Assassin's Creed 3 review: bigger, not better

Bigger is not necessarily better, and Ubisoft proves that with Assassin's Creed 3.

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Bigger is not necessarily better, and Ubisoft proves that with Assassin's Creed 3. The hype machine has taught us that the latest entry in Ubisoft's franchise is bigger than any game before it: there are more things to do, more things to see, and more at stake--all powered by Anvil Next, the publisher's new next-gen graphics engine. It's an incredible spectacle, one certainly worth experiencing. However, by juggling so much, AC3 is less successful at being as polished, cohesive, and satisfying as AC2. The scope of Assassin's Creed 3 is still difficult to comprehend, even after seeing the credits roll. Whereas the first game in the franchise was criticized for not offering players enough variety, the same cannot be said of AC3. Not only does AC3 wrap up the modern-day tale of Desmond and the 2012 apocalypse, it details decades of the life of the game's two main characters across multiple continents. Playing through a fully-realized colonial Boston is impressive enough, and then the game adds New York, the wilderness, and the open sea--clearly Ubisoft is insane. Because of its girth, AC3 feels like four games in one: the prologue, Connor's rise as an Assassin, the War, and the present day could all be standalone experiences. However, with so many different mechanics introduced in this latest iteration, the first half of the game essentially acts as an ongoing tutorial, constantly introducing new techniques with each passing chapter. The long-toothed introduction will likely disappoint players expecting to jump into the Revolutionary War's Greatest Hits quickly--the game doesn't really open up until about 10 hours in. While some may find the game's slow start a bother, I actually feel like the game is far more successful in its first half. The spectacle is certainly far more impactful when beginning your journey. For example, stepping into the opera for the first time to see hundreds of individually moving NPCs is one of those few landmark moments in gaming where you know the envelope is being pushed. It's hard not to be amazed when you first go tree-running, appreciating how fluid Connor's movement can be through the treetops. And your first naval battle will likely leave your mouth agape--it's a thrilling moment that makes me wonder what voodoo Ubisoft has cast to get so much out of current-gen consoles. And that twist! The first big revelation in the game is so big it actually merits an Achievement: "How D'ya Like Them Apples." Unfortunately, the narrative is never able to reproduce such a thrilling moment afterwards. Perhaps it's a consequence of telling a tale that spans such a large period of time, but Connor's story is ultimately unsatisfying. The many relationships you develop through the campaign are never really fleshed out, as if key moments were left on the cutting room floor. For example, Kanen'to:kon is described as an "inseparable" friend by the game's own encyclopedia, but never do you see how their relationship strains and changes before you eventually confront him. Connor's relationship with Achilles, his mentor, is randomly heated at times, inexplicably so. Perhaps most frustratingly, Connor's relationship with Haytham Kenway is criminally underdeveloped, as it shows hints of an interesting moral gray.

The naval battles are impressive

While Connor's story may not be satisfying, Desmond's portion of the game is far more disappointing. Considering this game ends a tale five games in the making, you'd think more effort would be placed into making his missions more exciting. Instead, these are easily the worst missions in the game. You'd think that having to stop an apocalypse would require more daring feats--especially considering how god-like beings had to work a millennium to place the pawns in the right place. And yes, although game makes good on resolving Desmond's story, will you like the answers? (Also, if you haven't played Brotherhood or Revelations, do note that the story will not make any sense at all. If you're new to the AC franchise altogether, you'll fare even worse.) In spite of the narrative shortcomings, Assassin's Creed 3 is still worth playing. Because of how much variety it offers, there's bound to be something that tickles your fancy. I personally loved the naval combat. Not only does it look terrific, but it plays wonderfully. Simply cruising over the waves and navigating through rocky waters is thrilling--even more so when cannons are being fired at you. Hunting must also get special recognition: finding clues to track animals, setting snares and traps, and going for the perfect kill is incredibly satisfying. The "assassination" gameplay has also, for the most part, been largely improved. It's incredibly easy to replay missions now, and each mission has "constraints" that encourage you to play stylishly. For example, one constraint will have you never touching the ground, which forces you to think about how you'll approach each scenario. Encouraging replayability is always a good thing--even though many of the missions do seem to have only one "correct" approach. Assassin's Creed 3 could have been a tour de force; instead, it's simply a good game. With a massive campaign, and an even larger array of side missions, Assassin's Creed 3 may not be the greatest game, but it is unquestionably a great value, one that will keep you occupied and entertained for a long time.
This review was based on retail Xbox 360 code provided by the publisher. Assassin's Creed 3 is available today on Xbox 360 and PS3. The game will also be available on Wii U on November 18th and on PC on November 20th.

From The Chatty

  • reply
    October 30, 2012 9:00 AM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Assassin's Creed 3 review: bigger, not better.

    Bigger is not necessarily better, and Ubisoft proves that with Assassin's Creed 3.

    • reply
      October 30, 2012 9:04 AM

      If you guys have any questions, please let me know! I know this review skipped over some details (intentionally), but I'll be more than glad to answer Qs here.

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        October 30, 2012 9:06 AM

        How's the PC version? :)

        Sorry, I shouldn't joke about that. I cannot read this until I play it though, so... see you in 3 weeks :/

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          October 30, 2012 9:11 AM

          Yeah, Ubisoft isn't going to do that, silly.

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        October 30, 2012 9:07 AM

        did you get to play any exclusive PS3 content? I wonder if it's meaningful or disposable.

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          October 30, 2012 9:12 AM

          Unfortunately, they sent us the 360 version of the game. I was curious about the PS3 content myself!

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          October 30, 2012 9:17 AM

          Our Steve Watts will be picking up the PS3 version. We'll try to have a quick write-up of it as soon as possible.

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        October 30, 2012 9:08 AM

        How lost will I be for skipping AssBro and AssRev? I simply don't have the time.

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      October 30, 2012 9:09 AM

      That's what she said.

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      October 30, 2012 9:09 AM

      Whoa. Still plan to get it. So the main issue was the lack of a deep and cohesive story. Interesting.

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        October 30, 2012 9:25 AM

        I'm not worried about that at all. There is a LOT of new material and they have to leave something to be desired. The "deep" part unfolds across the games, expecting it to be contained within one game isn't correct for a series such as this.

        In fact, I want to be a little lost... wandering around a new continent, new enemies, new situations... the deep and cohesive story is going to be an arc, not a quicky.

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        October 30, 2012 10:21 AM

        So, it's like the other Assassin's Creed games then? I mean really, none of them ever had particularly deep stories.

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      October 30, 2012 9:13 AM

      Whoa, interesting review! I was expecting super high scores.

    • gmd
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      October 30, 2012 9:13 AM

      ps3 or 360 better? I NEED TO KNOW

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      October 30, 2012 9:26 AM

      Here's what I took from the review:

      "Bigger is not necessarily better...It's an incredible spectacle, one certainly worth experiencing. The scope...is still difficult to comprehend...Because of its girth...It's hard not to be amazed when you first go...agape--it's a thrilling moment that makes me... so big. The many relationships you develop...may not be satisfying...will you like the...shortcoming?] Because of how much variety it offers, there's bound to be something that tickles your fancy. I personally loved the...thrilling...snares and traps. It's incredibly easy to...encourage...a tour de force...With a massive...array."]/

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      October 30, 2012 9:29 AM

      So basically everything was better but the story sucked? The AC story has always been pretty mediocre so I dont see why that is such a problem. Sounds like an improvement over the tower defense nonsense of revelations.

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        October 30, 2012 10:10 AM

        Agreed.

        I am not too worried about shortcomings in the story as long as the game is fun ... for instance, I loved Metroid: Other M, despite the terrible story :)

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      October 30, 2012 3:39 PM

      Sounds like a classic case of an overblown, overhyped sequel. The games industry has truly become the new Hollywood.

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      October 30, 2012 4:44 PM

      IM assuming story and all that stuff will as has been done before get fleshed out in DLC?

      Why cant people just make a fully realized game without needed DLC to make it how it should've been :(

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      October 30, 2012 7:04 PM

      Everytime a reviewer (no offense to you, Andrew Yoon,) says that the story is bad, I end up loving it. So I'm not worried.

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      October 30, 2012 7:07 PM

      I completely disagree with half of what you said. Being a huge fan of the series this is easily the best installment yet. The game is much more smooth , and the amount of time put into the characters facial expressions and the way they act during cutscenes gives everyone a very distinct personality. On a grand scale AC3 far exceeds the amount of content of any other title, it sounds like you rushed trough this game without sitting down and enjoying it in order to get your review out on time. But such is the press. This review is more negative than positive and isn't focusing on any of the plus sides to the game. And if you don't think the story was deep enough you obviously didn't take the time to talk to npcs or explore the land. The combat is much more satisfying and so is just about every thing else. Don't let this review change your perceptive on the game. Play it for yourself, take your time and don't rush into every mission (which was never a good way to play any of the AC titles) and enjoy what Ubisoft has given to their true AC fans. You will not be disappointed.

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      October 30, 2012 8:22 PM

      Did they fuck up multiplayer? Is wanted mode still there?

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      October 31, 2012 1:32 AM

      Assassin's Creed 3 review: bigger, not better. I think it's a bigger also better download. Most of the people like to play this game very much. visit: http://playfreegame24.blogspot.com

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      October 31, 2012 1:41 AM

      I think that is a shitty sensationalist headline for an otherwise largely positive review.

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      October 31, 2012 10:52 AM

      Sat on the couch as a friend played through the game. I fell asleep twice watching it. I felt like there was too much time passing between anything exciting. I think Ubisoft is ready to make an updated version of "Oregon Trail", though.

      I wasn't ready to pass it by, because playing a game and watching it played are two different things. Then I sat down for lunch today, and had to listen to three other friends talk about how much they dislike AC3, compared to AC2. I think this will be one of those games that I let pass by the wayside, and just watch the good parts on youtube.

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        November 4, 2012 6:55 AM

        I just beat it and all the side quests, and it was fucking awesome.