Assassin’s Creed 3 is the fifth instalment in the series, I’m still just as confused about the numbering scheme Ubisoft has applied for their games but, hey, that is not important. Assassin’s Creed 3 was released in October 2012, a mere year ahead of the next generation of consoles. I missed this one entirely at launch. I experienced it for the first time with the Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey season pass when a remastered version was released.
Expectations and How to Subvert Them
Assassin’s Creed 3 has one of the best opening sequences in the series. Desmond, Rebecca, Shaun, and Desmond’s father, William Miles, use Ezio’s Apple of Eden to open a Grand Temple in New York. Once inside they discover a locked door made of energy, and a countdown to the end of the world on December 21st 2012. Must capitalise on that Mayan calendar hype! Once they find the countdown Desmond enters a fugue state and relives the start of a new distant relative’s past.
You play as the somewhat unlikeable, Haytham Kenway, as he climbs the stands of a theatre. You then assassinate a man with a very fancy hidden blade, steal his necklace, and get given the location of where the necklace can be used. Following this, Haytham journeys to a foreign, war-torn land where the native people are being forced out, while two completely invasive armies try to claim as much of their home as possible.
Haytham has been called to America to pull some members of his organisation together to find a precursor vault. It is rumoured to house many important and powerful artifacts. He recruits Charles Lee, Thomas Hickey, Johnathan Pitcairn, and Benjamin Church. Charles Lee is the newest recruit and isn’t allowed to be in the secretive meetings with the others. While there he frees some of the local tribe who have been caught by a slaver. The leader of which, Kaniehtí:io, agrees to help Haytham find the vault in exchange for the death of a general.
Haytham kills the general, they find the vault and are immediately disappointed to find there is no way of opening it for them. Haytham get’s romantic with the leader of the tribe before having a farewell meeting with his colleagues.
Now, this is where it gets interesting and I applaud the Ubisoft writers and produces for this. Everything up to this point has been intentionally building our expectation of playing as an Assassin, only to subvert that expectation and reveal that Haytham Kenway is a Templar Grand Master.
This blew my mind. For this twist and this twist alone it’s the best opening in the series. As a writer myself, I can greatly appreciate the characterisation of Haytham and all the subtleties used to build my expectations only to completely subvert them.
Disappointing Second and Third Act
What follows the brilliant introduction is a rather bland origin story for the main protagonist of the game, Haytham’s son, Connor Kenway. It feels like they tried to recapture the charm of Assassin’s Creed 2 with Ezio’s journey to being a Mentor. Both have similar starts, both have their home and part of their family taken from them by templars, and both start out not knowing about Templars and Assassins. They undergo similar journeys, working their way through the ranks of the Assassins, helping major events in history happen, interacting with famous historical figures, and avenging their lost loved ones. However, there’s a glaring difference between the two.
Ezio is a fun, charismatic man who has a well-established place in his world and deep definable links to the people and places around him. Connor is none of that.
Connor is a whiny, self-entitled brat, who only cares about killing Charles Lee. If you were to remove the Assassin aspect of the story and it was just a story of a man seeking revenge on the man that killed his mother it would be a decent B-rated action movie. But considering there are 4 previous games that have set up what the assassins represent, a character who only follows the creed when it suits them just didn’t land.
Connor forces himself on retired Assassin Achilles to get training, which he spends most of the game complaining about. He meets an ex ship captain and takes over his ship and crew for naval missions. Connor then dumps tea in the water to stick it to Brittain, and fights alongside George Washington before fighting against him. None of it is particularly compelling as Connor is a very reactive character. He gets told where to go and what to do, all agency is taken from him by the script. If it were up to Connor he would spend all his time tracking Charles Lee, but because there has to be a game Charles Lee is the last target Connor kills.
There was a potentially interesting section of the game where Connor teams up with his father. It could have been used to either shake or resolve Connors beliefs but unfortunately, it does neither. The interactions are fun and watching both be shocked by the other was fun, but it didn’t go anywhere.
It’s clear Connor’s story was not the main focus for the writers. Connor kills Charles Lee and dies in the process, burying the key Desmond needs in the future inside the grave of Achilles son.
The Real Meat and Potatoes
Back to the future present with Desmond and the gang and you find where the main focus was. Desmond comes out of the animus to find power sources he needs to open the locked door. Each power source is being held by Abstergo Industries.
In Assassin’s Creed 3, Desmond is more relevant than ever. He goes on the missions to get the power sources and he climbs around the vault finding the receptacles for them. As you play through these missions, Desmond receives messages from Juno which appear as a glowing apparition, explaining to Desmond he has to touch a device in order to protect the human race from the solar flares. She also tells of her own quest to live on when her fellow race fell, and how this vault is her last chance to live on.
Desmond’s missions come to a close after he takes Ezio’s Apple of Eden to Absertgo’s headquarters to save his father from the clutches of Warren Vidic. This mission gives Desmond and us, the player, the catharsis of finally getting revenge on the man who kidnapped Desmond in the first game to further the evil plots of the Templars.
Once Desmond reaches the end of Connor’s story and we have the key, he is faced with the ultimate decision. Sacrifice himself and save humanity while also bringing Juno back from the past to enact her dubious will on humanity, or allow the solar flare to strike Earth. And just like all agency was taken from Connor, so is the agency taken from the player and Desmond chooses to sacrifice himself for the greater good.
A cutscene plays showing a forcefield enveloping the Earth and then the solar flare is repelled. Humanity lives to fight another day.
Combat and Crafting
Assassin’s Creed 3’s combat has a few new additions. There’s now dual-wielding weapons with a tomahawk, flintlock pistols (of which you can hold two), bow and arrow, the rope darts, and rifles. The dual-wielding allows for faster and more efficient combat, as well as an easier more fluid way of chaining counter kills.
The new ranged weapons give more utility than the hidden gun from the previous games, which relied on not getting hit long enough to fire it. The bow and arrow also add to the stealth option top the game. It fires silently and has decent range. The rifles are more of a “Hail Mary” if you manage to find one. They are good for an easy one-shot kill but are not worth the reload time to fire again.
The rope dart is… okay. It can be used to assassinate enemies or bring them closer, with the caveat that to assassinate them you have to be above them and also undetected. Outside of those very specific circumstances, they aren’t very useful.
In the remaster there is a poorly implemented crafting system. It also could just be that I suck and couldn’t figure it out. But I read how to do it before going to the menu to craft it and it just wouldn’t let me. Which is a shame because it was implemented well in the games prior to the remaster.
The naval missions are the best part of Connor’s gameplay. The ship controls and naval battles were well implemented and intuitive. The only downside is there is a finite amount of missions available and no incentive to redo them.
The map was a letdown. After the open maps of Brotherhood and Revelations, it was disappointing to go back to having to travel between different sections of the game world. Connor’s world is split into three, the wilderness, Boston, and the homestead. The wilderness and the homestead are functionally similar, they both have wild animals to hunt and a few settlements dotted around, with Achilles house being the main attraction of the homestead. Boston is a city, there are houses to climb, boatyards to visit, nothing new. The areas feel disconnected, and the world map has no sense of scale thus adding to the disconnect.
Adding to the parkour mechanic there are now climbable trees which fall into three categories, free-running trees, climbing trees, or viewpoint trees. The free-running trees are forked, and allow for quick hops to stay off the ground. The climbing trees are set up to give you an easy way to get to the free-running trees. And the viewpoint trees are large trees that sit around one of the maps. All the trees offer the exact same method of climbing to get to the top. They’re frustrating, poorly mapped, and boring. More often than not, a jump to the next branch will result in a jump directly away from the tree dealing damage to Connor.
The point of Assassin’s Creed 3 is to bid farewell to Desmond. Desmond’s missions are fun and engaging. You are able to use everything you have learnt in the previous games about target location and direction. This is where I must applaud Ubisoft for maintaining a sense of realism in Desmond’s part of the world. While in the animus it is very “video gamey”. You have the classic videogame staples, a map, a menu to change options, a HUD with all the necessities to keep an eye on your character, and it’s all staged as a game. As Desmond, that’s all gone.
The menu is barebones, there is no HUD, and no map. You are forced to rely on your own ability to take in your surroundings and listen to your instructions. And they made it work beautifully, not once did I feel lost or unsure of what to do because the game had given me everything I needed to succeed and it was the most fun I had in the game. I only wish there had been more, or if Connor’s gameplay had sections similar to that.
Assassin’s Creed works best with a large open map, or at the very least a connected map like in the first game.
If Revelations was the fitting farewell to Ezio, then Assassin’s Creed 3 is the perfect ending for Desmond. His journey from being kidnapped in Assassin’s Creed through to becoming an assassin and joining the fight against the Templars made his sacrificial choice all the more reasonable.
However, on the Connor side of things, it was a letdown. Which is a shame because as a character Connor has so much potential. The possible dynamics between a Templar and his Assassin son could have been amazing. Two conflicting belief systems butting heads over the life of a boy. It’s a pity they did not do anything profound with it.
I put Assassin’s Creed 3 at 8th in the series. Desmond’s sections were amazing but there was too much time spent following the disappointing story of Connor Kenway. It is not the worst, but it is certainly not the best.