Assassins are an ever-changing group when it comes to their portrayal in video games. Seems as though it was just yesterday we were watching Altair grow into a master killer again – a decidedly different ancestor than Ezio and even Connor, the star of Assassin’s Creed III. The personalities are ever-changing for sure, but not always in a more exciting manner. Assassin’s Creed has been evolving since the first game as well, with some decidedly bizarre departures here and there that feel less like augments to the fantastic tale the first game told and more like venues for the creators to fuss over their pseudo-intellectual timelines and theories about templars, pieces of Eden, and all those other crazy aspects of the series that seem to change as the wind blows.
Assassin’s Creed III is the latest in the long line of games that seeks to resolve all loose ends and tie together the events of the previous entries in the series, beginning with the tale of Desmond and where he fits into the scheme f things. We rarely spend time with the now-powerful assassin in his own right, so it’s refreshing to see him in his element in this game. However, a good portion of the game finds you thrust into the shoe of an unfamiliar protagonist, who’s not even the main character – he’s a much stuffier, much different persona than players have seen before. With all the marketing surrounding the new flagship assassin Connor and his Revolunary setting, it’s a bit of a surprise for those expecting something a bit less, well, boring.
But, as it turns out, our mystery man is actually a more intriguing player character than Conner in many ways, from his expository levels to the later stages where enormous truths about Connor’s origin and background are revealed. After all the introductory setpieces have been set out in the open, the true nature of Assassin’s Creed is brought to light as a very subpar conclusion to a trilogy with more side stories and convoluted plot twists than a supernatural YA novel. Where parts of it thrill and delight, for the most part it’s an awkward, stumbling ending that could have been so much better.
The period is an interesting one of course, with real-world weaponry, true-to-life vehicles/modes of transportation, and dress. Historical figures abound – meet up with Paul Revere, or even Ben Franklin, both of whom come off as bizarre and much goofier than they probably were in person, but here they’re sprinkled in for that “just because” feeling. There’s plenty to do in this vast, sprawling new ocean of territory, but much of it ends up feeling quite silly.
That’s not to say, still, even with its narrative problems, that is’a a bad game mechanically. You still gather intel, stalk targets, and go in for the kill in true Assassin’s Creed fashion, but you’ve got a wealth of content to explore otherwise. Search for hidden almanac pages (yes, Poor Richard’s), go hunting, or pick fights at your leisure. It’s up to you. There’s so much to do, in fact, that some other concepts tend to receive less attention than others, leaving some activities to be less enjoyable than others. It’s clear that some were only thrown in for the sake of augmenting gameplay and thus never fully fleshed out. When allowed to do your own thing this is less noticeable than staying in line with objectives, but it’s still pretty frustrating.
What ultimately makes Assassin’s Creed III a lot more dull than its predecessors is its refusal to supplant interesting, meaningful characters into a storyline with just that. Altair and Ezio were immediately memorable with personality quirks all their own that made sense. Connor isn’t as striking, nor does he move players to care about him in the same manner. Likewise, Desmond seems uncharacteristically flat as well, and even the graphical overhaul (which is as underwhelming as ever) doesn’t help matters much.
A technically sound game rife with content, a conclusion to a long-running series, and some admittedly shocking moments would normally beg you to play it, but Assassin’s Creed III is a bizarre mixture of missteps and historical figures acting out of supposed character that doesn’t hold a candle to the first or second numbered entries, which is a shame. I wanted this game to be the one to bring me back into it, but unfortunately it ended up a day late and a dollar short. Can we have a new and interesting assassin next time, please?