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Assassin's Creed III: God Bless America

 

 

       Pre-information, Assassin's Creed III had me skeptical. The score was Ezio 3, Altaire 1. The franchise's history suggested that Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed III was going to tell the tale of Ezio, a 500 year old Italian Assassin amidst World War II Italy, the Nazi Templars looking to seize the world and with it Ezio's Apple. You have to admit; with the way they held on to that guy, it was plausible. If not Ezio himself, the odds were high that we were going to get his son, or daughter, or i don't know, his dog. After ACII, ACII.5 Brotherhood, and ACII.75 Revelations, I was beginning to believe that the only way I was going to get this I-talian out of my life was a good ol' fashioned restraining order. But when the news broke and I heard the American Revolution, mid to late 1700's colonial America, and a completely non-Ezio central character, I was curious. As an American, I'm a sucker for revolution; especially our own. Connor, Washington, The British, Boston, New York, The Frontier; after being driven away by the continuing focus on that damnable Florentine, I was in. And what a time to come back to the franchise.

       New games generally top their predecessors. It's possible that video games might just be the one form of entertainment whose sequels are almost always better than their originals. Movies, rarely; books, sometimes; music, almost never; but video games almost always pull it off. Assassin's Creed III is the case in point. I came into the franchise with Altaire, and when we moved into renaissance Italy, Ezio was the man. After holding out on another round of the frisky I-talian, I finally caved and joined him for probably my favorite in the series, at that point. When he came back for round 3, I checked out on Ezio and his stranglehold on Ubisoft's creative minds and headed for greener pastures. But finally after years and years, and years - and I think there were some more years in there - of Ezio, now, we have Connor.

 

 

       For those of you that don't know, Assassin's Creed III is set in the mid to late 1700's in a country called, 'Not Ours'. The story focuses on Connor, a Native American from the Kanien'keha:ka (pronounced like speaking Klingon under water) tribe whose Native mother and British father more or less make him his own worst enemy. It's kind of like being a Templar Assassin, which incidentally makes for a convenient explanation of the story as well. As some of you might have heard, the people squatting on the Native's land, hereafter referred to as 'theirs', didn't want to be forced to pay taxes on their damn land; they wanted to force themselves to pay taxes on their damn land. It's at this point that they promptly declared 'all men equal' then changed the definition of all to white. Since the British were white too, this made for a brutal and prolonged battle over who was equaler. There was something about the quality of tea, horse riding at night (which isn't as easy as it sounds), and tyranny, but that's basically the gist of it. Apparently it all ends well for, uhh.. all (see above definition), but it's amongst these tumultuous historical events that Connor and Assassin's Creed III's story plays out in all it's Templar vs. Assassin's glory. My money's on the Assassin's.

       As an American with a mild interest in history, the ABXY dual-stick control of some of these historic moments made me feel like I should be pledging allegiance, or wearing a blue or red tie, or attaching a flag pin to my lapel. Riding with Revere and commanding troops at Lexington truly had a sense of weight beyond the ordinary drama of the digital moment. But the story took a major back seat to all of the new features and elements that ACIII brings to the table. While Samuel Adams and George Washington truly had me captivated and connected to the game, what kept me glued to my controller, hour after hour, was hunting.

 

 

       As both currency and ingredients, animal hides and their relevant parts are the foundation of your early economy. But for me, it's all about the hunt. I wondered how they were going to pull off the vertical action that the series generally offers with just the wilderness and early colonial cities, but trees? I don't think I've ever been happier about trees in my lifetime. Flying through the forest from limb to limb, silently sliding around tree trunks from branch to branch, stalking enemies both foreign and domestic from the safety of the canopy; I can't tell you how many hours I've spent just wandering the frontier hunting the indigenous species to near extinction. I'm not sure where to look in the stats, but I know for a fact that my time spent in any given locale favors the Frontier probably 15 to 1. The only other place I like to spend my time even half as much, is the open sea.

       When I first heard of the naval missions in Assassin's Creed III I wasn't entirely sold on how that might work out. But once I grabbed the wheel, and let loose those cannons, I was quite literally on board. I know you can replay missions as many times as you want but there simply weren't enough of these things to sate my appetite. I would absolutely sink $65 into Assassin's Creed 3.1275, Pirates of the Eastern Seaboard, provided they let me wander the wilderness from time to time. There's just something so rewarding about dodging rogue waves, coming about in the dead of night with a storm raging all around you and letting loose a barrage of cannons, sending your enemy to Davy Jones' locker in a burning splintery mess of destruction. Whether I'm clearing my trade routes in the Atlantic or chasing down the non-Jack Sparrow pirates of the Caribbean, the naval side missions are one of my favorite new additions to the series thus far. But with so many new additions to the already solid foundation, hunting in the Frontier and 'privateering' are only a fraction of what Ubisoft has done right in Assassin's Creed III.

       While the Frontier and the Homestead are the first things that immediately took my breath away, the cities themselves are lightyears beyond where AC and ACII were in terms of nation building. Brotherhood had pieces of this new equation with the Roman countryside, but Boston and New York completely raise the bar for what an Assassin's Creed city should be. Colonial Boston, from the start of the game is an incredibly rich new texture of genuine colonial life. With so many different routes through alleys, trees, roofs, and yes ladies and gentlemen, in one door and out the other buildings, Boston makes for a much different feel in the AC experience. But it's when you truly start exploring the entire area that this new design really starts to show it's colors. This is most notable when you first walk in to New York. That part countryside, part burgeoning shiny new city surrounded on the outskirts by ports and oceans, is from corner to corner, a much more unique, varied experience than those cut and paste earlier designs. You truly get a sense of the early colonial beginnings of some of America's most famous and developed cities. But wait, there's more. Did I mention the Homestead?

 

 

       The center of Connor's universe in the Assassin's Creed III world is Davenport, or, the Homestead. It's here that a young Connor trains and hunts; a heavily wooded valley wrapped around a bay. In the beginning, there is only an estate, surrounded on all sides by nothing but wilderness. But as the story progresses, and as you complete more and more of the Homestead side missions, this vast wilderness slowly becomes a frontier city of it's own. If you're looking for cash money, do not skip the Homestead missions. As of press time, I'm still in the top 1% worldwide for money made from caravans (or whatever its called). If you complete the tasks for every one of these needy little 'colonialists', before long your extensive new crafting and shipping system (fueled entirely by what these new additions to your colony can produce and craft) will have you knee deep in some new world cash. As my homestead's wilderness shrunk, initially I was kind of peeved at all these new folk eating up my hunting grounds; but once you really get over say, that two thirds hump of Homesteading missions, that money more than makes up for you loss of open ground. I, am a virtual shipping magnate at this point. By the time my 3 land caravans and 2 naval caravans return, I'm usually somewhere in the range of $35,000 - $50,000 (quick tip: go with quilts, bandages, fancy clothing, bear pendants, torches, and all the weaponry you can make). If you invest your time in the Homestead, absolutely nothing will beyond your means.

       I can't say that I made it through the entire game without a single complaint, because as per usual, there's always something for me to b*tch about. What got me from the start was the amount of time you had to put in before you even got you hands on Connor. I understand laying the groundwork for the story and sure, maybe there's some sense of tutorialness going on too, but that was way too much setup, pre-Connor. The actual core of the game is Connor, so why in the world was so much time spent running around as someone else. And don't even get me started on Desmond. I don't know if I'm alone in this or not, but I do not want to have to keep doing these stupid little climb-abouts with this idiot. Don't get me wrong, the story is definitely interesting, but I don't want to actually play with this guy. The game is Connor, period. There has to be a better way to tell that story than these stupid little side missions that have zero challenge and seem to exist simply to break up your overall enjoyment with Connor. And speaking of breaking things up. There are way too many occasions when you hit a cutscene only to watch a cinematic, get control of your character to walk all of 5 steps, and enter another cinematic. These things just baffled the hell out of me. Why not just do the whole thing as a cinematic. Having control of your character for a total of 3 seconds, simply to walk around a corner, or down a set of stairs is just ridiculous. Of course, those issues pale in comparison to the all-time most confusing element of ACIII; crafting. 

 

 

       Ok, so never mind that the whole crafting and shipping elements of the game have zero tutorials or explanation, you'll figure it out, you really will; but what's up with the pricing? Here's how this thing works. If I want to craft materials for my quilts I have to pay my seamstress to make me some string. Now to do that, I have to fork over the dough. Fair enough. But if I want say 10 things of string, the pricing goes as such: String 1 - $25, String 2 -$25, String 3- $50, String 4 - $75, String 5 - $100, String 6 - $125, String 7 - $150… and on and on and on, until string is so expensive to make that crafting the actual item is just pointless, unless you're a fan of losing money. Because regardless of whether you start on a new item or not, if you're using that same person to craft, that price just keeps on going up. So that $25 string I needed in the beginning of this little exercise? By the time I've made 10 and move on to crafting my quilt, that quilt cost me $225 to make. No starting back from scratch because it's a new item, just a constant skyrocketing of prices for utilizing the same persons skills.  I don't get it. If I want 10 boxes of string from this lady, why would I agree to pay more and more money for the same item. I just don't get the sense in it. The only way to get around it is to just craft two items per tradesmen, and then wait a while and do it again. Tedious and nonsensical. So to craft the materials to create the items all in the same go, you're paying prices in the $300 - $600 dollar range per product. You don't have to keep paying this incremental price for the stockpile items, so why the crafting items? I could go on about this forever so I'll just leave it at this. Seriously..???

       Assassin's Creed III is absolutely the franchise's high mark to date. The Frontier, hunting, naval missions, the Homestead, crafting, shipping, the cities, the story, the fighting, and everything in between; every piece of this new entry is so much smoother and more interesting than anything they've had before. The new weapons and fighting make for probably the best arsenal, and the best use of their arsenals to date. I still have not gotten tired of that slow motion sequence when attacking from above. The only thing that tops that is all the different animations you get when you counter two enemies attacking at once. Sending a bayonet through a Red Coats chest and then firing through him to kill his partner is just downright brutal, not to mention BEA-U-TI-FUL. I'm clearly at the lower end of the 'enemies killed' stats worldwide, but I can't tell you how many times I've just walked into a fort and obliterated the entire place in full on frontal assault. I've walked from end to end in New York tearing apart pack after pack of British along the way. If my notoriety could keep getting higher, I'd probably be at 127 by the time I hit the docks. But at the end of it all, hunting is where I spend all of my time. I'm not sure what it is, but coming down out of the trees from 20+ feet above in all that slow motion glory never gets old. Pulling that blade from my hip and plunging it into my kill, quietly whispering Yama.. I don't know what it really means (if anything), but from what it seems to say, at the end of Assassin's Creed III all I could think of was pulling out my tomahawk and.. Yama..

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