Connor is angry because free-climbing in his game isn’t as cool as the other games. / Ubisoft

Assassin’s Creed III and the Delicate Equilibrium

Ben Babcock
Aug 21, 2013 · 10 min read

Assassin’s Creed III was much less enjoyable than its predecessors. It didn’t trust me, so it didn’t earn my trust.

I’ve already discussed my mad love for the Mass Effect series, so now let’s talk about another series that captured my fairweather gaming heart: Assassin’s Creed. I can’t remember whether I got the original before or after I tried Mass Effect, but those were the first two games I played all the way through when I bought my Xbox 360. And, like the other series, I’ve followed Assassin’s Creed through its various sequels. Back in January, I finished playing Assassin’s Creed III after wrestling with whether to continue it at all. It occurred to me that I have never really set down my thoughts about these games. So, before I pan that one, let me celebrate its predecessors.

How These Games Earned My Loyalty

I appreciated the stealth mechanic of Assassin’s Creed, as well as its devotion to sneaking up behind people and stabbing them. Even the original game’s very repetitive and linear storyline, as well as its flat frame story, couldn’t rob me of the enjoyment of hitting that button and sending the game’s world spiralling into chaos, while I slipped into the crowd and back into anonymity. Or at least, that was the goal. All too often, the guards nevertheless managed to get wind of my trail and pursue me in such numbers that it became far more efficient simply to fight my way out—i.e., kill all the guards—than it was to run and hide. Indeed, the game’s tendency to have guards randomly detect me—even if I was minding my own business and hadn’t stabbed anyone for several seconds!—was frustrating at times. Overall, though, Assassin’s Creed offered solid gameplay.

Assassin’s Creed II and its expansions gave us a beautifully-realized 15th-century Europe, and Ezio was a character who really felt like he had an arc. / Ubisoft.

Where It All Went Wrong

Almost from the start, Assassin’s Creed III and I did not get along. As Haytham, I felt as if the game were leading me along by the nose—not just in the sense of telling me exactly which mission I should pursue next, but literally leading me from spot to spot, directing me during each mission: go to this spot, now this one, now climb up here, now stab this person…. It was as if the game couldn’t trust me to achieve an objective my own way and had to micro-manage the entire process.

Assassin’s Creed III: actually just a Revolutionary War–era hunting simulator./ Ubisoft

I’m worried that this game has ruined my opinion of the series forever, not by being outright awful but simply by being bland.

I Was Sick, So I Finished Your Game. Happy?

Of course, having two weeks off work can put a different perspective on things. And towards the last act, Assassin’s Creed III had brief moments of clarity. It got to a point where I was beginning to enjoy myself and looking forward to my sessions each day. Then it was over! And we counted our dead, the game and I, and took a tally.

The Race Thing

I am intentionally avoiding discussing Connor’s racial background or the game’s treatment of history and the involvement of Aboriginal peoples in the Revolutionary War. I don’t know enough about those subjects to really do them justice. It’s commendable for Ubisoft to try to make games more diverse by featuring a Native American protagonist. There should be more. But that doesn’t mean they really did a very good job, as this reviewer of Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation observes when it comes to the half-French, half-African protagonist of that game. So, props to Ubisoft for the attempt, but shame on Ubisoft for defending the historicity and originality of such approaches instead of engaging in a more meaningful dialogue about race in video games.

It’s not that I’m unhappy that Desmond sacrificed himself. I just wish he hadn’t taken so long. / Assassin’s Creed Wiki

I Never Thought I Would Say It: I Miss Ezio

Assassin’s Creed III ultimately did not impress me. I wish I could say was I looking forward to Assassin’s Creed IV and its inevitable new storylines, but the idea of pirates doesn’t enthuse me like it once did. (This might have something to do with the naval missions in this game, which soon became my worst nightmare.) I’m worried that this game has ruined my opinion of the series forever, not by being outright awful but simply by being bland. All good things end, and all good things should end. But whereas Ubisoft had the chance to go out with a bang, in every instance their choices earned them a whimper.

    Ben Babcock

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    I’m a Canadian math & English teacher living & teaching in the UK. I write about writing, reading, culture, and technology.