Assassin’s Creed III was easily one of the most anticipated must-see titles showcased during PAX East this year. It is easy to think of Ubisoft’s flagship franchise as a minimalist annual contender which will always offer more of the same with minor tweaks here and there, but the latest project has actually been in development for a couple of years now. Keeping this in mind it shouldn't seem surprising that ACIII had a cornucopia of details revealed during their observational demo at the Ubisoft theater. There was an aura of disappointment amongst the masses that there was no hands-on gameplay, but tears were wiped away and the urge to rage flip the nearest table quickly dissipated when the proverbial curtain was raised and the show began to enchant us.
The first topic addressed during the presentation finally plows through the speculation behind Connor’s weapons. The hidden blade does indeed make its return, much to the elation of assassin loyalists everywhere. Seriously though, stripping the main character of his hidden blade would be like taking the Hadouken away from Ryu, or taking Games Abyss staff writer Justin Belin’s puppy “Chibi” away from him; you just don’t do it. Seriously, he’d cry his eyes out every night and I’m not talking about Ryu. Connor also has an excess of new murderous tools in his arsenal. Included would be a tomahawk (which can be dual-wielded with a dagger), a bow and arrow, and dual pistols kept holstered at his sides. It seems the Assassin’s Guild is keeping up with the times somewhat with the upgraded usage of firepower. For both enemy soldiers and Connor however, it seems the emphasis on guns won’t overpower in the fray combat. As explained by the team during the demo, the usage of gunpowder has changed warfare as we know it but this is still a time where they were embarrassingly unreliable.
The combat style is purposely fashioned to be a hybrid of the traditional assassin’s guild with heavy Native American and more modern influence, much like the dichotomy of Connor’s bloodline. Other weapons in Connor’s arsenal will also be situational. To start off the first combat sequence of the demo we witnessed Connor utilizes something called the “rope dart” to attack from a perched position on a tree branch and hang an unsuspecting soldier from his neck. The bit of combat we were treated to following that showed some very fluid motion with seamless transitions between weapons; it was very much the AC panache we’ve come to know and love. The focus on shorter ranged melee allows for a greater amount of movement; just think back to Assassin’s Creed 2 and how much quicker and flashier Ezio could be wielding his dagger as opposed to his sword and a bulky axe.
The setting we were shortly thrust into invoked the image of a full-fledged battle between the British troops and the colonials on American soil. The game will feature a grandiose atmosphere due to the presence of large scale battles which will differ greatly from past games due to the presence of military combatants as opposed to your typical city guard. There will also be the capacity for up to 2500 people on the screen at once to truly capture the feel of those enormous battalion versus battalion skirmishes. Tactics when encountering enemies will be quite a contrast to past games not only because of the usage of the earliest model of firearms, but with formations as well. We were shown Connor approaching a group of 5 soldiers from a distance; the soldiers formed a firing line as if they were carrying out an execution. We were then informed that depending on the proximity to their enemy, soldiers will use a multitude of military tactics accurate to history.
A larger degree of choice also seems to have been added in the form of choosing a particular route to take when engaged in an assassin mission. The example shown involved Connor deciding between the left route of the battlefield which would have been the most stealth-based choice and would allow for combat avoidance, or the right route which would be very action heavy and involve encountering and fighting soldiers. It should be noted that regardless of the implications of the history of this time period on our society, there is no inherently “good” or “evil” side of the war. As usual the assassin’s targets are first and foremost Templars. These Templar marks will be located on both sides of the battlefield; Connor will undoubtedly be a neutral thorn in everyone’s side until the bigger picture of the story is revealed.
Now it had always been a nagging question within the gaming community as to why the assassins of the past were able to climb such elaborate structures such as buildings and statues but not something as simple as trees, which even the most active 7 year old could climb effortlessly. Not only can Connor scale trees, but they are a rather important mechanism to the game. An entire navigational system has been developed around this in fact, allowing quick and continuous branch to branch swinging and shimmying around conventionally shaped trunks. As in real life however, trees are not all one shape and size, this will be reflected in the game as well with forked trunks and other odd shapes that won’t allow for orthodox means of traversing a path. A concern expressed by the Ubisoft team was generating too much of a “Tarzan” feel; honestly the attire and slimmer build of Connor and the whole idea of being able to stalk your prey from above does a pretty good job of keeping Tarzan far from thought by itself. I’ve never seen the so called “king of the jungle” leap onto someone and stick a blade in their necks after all. Trees won’t be the only advantageous terrain either; bushes are an example of a “stalking zone” which Connor can use to sneak through undetected in order to get the drop on a camp of soldiers or an assassination target. The setting of ACIII is primarily an outdoor one, and the development team has done much to supplement this.
The game looks amazing and resembles that epic movie feel more so than any of the past titles. I’ve said before that Assassin’s Creed III will be the game that reinvigorates the series and brings it to an even higher level of success. It’s looking very promising, and with everything that has been revealed there is still much left to the imagination. With E3 and PAX Prime still to come before the release date, we will remain vigilant in hunting down details and keeping our ears and eyes open for even more exciting additions. Although you know what they say; nothing is true…everything is permitted.