For good and ill Assassin's Creed has, as a franchise, become emblematic of this generation. Marrying complex gameplay style with mechanics designed to be enjoyed by a broad spectrum, an ambitious story somewhat marred by a lack of longer term planning, and a degree of refinement between games that makes each numbered installment feel like an event. While the third numbered installment in the franchise may not necessarily be everything to everyone, it manages to be the most polished and well realized entry yet, even if it doesn't feel quite as ambitious for all its refinement.
As with every AC game, AC3 runs two stories in parallel, a trip into the past (in this case the story of half-English half-Native American Connor Kenway as he takes part in the most notable aspects of the American Revolution) with digressions into the present day story of Desmond Miles as the modern day Assassins clash with the Templars while attempting to avert the apocalypse. Care must be taken in disecting the strong points here. The plot itself is compelling but utterly ludicrous conspiracy hokum, an interesting enough strand to lend urgency to the tasks at hand. Character writing is generally where the game shines, the interactions between the modern group are well written and well acted, making the most of what is ultimately a relatively small portion of screen time. The Revolutionary War era isn't a slouch either, and continues the tradition of having our hero rub shoulders with important historical figures in a way that makes them relateable but generally retains some degree of larger than life grandeur. Filling out the ranks are a range of supporting characters around Connor's home base that once again make deft use of limited screen time. While the plot may be the average blockbuster fair, the actual writing is a cut above what one might expect.
The core gameplay structure of AC3 hasn't seen much change, the controls are as they have been since Brotherhood, the mission structure is much as the series has always been, with perhaps a bit more of a direct push to go from mission to mission in particular strands. The really interesting change to AC3 is primarily in its broader amount of interesting side content. I personally was rather leery of things like Naval Missions (a needless worry, as they're quite fun and largely ingorable should the player so choose) but the game has a much more generous helping of unique side content. Investigating tall tales, liberation contracts, homestead expansion. While on paper the actual motions gone through in most of these activities aren't too different from the side pursuits of prior games, the increased amount of exposition in them lends them much more character. You could spend cash to upgrade your homestead in the AC2 trilogy, but it's so much more fun to find a woman who has been attacked by poachers, hang the poachers and accept her onto the property to help craft items. Even if I didn't always care for what felt like a somewhat needlessly fussy in-game economy the trappings usually helped everything go down smoothly.
Perhaps more than anything else, the broad appeal of this series can be credited to the atmospher and aesthetics. traversing a new but historical world has always been one of the most fun things about these games. Control and traversal remain breezy and fun and the game is utterly gorgeous, sporting the series trademark excellent animation. Expanded climate and the introduction of animals lend the game an even more engrossing realism. Traversal of the more naturalistic environments of the frontier is as much of a snap as the more familiar man-made buildings. For all the automation, the most important aspects still feel in control.
Nothing is flawless though, for all I'm willing to gush, AC3 has it's faults. A constant thorn in the series' side remains, combat is really too easy for its own good. A parry followed by a counter being capable of instantly killing at least four out of every five enemies fought and disarming making short work of those it doesn't. The framerate is jittery in places and the control automation means that every so often it'll be maddeningly difficult to reach something close as the game misinterprets an input. These problems are nothing new for the series really, and honestly probably hurt AC3 less than usual as the series design has gotten more streamlined to compensate for the weaknesses inherent to these systems.
Assassin's Creed will be a series people associate this generation with as we look back on it, and it's games like AC3 that ensure it'll be a generation remembered fondly. While niggling issues yet remain, the package exudes a great degree of polish and ambition. Even as Desmond's arc draws to a close, and even after five games, the series remains ever compelling.
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