2007 saw the introduction of a franchise that in just five short years would become one of the biggest series of games this generation. Assassin’s Creed has changed the way we think of open-world action games and stealth games, and the space where those two genres intersect. The series is not without its critics, who remain skeptical about the annualization of the franchise, among other things. But speaking personally, there isn’t another sequel I look forward to more these days than the next Assassin’s Creed. So here we arrive at the release of, not just another page in the story of modern-day Desmond Miles and ancestors Altair and Ezio, but a brand new chapter to the saga as represented by the introduction of a new ancestor; Ratonhnhaké:ton (but you can call him Connor Kenway). So in celebration of tomorrow’s release, lets take a quick step back and see how Assassin’s Creed III will likely stack up compared to the rest of the series.
A Natural Evolution
The first Assassin’s Creed and its hero Altair served a worthy introduction into the world of the Assassin Brotherhood and its ongoing struggles against the nefarious Knights Templar. But in retrospect it was really just that; an introduction to what were at the time some far-reaching ideas. Disgraced, Altair was tasked with killing his way back up through the ranks of the order by serving as just another cog in a vast machine. We were shown what it would have been like to be an assassin during their peak. You were told where to go, who to kill, and more or less how to do it, being supervised and authorized by superior members of the brotherhood along the way. Skip ahead 300 years and we find the Assassin brotherhood is practically no more, consisting of a few scattered members who have taken to ground, hiding from the growing Templar influence. It is from here, we the player as Ezio Auditore da Firenze would spend the next three games rebuilding and reforming the ancient Brotherhood. As the newest Mentor of the order, we were afforded more freedom than Altair enjoyed. No more did we have to report to bureau chiefs and take orders from high-minded scholars in ivory towers. It was Ezio who took the tenant of the Assassins and delivered them into a new age.
Now the Brotherhood finds itself on a new frontier, in a New World. A young America beset in turmoil stands as the crucible in which the Assassin’s, now led by Connor, will be tempered for the modern age. The tools and teachings of countless generation will guide Connor on his journey, supplemented with the traditions and culture of his Mohawk heritage. Among his tools will be the infamous Hidden Blade, symbol of a true Assassin, this time designed with a pivoting blade capable of being wielded as a dagger. Other new additions include dual pistols (thanks to modern technical advances of the 18th century), a Rope Dart, bow and arrow, and Connor’s signature tomahawk. If you were a fan of the Hook Blade from last year’s Revelations, don’t expect to find one in Assassin’s Creed III, as that little piece of technical trickery never made it out of Constantinople (or is it Istanbul?). But you probably won’t miss it, as Connor may be even more resourceful then his predecessors when it comes to getting around. This time he can run through buildings which would have been closed off in previous games, or hide within more diverse types of blend groups and moving hay bails. But what of combat? Worry not, fans; this year’s combat system could end up being the most fluid and satisfying yet. Imagine going from a camoflauge to a full-on sprint past a rack of muskets and picking one up without missing a step, just to plunge said musket into the chest cavity of an enemy, then firing the musket to kill the guy behind the one you’ve just impaled... and that’s just the basic stuff.
Home is Where the Heart Is
But, surely, Connor will be doing other things than just running around murdering Templars. Introduced in Assassin’s Creed III is the Homesteading system. Remember Monteriggioni from Assassin's Creed 2? It is the same basic concept, but expanded. Now instead of rebuilding an old town by buying a couple of shops, you actually create a brand new town from the ground up. During his travels Connor will meet destitute individuals displaced by the war and invite them to build on his land in exchange for their goods and services. Soon you’ll have hunters, blacksmiths, doctors, tailors all living in your new little New England fiefdom. It is from here you’ll also be able to launch Connor’s ship, The Aquila (did I mention our new Assassin was also a Naval Captain?), to take on naval combat missions. Also making a return is the brilliant Brotherhood system, wherein Connor will rescue oppressed and subjugated citizens then recruit them into the Assassin Brotherhood. These recruits will come to your aid on command, and seem to have learned some new tricks this go around, such as arriving in disguise to help Connor slip through Red Coat checkpoints.
Killing with Friends
Now, as much as I love the Assassin’s Creed single player story experience, the cherry, for me, on this bloody sundae that is Assassin’s Creed III is the new Multiplayer experience. Multiplayer in the AC series has always seemed to be a polarizing thing; you either love it or you hate. I for one absolutely love it. Sure, it’s never been perfect, but at least it’s not just some cookie-cutter multiplayer tacked on at the end of development. Rule number one of AC multiplayer; you will die, get over it. This is not a competition of quantity of kills, but quality. Are you a true assassin, or just another unprofessional thug running around sticking blades in people? Favorite modes like Wanted and Deathmatch return along side newly announced team-based Domination and co-operative Wolf Pack.
In Domination teams compete to capture control points from one another. The twist is, if your capturing an enemy controlled point, you are a target and therefore, cannot kill members of the controlling team. The roles reverse if you enter one of your own control points under attack by enemy players. Wolf Pack, by contrast, is the Assassin’s Creed series’ first purely co-operative mode. You and your fellow players eliminate assigned targets within a given time limit. In keeping with the quality versus quantity mentality, execution of skillful kills earns you more time. If you run out of time, you die. Don’t be fooled into thinking of this as just another Horde mode; there is no hiding here waiting for waves of enemies to come to you. This time, you must go to your enemies, stalk them, strike fear into their mortal hearts, and send them swiftly to their graves.
A Paradigm Shift
As I mentioned earlier, I am a big fan of the Assassin’s Creed series. I know it hasn’t always been perfect, and annualized releases tend to diminish the quality of a series, but I truly feel that they have consistently improved through each installment despite this. And seeing as how Assassin’s Creed III has been in development for close to three years, I feel justified in expecting not just a great game, but also a significant paradigm shift in the series. But what will the future hold for Assassin’s Creed? We can reasonably assume that AC III will bring Desmond’s story arc and that of the 2012 apocalypse he is trying to prevent to a close. But must that mean an end to the series? The smart money says “No”.
Assassin's Creed III Creative Director Alex Hutchinson has already voiced a distaste for the three most often requested sequel settings of WWII, Feudal Japan, and Ancient Egypt, calling them, "the three worst settings for an Assassin's Creed game". He has suggested, instead, an interest in setting a game during the time of the British Raj. What would such a game be like? Could there be an even better historical period that no one has considered yet? Only time will tell. For now, I’m chomping at the bit to get my hand on Assassin’s Creed III. I can’t wait to meet Connor Kenway, to hear his story, to find out what will ultimately become of Desmond Miles. I only hope it lives up to hype. And I hope that maybe it will convert a few of you non-believers out there.
Remember Brothers and Sisters; nothing is true, everything is permitted.