky tap.

There's attempts at emotion through the game as Desmond saves his dad, though it's just tedious. After all these games I have no desire to see Desmond and his hipster sidekicks do anything. I feel absolutely nothing for these characters, which is a shame since this is the 5th game they could have had some character development. Desmond eventually sacrifices himself to save the world and releases Juno, part of the First Civilisation who has been trapped in the Grand Temple for thousands of years, and the game is desperately trying to be emotional but for me it is simply too late. I don't care about Desmond at all; I wish I did but I don't. How they manage AC4 without him will be impressive to see, and I look forward to it immensely.

Lastly I have to say that I find the whole plot about the First Civilisation far too bizarre while I'm trying to assassinate people. I think the writers for the game are squishing in too much plot but not expanding it enough so I'm left feeling a bit lost and uncaring about the whole thing. The assassin story-lines are generally great, you can see what they're trying to do, you can usually see some reasoning behind it and there's a decent enough cast to make me care what happens; at least care enough to finish the game that is.

But either give me a 50/50 assassin/civilisation plot or cut it out. I find the First Civilisation distracting and unnecessary which is a huge shame considering it's the overarching plot device.

I desperately hope Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is better than this. I know Ubisoft can do better than this and I really want to enjoy the games again. There were too many problems with AC3 that left me forgetting the few things I enjoyed about the game. It needs go back to what was initially great and set it apart from other games. Come on Ubisoft, don't let me down again with Black Flag! 

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