Assassin’s Creed is a series that has always and will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s hard for me to say what exactly it is about the series that so hooked me way back when I was jumping about as Altair, but it’s irrelevant because it happened. Since AC2 I have counted Assassin’s Creed as my second favourite video game series of all time (behind an obvious front-runner), beating out even my love of Halo and the games made by Telltale Games.
This, unfortunately, leads to some issues for someone wanting to be taken, at least reasonably, seriously as a video game reviewer. If you already have opinions formed before starting a game then obviously you can’t be expected to form the same impartial and fair decisions of a series you really like as you can a game you play for the first time ever. Assassin’s Creed is, like Halo actually, something of an Achilles heel for me in this respect because I am willing to overlook a lot of flaws in any of their games and still come away recommending it to everyone. And that is obviously not something that is all that good for any integrity as a reviewer that I like to believe I have.
A prime example of this is Assassin’s Creed 3. A few weeks after it’s release last year I gave the game my wholesale recommendation and raved about it to many. It was only after this that I allowed myself to look into what other reviewers thought of the game and discovered that I was actually in a surprisingly small minority who truly liked the game.
What this called for was some context. Something to throw into a stark light, the issues and problems that I had missed on my first playthrough of the game.
The first thing I did was take a break, not deliberately, from playing the game. After getting to approximately 80% completion in January I didn’t pick the game up again until some time in June and the time apart from the game allowed me to lose the rose-tinted, “Oh-my-god-it’s-Assassin’s-Creed” goggles. The other thing which helped was hearing the opinions of the big reviewers, who are always far more shrewd than I at picking out issues with any game. And, finally, when I (at long last) managed to start playing Assassin’s Creed 4 after Christmas I was also shown exactly what an Assassin’s Creed game could achieve compared to AC3.
Looking back on my review from last year I now see several issues, which I will go through now, improving on some statements and flat out contradicting others.
First up is Connor Kenway, our delightful protagonist and hero. In my review I say that I thought he could have been a strong character but he just fell short of the mark. I will stand by the first part of that statement, I think Connor could have been a strong character and I think there were at least some parts of him which seemed well-rounded and well developed. On the other hand, I no longer believe he fell “JUST” short of the mark but indeed fell “A GOOD BLOODY WAY” short…
Looking back on the game I can barely remember anything about Connor other than what he looked like. I remember how Haytham Kenway sounded, for instance, and how astoundingly pompously English the dude was. Connor though? Nothing. He was just so bland and dull, his voice so monotonous and emotionless. I’d like to say that I agree with my review when I said that his intentions and his goals were strong and clear-cut, but honestly they weren’t. He continuously switches sides and changes friends for enemies more than once, for the longest portion of the game you like Washington, but then you don’t, and the amount of petulant fallings out with Haytham were just infuriating. For a character supposedly set entirely on vengeance and protecting his people, these goals actually seemed to take a back seat an awful lot of the time.
This allows me to neatly segue into my next point. While at the time of playing the AC3 story and plot seemed straightforward, in hindsight there is a lot of confusion and lack of understanding in my mind. The majority of this comes from the issue that there was never any clear-cut aims or plot goals. There was no big bad villain for Connor to fight (like Ezio), no single enemy on which to build the story around. The one Templar who was, in a way, Connor’s personal target for vengeance seemed to actually only partially interest Connor. More than once he simply let the guy walk away, when he was within arm’s reach as well. Not exactly the tale of vengeance and Assassination that it should have been.
Next up is the look of the game. I will stand by what I said that I think the graphics were gorgeous and that the big battles and fights were pretty damned cool. However, everything else has, surprisingly pretty much faded from my memory. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that the setting was actually pretty damned boring. It looked great, don’t get me wrong, I still think that it was very well designed and put together. But I couldn’t name a single thing that I remember about Boston, New York or Philadelphia, they all just have blended together into one incoherent mass of brown, wooden, two-story houses. Equally the wilderness was very cool and, at varying times, gorgeous to look at. But honestly, you couldn’t really see the woods for the trees… Quite literally actually. It was just tree after tree, nothing which stood out and nothing which drew the eye. So, despite the impressive look of the game, the setting actually did it no favours whatsoever.
Along those lines, I feel that the time-period was not exactly the best chosen either. Ubisoft pride Assassin’s Creed for the way it slips into real life history. It’s a oft-repeated quote that all the major targets and characters of the game did indeed die at the specified locations and times as they do in the game. Slowly though, since Brotherhood I think, there has been an increase on focus on this historical aspect of the games. More and more they were bringing in famous historical figures doing the thing they were famous for and pushing them into the story. This has issues for two reasons. First of all, in AC3, Ubisoft put simply far too much emphasis on these historical figures, expecting the whole “Omigod! Look they are signing the Declaration of Independence RIGHT NOW!” sort of actions to carry the game, when it was often quite the opposite as the feeling would usually be “Why have they included this? It is entirely unnecessary”. The other issue (and this is taken straight from Yahtzee) is that as time periods get closer to the present they get less and less about stabbing people as brutally as possible and more and more about talking around tables and making treaties and agreements. I don’t care about treaties or agreements. I’m an Assassin. I want to stab them in the face. They don’t like that? Well, too bad! MORE STABBING IN FACE FOR THEM!
There were other issues. For example I am slowly being won around to the thinking that the money system of the last few AC games has been utterly ludicrous. Totally pointless effort for really not very much gain. Unless you like watching the amount of money you actually have increasing constantly then there really was very little point to it. More so, the whole crafting and selling thing, while perhaps diverting for all of 5 minutes was definitely not something that I enjoyed doing or, indeed, want to spend any more time ever doing. Hunting, as well, was not, as I suggested in my review, an interesting and worthwhile pastime. No it was something done to get achievements, something done to get near 100% completion by me and VERY FEW OTHERS. It was boring and slow and just had too little effect on the game for anyone to really care, and even I barely did any of it before I too lost interest entirely.
I want to make it clear, I still like Assassin’s Creed 3. I think I could stick it into my Xbox and bash quite a few more hours of enjoyment out of it, easily as well. However, as I have said, I AM a big fan of the series and so it might be easier for me to do so than many others. I think it is still a good game, and indeed was a good game at the time of release. That said, I also just felt that I had to point out that I understand that I was wrong about a lot of what I said about the game and that, when it came down to it, the game really wasn’t quite as good as I was saying.
I mean, I wasn’t ENTIRELY wrong all the time… Everything to do with Desmond and “Those-Who-Came-Before” really DID suck…