The Assassin’s Creed franchise has become one of the biggest franchises in the world, with over 38 million sales worldwide. Players have explored the Middle East during the Third Crusade with Altair and walked the streets of Renaissance Italy and Ottoman Constantinople with Ezio. Assassin’s Creed III, which has been in development for three years, takes us to the American Colonies following the story of Connor Kenway, the half Native American, half British assassin.
The first thing that hits you about Assassin’s Creed III is how big the game world is. This latest build of the game started in Connor’s Homestead, an area filled with woodland, cliffs that can be climbed and a variety of wild animals. Compared to this huge area the cities of past games felt dense and crowded. For 20 minutes I just went exploring in the woodlands and it was then that the first of the new gameplay additions made themselves known.[drop]I decided to try hunting a bit first, looking for different animals to take down. Quite quickly I spotted a deer and I went to sneak up on it. I walked towards a bush and the first little addition popped up: moving in hiding spots. Bushes act as hiding spots in the woods but they can be used to sneak up on enemies and prey.
As I got closer to the deer it looked up as if it sensed I was there. I got the bow & arrow ready to take the shot but it was too late – the deer darted.
Eventually I came across a bear which attacked me and another new feature appeared – QTEs. If an animal attacks Connor you can’t just swing your tomahawk to take it out, you’ll have to press the buttons as they appear. The gripe I had with these QTEs was how quickly the button prompts came, making it hard to actually survive an encounter. Hopefully that will be ironed out by launch.
It’s not all new features though with free running, one of the major aspects of the series, returning in ACIII. However, there are changes to the system. Holding R1 still causes Connor to start running and climbing but it is also a safe mode.
If Connor comes to a jump that could cause injury then he won’t take it. Players can force the jump by tapping X to take the risk, but it doesn’t feel invasive. In fact coming to a stop helps to make you reconsider if the jump is worth it or not. Sometimes you’ll see a different path that may be easier to take, other times the jump needs to happen to escape from enemies.
The climbing itself seems a lot more fluid and a real joy. There doesn’t seem to be that delay that was felt in other games where characters would stop climbing and just look at where they were supposed to go next. Connor moves from ledge to ledge without taking a break.
Let’s talk more about enemies and combat. The majority of enemies you face will be members of the British Army, who are armed with swords, guns and bayonets, although Templars obviously make an appearance as well.
One of the main gripes with combat in the Assassin’s Creed franchise has always been how enemies attack one at a time. Well, you can say goodbye to that as enemies will come at you from all directions at once. This makes the game a lot more challenging, especially if facing soldiers. Not only will some soldiers attack with their melee weapons, but others will form rank and fire on you with their rifles. If even a couple of those shots hit you, the tide of the fight can change from you winning to having to retreat as health reaches a critical level.
Compared to Altair & Ezio, Connor feels a lot heavier and you can almost feel that during combat. Where the previous Assassins would be light on their feet, deftly moving from enemy to enemy, Connor will launch himself at enemies and use a lot of force to take them down.
Counters have seen changes as well. Whilst in previous titles a counter would almost always lead to a kill, Connor will throw enemies to the ground instead. From here you can attack the floored opponent and kill him, or you can use that bit of breathing space to take care of other enemies that are still on their feet, which adds a tactical level to every fight you enter.
Perhaps the biggest and most surprising addition to the franchise is naval warfare. Connor has the ability to captain and pilot a large warship, equipped with swivel guns and cannons. There were a number of scenarios available to play from escort missions to destroying a fort, and they were all very well done.
Piloting the ship doesn’t just consist of pointing it in a direction and moving, you have select whether you will be going full sail or half sail, to determine speed. Wind direction also plays a major part: having the wind behind you adds speed, while going into a headwind will slow you down.
The ship battles themselves are amazing. One mission had my ship escorting a small cargo ship, which was attacked by a group of small, fast craft. Here the swivel guns came into play. You have to keep piloting the ship to stop it from hitting rocks, whilst aiming the guns to take out your enemies. That may sound like too many things to do at once but it really is well implemented.[drop2]The targeting reticule will turn red when you have a shot and a single shot might be all you need to sink a small ship. Larger ships, obviously, will take more shots to take down.
It’s not just ships though, you also have to watch out for mines which can be used to your advantage. This is done by forcing enemy ships near the mines and then firing upon the mines until they explode and take down the enemy.
The cannon came into play when I came across a Templar fort. The fort would bombard my ship with cannon fire. Here you need to be able to get out of the line of fire while lining your ship up to target the fort and unleash a volley of cannon fire.
This particular fort had three cannon towers that needed to be destroyed, but at no point did the attempts to destroy those towers feel repetitive. Whilst it may have seemed an odd choice to include initially, the naval warfare is something I’m really looking forward to experiencing more of.
Overall Assassin’s Creed III is the most ambitious title in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. There’s a huge open world to explore taking you from snowy forests to bustling towns, all with their own challenges and unique features. The gameplay looks to offer so much variety that even a three hour session with the game barely scratched the surface.
Can I say AC III will be the best in the franchise? Well, that will depend on Connor as a character and the direction of the story, but it’s clear that Ubisoft have poured a lot of love and hard work into Assassin’s Creed III.