The first time I saw Assassin's Creed III I spotted 50 interesting things in the game. I've seen it a couple more times recently and have learned a few more things. It helps to have the people who are leading the game nearby to point some of them out.
- We're going to be able to do a lot of sailing. Assassin's Creed III creative director Alex Hutchinson told me that there will be at least one assassination mission in the game that will require us to take to a big galleon and use our cannons to take down enemy ships—the kind of naval warfare showcased at E3. But we'll also be able to sail free through what he estimates are "several hours" worth of naval gameplay, side-missions and all.
- The sailing is not on rails. That's it. Hutchinson and producer Francois Pelland were worried at E3 that people thought their impassive naval combat demo was on rails. No, you can steer that ship any which-way on the open sea.
- The old control scheme is gone The concept behind the controls for the first few Assassin's Creeds was that the players were puppeteers, using the Xbox 360's Y button or the PS3's triangle to control head-oriented actions; using the A or X, respectively for foot-oriented actions The other two were for arm actions. Not anymore. In the new game, the top button is dedicated to tools—smoke bombs and other items—while combat is on X or square. The idea, Hutchinson said, is to give players easier access to the items you tend to get in AC games but usually have to pause to access. He considered sacrificing the puppeteering scheme to be an acceptable trade-off.
- The frontier is vast, but full of stuff to do. ACIII's frontier is rich with potential for adventure. The developers have hand-placed forts that players will discover only by searching the wild. Players will be able to hunt for animals and trade meat and fur. They can ride through the frontier on horseback. Sure, this all sounds a bit like Red Dead Redemption, but the developers say they were cooking up their approach to the frontier before Rockstar's great western was released.
- You get a quest log this time. Assassin's Creed games were never short on side-missions, but previous assassins Altair and Ezio tended to have to be single-minded, finishing one mission at a time. New assassin Connor will be able to multi-task, thanks to a quest log that lets players track a batch of quests. Hutchinson: "I think open world games succeed when you can say, 'I'm really into the story. I'm going to do several of those [quests]' and then you think, 'Oh screw it, I want some time out,' and the gaming will support that time out."
- It will be harder to keep kill-chains going. Enemy soldiers will be better in this new game at keeping you from maintaining a chain of kills. "People are easy to kill," Hutchinson said. "You're still the master assassin and no one's that big a threat individually, but if you want to do it fluidly and beautifully it's very tricky."
- The Brotherhood stuff is a bit different. You can summon groups of characters to help you, as you could in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood and Revelations, but they won't be masses of assassins this time. As shown in the game's E3 demo set in Boston, you'll be able to instead bring in locals to help you out. In the Boston sequence, a group of them dress as redcoats and escort you past some enemy guards, as they pretend to hold you prisoner. You will be able to train assassins, the developers told me, but you won't be calling in swarms of them.
- Desmond's back… and better than ever? Assassin's Creed developers never want to spill details about the sections of their game featuring modern-day protagonist Desmond Miles. But here's what I got from Hutchinson in mid-May: "I did do a review of his stuff and it was actually pretty cool." Pelland added: "It put a smile on Alex's face." Hutchinson: "People who don't like Desmond are going to be pleasantly surprised." Come on.. who doesn't like Desmond??
That's all I've got, until next time...