The End: Assassin's Creed 3
Be Warned: Assassin’s Creed 3 SPOILERS within
Assassin’s Creed 3 is best viewed as a big-picture game. It succeeds in establishing a very real sense of time and place, covering a fascinating and turbulent period of history and featuring an entertaining and believable cast of colonial era characters. It milks its eighteenth century setting for all it's worth, expanding the usual Assassin's playground to incorporate the ocean and the untamed wilds. To my surprise, I found myself enjoying the space afforded by these new additions far more than the more traditional, city based portions of the game. In fact, once the map had opened up, I only entered the sprawling cities of Boston and New York when it was absolutely necessary, content instead to seek adventure at sea or remain in my tree, taking in the sights of the Skyrim Frontier.
As was the case with the Middle East, Renaissance Italy and Constantinople, just being in this setting is real a treat. However, the experience quickly unravels once you start to look closely at the elements that make up the whole. The controls have been further simplified and the towns, once the crowning achievement of the series, are sabotaged by slowdown and are overpopulated by overly aggressive enemies that will punish you for attempting anything that could be described as fun. Desmond's near future is as dull as dishwater; the main missions drag, with few of the land-based optional quests being worth the effort; the glitches overwhelm and the in-game economy is loathsome and needlessly complicated. While its scale and ambition are commendable, Assassin's Creed 3 strikes me as being terribly rushed and lacking in execution. Nowhere is this failure more apparent than in its closing stages.
I love video games, yet I rarely get worked up about the objects of my affection. However, five days removed from putting AC3 back on the shelf and I still can’t shake this disappointment. I consider the moment that Templar and father, Haytham Kenway, fights Connor, his Assassin son, to be the beginning of the end and the moment where I began to truly despair. I enjoyed their relationship and wish it had been explored further; despite limited screen time, I consider Haytham to be by far the most interesting character of the series not named Ezio. Father and son share enough in common to coexist, yet their differing creeds dictate that one must eventually kill the other. The momentum builds up nicely for this inevitable showdown, until Haytham inexplicably vanishes from the narrative for a long stretch, only to suddenly reappear just in time to be skewered by his son in a lazy scene that lacked the subtlety that made their relationship so interesting. Not only was it a mess from a narrative perspective, but it also introduced a new battle mechanic and instructions on how to defeat your capable foe, resulting in a showdown that was more learning experience than satisfying closure. I have no idea why you would want to ruin such a poignant moment with a new and thoroughly pointless combat technique, and so close to the end of the game.
To make matters worse, we are not allowed to dwell on Haytham's death nor explore Connor's feelings following his spot of patricide, as the scene suddenly comes to an end with one of those bollocking cuts to the animus that couldn't possibly have been used more inappropriately. Charles Lee, a more straight forward villain and another great character, is killed by Connor shortly after, though unlike poor old Haytham his death is a more prolonged affair. Unfortunately, his demise was somewhat overshadowed by yet another of AC3's major issues: glitches. Twisting the knife in Lee would have made for a far more powerful and memorable scene had I not just spent five minutes outside his hideout trying to remove Connor from the inside of a vibrating horse. Now that's drama!
And then there's ruddy Desmond. Everyone's least favourite Nathan Drake, he is an unbearable bore and the only man capable of making murder at a Brazilian martial arts event seem unbearably tedious. He is the carrier of courier bags, the wearer of confused expressions and the bringer of shit endings. The best thing he has ever done is lie down and be quiet, allowing his infinitely more entertaining ancestors to take the stage. While his ending may have brought closure - an alien concept for the series - it was also the shoddiest part of a game that has no concept of how to end anything properly.
Having finally collected enough shiny thingamabobs to save the world from impending doom, Desmond is granted an audience with Juno, who is soon joined by fellow goddess Minerva, both of whom have very different opinions on what must be done to prevent the extinction of mankind. Out of the blue, you are presented with a daunting choice of which there had been no mention in five games, or at least not that I recall. As it turns out, this little revelation is nothing more than a badly penned tease, as you have no say whatsoever in Desmond's decision, which begs the question, what is the fucking point? With the choice already made, and knowing that his life is about to end, Desmond sends away his family and friends in typically wooden fashion and gets straight to not breathing.
As his life ends in a pathetic puff of smoke, I couldn't help but dwell on all those hours I had wasted with Desmond, the countless times I’d been pulled from the animus kicking and screaming, all for this moment. As Juno steps over his lifeless body, mid credits, she gives us a throwaway line about how her part in the story is only now beginning, confirming that Desmond really was nothing more than a helpless, throw-away twat and a means to a shitty end. If his character was so insignificant, then why the fuck did we just spend the last five games being told how important he is, forced to grit our teeth and tolerate his nonsense? How do you think this makes Altair, Ezio and Connor feel? Poor guys.
Desmond’s death is not quite the end of it, as Ubisoft still have a story to not finish properly. Connor's epilogue starts off rather well, as he travels to his tribe's settlement and then to the city, bearing witness to the future that he has helped create. It is a sobering end to his struggle, as he is forced to confront the truth that his people no longer have a home in this new world, and that "home-grown" leadership is not so different to that of the British overseers they fought tooth and nail to evict. As with much of the game, a wonderful concept is scuppered by a lack of polish – in my ending, two dock workers passed right through Connor as he watched the last of the British fleet sail into the distance – and a clumsy and unsatisfying end. With that ruined, Ubisoft finish it all off by ripping us from our 18th century escape with some techno-shite about collecting pivots; a confusing and brand new concept, for many us this will be our final memory of the game.
I wish that I weren't still dwelling on its failures, as there are so many things worth celebrating in Assassin's Creed 3, but in its shoddiness it wasted the kind of ambition and quality ideas that I love in my games and succeeded in frustrating me far more than any other Assassin’s Creed. The final scenes are the worst of it and are a damning critique of Ubisoft’s annualisation of the series, being criminally rushed and displaying a complete lack of refinement where it is needed most. Terrible endings are nothing new in video games, but I know that this one in particular will stay with me longer than most, having featured so many of the issues that continue to plague narrative driven games and reminding me that, as a medium for storytelling, they still have a long, long way to go.