Assassin’s Creed III is the culmination of the “End of Days” story that has served as a meta-narrative and framing device for the game to date. For better or worse Ubisoft decided to mix things up a LOT with this entry moving us from the early 16th century to the late 18th century with the only connective tissue between the two stories being Desmond. This has worked in the past when we moved from Altaïr to Ezio so why wouldn’t it work again?
Anyhow, this is the setting we are launched in to, at the end of Revelations we get the revelation that the world is going to end and that they need to go to specific co-ordinates revealed to Desmond by Minerva. Setting up a base at the temple revealed by the temple and set about finding the key (as well as power sources) to activate the temple and save the Earth from a devastating solar flare. This time instead of returning to the memories of Ezio (whom we can only hope settled down and had a happy life with his lovely Italian book seller wife and having nothing to do with the Order ever again… though we know this would never be the case) we are instead plunging in to the memories of the young and headstrong Half Mohawk half English Assassin Ratonhnhaké:ton (aka Connor Kenway). We start with a delightful little fake out, instead of plunging directly in to Connor’s memories we actually start with his Father’s. Launching directly in to a mission at the Theatre Royal (aka Covent Garden or Royal Opera House) in London we get the first glimpse of the stunning recreation and the full scope of what end of generation consoles are capable of. The level of detail is astounding and Haytham makes his way to his target killing him and getting out ostensibly on a mission for the Brotherhood. During this mission we are introduced to the same familiar old transversal mechanics which have been slightly tweaked but also new lock picking mechanics. As Haytham makes his escape he meets with several co-conspirators and we find that this was in fact a mission to prove himself to the Templar order. Haytham has decided to switch sides!
Upon proof of his loyalty and the retrieval of the precursor (aka First Civilization) artifact he is dispatched to the Colonies to find the temple it is associated with. We have a few missions as Haytham where he meets a young Mohawk woman named Kaniehtí:io. They have a brief dalliance before he leaves to continue his business for the Templars. He does not become aware of his son until much later, we then cut to young Connor learning more of the fundamentals of Free Running in new environments including transversal and stealth actions. Flashing forward we witness the death of Connor’s mother at the hands of Charles Lee a Templar and associate of Haytham’s.
Time is very fast and loose in this game, it appears that pretty much every major event of the Revolution Connor had a hand in. He was part of Paul Revere’s ride, he briefly met Ben Franklin during one of his infrequent return trips from his time in Paris (which introduced the “fun” game of chasing pages of Franklin’s almanac), he was at the Continental Congress several times, and several important battles. He befriends several characters including Washington only to find out Washington put many a village of his people to the torch before assuming his role (for which Washington does apologize but the blood of thousands of murdered men women and children is kind of hard to wash off with a “I’m sorry”). Through the entire series Connor vacillates really unsure of his allegiances and briefly working with his Father to take down a Templar (Lee) who overstepped his boundaries. Connor is disgusted by how the Templar and Assassin orders are playing both sides against each other with both parties manipulating members on the Continental Congress and within the British Government. Meanwhile we explore the more direct relationship between Connor’s people and the Precursors all too briefly in a handful of dialogue and a dream trance. Eventually we get to see where Connor buried the artifact and we end his part of the game with a heavy handed cut away to a scene of African slaves at the slave markets of New York City.
In a final cut scene we see Desmond offered two choices as calculated by Minerva, he can use the device which will prevent the earth from being devastated but will continue this centuries long war which the Templar Order are clearly winning or if he let the solar flare wash over the earth it would bring on a dark age where technology is rendered inert and millions upon millions would die but he would assume a role as a great peace maker and a leader of people.
But here’s the twist, if he uses the shield to prevent the flare from wiping out the earth Juno will be released from her prison and allowed to once again restart her attempts to take over the human race with the added kicker of Desmond dying in the process. The twist on the other option is after his death Desmond will be elevated to the status of a god and, over time, his message will be corrupted from one of peace and acceptance in to one of war and tyranny and the entire cycle of Templar versus the Assassins would start anew. So Desmond is faced with the choice of saving the world buy dying and allowing the Templar rampage to continue or letting most of the world die for a handful of centuries of peace only for the cycle to perpetuate this time in his name. In the end he sacrifices himself to save the world but releases Juno in the process (who will make a comeback). After this we see the above mentioned epilogue and we have the opportunity to locate “pivot points” once located you are “connected to the cloud” implying that Desmond’s consciousness (much like Clay aka Subject 16) was imprinted on the Animus and by connecting to the cloud Desmond is now in effect immortal (much like Juno) living on the internet.
This game took some daring and interesting risks, from a story point of view the is setting the game in an era of history much closer and much less removed than the Renaissance, while many are familiar with that period the Renaissance has the benefit of being well beyond the realm of living memory while the American Revolution is an era where stories handed down only a few generations still make themselves known. Add to this not just using a Native American as your primary protagonist but using a large cast of actual Native Americans speaking in their native tongue! This is something seldom seen and even more rarely treated with the respectful manner in which they were in this game. Lastly this is the first time we see the Brotherhood and Order painted in more ambiguous colours. During prior entries the Order was pretty much a cartoon villain, I mean when you’re lead by a pope who had orgies in the Vatican and ordered the murder of thousands and his second in command is his son who’s having an incestuous relationship with his sister… kind of hard to have any sympathy while the Assassins are “freedom loving” and “the good guys”. In this entry, we see them much more as equals, their goals are not as dissimilar as it would seem and their methods are in fact near identical treating most of humanity as pawns in their “long game”. The only difference is the rhetoric Order versus Freedom, Safety versus Liberty which given the timing of the release of these games is an interesting parallel to real life events raising the same kinds of questions.
From a gameplay standpoint, the combat was a bit simplified and the addition of the lock pick mechanic really didn’t feel like it added much but the show stopper was naval combat. Initially a one off scripted event the team responsible explained how they had some great ideas and, much like Assassin’s Creed sprung from Prince of Persia, the naval component took on a life of its own growing in to a full branch with an upgradable ship, multi-vessel combat and boarding actions. The movement was quite interesting because you had the ocean moving the ship and then your character moving around atop that creating a dynamic and at times challenging environment. Many lamented the limited inclusion of the ship in the game (though they wouldn’t have long to wait before getting their next fix of naval combat).
Aside from the change in the meta-story we are also more importantly playing as a female Assassin for the first time! Even back in Ezio’s time women were important parts of the Order with his sister and many other high profile assassins being female but for the first time we get behind the stick and get to control one. We assume the role of Aveline de Grandpré a native of New Orleans and the mixed race daughter of a French merchant named Philippe de Grandpré and an African slave Jeanne (a situation far more common in New Orleans than many may realize). She is also the ancestor of Subject 1 which is how the Templars got ahold of the DNA to sequence her memory from.
The story itself runs roughly alongside the period covered in Assassin’s Creed III and addresses the crimes of the transport and sale of slaves. Aveline’s mother disappeared while she was quite young (as seen in the opening scenes of the game). She was raised by her father and stepmother Madeleine de L'Isle, she was brought in to the Assassin Order by Agaté when she was still quite young after witnessing her attempt to liberate a slave. Taking place during a period where New Orleans switched hands from French to Spanish control with the French governor swearing allegiance to the Templar Order to maintain his position.
Upon induction she gave parts of a Prophecy Disk she collected during her travels to her stepmother who attempted to reunite them but is unable to interpret them. Killing the Templars and assassinating her own stepmother Aveline used a locket given to her by her mother to translate the Prophecy Disk (indicating a convenient connection between her mother and the Precursors). The Disk contained a hologram discussing the election of Eve to lead the rebellion against the First Civilization (someone was having fun with their creative reinterpretation of Genesis) and here we end the story.
From a gameplay perspective Liberation plays very similarly to the other entries with the addition of a “Disguise” mechanic. This mechanic allows you to switch Aveline between one of three different outfits (Nobel, Assassin and Slave). Each outfit has a different set of skills and abilities which make it more suited for different tasks.
Serving as a nice background piece reception of the title was mixed but towards the high end of mixed (scoring on average 70/100 on metacritic). Due to its nature as a mobile game it was short and many felt it was pop in and out with some criticizing the feel of the game as haphazard and sloppily assembled. Interestingly it does feel like there was some care that went in to the creation of Aveline, she would later make a reappearance in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag in a standalone DLC mission where you took control over her once again. In both the PC port of Liberation and the DLC Aveline’s movement felt different and it appeared to take in to account the different physicality of the different characters (Connor, Aveline and Edward).
Things start fine enough, the HR lady welcomes you to the office (hey, that dude at the Coffee hut… he looks familiar) and you are escorted to your desk where you can read some e-mails and log in to the Animus. After a while you get an e-mail from the IT guy who hacked your account giving you higher level access and asking you to deliver a package to that Coffee guy who you later discover is in fact Shaun and Rebecca is there posing as a courier and your life gets only more complicated from there. John (the IT guy) has you hacking other employee’s Animus stations as well as computers around the building upping your security level and the risk. You discover the Templars found Desmond’s body in the ruins of the temple after the flare and took samples (this is what you are playing in the Animus). As well you learn more and more about the organization and the past we are drawn deeper in to the plot.
Meanwhile you are also doing QA for Abstergo Entertainment’s next big project, after the runaway success of the adventures of Aveline (I can only think they edited some parts of that) and the smash hit of Pirates of the Caribbean (I can only assume) they decide to go with a pirate themed game. You are tasked with playing the memories of Edward Kenway, a Welsh sailor who set sail to the Caribbean as a Privateer for the British Government. This all goes sideways when the government renounces its ties to Privateers and many turn straight up Pirate. Right off the bat we start with a naval battle (including Sea Chantey singing crew who’s repertoire you can expand by discovering Chanteys being blown around in the breeze), something that was a side mission in the last game now gets a place of prominence as the key linking feature of the game (so much so Ubisoft sent out a survey asking people if they’d like to play a pirate game without all the Assassin stuff).
Eventually Edward is made for the fake that he is and is forced to flee setting loose several prisoners one of whom becomes his first mate a former slave named Adéwalé. Edward hooks up with such piracy luminaries as Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch, Benjamin Hornigold, Jack Racham aka “Calico Jack”, Charles Vane, William Kidd son of the pirate James Kidd (who we later learn is Mary Read in disguise) and Anne Bonny. Setting up the free port of Nassau a proto-Anarchist Collective made up of former privateers cut loose by the British crown things didn’t work out so well and eventually they start turning on one another when the pressure from the Templars starts to build. Eventually William/Mary reveals to Edward that she is in fact an Assassin and tries to recruit him to the Assassin order.
Her mentor is not particularly impressed but eventually does bring him in to the order and they continue their hunt for the Sage. It is eventually revealed the Templars have captured the Bartholomew Roberts the Sage (and also a real life pirate) but have yet to find the Observatory. Edward frees Bartholomew and for a time they work together before Bartholomew turns on Edward and leaves him for dead. It turns out that Bartholomew is all to willing to play either side against one another as long as it brings him power. Freed by the Assassins, Edward joins the order in earnest hunting down Roberts and the Templars retrieving the artifacts to activate the Observatory and sealing it once and for all.
It turns out the Observatory is a First Civilization device that would allow you to spy on any individual in the world with a simple blood sample. It would seem that the Templars were looking to monetize their assets for a good long time.
One of the current generation launch titles Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was an impressive title, on the last generation consoles the graphics were at top form and on PC and current generation consoles we got to see it shine. We continued to have the naval battles added in Assassin’s Creed III but they were expanded to include activities like raiding forts which you could assume command over (sort of like the tower sieges in Assassin’s Creed II: Revelations and fort sieges Assassin’s Creed III), you could use diving bells to plumb the depths of the ocean for treasure, you could capture ships and build an armada to send on missions around the world, and you could even hunt for whales and sharks which raised the ire of PETA. I have to say though, PETA’s complaints were unfounded, they felt it trivialized the murder of animals and I have to say after killing an orca or sperm Whale or even a shark I felt infinitely more empathy for the animal being hauled out of the water than I did for many of my human targets. As well we continue with the now established formula of multi-player as an Abstergo Entertainment product.
This was a solid entry that brought a lot to the table, it was fun and one of the most highly regarded entries in the title to date. For many the gameplay is the gold standard for the series. The game does struggle on some levels, despite a redemptive arc for Edward towards the end of the story and a tear jerking conclusion which is only more tragic if you read the supplemental material bridging Assassin’s Creed IV and its predecessor Assassin’s Creed III but at the heart of it Edward is not a very nice human being. He’s trying to be, which makes you want to like him, and despite what the trailers would lead you to believe he is faithful to his wife through the entire game but still he’s so focused on making his fortune he sacrifices everyone and everything and this makes it hard to connect with this character though his moral ambiguity and the amount of pressure it takes for him to choose a side makes him far more believable than the rage filled Connor or the duplicitous Haytham.
In addition to the companion app the website Assassin’s Creed: Initiates was launched, consisting of a marketing outlet many videos were unlocked but it also served as a social challenge hub tracking your performance and community participation unlocking gear based on your helping the community hit goals and also working as a forum for the community to share and help one another. But most importantly it served as a great device to help build the back story. Several smaller games have been released on other platforms including web games and tablet based CCG games all intent on building out the story and background of the universe but Initiates used a series of puzzles and timed events where you would have to decode information using cryptography or racking your brains to figure out riddles that would lead you to co-ordinates on the global map. These would unlock brief pieces of fiction tied to the world including the adventures of Rebecca, Shaun and William following the death of Desmond and their attempt to assess the current state of the Assassin Order following the Templar’s Great Purge. Unfortunately shortly before the launch of Unity the website was brought down and many of these features were stripped out. It has since re-launched with many of the same features but it has not activated properly due to extensive issues with the Uplay platform who’s servers are struggling to even remain up let alone allow for the multiplayer components of Unity. Hopefully when the site is back and fully active again we’ll be able to enjoy learning more about the Templar Order and the Brotherhood of Assassins.