Numerical entries matter. If a game doesn't have a number on it, don't expect it to be revolutionary or outstanding. This rule may or may not apply to other series, but in case of Assassin's Creed III it is quite accurate: This game delivers, albeit not flawlessly.
The first game was a nice change of pace, the second game greatly expanded upon the concept, and both Brotherhood and Revelations tried out some new things, some for the better, some for the worse.
At long last, the third game delivers an overall new experience with lots of stuff to do, refining the various game mechanics and, finally, offering a new hero. Because seriously, we were getting tired of Ezio.
“But what exactly has changed?” you might ask. Here's a list of the most important elements:
- Health regenerates automatically. You can't use medicine to heal yourself in battle, but you don't need to see a doctor outside of combat either. This saves time overall.
- Blending with the crowd has been improved. Instead of being limited to a group of people standing together, you can now hide as long as you walk between at least two people.
- The ecosystem has been fixed, for better or worse. You can no longer generate money by just waiting and buy all of Italy as you did before. Instead, you have to earn your money the hard way and find treasure chests, do assassin recruit missions and sell your hunting goods.
- Weapons no longer degrade in quality when being used. Thank god that moneywaster is gone!
- Combat has been balanced. The insta-kill counterattack is still there, but you need to successfully block an incoming attack first. Tougher goons are immune to this, but you can do a number of other actions after blocking such as disarming the enemy, throwing him away or breaking his defense.
Also new to combat is the increased usefulness of your fists. You'll be forced to fight with your bare hands over the course of the story and there is a sidequest requiring you to master hand to hand combat as well. It is a nice change of pace compared to the other weapons.
- The search for items has been optimized. Before there were a lot of treasure chests and other collectibles to find, all of them in the cities. You still can find a great deal of items, but they're not spread across every 5 miles across the map. In essence, there are slightly fewer items to find, but each one requires more emphasis on the player's behalf and it feels more rewarding.
Another thing that has been made more fair is how to find these items. Some of them are being revealed when you synchronize with a viewpoint, but there are still items you can't find even after finding all of the viewpoints. That's where the maps come in which you have to buy. You don't need the maps for all of them (with the exception of the feathers), so you can save the money early on and still hunt for items.
- The optional objectives aka challenges are more varied and more demanding than they were in Revelations. When they were introduced in Brotherhood they were good overall, but in Revelations they were a bit too easy for my own taste (got all of them on my first attempt). But in Assassin's Creed III, these objectives are not only more of a challenge, they also are more creative. They encourage you to try out all the tricks you know and play more efficiently overall.
Basically, you can finish a mission the easy way by ignoring them, or the hard way by trying to pursue the optional objectives.
- Horses are back!
Overall, the developers have done their homework and learned from the mistakes both Brotherhood and Revelations did. But there also are a few new things that are quite impressive.
One of those new things is hunting: You can now hunt for animals in the wilderness and take their hides, claws and other things to sell them. The best quality of the hides can be obtained by killing them with the hidden blade, any other weapon will lessen the quality. Therefore, you must be sneaky and plan your approach of the animals, as they run away quite fast. For the first time, you can not just be a predator for humans, but for animals as well.
But watch out for wolves and bears as they'll attack you. Should one those attack you, a Quick Time Event will come up. There is always one fixed button and one random button, making the QTE fair, but still new and thrilling each time.
You can hunt from above as well, as the game introduces trees to the game.
You can climb trees and jump from tree branch to tree branch by just holding the run button and let the game do the rest. After being limited to rooftops all this time, it is a nice change of pace and makes hunting as well as item hunting more interesting. Trees also play a big role during the missions, as some optional paths are available when using trees.
But the new additions aren't limited to land combat either: You can now command a ship and engage in naval combat as well. Everything from sailing to cannon firing is easy to handle and it all feels very intuitive.
Aside from two story missions, this part is entirely optional, but if you want to kill some time, this is a good alternative to hunting and item searching. You can upgrade your ship by buying new parts too.
But enough gameplay, let's talk a bit about the story first. As usual I won't spoil any details here, but what I can tell you is that, after being stuck with Ezio “Tycoon” Auditore, it's great to have a new protagonist for once, and for that matter, an entirely new continent and era.
The game is centered around the Revolutionary War in which America fought for their independence from the British Empire. That's pretty much all I knew about it personally, as I never read about the subject in detail (note: I'm from Europe, so of course this wasn't a mayor point in history class for me).
It is all the more interesting, then, how the game shows you all the details of the war, fictional or not. You witness everything from the beginning to the end, you learn about the other parties involved aside from the rebels and the British, and you learn that basically everyone in this war was guilty of something and nobody had a white west whatsoever.
Expect the protagonist, who still wears the traditional assassin attire: a white mantle with a cape. How the soldiers can overlook him on the streets is beyond me.
The main story is just as varied. There is a huge plot twist early on, and trust me when I say you'll NOT see this one coming. There is another one surprising moment at the halfway point of the game.
And the ending is both great and... empty. The history part of the story (what you see in the Animus) ends with a somewhat bittersweet conclusion for the new protagonist, but at least he could kill his sworn enemy in a classy way: Both of them wounded, close to passing out, sitting on a bar table, taking one last drink of whiskey, not saying anything. Then the protagonist just kills him, without anyone showing any regret. Classy.
The present part of things with Desmond (remember Desmond?) also end as well, and I mean it REALLY ends this time around. Ever since Assassin's Creed II, there was one WTF reveal at the end after another, but now the story finally comes to a conclusion. But that conclusion feels empty, not only because you learn that things would've ended one way or another anyway, but because Desmond is just getting along with it.
The present-day story ending isn't the only thing that left me with disappointment. The game is notorious for being glitchy, and even though I played it a good 8 months after its release and downloaded all the patches, there were still some graphical glitches on the PS3 version which I played. I've never seen so many glitches in an Assasin's Creed game before.
The optional objectives aren't always perfect, either. Remember the two Da Vinci missions in Brotherhood where the challenge was to not only avoid detection, but also to lose no health whatsoever? These were INSANE.
This game sadly has a few bad ones as well. There is that one mission where you walk in slowmotion and finishing it requires you to be very fast to begin with. But then the game asks you to kill two soldiers AND the main target, which requires a ton of luck and perfect button pressing.
And even though this might be just me, the "Human Shield" option in which you take a soldier to guard yourself from gunfire doesn't work for me, which is a problem because the game requires you to use a human shield as an optional objective.
Overall, this game is a good one, despite its few bad points. Quality has always been good in all Assassins Creed games, but fans have always criticized the small details - and the fact that producing a new entry each year will inevitably destroy the series. But unlike Call of Duty, this just isn't happening here.
Assassin's Creed III is the first game since Assassin's Creed II that offers an overall new feeling and setting and adds a great deal of both new things and refinements. In a way, this game is the San Andreas of the series, expect only partially. If Black Flag is living up to its promise of being a real Caribbean pirate exploration game, it is the real San Andreas in terms of scope. Until then, this game can be considered Assassin's Creed: San Andreas 0.5.