Assassin's Creed III 1-Year Later Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: November 6, 2013
Until the release of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Assassin's Creed III represents the latest PC title from the franchise. The setting for this game spans the years around the American Revolution, allowing you to meet the founding fathers of the nation, or at least a fictionalized form of them. Being an Assassin, seeking only to stop the Templars, you are not necessarily aligned with the Colonists or the British, although generally the Colonists' interests align most with yours.
As with the previous games in the franchise, this is a third-person action adventure game, with an emphasis on stealth and movement. Though your character, Ratonhnhaké:ton or Conner, is an able fighter and can survive direct encounters with enemies, if you can find a way to avoid such conflicts, it would likely be best. The game has a Mature rating from the ESRB for intense violence, blood, strong language, and sexual themes. It deserves this rating, so if you should not be exposed to that content, you should probably not be reading this review, which includes uncensored screenshots.
Should you join the fight once more against the Templars and help create a nation, or leave such endeavors to more interested people? Read on to see.
Let's be honest with each other. Assassin's Creed III is not that good looking of a game overall, and we know why. Though it was released five years after the first game of the series, it was designed and built to run on the same console hardware. With five years it is possible to optimize algorithms and resource management to enable better looking graphics, but there is only so much optimization potential. Eventually you have to balance graphics against available hardware resources, and for this game, it appears, to me at least, that the scales have been tipped lower. Potentially this is because the developers decided to include many new special effects, and they each take resources that could have gone to other effects and elements. Jack of all trades, master of none, if you will.
Some textures and meshes do look pretty good, but largely they are mediocre at best. A close view of your model shows that a lot of detail is just from the textures, and not from the mesh. While this has been the case with the previous games, I personally see more detail in some of those older games than this one. The environment is no better, with many objects being completely and unnaturally polygonal with, again, a somewhat detailed texture to make it look real. At high speed, you may not notice these graphical deficits, but you are not always running, so you will spot them eventually.
Of course there are some special effects that have been added, to increase its immersion, such as foam and waves on the ocean, and snow that deforms as you walk on it. I have to admit, when you just look at the ocean, it is quite beautiful and real looking. Just do not look at a boat or ship cutting through it because, well, it is not actually cutting through it. Vessels look to be just pasted on top of the ocean, with some effects to blend them in, such as waves 'breaking' against hulls and foam trailing after. Those interactions are hardly realistic as the waves never actually climb up the ships' side, but instead volumes of mist of particles grow against the hull, and disperse in a rather unbelievable way. The ships also do not leave wakes where the water is churning behind the vessel; all you get is some foam on top of the water, which looks like nothing more than a partially transparent texture laid on top of the water. Even then, not all ships leave such a trail.
In some situations you will also find yourself trudging through snow, and while it does slow you down as you have to compress the powder beneath your feet, the graphics look little like the real substance. Really it looks like the most general animation for compressing snow as someone walks on top of it, and is repeated over and over, with different compressed-snow textures as you continue walking. Perhaps the effect was pre-rendered to save processing power on the consoles. Due to the relatively low polygon count for the crushed snow though, you will occasionally see solitary spikes of snow towering above the rest.
For the last bit about the graphics quality, we will look at my favorite graphical feature to compare in different games: fire. I love talking about fire because it is an element common to many games, but it is difficult to make realistic, and as such many games implement it in different ways. The most advanced and good-looking examples actually give the flames volume and life as they consume the flammables around them. The simplest and generally worst looking flames are just animated textures being rendered on a plane. Assassin's Creed III is a single step above the latter solution, as the animated texture is often rendered on curved meshes, and not just flat planes.
Of course, it should be pointed out that this game features a large, open world, so there are some necessary and/or expected reductions in graphics quality associated with the large map. This often means that there is a maximum distance details are rendered at, so when you are too far away, less complicated versions of in-game elements are shown instead. That distance appears to be roughly the same with that of the previous games
Time for performance, so here are my specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- PhysX: MSI GTS 250 1 GB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
With this build, I am able to play Assassin's Creed III at maximum settings with a framerate typically in the high fifties. There is some stuttering, but it looks like the stuttering you get from a system just not quite powerful enough, as opposed to a bad porting job. I personally do not think it was a particularly good porting job, but it is not bad (in its current state). I would say it appears it could have been optimized better for PC.
Now for some details of my experience that may not affect you at all, but I feel I must share it for two reasons. One is in case you do have a similar experience to mine, and the other is that it may have given me a negative bias for this review. I do my best to be objective and to provide you with as much information as I can, so you can make a decision instead of relying on my decisions or opinions.
I first got this game much closer to its original PC release and in time to write a review of it as a newly released game. However, it would crash whenever I attempted to start a new game, preventing me from playing the single-player. I scoured forums for help, contacted Ubisoft support, made sure it was patched, and nothing helped. Some months later it spontaneously allowed me to start a new game, but even then it was not smooth-sailing. It crashed within the first twenty minutes and I would estimate that it crashed at least once every two hours afterward. I do not mean that as an average of once every two hours, but that I could expect it to crash at least once during any two-hour gameplay session.
With the upcoming release of the next game in the franchise, I have reinstalled Assassin's Creed III (naturally) on my new computer, and have had a better, though still not perfect, experience. First the installation process from UPlay is not particularly streamlined. The installation files you download of Assassin's Creed III do not include any of the patches for it, so you must let the autopatcher download them… one at a time. Either the patches are not cumulative, or the autopatcher is not intelligent enough to find and install just the most recent. Either way, you will actually have to start the game to trigger the autopatcher, exit the game, and restart it multiple times until you are up to date. This only applies to the UPlay version of Assassin's Creed III though, so if you get a PC copy from Steam, you do not have to worry about this.
With the Steam copy though, you may still have to worry about the stability with a GPU overclock. If my NVIDIA GPU is overclocked, the game will eventually trigger a driver crash that will reset the overclock, which is applied by MSI Afterburner. If you also have an NVIDIA GPU and overclock it with a tool like Afterburner, I would recommend creating a non-overclocked profile for when you play this game. This appears to prevent those crashes.
Altogether, I am not particularly impressed with the graphics or the performance of the game, but at least it has not been as thoroughly frustrating as it was when I first attempted to play it. Assassin's Creed III quite apparently suffers from being a console port, which means PC gamers also suffer from it being a console port.
To provide an accurate description of my experience with this game's story, I will have to reveal certain details that some may consider spoilers. An accurate but non-descriptive summary would be that I was not impressed with Assassin's Creed III, compared to the other games in the franchise. If you do not mind the spoilers, please read on for the reasoning behind this conclusion of mine.
While the majority of the game is spent in the years around the American Revolution, the game begins many years before it, as you play as the main character's father, Haytham Kenway. For two hours and forty-three minutes I played as Haytham, ultimately having the game reveal to me that he is in fact a Templar. Honestly I figured it out within the first half hour, just by listening to what was not said.
Now, predictability is not necessarily a bad thing, and I do have some, shall we say, advantages when it comes to understanding and predicting stories, so the fact that I figured it out should not be treated as a negative for the game. Of course you are the one to decide if a 160 minute prologue as the main character's father is longer than necessary.
The reason I mention this in the Story section is that I never particularly understood how the story treats this relationship between the leading Templar of the colonies, and the young Assassin, Ratonhnhaké:ton. I believed for some time that the conception of his son was kept secret from Haytham, by the mother, in order to keep her son from becoming a Templar. However, when Haytham and Ratonhnhaké:ton first meet, Haytham knows exactly who he is. I find this puzzling, because from what we have seen, there is no reason to believe Haytham had been informed of Ratonhnhaké:ton's existence prior to their meeting. If Haytham had known about his son prior to this meeting, then why did he not attempt to claim him as his son and make him a Templar? Ratonhnhaké:ton did not know about the Assassins and Templars before meeting Achilles Davenport, the aged Assassin who mentors him and gives him the name Connor, so he would have been easy for Haytham to take in and train. Really Haytham just seems resigned to the idea of Connor being an Assassin.
Compounding this is that the primary focus of Connor is not to defeat the Templars as a whole, but a specific Templar, Charles Lee. When Connor was a child, Lee came to his tribe's village and set it on fire, which claimed the life of Connor's mother. While Connor's desire for vengeance is understandable, it is odd how it ultimately develops into Connor hunting down Lee, after having killed Haytham, who is also the Templar Grand Master in the Colonies. Haytham, in fact, stayed behind to fight Connor to buy Lee time to escape. For some reason, I would expect the leader of the Templars to be less willing to sacrifice themselves for an underling than Haytham was. Their goal is control after all, and it is hard to control if your leader is dead, and a dead leader would also make it harder to find new recruits.
Confusing the matter even more is that Lee's orders to burn the village actually came from George Washington. After this is revealed to Connor, he seeks no retribution from the general. He does not even seem to be conflicted by this revelation, and continues to work with the colonists and hunt down Lee.
To put it simply, this makes me question Connor's motivation throughout the game. Is he out for vengeance? Is he trying to help the colonists? Is he an Assassin trying to stop the Templars? One moment you know it is one and the next it is another, without, in my opinion, a satisfying transition from one to the other.
Something that I have enjoyed with the stories of the other Assassin's Creed games is the parity between the stories within the Animus and outside of it. Desmond, the modern-day person who is living the memories of his ancestors through the Animus, always seems to be in a bad situation when he enters the Animus. The memories he lives help him through the situation, and ultimately become a better person, and better Assassin. I am at a loss for how any parity between Connor and Desmond exists.
The easiest way to describe the story of Assassin's Creed III is muddled, which is a true shame as its literary mechanics offer so much! The ability to have a person live and learn from their ancestors and the situations they were apart of in (a fictional retelling of) history is a spectacular opportunity. Here, though, that opportunity seems wasted to me.
As mentioned in the Graphics section, I had have stability issues with Assassin's Creed III, and in the Story section I mentioned that the prologue of the game, during which you play Haytham Kenway, instead of the main character of the game, lasted two hours and forty-three minutes for me. I mention them again, just in case you skipped those sections.
Though the larger gameplay is definitely Assassin's Creed, like the games before it, Assassin's Creed III has its own spin on the mechanics. The free-running, stealth, and hidden blades return, though with changes to work with the wilderness of America. You can now climb trees and free-run along their branches, as well as hide in the bushes off the beaten trails. Combat has also seem some alterations as firearms, such as long-barreled rifles, are in use at this time, so you do need to take care to not be shot. Of course you can pick up and use these weapons to kill your enemies, but be careful because black powder is loud and draws attention. One thing I have found decidedly annoying about combat is that the countering system has been changed. I have no idea why it would change in the fifth game of a series, but change it did.
The entirely new mechanic of sailing has been added as well, so now you can captain a ship to open trade routes and protect shipping vessels. Your ship, the Aquila, is equipped with large cannons for broadsides and swivel guns, for more precise, but less powerful attacks. With proper situational awareness you can dominate the sea, but it is not as simple as that, as you must also be skilled with the rudder and canvas.
Trade is also a new mechanic, as you can develop your homestead to grow food and produce lumber and other goods for sale. To initiate trade, you have to send a trade caravan and, to put it simply, this is probably one of the worst thought out mechanics in the game. You have to do this once in the course of the campaign, and beyond that there is really no designed interest in doing it ever again. You will have to remember the mechanic exists and then choose to use it if you want to send another caravan, but even then you may not be able to. The first caravan I sent was attacked and there was nothing I could do about it. It just sits in my accounting book. Only after searching for it online did I learn how to send another caravan.
Hunting is much the same way, I found. You have to do it in the campaign occasionally, but outside of that, there is practically no incentive to do so.
Two more issues I have with gameplay are the map and free-running. With the previous titles, I noticed the free-running becoming better and better, so when I bump against an obstacle, I actually bump against it instead of leaping on top of it, completely changing my direction and getting stuck on another obstacle off of my intended path. Well, the free-running in Assassin's Creed III feels to be a step back as bumps become leaps and sometimes when I want to leap, I instead just bump against something. Running along trees is also frustrating as sometimes you end up climbing up a trunk, when what you wanted to do was round the trunk to get to a branch on the other side. Also I have found myself trying to get down from a tall tree, but because Connor dropped down on the wrong side of a limb, if I drop I will fall to my death instead of to another branch.
A strategy I used in the previous games was to immediately find the viewpoints to reveal the map. Sometimes memories restricted where you could go, so viewpoints were not accessible, but eventually you were able to visit them all and reveal the entire map. That is not how it works in Assassin's Creed III. Viewpoints still exist, but do not reveal the entire map. If you want a revealed map, you are going to have to travel everywhere, on foot or on horse. Annoyingly, the amount revealed this way is a fraction of what you can actually see. Why the design was made to marginalize the viewpoints like this in the fifth game of the franchise, I do not know. Perhaps one could argue that it is to demonstrate just how large the map is, but then one could argue that there are plenty of tall structures Connor could climb to observe the landscape from, just as he does from the viewpoints.
The final issue I have with the gameplay is perhaps also the most important. Another mechanic returning from the earlier games is the one to bring people into the Assassin Order. Once this is done, you are able to call upon them to help you in battle. In the previous titles, I really enjoyed going out of my way to rescue the people and get them to join the cause. This game left me with no desire to rescue anyone. When I did, I never felt like I was building the Order and I did not feel like it was worth my effort. Before you could send the assassins on missions to collect rewards and experience to make them more effective, but in Assassin's Creed III they can only be called upon to do battle. I do not need them to fight, and they can make being stealthy very difficult, so I left them alone.
According to the save game, it took me approximately 14 hours and 49 minutes to complete the campaign. This may be inaccurate though due to crashes causing me to replay sections.
For what it is worth, the basic gameplay itself is enjoyable. It is just that a lot of the higher-level gameplay elements seem rather poorly executed. This has left me with no desire to return to them or wondering why the developers changed them as they did, especially when compared to how they were implemented in the previous titles.
Is Connor's cause worth fighting for, or is this one memory that can be forgotten? Personally, I would vote for the latter, or I am at least leaning to that side far more than the other. I enjoyed the previous games in the franchise, but this one does not live up to them. The graphics do not show what five years of advancement can achieve, the story is subpar, and the gameplay outside of the campaign is poorly executed, while the campaign suffers from that subpar story.
I would not recommend Assassin's Creed III to someone with new interest in the franchise. I would not even recommend it to everyone who has been interested in the franchise for some time, but has been waiting to play this one. If you see it at an absolutely amazing sale price, or are dying to know what happens next in the Assassin's Creed story, and want to experience it instead of just reading about it, maybe you should get this. Otherwise, go ahead and skip this game.