The lights are on
Despite mixed feelings I’ve had about parts one and two of The Tyranny of King Washington, I was looking forward to seeing how the story wraps up. This week, Ubisoft released the final piece of the puzzle, making this an ideal time to hop in and play the whole experience in one pass. Is this third part fun, and more importantly, is the whole three-part saga worth your time?
The Tyranny of King Washington gets full marks for original ideas and breaking free of the mold. Rather than offering us more content in the story we already finished, the three DLC packs present a largely independent alternate history story. By positing that George Washington is driven power-mad by the Apple of Eden and becomes king of America, the premise moves in some curious directions. Moreover, the story conceit offers the opportunity to change the main character’s motivations and abilities in compelling ways.
Ratonhnhaké:ton never becomes Connor in this alternate timeline, and his native heritage is the guiding principle behind his adventures. Specifically, he gains a growing array of animal spirit powers over the course of the adventure, beginning with the wolf and eagle in previous installments, and adding the bear in this third episode. Taken together, these three powers all dramatically alter what is normally fun about Assassin’s Creed. The wolf provides overpowered stealth. The eagle removes the need for traversal/climbing. The bear has a “kill everything” move in combat that largely removes the need to truly engage in most battles. In exchange, players are slowly unlocking a main character that seems incredibly dangerous and effective, even if we lose out on a lot of the more skill-based elements of gameplay along the way.
After adventuring through a bloody frontier in The Infamy, and fomenting rebellion in Boston throughout The Betrayal, The Redemption brings Ratonhnhaké:ton to New York City. In this burgeoning metropolis, we see the most potent signifier of Washington’s mounting ego – a half-built pyramid now towers over the surrounding buildings, dominating the center of the city. I love the immediate sense of wrongness the pyramid offers to this episode, as it looms in the distance during every mission. The monument is also an effective tease – you know from the start that eventually you’re going to get to go inside and explore.
An opening naval battle is a fun way to get things started in The Redemption, and that scene sets the stage for a fast-paced series of missions that follow. Just like in The Betrayal, I was disappointed at the speed with which we’re rushed through the sequence that provides the new bear might power. When the wolf power is introduced in part one, it feels like we have to work for it. Here, the bear ability seems to come out of nowhere, and has little basis in character or story moments. At least the short mission in the spirit world is entertaining; an unusual homage to Shadow of the Colossus helps to introduce the bear and his devastating attack.
Once unlocked, bear might adds a single button press that can kill all surrounding enemies in exchange for a small hit to your health. The dozens of Bluecoats at Washington’s command suddenly become a lot less threatening. Some of the battles that ensue in the coming missions are large, involving as many as fifty enemy soldiers who are all brought down with ease.
Now that Ratonhnhaké:ton has his full suite of powers, Redemption does a good job of changing things up and offering opportunities to use all three central abilities. The eagle’s flying option continues to be an indispensable tool, and the wolf cloak keeps things quiet as you sneak into heavily fortified locations. While I certainly felt overpowered during most of the missions, I enjoyed the story arc and mission objectives in this episode more than in previous DLC installments, especially since there was now a clear objective in mind – infiltrate the pyramid and bring down Washington. Each mission feels different from the last, and some have interesting goals, like an extended sequence where you build civil unrest by causing problems around the city. Taken together, the missions string together a brief but varied experience across the city.
The Tyranny of King Washington should be played in its entirety, or not at all. The connected storyline does not lend itself well to dropping in part way through. The final installment offers an appropriate wrap-up to the tale, but I can’t help feeling there are some missed opportunities in the conclusion to offer explanation or a more dramatic send-off, and the story in total add only marginally to a wider knowledge of the Assassin’s Creed fiction. I wouldn’t recommend these three DLC packs for casual Assassin’s Creed fans, and even more enthusiastic fans of the series should brace for some questionable mission design and story moments. Nonetheless, kudos to Ubisoft for trying something different in the DLC space, and taking a chance on some dramatic departures from the franchise’s normal gameplay loops. I’m glad this isn’t the direction future installments of the series are moving, but I’m also happy I had the chance to check out this diversion.
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