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.

Comments

  1. I don't even know where to start with this one. And like you said it is more than just the very end. I liked the debate between Connor and Haytham about their philosophies throughout the game. The final fight between them felt kind sudden and was terrible from a gameplay standpoint like you mentioned. The Desmond finish was honestly a disaster. I agree with you about enjoying the wilderness/sea stuff more than the city gameplay. I expected to like the tree freerunning and the like, but the ship sailing and battles caught me by surprise. It was really good. You have summed up a lot of my issues with this game. I can't remember being this disappointed with a big release in a while. Glitches, the terrible ending and so many bad design decisions. A Frustrating game though I did enjoy it at times.

    So where do you think the series goes from here? You think they will work another Connor game in? How do you think they will continue tying the present day plot into the older stuff?

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    Replies
    1. It looks like we pretty much agree on AC3!

      I did think that the tree freerunning was pretty insignificant and was overblown in the lead up to release. There are so few areas that you can actually do it for any real distance and it didn't provide many advantages over staying on the ground. It's fun while it lasts though. As for the naval battles, I'd happily play a DL sized game with only that ship combat - it worked really well.

      I can't imagine Ubisoft abandoning Connor just yet. In the epilogue, when the apple is speaking to Connor, it mentions that he still has many things left to do, or something along those lines. The game ends only a few years short of the French Revolution, so perhaps they will be shipping Connor off to Paris. I certainly wouldn't complain if that were the case, at least not until I'd seen the ending! How about you?

      Cheers

      Delete
    2. Great job man. I have my own rant I'm writing on the whole game at 1up, but you bring some good points I haven't thought of. Even though there was a sliver that I enjoyed from this, I haven't been this pissed off by a game in a long time.

      Delete
    3. Thanks. I look forward to reading your rant!

      I find it worrying that many of the reviews I read failed to comment on some of these major issues. I did enjoy AC3, but the fact that it was getting nines and tens from reviewers is ludicrous.

      Cheers

      Delete
  2. Probably should have played the game before reading that... but judging by the overall response to AC3 it's possibly for the best. The last AC game I played was 2, but i was genuinely excited to see what they'd done here. However it doesn't sound like they've learnt anything from their previous games. Desmond is a complete oddity, he reminds me of those horrible activities you were forced to do as a child and which you seemed to have no control over (violin lessons). To AC's credit no other game makes me feel so powerlessly bored. So, the big question: will you continue to follow the series?

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    Replies
    1. Oh well, you don't need to play it now! Knowing the issues in advance, I'm sure you'll still have fun with AC3. The setting is well realised and the naval battles work really well. Definitely worth a look when its gets to £20ish.

      Desmond is definitely a Primary School, Recorder lesson.

      As long as they are visiting interesting historical periods/places, then I'll keep playing Assassin's Creed, as the setting is still the biggest draw. I can't see myself going along with a present or future only AC, and I hope Ubisoft would not be foolish enough to attempt such a game.

      Cheers

      Delete
  3. i love how this game got such great reviews yet every single person i know who bought and played it thinks it sucks. it's no wonder people think gaming websites and their employees are bought and paid for by the publishers.

    i didn't buy/play this game and probably never will unless playstation plus gives it away. in my opinion this franchise has become a total joke. i think i mentioned this before on your blog but i don't understand why this franchise doesn't get the hate that call of duty gets. both come out every year. both of them pretty much release full price expansions. both have a shit ton of dlc. i don't get it.

    i was really hoping they would just get rid of the animus. to me it just ruins the game. i hate to say it because i loved two so much but assassins creed sucks now.

    by the way, i always wondered something. why haven't you ever signed up the playstation plus?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ubisoft are rushing their biggest franchise in an attempt to milk it for all it's worth and the end product is suffering as a result. They need to take a year off and come back strong with a next gen AC.

      PS+ looks great, especially for new Vita owners, but I have little use for it. If I really want to play a game, then chances are I'll do so within a month or two of release, well before it ever appears on PS+. I do see a lot of games on there that I have a passing interest in, but time is the other issue. I barely have the time to play the games that I buy and am desperate to get stuck into, let alone those that I wouldn't mind trying. It's a great looking service, but it just doesn't suit my gaming habits or available time at present.

      Cheers

      Delete

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