Following a thoroughly well received showing at E3, the upcoming Assassin’s Creed 3 is already shaping up to be one of the biggest titles this Christmas – no mean achievement when it’s up against Halo 4, Resident Evil 6, Dishonored and the launch of WiiU. But then it is the biggest Assassin’s Creed so far and a leap from old Europe to the New World. In this preview we’ll explore an appetite-whetting new range of features.
Perhaps the most central change in Assassin’s Creed 3 is the move away from Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the familiar Renaissance Italian assassin and ladies man. Connor Kenway is half Native American, half English and a very different sort of chap, most importantly because one of his priorities is defending his people. While he still has to fight age-old enemy the Templars, he’s also motivated to prevent Native American land being carved up and sold to the highest bidder. It’s a somewhat more noble set of ambitions than his forebears, allowing for greater depth to his character.
Another shift is in the environment, which no longer keeps Connor confined to cities and settlements, instead setting him free in the American wilderness. Its trees are certainly multi-levelled and dense undergrowth supplies potential for stealth, but it’s a far cry from Rome and Constantinople in both feel and structure. Even in town, buildings are lower and the Red Coats more alert to his presence, meaning movement requires more stealth than it used to.
This also makes fights tougher, because enemies come in greater numbers and many carry pistols or rifles, which means you can be fending off a group, while more soldiers gather behind you effectively setting up a miniature firing squad. Caution is needed and even in single combat, parrying now demands following onscreen button prompts in a QTE style. It works to give a greater feeling of control and skill when fending off attackers and turning their own lunges against them, but also makes combat a trickier and more focused experience.
Fighting animals takes persistence too, not least because many need to be tracked through the forest using clues they inadvertently leave behind. Once discovered tactics will vary, for example bears endure a lot of damage before going down and wolves hunt in packs, making them an adversary not to underestimate in the early stages of the game. However once slain, all animals can be skinned and their pelts fetch a reasonable price when traded in a town.
Although cities are small by comparison with Renaissance Europe – even the bustling American port of Boston is nowhere near the size of ancient Florence – and trading settlements even smaller, there’s plenty to do on entering one, from gambling and games to trading, to the usual selection of carry and fetch and assassination side missions. You’ll also find more buildings to enter, both to do business and in ‘implied interiors’ as Connor swings through an open window in an attempt to evade pursuers.
In a complete departure from past Assassin’s Creed games, you will now also take to the high seas, a feature only alluded to in past instalments. This outing features full bore naval engagements, requiring use of tactics as you weave around enemy ships, using cannons to weaken or sink the stragglers, before swinging onboard larger vessels with muskets and cutlasses. Ship-to-ship combat is a fully realised part of the game and also provides plenty of explosive visual spectacle.
The latest Assassin’s Creed is shaping up not only to be a fascinating departure for a well established and hugely popular series, but also a massive game in its own right. Along with a main story that promises to be several times the size of early Assassin’s Creeds, the range and richness of side quests make this an enormous and incredibly ambitious title, not to mention its deeper story, more rounded hero and broader armoury. In a Christmas season with a raft of triple-A games, this is already one of the stand-outs.
Daniel Etherington is co-founder of The Truth About Games. He also wrote a weekly games column for BBC Collective for several years and has contributed to the estimable Eurogamer. He’s currently working on a novel called ‘Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Saving the World I Learned From Videogames’.