Assassin’s Creed III Is A Massive Letdown
The title gives my game away of where I’m going with this, but before I get into it, I’d like to say a few things. I have always been a huge fan of the original Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed II, and I could put many good words in for Brotherhood as well, but it’s well known that I despise Revelations. However, despite this, I was excited to play Assassin’s Creed III, and I ended up buying it on launch day, deciding to go into it with an open mind and not let my annoyance after the last game get in the way. This was going to be the conclusion to the story we’ve waited five years to see an end to, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. But after finishing the game, a few sleepless nights and long days after its release, to rip the bandage off quickly I’m honestly seriously disappointed. Assassin’s Creed III is one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had recently, and here’s every reason as to why I feel that way.
Brief intermission here, but back in February 2012 I wrote a column on the current state of the Assassin’s Creed series, and what I felt Assassin’s Creed III needed to do in order to return to excellence. Unfortunately, it’s a sad reality that most of the critical points I discussed regarding Assassin’s Creed III ended up not being addressed, and that contributed to my disappointment.
You’ve also most definitely given AG’s review of the game a read, and I feel it’s an honest take from someone with an enormous amount of love for the series, and it’s a great review overall. But being a review, there are many things it can’t touch on that I hope to do in this write-up.
Right then, let’s get into it. But first, here’s something happy.
Firstly, we all know Assassin’s Creed likes to stall. It likes to drag things out, it likes a slow pace in the beginning and you know that’s usually alright. I mean, Assassin’s Creed II took three or four hours to get going, but once it did it rewarded you for the wait and was an outstanding game. But this is the final chapter in the story. You’d expect them to pull out all the stops, to get right into it and give you an exciting, pulse-pounding game full of twists and revelations and epic moments, or at least something awesome every hour. The ultimate reward for reaching the final chapter, the feeling that all four games before led to this. But Assassin’s Creed III does none of that. It’s simply shocking. It treats you as if you’re simply playing another Assassin’s Creed game, or for a better analogy playing Assassin’s Creed II on retard mode. Literally, for the first six to seven hours of the game you are doing tutorials, and being introduced to the game’s world. Do you know how much that is of the game? Forty percent. By the time you actually don the Assassins outfit and become an Assasssin as Connor, and do your first Desmond mission, you have completed forty percent of the game. Think about that. Take it in.
It is simply unacceptable on any level for the fifth and final game in the series, or any game in hell for that matter, to start off so damn slowly. You literally have to relearn everything you did the last four games. You learn how to move, climb walls and later climb trees, fist fight, sword fight, identify enemies, use Eagle Vision, eavesdrop, hide in plain sight, hunt, gather materials, buy from a shop and so much more. It’s utterly ridiculous. It destroyed my excitement for the game. I just can’t understand it. Do you realise that the time it took just for Assassin’s Creed III to merely start is the same amount of time it actually took me to complete a stealth playthrough of Dishonored? What the hell? Seven hours I could have put into an excellent game, and finished it, was instead spent bored out of my mind. That’s unacceptable. I don’t buy games to be bored, and more importantly, it was insulting to be honest. Did the developers think I was a moron despite having beat four of their games? Do they think any self-respecting gamer is stupid enough to need this much spoon feeding? There is no excuse for that. There is no justification for this level of time wasting. It didn’t help the story, or build up to anything. Yes, I’m angry. Contrary to popular belief, I rarely actually get angry, it seriously takes a lot to make me angry, despite my online rage and ranting, but this game was the limit for me. No game I have ever played is better at killing off its momentum and my excitement and anticipation of what’s to come.
Back in April of this year, I wrote a column on the dangers of tutorials in modern games, and without exaggerating Assassin’s Creed III is simply everything that is wrong with them.
But even then, after around forty percent of the game is done, there are still a few more tutorials and slow paced missions. I remember pulling an all-nighter on the Thursday night after this game came out, chatting to AG and telling him that I knew it would get better, like Assassin’s Creed II did, that at least the tutorials were done now. But no. When I really experienced my first genuinely awesome and memorable mission, I was eight hours into the game. Take a guess what my total playtime for the main campaign was. Thirteen and a half hours. I had limited time due to exams, and I was excited to go through the main story, and that’s why I didn’t spend hours with the side missions. I got told that I missed out on the best parts of the game by not spending hours on the side things, but really, if the side missions are better than the main campaign, especially when this one should be wrapping up the story and be all about the main campaign, then you have a serious problem. That’s not good. Just think about this though. The main story is around thirteen or fourteen hours, but eight of those are spent in tutorials, introductions and non-standout missions. You are literally only getting five hours or less of truly great game time in the main story. The tutorial and introduction section of the game is longer than the main story section. I’m dumbfounded at that. It’s like the game needed to fill the hours, which I can’t understand because some of the later missions are so awesome you wonder why more of this isn’t shown in the rest of the game. It was entirely unnecessary to drag it out to such a painful degree.
And what of the story? Well, the first eight hours of it is all unimportant, slow-paced showing off of how much this series likes its history and delving into the fruits of its research. It’s like a gigantic, never-ending billboard advertising the tourist attractions. There is a great twist in the early hours, and a really interesting and awesome character to play as, but from there it’s all buried uselessly under the tutorials and lack of anything happening. Connor himself is a cool enough character at times, but he seems to have no significance in the grand story. Ezio and Altair were great movers in history, and their fates intertwined with Desmond. Both had enormous lessons to teach Desmond and both did things that would directly affect him and the current war between the Assassins and Templars years into the future. Even the two of them were strongly connected, as Ezio effectively studied Altair’s entire life and learned a great many things from him, even discovering his place of rest in Revelations, and as a result deciding to hang up his hoodie and retire. Ezio even meets Minerva and becomes a conduit to deliver a message to Desmond, and leads him to the Apple. But Connor has no such relevance whatsoever. Furthermore, he does not grow and become wise like Altair and Ezio did, and neither does he learn the Creed and what it means to become a true Assassin. It seemed the obvious story path especially because of his personal encounters with Templars, but he mostly stays one-dimensional.
He doesn’t connect to Altair, Ezio or even Desmond. He is simply a vessel to lead Desmond to something they need, which then begs the question: why on earth does the entire game’s story revolve around him? When you step into Desmond’s shoes, it’s exciting to explore the modern world, and get to be the Assassin you’ve waited five years to be, even if you dislike Desmond as a character himself. But there are barely any of these sections in the game, maybe three or four at most, and they all come with the same purpose. They’re glorified fetch quests in a way. Yet, I will admit that despite hating Desmond’s non-existent character, he did start to become interesting in Assassin’s Creed III, and his sections were sure highlights of the game, yet they just didn’t feature. Connor hogs the entire game, which would have been fine if he had similar relevance to that of Altair or Ezio, but he just doesn’t.
Not only does it take eight hours for the story to get going, but it is never deeply explored and doesn’t make the impact that the original two games did. It baffles me how games can waste so much time building things up or babbling on about insignificant things, but when it comes to the most important parts of the story they hastily try to skip past it or wrap everything up without giving it proper attention and impact. And again, what’s so surprising about Assassin’s Creed III is that it has excellence in many places regarding the story. The dialogue is top notch, the voice acting is great, the intro section with Haytham is amazing, Connor’s section where he later teams up with another character is yet another example of greatness as the two share an intriguing dynamic, and finally the Templars are really explored in a unique way quite a few times in this game, making you question all that you’ve known about them thus far. Yet, strangely it never amounts to anything. Especially at the ending, and throughout most of the game, it’s like the Assassins against Templars isn’t even important anymore.
The entire game is about getting a key you need to use to open some mystical door. The entire game is, essentially, a build up, which is baffling as we’ve had four games to do just that. But, despite the end of the world approaching fast, neither the game nor its characters give you any indication whatsoever that disaster is imminent, or that time is little. You stroll through it all at such a slow pace with such little urgency that it’s painful, and any impact of what’s to come is greatly reduced.
And the ending is atrocious, more because of how it was handled than due to what actually happened.
I don’t care about a happy ending, I seriously don’t mind if there isn’t one. I said this already at the time of Mass Effect 3. All I care about is closure most of all, and a proper send off to the game and its characters and something that makes sense and is written well. Assassin’s Creed III hastily wraps things up, despite the severity of what’s happening, and pays little attention to the emotional aspect of the decisions the characters are making. If I’m not mistaken also, the series greatly contradicts itself in a way that’s shocking. Minerva and Juno show you what the Assassins’ choice of freedom leads to in the world, if the solar flare is allowed to happen. That it would be a life of struggle, and the world would be led to ruin. Juno wants to control people for peace. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Oh right, that’s because it’s the Templar’s way of achieving peace. Juno is of Templar ideals! Or to be chronologically correct, the Templars are of Juno ideals. Yet, Desmond chooses her way in haste, deciding that Minerva’s path will be too painful and hopeless, and he goes against the Assassin order.
Now, this could have even been quite a twist ending, a seriously great one actually, and it is a really good concept, but the problem is that so little attention is given to it. It’s over so quickly. The game doesn’t even acknowledge that Desmond is following the Templars. The characters don’t even bring this to his attention. They don’t bother about it and spend an emotional moment realising that the Templars may not be so wrong after all. They don’t even all talk it out. They simply stand in silence. Rebecca, Desmond’s father and Sean Hays. It’s over in barely ten minutes. The game gives you some answers to its mysteries, but when the credits rolled I was honestly left with a feeling of “what the potato was that?” rather than satisfied. It all seemed so abrupt, so forced into a conclusion as if the creators of the game themselves weren’t too fond of the ending, and didn’t know how to wrap it all up.
It feels like Mass Effect 3 again, in terms of the “push button to save world” idea and abruptness of the ending, except only worse in execution because you don’t care for or particularly like the character making the sacrifice. Desmond stops the solar flare, and gives up his life for it in a very Mass Effect 3 type way, but in case you didn’t realise, the Templars are still at large and it looks like he has just released the grand mother of all Templars onto the world. If you want to go for a heroes don’t win, tragically imperfect ending, then pay it the emotional respect it deserves. I would have been happy if they at least acknowledged just what the hell Desmond was doing, discussed what would happen afterward, made it more human and took time to let it sink and if he had defended his choice with something more meaningful than “it’s the only way”. Something. Anything. I mean, Desmond and his father don’t even share an emotional goodbye despite reconciling their relationship after years. There’s nothing, it just wraps and leaves you with a rather bitter and angered feeling. If a game can devote seven hours to its start, why can’t it give at least more than ten to twenty minutes to its ending?
I can’t understand it. It reminds me of the time Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots released, and many complained of the hour long ending cutscene to the game. Despite being my favourite game series of all time, I will be the first to admit that MGS4 was riddled with long-winded and unnecessary cutscenes, but now I’m starting to wonder if that extremely lengthy ending is the way it should be done for epic series’ such as these, if not to a lesser extreme. It’s surely better than this rushed nonsense, where you get no good send off to the characters, and no real closure. Honestly, the ending didn’t ruin the game for me. It did ruin the story, as did the rest of the game’s absence of it, but I’m not condemning the entire game because of its story. It’s just a sore point on a game with a lot of them, and I expected better after three years of development, and two intermediary sequels.
I’ve gone to great lengths to talk about the story, pacing, abundance of tutorials and time factor, but what of the most important part, which is the gameplay? Similarly to the rest, I feel Assassin’s Creed III is a roller-coaster of emotions in this as well. There are genuinely great improvements to the free running, climbing and combat. The developers did an awesome job of making it all feel fresh again, and it feels a lot more cinematic, brutal and fluid. And that naval combat? It’s a tragedy. It’s so damn amazing they could make an entire game out of that and I’d buy it off the shelf. It’s one of, if not the best parts of the entire game, yet it’s isolated since it doesn’t have anything to do with the story or actually being an assassin. Still, it’s shining with effort, and it’s incredibly good fun, which just made me more agonised because the rest of the game rarely reaches the same level. There are some genuinely great missions after eight hours in, like the famous historical battles for instance, which are exceptional, but the rest are almost entirely forgettable and run of the mill. I can’t even recall any standout assassination missions, which used to be highlights of the series. I just can’t fathom how developers clearly capable of producing such magnificent set pieces and epic scale gameplay sections decided to avoid it all and instead have players engage in the most monotonous of tasks for most of the game.
There are plenty of things to do in the game world, whether it’s classic jacking around, hunting, side missions, taking over enemy forts to reduce enemy presence in an area, gathering materials, acquiring collectibles, delving into the economy system and so on, but for the first time in an Assassin’s Creed game, or rather much like Revelations, I felt quite uninspired to do it. Or perhaps I shouldn’t say uninspired. I should say I was too busy focusing and looking forward to the main story unfolding, and trying to get through the frustrating tutorials, that it never really appealed to me that much. I did as many as I could push myself to do, but they couldn’t hold my interest for long, because there was just no incentive to do any of it really unless you’re a completionist. That economy system seemed overly complicated and frankly utterly pointless, and I single it out because it’s just one example of something that could have been chopped out in favour of far better gameplay elements. After all, it gets you money, which has little use in the game as your starting weapons get the job done and there aren’t that many worth buying. Just because there is tons of variety in what you can do, doesn’t make it all worth doing. Quality over quantity. In previous games, you had seals that could unlock the best armour, missions such as the codex pages in Assassin’s Creed II and Altair’s memory disks in Revelations that enhanced the story, and other extras like the collectible Glyphs. But in Assassin’s Creed III by comparison, the hunting and courier missions and forts are just there for the sake of variety. It’s variety, but it’s not meaningful variety. This game definitely doesn’t know the difference between the two.
Now, there are a lot of really good ideas in this game, but I feel it’s a classic example of just doing too much and not focusing on fleshing out the core experience, which is the main campaign. Many of the side stuff are, as I established, just there. It seemed like the mission statement for this game was add as much as possible rather than focusing on the story and its conclusion, the mission structure and core elements. A comment from our Alessandro in our review of the game put it perfectly, so I’m going to quote it rather than rephrase it. He said, “Sure, they’ve tried to do good things, but at the end of the day if those attempts don’t give way to actual success, then you can’t merit them for anything. If we judged all games but what they were trying to do rather than what they actually achieved, we’d be looking at every single game we’ve ever played in very different ways.” Pretty succinct. Another sore point for me was the mission design and structure, as it was quite rigid for a lot of the game. There always seemed to be one way to complete a mission, bar the bonus objectives, and in these contexts I greatly missed the open-ended assassinations from previous games. I didn’t feel like it was my playing field, as either cutscenes or forced combat and triggers would get in the way of anything else.
Even with its graphics, Assassin’s Creed III gave me mixed reactions. Graphically it’s simply gorgeous and in many ways breathtaking, from its vast and dynamic environments to its weather effects. It’s a sight to behold most of the time, and you could spend a lot of time just taking everything in when you’re in the wilderness or in a war, or just running through the rain or experiencing the changes of season. And don’t get me started on the soundtrack, it’s awesome. But sadly, even after installing the day one patch, I still experienced a wide range of visual bugs, like objects being suspended in mid air, blatant and bad lip syncing issues where sometimes a character’s mouth didn’t even move when they spoke, visual effects from cutscenes that didn’t go away until I reloaded my save, and many glitches such as my sword or tomahawk disappearing from my inventory on about four occasions forcing me to buy a sword again, enemies standing idly not doing anything while I hacked away at them, or just ceasing to attack me altogether, and frequent lag and stuttering issues. Now, what’s curious about this is that my fellow writers had different experiences with the frame rate. AG, myself and Alessandro experienced consistent lag and stuttering issues, while Cavie and Marko reported none. They played on Xbox 360, and the three of us on PS3, so is that the reason? Or is the game just not up to scratch?
Well, spending over two hours reading the Ubisoft forums and browsing the internet about this exact topic had me discover that it’s a widespread issue, on both consoles. The frame rate plummets mostly seem to occur in Boston and New York. As for the glitches, I don’t make a meal out of them usually, as often enough you just see them, laugh or get annoyed, shrug and move on. But where glitches become a real problem comes down to consistency and frequency of them, and unfortunately Assassin’s Creed III had a lot, continuously. It’s going to be interesting when the PC version comes out, as we’ll get to see if this issue is just because the current consoles are being taxed, but either way it’s just not alright.
Honestly, when completing this game I felt so disappointed that I definitely couldn’t agree with most of the plaudits this game is getting. It just feels like all of the effort was put into the wrong places with this game. The things that are superficial or cool to look at and experience, but don’t vastly impact the game or make the experience for you live on to be memorable. Yes, the little things are great, when it comes to the audio and visual experience, but they’re exactly that, little things. Now, I appreciate the little details and efforts and all of that. Often enough, the little things can definitely contribute to something special, and it does here if we’re talking about an excellent and immersive visual experience. But when I look at the entire game itself and the bigger picture, those little things seem quite small.
But here’s the most important part of this entire write-up. Assassin’s Creed III is not a bad game, despite my mountain of criticisms Although I definitely wouldn’t call it a great game either. It has flashes of brilliance, it has its ups and there’s a lot to merit it for, but there’s also tons to fault it for, a lot of which could have been avoided. Just because I find it to be a huge letdown, doesn’t mean I think of it as a terrible game by any stretch. Don’t confuse the two. It’s disappointing because we had two intermediary sequels in Brotherhood and Revelations, and a three year wait, yet this game has so many faults. The game is disappointing because the entirety of Connor’s story is practically irrelevant to what is going on in the grand scheme of things, and is paced so poorly and shockingly slowly that it’s painful. The story is disappointing because the few moments of excellence in it are never explored in greater depth or made a larger part of the story, and the Desmond parts, while highlights as gameplay sections, falter with regards to the story, ultimately leading to a badly written and rushed ending. It’s disappointing because three years of waiting didn’t result in an improvement jump similar to that of the first two games in the series. It’s disappointing for me because it’s just far off from being the best game in the series. And it’s disappointing because of all the misdirected effort that was put into ultimately pointless areas of the game rather than spent on the core experience and the main campaign.
The fundamental problem is that for the first two Assassin’s Creed games, everything good about them was elevated because the series was fresh, ambitious and exciting back then, but after Brotherhood and Revelations, it seemed much more apparent that Assasssin’s Creed III was a “prove yourself to me” game rather than something we had absolute faith in that it would blow us away. Unfortunately, in the end, the hype was too much, and Assassin’s Creed III’s over-ambition was its downfall. It tried to do way too much, a great amount of it unnecessary, and the result was that it was less than the sum of its parts, and that it didn’t do enough in the areas that truly mattered. It’s a damn shame.
Phew, I need new hands after this. I assume you need new eyeballs, if you somehow managed to read it all. Many thanks to all who did. Pat yourself on the back, and rage at me down below.