Assassin’s Creed has evolved since its debut in 2007, and I can’t say that I’m a fan of the changes the series has gone through since its inception.
In the lore of the Assassin’s Creed series, the Assassins and the Templar have fought a secret war for centuries. Where the Templar seeks to subjugate and control mankind, the Assassins seek peace and freedom for all. The series follows their various conflicts throughout history, from Third Crusade, to the Italian Renaissance, and recently the American Revolution.
The game’s storied past is somewhat troubled. The eponymous first iteration was little more than a tech demo for the Anvil engine and its impressively dynamic world rendering abilities. The game itself lacked in variety, personality, and style, and was rightly derided for these deficiencies.
Assassin’s Creed II improved greatly upon its predecessor’s shortcomings. You were given more character motivation than just a checklist of murders, a much more sympathetic and interesting protagonist, and greater play style variety.
By and large, however, it was still a game about quietly stalking an intended target before publicly murdering them in a spectacular manner to affect change. This is historically how the Hashishin operated, and the game claims to base its characters that group.
In Assassin’s Creed III, you play the role of Ratonhnhaké:ton “Connor” Kenway, a half-Mohawk, half-English Assassin who finds himself embedded deeply with America’s founding fathers during the Revolutionary War.
You’ll often feel like the Forrest Gump of the American Revolution. You dump tea in the harbor during the Boston Tea Party, lead troops at Lexington and Concord, and in one hilarious sequence, ride tandem with Paul Revere as he shouts directions to you during his midnight ride.
Unexpectedly, you do very little assassination in Assassin’s Creed III. Combat is certainly frequent, well executed, and fluid, but it’s not terribly inconspicuous. Connor is ostensibly portrayed as a master hunter, yet he lacks the subtlety of his predecessors.
Connor is more at home on the battlefield than hiding in haystacks. It was during the Battle of Bunker Hill, as I was racing through Charlestown, dodging artillery bombardment and firing shots at impeding redcoats that I realized this was no longer the series of which I’d once been a fan.
Connor himself is somewhat a disappointment of a protagonist. In the first Assassin’s Creed you played as Altair, a man with all the personality of a brick. In the second, you played as Ezio, a charismatic and cocky womanizer who grew as a character over the course of the game. Connor isn’t quite as dull as Altair, but has nowhere near the appeal of Ezio.
The problem with Connor is that he’s completely rote. Think of how a typical native American movie character might act, and you’ll have a fairly good image of Connor. He’s protective of his tribe, receives his mission from “the spirits,” laments how the land is being ruined, and is quiet and introspective. I think he’s supposed to come off as mysterious and intimidating, but instead he’s just kind of boring.
This is a failure of storytelling, and player/character immersion. The typical garb of an Assassin is a set of robes and a hood. When the hood is down, you see the character and can sympathize with their struggles. But when the hood is up, his face is obscured and the player can embody the character and picture themselves performing the spectacular actions of an assassin.
Assassin’s Creed III succeeds in its attempts at spectacle, but in exchange, sacrifices refinement. It’s no longer a stealth-action game, but an action game with stealth elements, and that isn’t what I thought the series was about.