Assassin's Creed III is easily one of the most divisive video games of 2012. It was a hugely ambitious slate-cleaner for the long-running Assassin's Creed franchise, and while it did a number of things right, it also got a lot of things wrong.
Now that the three of us have completed the game, each of us has a different take on it. In the spirit of holiday togetherness (and holiday bickering), we decided to throw it all down and parse what this game did right, and what it did wrong.
What started as an email exchange between Luke and Stephen expanded to include Kirk, and eventually gave way to a lengthy chatroom discussion. It's all below for your perusal. Major Assassin's Creed III spoilers throughout.
From: Stephen Totilo
To: Luke Plunkett
You finished Assassin's Creed III and I sense you might be... angry with me about it? Did my positive review lead you astray?
You said that we would someday have a long talk about the game. I think that long talk might be worth sharing with the readers or at least committing to virtual paper while your feelings about the game are still hot.
So lay it on me: what did you think of the game? At least tell me that you liked the tree-climbing and the sailing... yes?
(You don't have to respond right away, but if you want to vent...)
From: Luke Plunkett
To: Stephen Totilo
Your review did lead me astray! As such a big fan of the series, with you being so glowing about it I thought it was something I'd agree with. But I don't. I thought Assassin's Creed III was a broken game, one that shone in some parts but which was crushingly disappointing in many others.
I think, above all else, ACIII is a testament to the dangers of developing a game with such big teams. Because I think it lacks focus and cohesion. There's nothing tying the game together.
I thought the opening few chapters were ponderous garbage. The most infuriating tutorial in living memory. Reducing such a free-form series into a succession of CoD-esque instances and instructions on basic techniques, which take 3-5 HOURS to complete, was almost insulting. I know, you can go running around in spite of them, but even that's poorly explained (like, I didn't go exploring as Haytham, because I was worried I'd lose any map exploration progress when I inevitably changed characters).
I'd go so far as to suspect ACIII is the Halo 2 of this hardware generation.
But that's just the start. So much of the game is bloat, pointless side-missions with poor narrative incentives and limited assistance to your techniques or gear. The checkpointing system is enough to make you throw a controller out the window. I failed THREE missions due to critical bugs, like disappearing flag poles and haycarts that teleport inside buildings. The story is torn between telling that of America and that of Connor, and half-asses both of them, leaving you confused and at times bewildered as to what's actually going on. Desmond's platforming sequences in the temple were, without pathfinding, tiresome. The world is too big for this kind of engine/game, which makes it look artificial. And empty.
And yet... there's so much to love. Like you, I thought the way they deal with the politics of the war, and the plight of Native Americans, is amazing. To see the war told as history, and not myth like most Americans present it, was refreshing. The combat was far more fluid and enjoyable than previous games (the fort missions are the game's highlight... they're like a perverse kind of sword ballet). The naval combat should indeed have been a standalone game, it's so good. The few side-missions that DO have some meat to them are a blast. There's a point, between around sequences 6-9, where you think this might be one of the best games of the year.
Then it ends so poorly. The story falls apart, either rushing through sequences or just plain dropping entire plotpoints. The last few missions lack the scope or polish of those before it. The very last mission is a farce.
So, yeah. My final thoughts/point: you can tell 400 or 600 or however many people worked on this game. Some of them did a great job. Some of them did an OK job. Some of them did a terrible job. But the worst offender, then, is the lack of anyone tying it all together into something as tight as an Ezio adventure, where the city felt like your plaything and the story was one you could follow and give a damn about.
I'd go so far as to suspect ACIII is the Halo 2 of this hardware generation (bear with me). A game torn between ambition and reality, perhaps designed for an upcoming generation of hardware then rushed out the door and compromised because that hardware was taking too long. Or, if that's too drastic a theory, then maybe it was just rushed to make holiday sales. Because being pushed out the door before it was polished and tied up is only logical explanation I can come up with as to how such an important game can be so occasionally incredible and yet so often awful at the same time.
From: Stephen Totilo
To: Luke Plunkett, Kirk Hamilton
Luke and Kirk,
Alright. Seven days ago Luke sent the preceding reply. He had just finished Assassin's Creed and he was worked up. He even panned the ending! That surprised me. The final chase mission was frustrating (and was later patched, which is a rather awkward admission by then developers that they messed up a key part of their game), but the stuff right before and after that? I loved it.
Connor is not very likable and this is paid off in the ending. He's irritated most of the time, which makes ACIII a more bitter meal than the Ezio adventures. The story pays this off. He SHOULD be an uncomfortable character. He doesn't fit. He doesn't have a winning side. I think he knows this. As an American playing this, I'm cognizant of the fact that my country's forefathers were going to screw his people over. And so it happens in the game. He ultimately didn't win much of anything by helping him.
It doesn't go down easy. It's not as fun. But it feels bravely uncomfortable.
His discomfort as an outsider is justified. He barely fits into being an Assassin as well, and the late-game missions with his father suggest that the two men's respective factions are also ill fits for them. There is an argument in the game for familial bonds over all else, and the same tension is echoed in Desmond's discomfort for his oddly unlikable father.
Near the end of the game he is facing the need to have to fight his own people. After the final main mission, he's crawling upstate to kill a man who was the object of his misdirected youthful desire for vengeance. Then the credits roll. Then we get the epilogue missions which show just what a flawed country has been born from Connor, Washington, et al's efforts. So much of this felt right to me. It doesn't go down easy. It's not as fun. But it feels bravely uncomfortable, if that makes sense.
Kirk, what did you think?
From: Kirk Hamilton
To: Stephen Totilo, Luke Plunkett
Having just finished this game, I have to say I'm leaning much more toward Luke's perspective here. Of course, I've already written at length about how frustrating and disappointing I've found much of the game, but after taking a couple of weeks off and restarting on PC, I figured I owed it to the game to play it all the way through and see it out.
And in fact, there was a chunk there in the middle where I was truly enjoying myself. It was right in that sweet spot Luke describes, somewhere between sequences 6 and 9. I was mostly in Boston, doing liberation missions, and indulging in the vast amount of sidequests the game offers. The first Captain Kidd mission was a hoot, some of the liberation and assassination missions reminded me that yes, this is actually an open-world game with fun things to do. I'd gotten pretty good at fighting and had come to enjoy the rhythm of combat, and the slickness of those sweet kill animations.
But even then, it wasn't perfect. For every time I'd say "Okay, this is pretty cool," I'd wind up sprinting through a timed sequence that fell apart under the game's dodgy controls, or hitting a strange bug that broke down any trace of believability. For every story section that made me appreciate the at-times marvelous ambiguity with which they recreated history, there'd be one that was so bizarre or hamfisted that I couldn't help but shake my head.
It feels like Assassin's Creed III is what happens when a video game is made by this many hundreds of people, spread out over this many different continents.
And then... the ending. The final chase sequence with Lee was so utterly awful that I fear it has forever tainted my view of this game. It took me around 30 tries to get it, and eventually I had to give up and turn to YouTube for the answer. And this is AFTER it was patched to theoretically make it easier. What did they patch out, tigers?? It was hands-down the most frustrating thing I played all year.
After finally completing that chase, I found that because I hadn't guided Desmond through the cave to plug in the power supplies, I was forced to go back and do that. I got stuck on the second to last one, where I had to go downstairs to get upstairs, and only figured out where to go by blind luck. And then came the ending, a bizarre sequence of events that left me more befuddled than anything that has come before in the series.
The interminable credits sequence played, which marked the first time the game DIDN'T give me a "Press B to skip" option. The length of those credits (It felt like fifteen minutes, maybe more) says a lot about this game, ultimately. It feels like Assassin's Creed III is what happens when a video game is made by this many hundreds of people, spread out over this many different continents.
As Luke mentions, some of those people did their jobs well. (Hats off to the guy who designed the wonderfully imprecise, satisfying lockpicking minigame). Some of them didn't do such a good job. But there were just so many of them, the game couldn't help but feel unfocused. And I agree that it seems likely it was rushed across the finish line, and possibly not intended for the current generation of consoles. It's just so messy: Far too many elements felt like they were thrown in at the 11th hour without playtesting, all in the name of pushing this sucker out the door.
So: A fascinating failure with a number of bright moments, but a failure nonetheless.
I'm interested in where you both think this leaves the series. Where can they go from here? In a perfect world, what happens next? Do you think that Ubisoft will step back and re-assess where the series stands and make the improvements necessary? Or is its momentum too great; will Assassin's Creed just continue to bloat and balloon until all semblance of an identity is a distant memory?
A bigger question related to that, and one on which I'd love to hear your respective takes: Just what is Assassin's Creed about, as a game?
Enter The Chatroom
Luke: let's do this
Kirk: Let's do this. Frustration! Anger! Resentment! Busted stealth!
Stephen: Kirk, Luke... Assassin's Creed III. I'm just going to get this out of my system. I think you guys played the game differently than I did. Maybe even... the WRONG way!
Kirk: I get that sense too. Oh wait, the first part. Not the 'playing it wrong' part.
Luke: I don't
Stephen: Let's test this. Did you guys play Wind Waker?
Kirk:I did, though I didn't finish.
Luke: this feels like a trap...
Stephen: People knock it for the Tri-Force quest, where you supposedly had to tediously fish for Tri-Force pieces at the end of the game. I never experienced this, because I was grabbing Tri-Force pieces throughout much of my journey
Kirk: aah. I had something similar happen in ACIII, yes.
Stephen: I play these open games in I guess a really scatterbrained... do whatever I feel like way. And with ACIII I was wandering a ton, from the start. That Haytham intro that people say is all barely-interactive cutscenes? I was poking through Boston, running around the frontier...
I was too scared to wander around much more than Boston, because it was obvious I was playing as someone else.
Kirk: I found that there was a point where I was wandering, where we already talked about, somewhere around sequence 9. But in other parts, wandering just felt weird. Like, there's a revolution on! A plot to kill Washington! This was no time to start climbing trees.
Luke: I was too scared to wander around much more than Boston, because it was obvious I was playing as someone else
Kirk: yeah, I had the same thing
Luke: and didn't want to go exploring and discovering stuff only to find I'd have to do it AGAIN
Kirk: like, I just wanted to get to the real game, and wasn't sure whether I was actually collecting stuff. Which, admittedly, isn't a very fun way to view games. But I've been trained that way!
Stephen: Right. So for me a lot of the pleasure early on was finding weird sidequests and characters that the game hadn't or wasn't ready to tell me about.
Luke: that's a weird kind of pleasure
Kirk: I get that though, that feeling that you've ACTUALLY discovered something, not just had it shown to you.
Luke: when I saw Connor hoisting the stars and stripes over a British fort in 1773, it wasn't a pleasure, it was weird
Kirk: right, that happens in these kinds of games—stuff gets out of whack, and a cutscene makes it seem like you're one place when you're not. and man, was a lot of stuff in ACIII out of whack
Stephen: Yeah. Look, my experience was, that, hey, they made this really dense world of stuff to check out, and a lot of what I was finding on my own (the underground maze, the hunting system, the database entries I was unlocking, a lot of it felt really well-made to me.
See I thought the side stuff was good!
Stephen: And I think I just played these games weirdly, but in a way that suits me. Take Revelations, for example...
Luke: right, while mine was, oh look, they made all this extra crap that does absolutely nothing. there's no cool story to it, there's few interesting or enjoyable missions, nor is there much to benefit you in the rest of the game
Kirk: The side stuff was fine in theory? But there were so many times when I found myself saying "This would be cool, except..."
Stephen: In Rev, I think I leveled up all but one of my brotherhood recruits before the game had me do a mission that 'taught" me to level up my brotherhood recruits. What did you guys think of the homestead stuff? I bet we're divided there.
Kirk: I actually liked some of it. There were moments. I like the idea of building up a home, I'm realizing that's something that games are really good at.
Luke: I tried to like it
Luke: it was a great idea in theory, being responsible for a whole community, and not just some den but as I went further in the game, I started realising all the trade and stuff didn't matter these weren't characters I'd ever relate to or deal with again
Kirk: I loved how that felt in ACII (or was it Brotherhood?) for example, where you'd build up your home city and get new gear and stores.
Luke: the stuff they were giving me in the main game was useless (i never traded)
Kirk: But yeah, it was another "This would be cool, except..." situation. Because it all felt so surfacey.
Luke: right, you had a reason to do it in the older AC games. there was benefit to it
Kirk:Like how Teti put it. "Congratulations, you now have a barrel."
Luke:if not for gameplay purposes, than at least in seeing the city you're playing in come to life
Kirk:And there's the overarching problem that everything is too spread-out.
Stephen: OK, for me, the Homestead was like this: 1) I'm into the home-building stuff, but then 2) I'm finding out that these people on the homestead have these little stories that you learn through missions with them and then 3) I discover the photography system which was this bit of museum-making or whatever you want to call it where the game is compelling you to watch these characters do these very traditional, real animations like building a chair and sitting in it. The reward is the pleasure of it. Who cares if it doesn't unlock something.
Kirk: Right, that's a fundamental difference here, I think.
Luke: I found no pleasure there. their stories just weren't interesting
Stephen: Back in AC1, collecting stuff gave you no reward. That was Patrice's intent and he buckled on it for ACII.
It's Too Spread-Out
Kirk: I feel like I've learned to value things that help me in the game more than aesthetic things, at least in some cases. In this case. I think maybe games have warped me. But also, everything was just so spread out. It was a real problem! Did you think that the homestead was a reasonable size?
Stephen: OK, and then I'm raiding a fort and it's fun. Then I'm on a boat and that stuff's great. Then I'm on a boat ATTACKING a fort. I mean, come on. This was good stuff.
Luke: and that's my overall feelings on the game in a nutshell!
Stephen: The homestead was a little big, sure.
Luke: homestead = boring fluff, but boy, other parts were amazing
Kirk: That nautical fort-raiding mission was another example of "This'd be cool except." It was cool, except the stealth bit was totally linear, and the escape chase suffered from bad controls.
Luke: the fort missions were like ballet with knives
Kirk: But it WAS cool. (except) (heh)
Luke: and the sea combat made me wish the game was about pirates
Kirk: Yeah. Pirate's Creed! I'd play the pants off of that.
Stephen: Kirk, the spread-outedness you cite... I think that is probably the reason why, as much as this game feels as feature-loaded as ACII or Brotherhood, it feels like it has a lot of AC1 roughness to it.
Kirk: Yeah, Stephen, I agree. So much land to traverse, especially that accursed wilderness.
Luke: and the accursed "warp to point then walk two steps then load then warp again"
Kirk: There's a mission, I can't remember where exactly, when you have to make your way to George Washington's camp. And it seriously takes like 10 minutes to cross the entire damned map. Fast travel, in general, has some serious issues.
The Connor Problem
Stephen: Alright, so we've got all this, and on top of it I'm playing a game as this guy who is kind of not that fun to be. He's so abrasive, and yet the game pays this off by making you feel like an outcast, like you're, I guess, true to the Native American experience back then of being caught up in a messed up war that is just taking advantage of you. I felt like I was getting to play a role I never have in a game and that the role was cast well and true.
Kirk: Yeah, the "Connor problem." You know, I'd sort of warmed to Connor by the end of my second run through the game on PC. And there's one scene, and it was fantastic: In the thunder and the rain, when Connor figures out that he's screwed either way. more scenes like that in video games, please!
Stephen: Does that make sense?
Luke: it makes total sense
but that's his predicament and his plight
it doesn't excuse his personality
or lack thereof
Kirk: yeah. it could've been the same story, same interesting ambiguity, with a better character
Luke: exactly, it's almost as though he's getting a free pass for being so bland because he's got an interesting background
Stephen: I can't deny that getting to that scene, Luke, you ride a horse. Oh, the horses in this game. Their horrible controls/navigation exemplifies the worst of ACIII.
Kirk: The giraffe-necked weirdos.
Polish, Or Lack Thereof
Luke: there are tons of historical figures with interesting backgrounds who I'm sure were boring people to actually spend time with for 25 hours
Stephen: I think you guys more than me have beat this drum, that a game this long in the making, should just work.
Luke: all that money, and all those PEOPLE, and there's so much broken stuff?
or so much that needed tying together? it's insane
Kirk: No big-budget, years-in-development game should have a final chase sequence as exquisitely awful as that one.
Luke: it's hilarious
Stephen: Oh, Kirk, it wasn't that hard. You didn't jump!
Luke: that you play that awful scene then are instantly reminded of how many people it took to make you play that awful scene
Kirk: I swear it's like they just threw it in and never thought twice about it. They were too busy putting together the rocking chair animation.
Stephen: Then you get those epilogues, which are good, and then you can just play this game forever because they stuffed it with stuff worth doing! Victory!
Kirk: But is it, stephen? IS IT WORTH DOING
Luke: yeah, you're doing stuff just because it's THERE. that's crazy!
Stephen: Nah. I'm going back to do the rest of the sailing and the homesteading.
What's The Core Mechanic?
Kirk: Is it fun on its own merits? I said this in my article about how disappointed I was in the game, but what, to you, is the core mechanic of Assassin's Creed?
Stephen: The mechanic? Stealth-killing, climbing. The draw for me? Vacationing in another time and place.I like this world. I like exploring it.
Luke: i didn't. the way it was designed and segmented into clear sections it was like
Luke: if you dropped me in the wilderness, I'd explore it, if you dropped me in a building with rooms, I'd be less inclined, because I can already see those rooms have limits and walls
my exploration is predicated, and finite
Kirk: I just can't get with stealth-killing as a core mechanic. I mean, sure, it's one of the first things the series was about, but they still haven't got it to the point where it feels good and interesting to do. Stealth is so busted. And yet, here we are, piloting ships (and it's fun!) and petting dogs.
A Disconnected Map
Kirk: As for exploring... I tend to feel disconnected from open worlds that are separated like ACIII is, yeah like, the Fable games, they do the same thing, separate places, and it's hard to keep it all straight in your head and feel connected to it all especially since you fast travel, then turn around, then run to a wall and fast travel again, then it's another time, another place, then a cutscene, then it's years later... it's all kind of scattershot
Luke: the world was too big. I think that's what a lot of this is coming down to.
Assassin's Creed was made for cities
Stephen: I find the AC worlds much more interesting than Fable ones. They feel more grown-up. They are full of sights to see and little things to do that feel in the moment are often interesting. You guys will think I'm nuts, but if the game suddenly says, hey, smallpox in this city, can you burn some blankets while you run around? I'm like, sure. It's not inherently fun, but it's interesting and it's happening while I'm having fun climbing buildings.
Kirk: Oh, sure. I also think AC games' settings are way more interesting than Albion, occasionally charming though it may be my point is more about the way the world is demarcated into regions, and how that makes me feel disconnected from it. which is funny, right? because as luke points out, I think the world in ACIII is also too BIG
Stephen: Luke, you might be right, but a better horse, like, say Red Dead Redemption's horses, would have solved a lot of the navigation annoyances in ACIII.
Luke: i don't think so! the world itself was broken, how everything was built in levels, with steps. it wasn't natural terrain
Kirk: I WOULD say that if you're making horses in a game, they should be able to climb on anything like Skyrim or RDR. And not get blocked by invisible walls all the damn time.
Luke: and the mere fact its segmented means regardless of how good the horse is, it just feels like a movie set
Kirk: But that's because ANIMUS. Come on Luke, get with the fiction! (I agree)
Luke: you bring up red dead, but it was a single, coherent world
Kirk: right. that's crucial, I think. when you rode into Mexico and that song started playing, you were Riding Into Mexico
Luke: if I could have gone from Boston to New York without a loading screen, that would have made a HUGE difference to my experience. the fact I technically couldn't probably suggests the designers bit off more than they could chew and we might have been better with a smaller Boston and a smaller frontier all on the one map ala Brotherhood's Rome
Stephen: Agreed on the quality of Rome in Brotherhood... probably the best location in an AC game.
Luke: which, like most previous AC games, had a much stronger sense of place
Shaun > Desmond
Stephen: OK. So there's all this and then on top of it, the Desmond bits. And again, Kirk, you and I, I know, played that way differently. I was exploring those caves as much as I could. Sometimes, when I was Connor, I'd leave and play as Desmond without being prompted. I liked running around as Desmond and chatting with the people in the cave. It's weird, because the conversation isn't gameplay and I'm skeptical of non-gameplay parts of games, but the people all had interesting, funny, smart things to say. Plus, the climbing in the Desmond stuff was very well laid out? His cave is a very good, difficult platforming puzzle.
Kirk: I did really enjoy the conversations with Shaun. That guy is the best character in the entire damn game. I liked when he characterized the revolution as "Brit on Brit action." Ha!
Luke:i feel like shaun's journal entries are maybe the most unappreciated thing about the series
Kirk: I remember seeing someone get super pissed on twitter about them because he thought they were serious, he didn't get they were written by a character
Luke: but those caves, man...those caves needed some UI
Kirk: Yeah. I got hella stuck at one point
Luke: me too. i mean, they showed you a prompt, but when you'd come back 2-3 hours later you'd forgotten
Stephen: No, the caves didn't. You guys... The caves are like the advanced part of the platforming in the game.
Kirk: where you have to go downstairs to get upstairs? WORST
Stephen: The platforming in Connor's sections is easy. Desmond's is not.
Kirk: That's true. But to what end?
Stephen: THAT'S a problem? That they tricked you?
Kirk: It was mainly hard for me because I just couldn't figure out where to go next.
The PLATFORMING was fine, the DIRECTIONS telling you where to platform were not. Because there weren't any.
Stephen: Good lord, you're asking me "to what end" is the purpose of platforming in a game? Ask Miyamoto.
Kirk: It wasn't fun in the way that fun platformers like Mario or Infamous are fun. I just felt stuck.
Luke: the PLATFORMING was fine, the DIRECTIONS telling you where to platform were not. because there weren't any
Kirk: ^ This
Stephen: You're at the bottom of the cave. You see whats-her-face appear somewhere. She's your destination. You have to figure out how to get to her.
Luke: you don't get lost in mario, you...go right
Stephen: 3D Mario! You played those?
Luke: if you think these repetitive interiors and confusing pathways are on the same level as 3D Mario games, we may as well stop this right now
Stephen: By the way, to be clear, Desmond's missions? Not very advanced platforming. Those were a breeze.
Kirk: Yeah, but like... a darkened cave where it's all cement and looks the same, and some random little room you have to go into and climb the wall... I dunno, it's not the pinnacle of satisfying, interesting platforming for me
Oh, right. Those were basically just cutscenes. And the part in Brazil was just weird.
Stephen: There was some crazy NPC dialogue in that Brazil mission.
Luke: Desmond's MISSIONS were fine... the one where he had to climb the outside of the building was actually pretty good. the ones that WEREN'T fine, well, they were short
Stephen: But again, I guess I'm just an easy mark when it comes to AC games, but I love the weird stuff. Like the first-person platforming stuff for Desmond in Revelations? Nutso. But sure, I'm down.
Kirk: I always felt like I'd love to see a modern-day AC game, starring desmond, but at this point I'm pretty sick of him. I think I'd rather just play Watch Dogs.
Stephen:He's done. Gone.
Luke: BUT IS HE
Stephen: I just hope we don't play his dad, who is a pretty bad character.
Kirk: God, anyone but that asshole.
I like the weird tributaries this series has. Even those that fail, to mix metaphors, mostly please me. Revelations' tower defense is one of the only ones I don't see a redeeming value in.
Kirk: I agree. I do like how... unkempt the Assassin's Creed series feels.
Luke: MAYBE YOU PLAY SOMEONE IN THE FUTURE AND YOU'RE BACK IN DESMOND'S BODY
Luke: (please Ubisoft no)
Stephen: They clearly wanted to mirror the tension that Connor and Haytham have through Desmond and his dad's relationship. But Haytham was cool. Desmond's dad wasn't.
Kirk: The writing didn't carry it. And again, those bits were hurt by the fact that you could play them in the wrong order.
Stephen: I'm clinging to the bit that Shaun says to Desmond about how they could dial back the Animus like 40,000 years. I hope they do that.
Luke: ok. let's talk about the writing
Kirk: Yeah, let's.
Luke: because previous games, because they're being translated, I gave them some slack. but boy
Luke: 18th century people did not speak like that. way too many modern phrases, and the "Apocalypse Now" general was a farce
Kirk: I'm trying to remember which phrase it was...
Stephen: That was neither here nor there for me, Luke. I don't have an ear for it.
Kirk: It was something like "I don't play that!" or something (That's not what it was)
Stephen: Homey don't play that! The British are coming!
Kirk: But there were these phrases that stuck out, and I don't even notice that kind of thing. Look at a show like Deadwood, that can have so much fun with dialect.
Luke: exactly. these were amazing times and I feel like the writing undersold that
Kirk: I'd love to see a historical game do that, rather than just these flat, modernized ways of talking. Red Dead actually did well with that. "Flannel-mouth," etc
Luke: it's such a bizarre time in history, such brutal conflict married to such gentlemenly men
Kirk: and instead they're saying "Lol! Fail!"
(Or something like that.)
Luke: it's a crime Dishonored had an amazing "pistols at ten paces" mission
and a fucking game set in the 18th century did not
Kirk: Yeah, Dishonored's language was 100x more interesting than ACIII's, and they made theirs up from whole cloth.
But the writing, on a broader scale. It did have its successes
Stephen: I thought the Connor-Haytham relationship paid off really well. I was very surprised to see Haytham and Connor together in so much of the game. because I feel like I've done nothing but poop on this game
Kirk: yes, I agree. I didn't like the missions they played together for the most part, but I DID like the payoff, in the rain, when Haytham reveals that Washington intends to take Connor's people's land anyway. Best scene in the game.
Luke: I want to talk about combat, so I can stop being so negative
Stephen: You guys talk circles around me when it comes to combat. And I know you two disagree on this.
Kirk: Well. I still think it pales in comparison with Arkham City. But it's the most fun Assassin's Creed combat has ever been. And I don't mean that as a backhanded compliment: I think it's pretty damned fun!
Luke: I disagree
Kirk: how so
Luke: I love most of Arkham's combat, but found it would slip in too many cheapshots
there's a fine balance here that made combat, for me at least, this hypnotic act. I just couldn't stop fighting
Kirk: You and I were talking about the sound design—this game has some BRUTAL sounds.
Luke: they made everything smoother, and gave you better indicators for things like incoming attacks, it made things like fort missions an absolute joy. and yeah, the sound helps. the effects for blade combat are GRUESOME
Kirk: This is the first AC game where I've felt like the canned kill-animations really kicked ass
Luke: so many wet thwacks
Kirk: Where you roll past the dude and wail a tomahawk into his back
So many wet thwacks.
Luke: those were great too, the variations on canned animations, like making two guys shoot each other
Kirk: or leap on a guy and chop him down like a tree
Luke: real nice payoff for a well-executed move
Kirk: and it was harder, too, I thought? Was that just me? I thought combat was harder than Revelations, even. Close to ACI in that respect. Still maybe too easy, but much more challenging than ACII or Brotherhood.
Stephen: I liked the combat. I still don't know how to use the rope dart, though. For hunting or whatever.
Kirk: Yeah, talk about a wasted tool.
Luke: the rope dart was well worth mastering
Stephen: The game kept telling to hang stuff with it. Never figured that out.
Luke: hanging dudes from treetops or the roof was great
Kirk: Compared with Batman's grapnel, it was too finnickey.
Luke: silent kills, instant body hiding. but you're right, the controls were too touchy, the extra button presses were confusing
Kirk: yeah, as much as they refined the controls, they've still got a ways to go
Stephen: I think the array of equipment they gave you was majorly compromised by the super-slow weapon-wheel-screen thing that took forever to load.
Luke: and in a really uncomfortable way! the way they play you off against both sides eventually, it might have fit better politically, but you end up thinking to yourself, jesus, i am killing everything that moves
Kirk: Right. It's that old problem, Red Dead had it too, where you're this indiscriminate killing machine
The Assassin's Creed Arbor Society
Stephen: We all liked climbing trees? Yes?
Luke: hated it
Stephen: Running from branch to branch?
Luke: was nowhere near as organic as promised
Kirk: I liked how it looked, but sometimes it FELT pretty annoying
Luke: and only a few missions made good use of it
Kirk: But it was very fun to get to do it. When it worked
Stephen: Would you have liked it if you didn't know what they promised, Luke? You did not have fun climbing trees?
Kirk: But think about how this game was marketed: These videos of Connor, sprinting through the forest, coming up on a herd of deer, taking out redcoats
Stephen: I think more trees should have been climbable, but once you're up there, it works well.
Luke: it just went with my feelings on the environment in general. it didn't feel like they changed assassins creed to fit the new landscape
Kirk: The game just... it couldn't support that. And it was endlessly frustrating. I felt like I was crashing up against the game's limitations as I tried to act out the fucking TRAILERS. how weird is that
Luke: it felt like they built a highly artificial landscape to suit the engine
Kirk: yeah, the skate-park thing
Luke: hah, skate park, yes. it was like a really long, slow tony hawk level
complete with the same repeat frustrations. you couldn't just climb a tree, you had to get on where they signposted you get on
Kirk: bonus points for girding!
Stephen: Kirk, so? Old Atari boxes had people on them and the game's actual characters were block figured. Who cares how it was marketed? Surely you care about how it feels to play.
Stephen: Sure, but I DO know how AC feels to play. When I saw those trailers, I thought, "Sweet, this is a way more organic, outdoor AC game."
Luke: and they promised significant engine changes to accommodate that. which I don't think they delivered
Stephen: We go from no good tree-climbing games to one that does it pretty well and you guys sound angry. Either get it perfect or don't try?
Luke: not at all! but I don't think it even does it "pretty well"
Kirk: I think the moral here is we are impossible to please
Kirk: seriously though—yeah, you have to keep the playability in mind, at least to an extent
Stephen: You guys want perfection. You got a mash-up of the diversity of content of ACII and the rough-draft-ness of ACI. That = a pretty damn good, interesting game to me.
Kirk: It's interesting, sure, but it was so often clumsy and frustrating.
Luke: I didn't want perfection. I wanted a game I felt was better than previous Assassin's Creed games. I don't think we got that
Kirk: I certainly don't demand perfection, either. I wanted a game that didn't make me furious at it, that didn't feel cheap and unfinished.
Luke: I think we got an overly-ambitious mess of a game that I think was poorer overall than any game barring the first. it has wonderful moments, sure, but on the whole, it's just... busted
Stephen: I had more fun with this mess than most of what I played this year and if more several-hundred-person teams want to try to make things that are this interesting and different, albeit flawed, I'm down.
Luke: here's our fundamental difference, then
Stephen: This is what I want in my blockbuster games. Take chances. Fall on your face here or there.
Luke: you're giving As for effort. we're asking for As for execution
Kirk: Yeah, between Dishonored, Far Cry 3, Max Payne 3... there are so many more. So many games with big teams made interesting games that actually worked
Stephen: Nah. I'm seeing a game that has about 200 things to offer and I'm saying they do many of them very well. I think you guys are saying, looking, there are only 10 things that matter and the people making this game needed to make damn sure those 10 things were unimpeachable in quality before adding the other 190.
Kirk: I'm not sure I'd put it that way exactly, but actually, that's a fair assessment.
Luke: i'd say that's right!
That Overlooked Multiplayer
Stephen: Meanwhile, we've all shown the game's other half, multiplayer a ton of disrespect by never talking about it.
Luke: I never even booted it up
Stephen: It has good propaganda videos in it as part of its own weirdo story.
Kirk: I do like the story stuff around it. I haven't played much, though.
Stephen: Synchronized group assassinations in co-op are good. You missed out, Luke! It seems macabre, I'm sure, but it feels very good.
Kirk: I'm curious as to why AC multiplayer doesn't catch on, because it's so clever, on a basic level, and I always have fun playing it
Stephen: I just don't play multiplayer much.
Luke: because it's a singleplayer game, and most people, I'm guessing, just have no interest
Stephen: It has its fans, but I have no idea how popular it is or isn't.
Kirk: yeah, that's true, I'm going by a general zeitgeist feeling. Every time I've played AC multiplayer with a group of friends, it's been really fun. But I haven't played much ACIII multiplayer. So, more neglect, I guess!
Dare To Dream
Stephen: Yeah. Oh well. Next time they can do multiplayer with the ships. We can all sail a ship together?
Kirk: I would play the pantaloons off of that.
Luke: now that, I would play. someone on the cannons
Kirk: I would be in charge of the hatches! I would baton them down so awesomely
Kirk: And to think, I had a sailing license when I was a kid, I guess I was also in marching band, so I guess batten and baton kinda melded together
Luke:someone on the wheel. the poop deck? it has to be scrubbed
Stephen: I'll tie knots via Kinect!
Kirk: Motion-controlled multiplayer pirate game. Okay Ubisoft, put one of your five hundred teams on that.
Stephen: And Luke will name our ship the King of Red Lions. Which brings this part of our never-ending battle full circle. Well-argued gents.
Kirk: yeah, good times
Stephen: Title update: the bugs in Luke and Kirk's arguments have been squashed.
Luke: if you've read this far down, nice work
Kirk: you get: a barrel. Congratulations!
Stephen: We will now roll 20 minutes of credits
Stephen: You cannot skip this.
Luke: spoiler: this whole time, it was just our dads talking
And so at long last, we utter maybe our final words on Assassin's Creed III. (Maybe.) If you made it this far, congratulations! Enjoy your barrel. And do let us know your thoughts on the game, now that it's had a chance to simmer.