The lights are on
I had high expectations for Assassin's Creed III. The second installment is to date my favorite game and I was excited by the pre-release media surrounding the latest title. But I wasn't quite expecting the stellar graphics or the revamped core controls that ended up being a great improvement, or the strong writing with deeply defined characters and fun side-missions.
But I will start with my gripes, which have to be taken with a grain of salt, because the problems are far from overwhelming. The first problem I had was that the opening sequence with Haythem Kenway simply went on for too long. While the pre-Connor missions were interesting and well-designed, after a period of time I realized I had been playing for hours and still not seen the main character or heard him mentioned, even well after the "Ubisoft presents Assassin's Creed III" title screen appears, which to me indicates that the game is truly starting. But can I really have that feeling when I'm still playing as a character in which I had no initial interest?
But after this sequence is over with, you seen Connor grow up into his calling. But the problem is that his growth as an assassin does not feel natural, for two reasons. First, it felt strange that Connor's controls were taught to the player through an entirely different character. In what should have been an exciting discovery of a new assassin's move set, it instead felt like a recycled control scheme of a Templar. Secondly, Connor didn't seem to benefit much from being under Achilles' training; while it's clear that is when he became a true assassin, there are new groundbreaking new moves learned as he could fight perfectly well before meeting Achilles, and all the climbing and hunting abilities were already in place. It almost feels like the assassin order lost precious years to act when Connor was already capable of significant action.
But while that feels to me a bit of a plot hole, it is not as irritating as the bizarrely demanding story missions themselves. While many of them play smoothly and are satisfying, some of them have fairly major and frustrating issues (I had to reset the Paul Revere mission after he started shouting at me to get on and off my horse with no special house to be found), and the optional objectives can be absolutely ridiculous, like the one that demanded Connor not push anyone during a crowded street chase, or that you air-assassinate a specific but unexplained archetype on a ship without being detected. While there is nothing wrong with encouraging players to carry out missions skillfully, many of the optional objectives feel unnecessary and cruelly difficult. The solution is to not care about that of course, but I resent a red "x" appearing at the top of the screen if I forget to carry out some superfluous stipulation.
Besides that, there are random bugs that interfere with open-world gameplay. Sometimes a deer will simply run in circles in panic until I take pity and take it out. I've had a few trying moments where Connor absolutely refused to jump off a certain roof to escape oncoming guards (yes I was holding x, and also tapping it in desperation), and sometimes Connor will also refuse to take up a fighting stance to defend himself, which literally leaves me at the mercy of enemies to strike the first blow.
I also feel like improving AI's line of sight was a mistake. While it certainly is more realistic that guards can spot you from further away and become suspicious faster, it does not make them seem more intelligent, simply more annoying. During the Battle of Bunker Hill, I was dumbfounded that the guards could see me through dense tree branches even when I could not see them, which made the already tricky optional objective to not be detected frustratingly difficult and only possible if you carry out the mission in a very specific way.
But I've talked to much about flaws. They are mere annoyances in the incredible scale of things the developers did right; the environments, city and frontier, or beautifully animated and are unceasing sources of entertainment throughout the game. Exploration of both are encouraged with the seeking of almanac pages and feathers, which are fun to collect even if their practical purpose feels elusive.
The core mechanics are more fluid and arguably more dynamic, even if the new sprint was hard to get used to. Connor is a strikingly realistic character physically as his outfit and weapons fit dynamically with his movements, which gives him visual life beyond what I've seen in a video game before.
Combat is lots of fun. Even if archetypes are not particularly subtle, they provide interesting tactical diversity in taking them out and the choreography behind the moves is simply fantastic.
Overall, even with some problems, ACIII is a must-buy. The story is gripping, environments gorgeous, gameplay fun and the side missions diverse (playing bocciball with G. Washington is actually lots of fun). But best of all, Connor is an extremely solid protagonist, whose clear thinking and ceaseless energy are endearing even in the shadow of his cynical father. I know I've spent a lot of space complaining, but when a game looks good, feels good and sounds good (voice acting reference) it is good. Buy it.
It is a really good game.
I like your review. It not only points out the flaws to the game, but also what makes it good. I'm glad someone else thought the optional objectives were annoying. I recently just finished the story, but still find myself wanting to play. Even though I finished the game storywise, there's still plenty to do such multiplayer, the Benedict Arnold missions, side missions, etc. This is my first assassin's creed game and I loved it, great game with no regrets and now I'm going to get the previous titles.