In the Assassin’s Creed universe the Order of Assassins and their arch-enemies the Knights Templar have been battling over the fate of human society since ancient times, and so far we’ve engaged as Assassins with our Templar enemies during the Crusades and the Renaissance. Assassin’s Creed III pushes the timeline into the mid-to-late 18th century and places American audiences into much more familiar territory, namely the city of Boston and the Thirteen Colonies on the eve of their revolution against Great Britain.
We play the role of a half-American Indian, half-British Assassin named Connor, and the overarching story of the single-player preview was taking down a smuggler that planned to purchase our tribe’s land with the money earned from his criminal activities. The demo began in the house of a mentor named Achilles, who told us to go to Boston and meet with Sam Adams to discuss our problem. I decided to explore the wilderness frontier first, as the addition of the frontier is the biggest change to the franchise formula.
By moving things into open wilderness Ubisoft introduced a few challenges to keeping the traditional Assassin’s Creed experience intact. Parkour movement in the forest was tough. Tree branches take the place of windows and roof edges and smoothly traveling via the high ground wasn’t always possible. I had a horse but didn’t find it useful for much else besides sticking to the main roads. The horse couldn’t seem to make up its mind as to just how far it was willing to jump down, which led to several occasions where the horse refused to move followed by my abandoning it in frustration.
The frontier felt mostly like open-world exploration. Clues on the ground led to information on nearby animals I could track, and the pelts I skinned could be sold at general stores for arrows, powder cartridges for my pistol, and darts and traps among other things. There were also missions to be had. I rescued a hunter named Miriam who was being harassed by poachers in the forest, and then proceeded to murder all the poachers by using rope darts and hanging them to death from tree branches or sneaking up behind them and chopping them up with a one-handed axe. The axe kills all felt particularly brutal and sounded uncomfortably crunchy.
After settling Miriam into Achilles’s house I fast-traveled to Boston and looked around for landmarks. Ubisoft prides itself on historical accuracy, and it took me all of a second to spot the Old State House, one of the most important colonial-era sites in the city. The urban environment made parkour viable again and I scrambled to the top of the State House as quickly as I could. I was pleased with the view. Ubisoft has done a good job aesthetically of creating Boston the way I’ve always imagined and read about it from the history books.
There was plenty of open-world exploration and questing in Boston and I spent a while doing what Assassins do best, killing every group of British Redcoats I could find. The fighting system in Assassin’s Creed III felt a little clunky. Just by mashing buttons I was able to take on five or six Redcoats simultaneously, and made up my mind to attack the nearby British garrison of Fort Hood. A blown up powder magazine and dead Captain later, the Fort was in the hands of the Americans.
The nearby Brits outside weren’t taking kindly to my antics, which led to a foot chase through the city. Ubisoft has done something really interesting when you enter a house in Assassin’s Creed III. The camera cuts in close to Connor and he can take advantage of windows or doorways to try and throw off his attackers. It lent immediacy to the chase that could be thrilling during a hot pursuit.
I shook the Redcoats and met with Sam Adams, setting into motion a series of events that included starting riots, killing tax collectors, and blowing up creates of smuggled tea all of which led to the Boston Tea Party. There was something silly about the idea that the Tea Party was successful because Connor was fighting off the Redcoats. I think the closer the Assassin’s Creed franchise draws to contemporary events, the more difficult it might be to accept the idea that there always seems to be an Assassin or a Templar around when important historical events took place.
I figured that while I was traipsing around a port town I may as well take one of the naval missions available at the docks, naval combat being the other big addition Assassin’s Creed III is bringing to the franchise. The mission was to escort a merchant ship and protect it from British raiders.. A pair of small cannons had an almost 360-degree field of view, and I used them to take down some small British gunboats with a crew of two or three sailors, and also used these small cannons to clear out some mines. When I came up against a fort, however, the small guns were useless and I had to rely on broadsides from the main cannons which take a while to load and can’t really be aimed past defining a very wide field of potential hits. Commanding a warship was slow and stately compared to the mayhem of running around Boston causing troubleand I had to wonder if ship-to-ship fighting will lose its appeal after only a few missions.
For the multiplayer demo we tried Domination and Wolfpack modes. In Wolfpack the goal is for your team to sniff out your targets from the crowd and then commit the assassinations of all the targets together as quickly as possible to score points and keep the clock running. Domination was much more interesting. Two teams of four competed to earn points by seizing and holding three locations on the map. You could stun enemies while you were “attacking” a point by standing within a small radius of it, and you could kill enemies while “defending” a point you already held. Players could activate alternate disguises to fool the other team, and throw coins on the ground to attract crowds and generate a distraction. It was a great blend of tactical deception and quick reflexes to kill your enemies once you’d learned who they were among the people in the crowds.
You can decide for yourself whether parkour on trees is fun, if Assassins at the Tea Party is silly, whether naval combat is worth the time or if you also prefer Domination mode to Wolfpack when Assassin’s Creed III is released on October 30th of this year.