The Assassin’s Creed franchise has been with us for about five years now, and although it isn’t going anywhere soon (probably), the newest entry in the series, Assassin’s Creed 3, marks the end of the journey for modern-day protagonist Desmond Miles. With a new setting, a new hero in the Animus and a new world (literally), Assassin’s Creed 3 hopes to be the biggest AC game to date. Unfortunately, unlike the result of its American Revolution setting, AC3 is less of a perfect union and more of a jumble of good, and not so good, ideas.

Desmond’s ancestor du jour is Ratohnhaké:ton, a half English half Native American assassin with the much more pronounceable name of Connor Kenway. Set in the background of the American Revolution, Connor’s story is much more self-centered. He seeks to learn the ways of the Brotherhood to gain the means to exact personal revenge against the people who threaten his village, who are also members of the Templar order (how convenient). Along his way Connor meets historical figures and takes part in some major events in American history, though most of them feel a little forced and not so relevant to the overall plot. Connor’s campaign has its good moments, but it never really hits its stride, being half tutorial and half crammed-in historical references.

As part of his campaign, Connor travels to 1770’s Boston, New York and even Philadelphia (people who know their American history will probably figure out why) and meets up with some very famous individuals, including Charles Lee, Samuel Adams and George Washington. While Connor’s story isn’t really connected to the events of the American Revolution, his encounters with the Templars will most often impact the course of said events. This pulls Connor in with the Patriots, whether he or the player like it or not, and even manages to tie the two seemingly different stories together. Admittedly, the historical events Connor stumbles upon are far more interesting than his personal affairs, but they still feel forced into the main campaign just for the sake of adding artificial weight to Connor’s actions and ultimate fate.

Much like in the previous numbered game in the series, Connor doesn’t start off as a fully capable warrior, and he goes through a pretty long journey before becoming the skilled killing machine we got used to play as. After playing a full-fledged assassin in the two previous titles in the series, this step back feels a bit jarring and even annoying. It mostly feels like the game strips you of your powers, just to teach them to you all over again throughout half of it. Of course, players new to the series won’t share this mild frustration, and will probably be grateful for the long tutorial phase, since there is indeed so much to learn before the fun can begin.

Yes, it takes quite a while until the game starts resembling anything Assassin’s Creed-like, and even once it starts gathering speed it lacks any sense of true continuity. The main campaign is spread over so many years, with the main missions and side missions taking place in different periods, it makes the whole thing feel a little fractured and even hard to follow. Connor is jumping back the forth between the early and late 1770s, which makes for a very confusing, and hence forgetful, main campaign. This effect diminishes if you decide to just follow Connor’s main story without deviating from it too much, but that means you’ll miss out on some of Assassin’s Creed 3’s high points and more fun missions.

Fortunately, while Connor’s story and the setting aren’t all that interesting (at least not at first), the gameplay is still as fun as ever. Running across rooftops and even treetops is still relatively fluent, with only minor glitches from time to time to slow you down, and the revamped combat system offers some challenge without being too difficult to master. The core mechanics of the Assassin’s Creed series are still there, with just a few tweaks for better or worse. Assassinations are still a part of the game, only not so prominent, and most of your time will be spent wondering around the city or woods, doing the various side-missions or finding collectables. This is probably the first AC game to put such a big emphasis on the world around the character, so that just exploring it and trying to find all the things to do in it is way more fun than going through the main missions; at least once the game opens up, about half way through.

And boy is there a lot to do in the world of Assassin’s Creed 3. There are four types of collectables, some open up more side missions or new equipment, while others just offer the allure of in-game currency. If you’re tired of running around after feathers or almanac pages, you can build your own community in the woods by recruiting craftsmen of all types and helping them settle in. These “Homestead” missions are actually kind of fun, and give us a little glimpse of what life was like back in the early days of America. Bored of playing house? No problem, why not go on a treasure hunt in a ship graveyard or an abandoned spooky mansion? No? Go hunting or liberate forts from British control, or better yet – entire cities. AC3 really is the franchise’s biggest entry yet, offering so much to do and so much to see.

The game’s biggest, and probably most innovative, “distraction” is the sailing missions. That’s right – Connor is the first (probably not the first) assassin to sail the seven seas (just the Caribbean Sea). These missions are different than anything we’ve seen so far in the series, giving Connor command on a sea-worthy vessel and charging him with protecting merchant ships, avoiding rocks and, of course, destroying the British fleet. Although it may not be every fan’s cup of tea (after all, you don’t play AC to sail massive ships), it is definitely something worth trying, if only for its novelty.

At key points in Connor’s campaign, the game breaks away from it and lets you play as Desmond for a while. Don’t expect to be running around an open world with this modern-day assassin. No, Desmond only goes out of the Animus for a few short, yet satisfying missions. Truth be told, Desmond’s missions feel a lot more like classic Assassin’s Creed than anything Connor does. You get to scale tall buildings, run across the roof beams of a huge closed stadium and even assassinate a templar or two. It may be the first game in which playing as Desmond is more fun than playing the main protagonist. In all likelihood, that is because by this point in the series, Desmond is far more of an assassin than Connor himself. Whatever the reason, it just feels weird really.

Assassin’s Creed 3 may be a big game, with tons to do and lots of different secondary plotlines, but it doesn’t really feel like an Assassin’s Creed game. That’s basically the game’s major flaw. Oh, there are others, like the extremely annoying lock picking mechanics or the awkward way the horses handle, but playing such an anticipated AC game that just seems to miss the point is a little heart-breaking. It doesn’t mean the game is bad, because it really isn’t, just that it lacks the focus and pacing previous Assassin’s Creed games had. Instead it chooses to introduce new elements into the formula (maybe as an attempt to revolutionize it, ha ha) and offers a more varied, if less cohesive experience.

The multiplayer, on the other hand, stays pretty much the same as the one in Brotherhood and Revelations. Players still stalk each other across the map, trying to figure out how to hunt down their prey without giving away their location, using all sorts of different tactics. Players can unlock different perks and abilities by playing online, completing missions in the single-player campaign or buying them with actual real-world money. The competitive modes are still as fun as they were when they were first introduced, but they seem to develop very little over the years. If you liked the multiplayer in previous entries in the series, you’re sure to like AC3’s version.

The only truly new addition to the game’s multiplayer is the new co-op mode called Wolf Pack. Wolf Pack plays a lot different from the other modes; it teams up 2-4 players who must work together against the clock to assassinate A.I. targets in hopes of raking in the high score. It is much more action-oriented than the sneaky competitive modes, but it does force the players to think strategically if they want to pull off the perfect synced assassination and win the big bonus points. It’s a sort of “Horde mode”, with 25 waves of increasingly paranoid targets available for players who can score high enough and beat the ever-ticking clock. If you like working together with friends instead of killing them, this is the mode for you. If not, stick to the competitive maps. It’s that simple.

Assassin’s Creed 3 uses a new engine called AnvilNext, which is an upgraded version of the engine used in the AC games staring Ezio. This naturally means that AC3 looks absolutely beautiful, both in urban and forest environments. Character models look much better, textures are nice and detailed and animations are top-notch. It makes the game a joy to behold, especially during combat, with smooth kill animations that will probably make you cringe in sympathy every time Connor sends an axe to some poor guard’s groin. The only downside is one that usually comes with the introduction of a new engine – bugs and glitches. Assassin’s Creed 3 is full of them, be it Connor’s unexplained refusal to climb up a wall, the wonky camera or characters disappearing into thin air. They give a “not quite finished” vibe to the whole game, and not even the launch-day patch was able to fix all of them. Most bugs aren’t really noticeable until they happen in the most inconvenient timing (like during combat or a chase sequence), and even then they go by quickly and don’t disturb the flow all that much.

So the visual presentation is great, if buggy at times, but the sound design in the game is a few levels above it (but that’s hardly surprising). Everything about the music, sound effects and voice acting is simply superb. Every character sounds great (although one would expect to hear more British accents) and Jesper Kyd once again brings the entire game to life with his original and moving music. All in all, Assassin’s Creed 3 is just looks and sounds amazing as ever.

Assassin’s Creed 3 is not the best game in the series, but it is definitely the biggest one to date. While the main story suffers from inconsistencies and lack of any real pacing, everything around it is just plain fun, from the varied side missions to Desmond’s excursions into the real world. A little fat trimming, and not forcibly cramming Connor’s personal story into the American history books, could have helped the game feel more like an AC game. The bottom line is that Assassin’s Creed 3 is nowhere near a bad game, just a disappointing one, considering its rich and beloved heritage. It is a beautiful and diverse experience, with a rich world, a great cast of characters and really addictive gameplay; it is simply not an Assassin’s Creed experience.

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