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Welcome to the Animus: A Stroll Through History in the World of Assassin’s Creed


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Inspired by JFo, I fired up Origins, started from the beginning (only had gone a half hour a year or so ago), and started plugging away.  I didn’t realize the DLC allowed you to boost to level 45.  I did realize it right after I hit 19 the old-fashioned way, though.  I took advantage of it, to save myself the misery of the level grind (and buy a bunch of abilities).  Spent the last bunch of hours getting rid of fog and synchronizing the vantage points.  Just exploring.  Quite enjoying it this way, with less stress on doing every little side quest.

 

The map is enormous, but I like all of the different environments they incorporated.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Assassin’s Creed II

(Remastered)

 

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Assassin’s Creed II is a massive improvement over the original in every possible way. Whereas AC felt like a playable tech demo, ACII feels like a fully fleshed out video game with a richer and more compelling story, better characters, and a greater variety of quest types that make much better use of the series’ gameplay mechanics. It’s not perfect, but it was a much more engaging and fun experience as a result.

 

Let’s start with Ezio. Compared to Altaïr, he’s a much more dynamic and interesting protagonist. Altaïr served his purpose well enough but never grew beyond being a one-note character. Ezio, in contrast, is charming, young, and reckless. After the murder of his father and two brothers, the game follows him over the span of 20 years as he attempts to avenge them. He starts as a carefree youth and grows into the role of a seasoned Assassin. It’s a fun transition to watch play out, and I’m excited to see where his character arch goes in the next two games.

 

The world Ezio inhabits — Renaissance Italy in the late 15th century — is a lot more fun to explore than the Holy Land during the Third Crusade. The concept of blending in and acting in ways that are socially acceptable still plays a role, but not to the degree it did in AC. Now you can freely run through the city streets and climb buildings without automatically triggering the soldiers stationed about the world to attack you. It’s only when you commit a crime like pick pocketing, trespassing in a restricted area, or killing a person (“WARNING: Ezio did not kill civilians”) that soldiers will give chase. Even then, it’s a lot easier to escape your pursuers and become anonymous again than it was in AC. Sure, it’s less realistic, but I’m okay with that if it makes the game more fun (which it does).

 

The only time you have to worry is when Ezio becomes notorious, which puts the soldiers on high alert, and makes them much more likely to attack you. However, this only happens at certain points in the story, or when you commit enough crimes to fill your notoriety meter. That means you have some control over how likely it is you’re attacked as you explore. Thankfully, keeping this meter from filling is quite easy once you know what to do.

 

One aspect of ACII I really appreciated was how it allowed you to solve problems without fighting. It’s possible to hire gangs or courtesans to distract guards, allowing you to slip by unnoticed. This made things like getting all the Codex pages easier as it meant I didn’t have to take the time to fight half a dozen soldier every time.

 

The variety of mission types — both in terms of main and side quests — is also greatly expanded over the first, saving the sequel from becoming a repetitive grind. The missions now feel like actual designed quests rather than a simple checklist of things to do before you can get to the actual assassination. I didn’t complete all the side quest, but I did a fair amount. As I said, collected all the Codex pages, was well as completed all the Assassin Tombs so that I could obtain Altaïr’s armor. I also climbed towers. Lots and lots of towers. So many towers.

 

Beyond that, I eventually gave up on the side quests for two reasons. First, I needed to beat the game before The Last of Us Part II released this Friday. Second, the main benefit from completing these missions — earning more money for better armor and weapons — was rendered moot by the income I earned from restoring the Villa (Ezio’s base of operations). By the end of the game, I was earning about 15,000 florins every 20 minutes. I had more money than I could ever hope to spend. Why complete the side missions if I didn’t have to? On the one hand, I’m glad I didn’t absolutely have to do them. On the other, I wish there was some additional incentives to make me do them, like a special armor set or weapons that I can only get by completing them.

 

Visually, I was pleasantly surprised by how ACII looked — at least on the Xbox One X. I played the remastered version from the Ezio Collection, which looks significantly better than it did on the Xbox 360. It runs in 4K at a stable 30 fps and features sharper textures and — from what I gather from watching some comparison videos — more vibrant colors. The latter was nice to see as I feared that all the games from this era would all look drab and desaturated. Still, certain things like the character models and animations have aged poorly. They may have been the best the medium had to offer in 2009, but nowadays, they look quaint.

 

Assassin’s Creed II is an impressive iteration on the first game, and I have a lot of really good things to say about it. While the technology behind the game may no longer impress like it used to, it’s still an excellent example of an open-world game that gets a lot more right than than it does wrong. If you’ve never played it before, I recommend it, as long as you accept that it is an older game that may not be as smooth or polished as you’re used to playing these days.

 

Synchronization: 70.42%

Play Time: 18:24:53

 

  (out of five)

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  • 4 weeks later...

IGN has a nice overview on the series and how it’s evolved over the years.

 

 

Interesting to see what I have to look forward to in the months ahead. I’m definitely most excited about Origins and Odyssey as that style of game — open world RPG — appeals greatly to me. I Ioved games like Horizon Zero DawnSpider-Man, and Breath of the Wild, and if AC can deliver something like that, I’d be very happy.

 

As far as my progress with this project goes, I have not yet started Brotherhood. After finishing ACII, I immediately dove into The Last of Us Part II, followed by several other shorter games had been wanting to play. I am tempted to start it this week because I’m not working. My only concern is that if I do start it, I would like to have it done by Friday when Ghost of Tsushima comes out. It’s doable, I think, but it would mean I’d have to hunker down big time to get it done in a mere five days.

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15 hours ago, JFo said:

Interesting to see what I have to look forward to in the months ahead. I’m definitely most excited about Origins and Odyssey as that style of game — open world RPG — appeals greatly to me. I Ioved games like Horizon Zero DawnSpider-Man, and Breath of the Wild, and if AC can deliver something like that, I’d be very happy.

 

Odyssey is damn good. Hard to say how I feel about it relative to Zelda, Horizon, and Spider-Man, but I would put Arkham City in that list and could make an argument that Odyssey is as good or better than all of those games. Obviously there are things about each of those games that are better than the others, but Odyssey just does so many things well ... the most important I think is that I enjoy the grind in this game. Things that get old in other games are still fun in this game for me. It is like this game has figured out how to hack my brain.

 

Disclaimer: I usually don't play games in hard mode but I'm playing this game in hard mode and it certainly affects my experience. I bet I would have gotten bored if I was playing on normal.

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Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

(Remastered)

 

Quote

 

“The liberation of Roma has begun.”

–Ezio Auditore da Firenze

 

 

In my review of Assassin’s Creed II, I described it as, “an impressive iteration on the first game.” Having now played Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood — the second in the Ezio trilogy — I realize that this was not accurate. ACII wasn’t an iteration. Rather, it was a ground-up rebuilding of the first game into something far better. Brotherhood, in contrast, is the first real iteration of the Assassin’s Creed series. It leaves the core design of its predecessor largely intact, while improving upon most gameplay mechanics in ways that make this an even more impressive sequel.

 

Let’s start with the biggest change — the fact that this is the first truly open world game in the series. Rather than split the game into smaller sandbox levels, Brotherhood takes place almost entirely in the city of Rome. The map is easily the largest in the series so far. Though it may be considered small by 2020 standards, it’s still dense with things to do. In fact, sometime during Sequence 4, I pulled up the map looked at the dozens — no, hundreds — of icons, and realized that I was now smack dab in the middle of Ubisoft Open World Game Land.

 

The number of things to do overwhelmed me at times. What to do next wasn’t always immediately obvious as I sorted through all the available tasks. Do I tackle a main memory mission and progress the story? Do I explore a Lair of Romulus? Do I try to take down a Borgia tower? Should I try to rescue a citizen from a group of soldiers and recruit them to the Brotherhood? Or should I try to restore some more shops and increase my income? In the end, the answer was “yes.” Yes to all of it. Or at the very least, yes to a lot of it.

 

Perhaps my biggest surprise while playing Brotherhood was my eagerness to play through most of the side missions. With Assassin’s Creed II, I stopped playing them once it became evident that doing so wouldn’t make any difference in my ability to finish the main story. I still think that’s the case with Brotherhood, but the mission design and variety here kept me engaged during the entire play through. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a ton of activities I didn’t do, but what I did play, I greatly enjoyed.

 

Another addition to Brotherhood I really liked is that most missions included a secondary objective. For instance, a mission may require you to assassinate someone, but the secondary objective requires you to do it with the hidden blade. If you do, you get a 100% synchronization (completion) for that mission. Other secondary objective types include things like not being detected by enemies, completing the mission within a certain time limit, or not losing a certain number of health units. You can still complete a mission without fulfilling the secondary objective, but it does add a nice optional challenge. It felt satisfying when I did complete the secondary objective, but I never felt like I had to do it on every single mission. Fortunately, Brotherhood lets you go back and replay missions through the Animus menu, so it is possible to achieve that 100% synchronization if you missed it the first time.

 

I also appreciated that the number of viewpoints (towers) had been dramatically reduced from, like, over a hundred in the previous games to a more manageable twenty-four in this one. I liked not having to spend hours climbing towers in all the districts just to see a tiny portion of the map. I also liked how some of the viewpoints were linked to Borgia towers, which required Ezio to kill a captain, scale the tower, and burn it down. This made the process much more interesting and had the added benefit of opening more shops and landmarks to renovate.

 

The modern day sequences with Desmond, Lucy, Shaun, and Rebecca got a much-needed expanded as well. Desmond can leave the Animus whenever he wants this time (he couldn’t in ACII), and this time he even has something interesting to do when he does. He can explore the modern day Villa, talk to his Assassin teammates, and snoop through their email. The latter was the most interesting to me as it gave some additional insight into Desmond’s plight as well as the relationships between the other three characters. In the previous games, these sequences felt like an afterthought. Now, they feel more closely tied to the rest of the game.

 

I only have three big criticisms. The first is that I noticed a lot more “open world jank” in this game than the first two. For the most part, I found these quirks more amusing than annoying, but I am going to dock Brotherhood for not being quite as polished as I would expect from a top-tier title.

 

Second, the controls were sometimes frustrating. On more than one occasion, Ezio would leap off a ledge in the wrong direction because I had the analog stick pointed just slightly in the wrong direction. I appreciate that the series does not make jumping and climbing automatic like in Uncharted, but I still think that Ubisoft could infer player intent a lot better to make the parkour sequences more fun to play. Maybe future games will improve in this regard.

 

Third, I wish that the map screen would pull up faster when I hit the Options button. Ideally, it should appear instantly, but in these games, they always have to show a transition animation that lasts a couple seconds before you can see it. I can’t tell if the delay exists because game needs to load the map or if it’s just an artistic choice. Still, considering how often you need to look at it, it’s annoying as hell.

 

I started playing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood last Sunday and completed the main story Thursday night (I had the week off from work). The fact that I finished this big open-world game in less than a week should tell how much I enjoyed it. It’s easily the best of the series I've played so far. I’m excited to play Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and not only see how Ezio’s story comes to a close but what’s to become of the characters in the modern day.

 

Synchronization: 66.83%

Play Time: 20:24:51

 

 (out of five)

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  • 1 month later...

Quick update on this project — I started Assassin’s Creed: Revelations the other night. Currently on Sequence 3. I’m just taking my time and exploring Constantinople. Depending on how much time I can get in with the game, maybe I’ll have it done by later next week. Of course the review will follow a day or two later. We’ll see how it goes. It would be nice to have it done by Labor Day.

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Assassin’s Creed: Revelations 

(Remastered)

 

Quote

"I have lived my life as best I could, not knowing its purpose, but drawn forward like a moth to a distant moon; and here at last, I discover a strange truth. That I am only a conduit, for a message that eludes my understanding."
―Ezio Auditore da Firenze

 

At long last, we come to the end of The Ezio Collection with Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. I must admit, I have mixed feelings about this game. It does a lot of things well. It closes the stories of both Ezio and Altaïr in a satisfying way. It also further iterates on the gameplay mechanics introduced in Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood, while adding in a few new ideas to keep things fresh.  Unfortunately, some of those new ideas either feel out of place or are not executed as well as they could have been. Additionally, numerous technical glitches on the Xbox One version made what could have been a truly great game frustrating instead.

 

Let’s talk about the good first. Revelations not only serves as a satisfactory conclusion to Ezio’s tale, but Altaïr’s as well. It also manages to provide some much-needed backstory for Desmond, who’s mostly been a blank slate up until now. The story begins with Desmond in a coma, triggered by the events at the end of Brotherhood. He finds himself inside the Animus in a place called the Black Room. In order to awaken, he needs trigger a “Synch Nexus” by reliving the final memories of his ancestor Ezio.

 

These memories find Ezio traveling to the city of Constantinople in the year 1511. Now in his 50s, Ezio is searching for five keys he needs to open a vault sealed by Altaïr centuries prior. The vault contains an artifact that the Templars want, and he needs to find the keys before they do.

 

As Ezio locates the keys, he uses them to relive the events of Altaïr’s life, similar to how Desmond relives Ezio’s life through the Animus. Here, we learn much more about the protagonist from the first game and his ultimate fate. It’s interesting to see this tale unfold. I never cared for Altaïr as a character in Assassin’s Creed because I found him to be rather dull and one-dimensional. Apparently, all the interesting stuff in his life happened after that game ended. His character is fleshed out well here, and I found him much more three-dimensional by the end.

 

I also enjoyed Ezio’s story. I liked how he’s an old man in this game — world wary, and not as brash or impulsive as he was the first time we saw him in Assassin’s Creed II. I kept waiting for him to say, “I’m getting too old for this shit,” which, sadly, he never does. 

 

Early on, he meets a woman named Sofia, who helps him on his quest. The relationship between these two was a real high point for me. They had amazing chemistry, and you could really believe that they had fallen for each other. It’s a shame, then, that her sole purpose in the narrative is to eventually get captured by the Templars in order to give Ezio more motivation for defeating them.

 

Without spoiling anything, I really liked how the end of the story brought together all three characters (Desmond, Ezio, and Altaïr) as if their fates — though separated by centuries — are all intertwined with one another as part of some grander plan.

 

Gameplay-wise, Revelations plays very similar to the previous two entries, especially Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Once again, most of the action takes place within a single city, and you are free to explore every corner of it. In addition to the usual story missions that serve as the game’s backbone, there are numerous side quests and challenges to complete, including taking control of the city’s various districts, opening shops to increase your income, recruiting new members to the brotherhood, and training them to become master Assassins. 

 

Unlike Brotherhood, which blocked access to certain areas of the map until very late in the game, Revelations lets you go just about anywhere you want from the very beginning. Only one area is blocked off until you reach a specific point in the story, but even then I wasn’t annoyed by it for two reasons. First, the area is blocked by a fortress wall that exists in the city itself and not by a virtual Animus wall that will desynchronize you if you cross it for too long. Second, that area becomes accessible about halfway through the story, so you don’t have two wait too long before you can explore it.. I appreciated the freedom this gave me and spent most of my first few hours just exploring the city. It’s fun to build up your forces, restore the shops, and slowly increase your income as you play.

 

While much of the game feels familiar, it does introduce several new mechanics. Chief among them is the Hookblade, which gives Ezio several new traversal and combat techniques. It allows him to grab ledges just out of reach, trip enemies, and travel down zip lines. This is probably the most useful — and therefore most successful —addition to the game. I hope to see it return in future installments.

 

Another new addition is bomb crafting. You’ll pick up materials for bombs (things like gun powder and casings) by looting bodies and treasure chests. You can bring these materials to special crafting stations located throughout the city. From there, you can make up to three different types of bombs: lethal, tactical, and diversion. I enjoyed this mechanic and felt like there’s a lot of depth to it that I only scratched the surface of. I imagine someone who knows this game inside-out can do all sorts of amazing things with them.

 

Beyond that, there’s also a tower defense mini-game, which, surprisingly, I only did once during my entire play through. I expected it to be a much bigger part of the game. From what I can tell, they only happen if your notoriety meter fills up and you don’t bring it back down quickly enough. However, if you manage to keep the meter low like I did, the attacks on the Assassin dens never happen. Plus, I eventually leveled up my Assassin recruits to the point where each den had its own master that would fend off any attacks automatically. So, I never had to worry about it.

 

Speaking of the notoriety meter, I found it required a lot more attention in Revelations. It’s much easier to raise and slightly more difficult to lower, making it much more likely you’ll hit notorious status more often if you’re not careful. It will go up if you conduct illegal activities as in previous games, but now it will also increase if you renovate a shop. Lowering it is more difficult because the wanted posters from previous games are gone. You can’t simply rip them off the side of a building anymore and expect your notoriety to drop twenty-five percent. You must either bribe a herald or kill a Templar official in order to lower it. The former are generally easy to find (and cheap to bribe), but the latter only appear occasionally — usually when your notoriety meter is just about full. 

 

Overall, I liked this change. The meter was a factor in previous games, but I never felt like I had to worry about it much because I could keep it low so easily. Now, I have to actually think about it, and it affected the way I played the game. As with the Hookblade, I hope to see these changes return in future games.

 

The most radical gameplay departure in Revelations though has to be the Desmond sections. Unlike previous games, where he could exit the Animus at will to either explore or speak to Lucy, Rebecca, and Shaun, here he can’t because he’s trapped in a coma. 

 

Instead, we get five “Desmond’s Journey” levels, which reveal his backstory. They cover the events of his life, starting with his days as a child living in a small Assassin community and leading up to his abduction by the Templars at the beginning of the first game. 

 

These levels don’t play like anything else in the series though. For one, they take place from a first-person perspective, and Desmond’s move set is very limited. He can walk, jump, and generate floating platforms in order to cross wide gaps or reach higher places. Essentially, they’re obstacle courses where the goal is to simply reach the end (with a few collectibles to find along the way, of course). The gameplay here is fine, but it’s so radically different from everything else in the series that it feels like it belongs in a different game.

 

Furthermore, the backstory is delivered in the laziest way possible: through voiceovers while you play. Desmond describes what happened to him, but we never see it. It would have been far more interesting if Desmond had been able to relive his own memories the same way he’s reliving those of his ancestors. I get that Ubisoft might not have had the time nor budget to add all of that content, but it still feels like a missed opportunity.

 

It’s somewhat disappointing, then, that the single-player DLC expansion for Revelations — “The Lost Archive” — is just an extension of the gameplay found in the “Desmond’s Journey” levels, only this time focusing on the story of Subject 16. I’m glad I played it though, because it reveals something very important that gives context to the ending of Brotherhood. To say it’s a shocker would be an understatement. I’ll leave it at that.

 

Unfortunately, the most disappointing part of this game — and the reason I’m docking one star from my score — has nothing to do with the story or gameplay. It was the numerous technical issues that detracted from my experience. This is the glitchiest Assassin’s Creed game I’ve played so far. No contest. I often saw characters (including Ezio) clip through geometry or get stuck in buildings or the ground. I even had to restart a mission at one point because Ezio fell into an object, and there was no other way to get him out.

 

Far worse, though, were the frequent crashes. This game froze on me several times. One night it even froze on me twice! And these weren’t little crashes that just quit the game and booted me back to the Xbox home screen. No, these crashes shut down my Xbox One X completely every time. It was so bad, I wondered if it was a hardware issue with the console itself (it was not). Apparently, other users have complained about the same issues on the Xbox One for both the X and S models. If that’s the case, It’s probably best to play the game on PS4 or PC instead. I still got through it, but I expect more polish on a big-budget titles like this. Thankfully, the game does a good job of saving frequent checkpoints, so the crashes never resulted in me losing much progress, if any.

 

Up to this point, every new game in the series has been markedly better than the one before it. Assassin's Creed: Revelations doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights as its predecessor, but it is a very good game overall. It works as a conclusion to the Ezio and Altaïr saga, and as an extension of the gameplay mechanics introduced in the previous two games. Were it not for the technical issues and the disappointing “Desmond’s Journey” levels, I would probably hold it in higher regard.


Synchronization: 76.08% (100% on “The Lost Archive” DLC)
Play Time: 15:02:31 (not including “The Lost Archive” DLC)

 ️ (out of five)

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Great review, Jeff!

 

Revelations certainly was the beginning of the formula starting to wear thin. It was Ezio that carried me through it and the combined narrative with Altair that carried me through.

 

Assassins Creed III is the game that all but killed the franchise for me. IV is a decent return to form for the old formula thanks to the expanded ship combat. Other than that, I was happy to leave the series right there as it had little else to say to me.

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1 hour ago, Romier S said:

Great review, Jeff!

 

Thanks!

 

1 hour ago, Romier S said:

Assassins Creed III is the game that all but killed the franchise for me.

 

Yeah, I’m a bit excited and nervous to start the next one. I’m excited about what changes the new character and setting might bring, but nervous that it won’t work for me as well. 

 

The good news is that I don’t feel fatigued or burned out with the series as of yet. I still have a ways to go though, so there’s still plenty of time for that to happen. 🙂

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  • JFo changed the title to Welcome to the Animus: A Stroll Through History in the World of Assassin’s Creed

Assassin's Creed III 

(Remastered)

 

I had high hopes when I started playing Assassin’s Creed III. Coming off the excellent Ezio trilogy, I was excited to see where Ubisoft would take the series for its third numbered installment. I expected a lot of refinements to existing gameplay mechanics, but also hoped to see Ubisoft really push the series forward. At the same time, I knew it featured a new protagonist and was set during a period of history that I — a red-blooded American patriot who eats red meat and only speaks one language — was more familiar with. Hence, there were ample opportunities to tell a truly epic story.

 

Sadly, the game failed to live up to my lofty expectations. Poor execution and a surprisingly lackluster story marred what could have been one of my favorite games of the series.

In the end, it’s a game I finished, but barely.

 

The story picks up right after the events of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Desmond, his father William, Rebecca, and Shaun arrive at an ancient Grand Temple located in upstate New York. They believe this location holds the key to prevent a cataclysm that will wipe out all civilization (basically, a massive solar flare that will envelop the Earth).

 

To unlock its secrets and save humanity, Desmond returns to the Animus to relive the memories of two ancestors who both lived in the 18th century during the American Revolution. The first is Haytham Kenway, a British member of the Templars. He is sent to the American colonies to locate the Grand Temple and open it, all while establishing the Templar Order in the New World. He is ultimately unsuccessful in opening the Temple, but along the way, fathers a child with a Native American woman named Kaniehtí:io.

 

That child, named Ratonhnhaké:ton, becomes the game’s main protagonist, who the player controls for the remainder of the story. Through a tragic series of events, he eventually finds his way into the Assassin brotherhood where he is given the name “Connor.” He also gets caught up in the American Revolution, fighting for the Patriots against the British army. As a half-white, half-Native American, he is caught between two worlds and is set on a path to not only free the colonies of British rule, but to eventually end his father’s life.

 

Despite the huge potential, I did not connect with the story or its characters. Connor, like Altaïr in the first game, has a one-note personality, and no qualities to make him endearing. Haytham starts out somewhat interesting, but quickly devolves into a cartoon villain as soon as his affiliation with the Templars is revealed and the player assumes control of Connor. The story does pick up somewhat when father and son come face-to-face and start working together, but these moments are short and fleeting.

 

At the same time, the end of Desmond’s story left a lot to be desired. I was particularly disappointed with the ending, which was very anti-climactic. After building up this cataclysm for five games, the story just ends with Desmond touching an orb and sacrificing himself to save the world (Note: SPOILER ALERT). No weight is given to the moment. We don’t see how his father or companions react to it. It’s just something that happens right before the credits roll.

 

Assassin’s Creed III features a number of refinements, changes, and additions to the core gameplay mechanics. The reason the fifth game in the series is called Assassin’s Creed III is because Ubisoft wanted to save the official numbered sequel for a game that was not only set in a new time period with a new protagonist, but also because they wanted to bring big changes to the gameplay formula just as Assassin’s Creed II did for the first game. Brotherhood and Revelations were iterative versions of ACII, but didn’t fundamentally change it much. ACIII was supposed to be the next big step forward for the franchise. However, based on what I played, I don’t think it was successful in doing that.

 

Among the changes include the movement of the characters. Running and climbing feel snappier, more nimble, and less rigid than it did in previous games. You no longer need to hold the right trigger and A to run and climb objects now. The right trigger alone activates all running and climbing, which is a nice simplification of the control scheme. You only need to press A if you want to leap off a ledge.

 

Combat has also seen a number of changes for both melee and ranged weapons. On the melee weapon front, it has been made much easier. It still emphasizes blocking, dodging, and parrying, but you now see an icon above the head of an enemy before they attack. When you see this, you need to hit the B button to block it. If done successfully, the the game pauses momentarily so that you can chose your next move, which is activated by pressing one of the other four face buttons (attack, disarm, parry and grab). Depending on the enemy, certain moves will work better than others. Once you get the rhythm of the combat, it isn’t very difficult to execute. I was able to complete most combat encounters throughout the campaign on my first try using only the gear I had at the start of the game.

 

Another big change is that projectile weapons can now be aimed manually with the right analog stick, rather than relying on the lock-on targeting system. On the one hand, it’s easier and more reliable to target enemies yourself, but the act of aiming never feels good, like the developers didn’t get the movement curve right when you move the thumb stick. It seems harder than it should be to hit a target, even one that’s stationary.

 

At the same time, I need to make a special mention about how much I hate the way bow and arrows worked. In most games, you hold the left trigger to bring up the bow, then you press and hold the right trigger to set and aim the arrow. When you release the right trigger, the arrow is released as well. This feels natural, like you’re actually firing a real bow and arrow.

 

In this game, however, the left trigger brings up the bow and readies the arrow. You only need press the right trigger to fire the arrow — no need to hold it down. Not only does this method feel less satisfying to execute, it also means that I kept screwing up when I went to fire an arrow. I would press the left trigger to bring up the bow. Then, out of habit, I would press the right trigger to set and aim the arrow. However, pressing the right trigger didn’t do anything because the character in the game would ready the arrow automatically. So, when I let go of the right trigger to fire, nothing happened. I didn’t fire my arrow. I had to quickly press the right trigger again, usually causing me to miss my perfectly aimed shot.

 

Much of the game takes place in two cities: New York and Boston. However, much of it also takes place in the wilderness of the American frontier. This area is very different from anything else we’ve seen in the rest of the series. Activities here mostly involve hunting and exploring, which I don’t find quite as interesting as blending into crowds of people and sneaking past Red Coats. As a result, I mostly found myself just running from one part of the (very large) map to the other in order to progress to the next mission.

 

Another new addition is naval combat, which theoretically, plays a big part of the game as well. I enjoyed these sections more than I thought I would, but I ended up not doing any naval missions beyond the ones in the main story. As with the melee combat, this didn’t seem to affect my ability to complete those story missions that required it. I assumed that at some point, I would need to upgrade my ship so as to stand a chance against the British Navy, but that never happened. I know that this is a bigger focus in Assassin’s Creed IV, so I’m interested to see how this gameplay mechanic evolves.

 

Lastly, Assassin’s Creed III is the first in the series to actually feature some good, old fashioned stealth mechanics. What is here is very basic though. Mostly it’s just hiding in bushes or tall grass to avoid detection by enemies. For a series based around the premise of sneaking past guards and trying to kill targets covertly, the lack of any real stealth mechanics has been the most surprising discovery I’ve made so far about this franchise. I don’t know how the series evolves this mechanic, but I think it would greatly improve the gameplay if it were something expanded upon in future entries.

 

I should mention that I I did play through the “Benedict Arnold” DLC missions (which were originally exclusive to PlayStation 3 players) and “The Tyranny of King Washington.” I found the latter to be an interesting little side campaign. The story tells of an alternate reality where George Washington obtains an Apple of Eden and grows mad with power, making himself King of the United States. Connor sets out to stop him and along the way gains three “animal powers,” which add a nice twist to the gameplay:

 

  • Wolf: Makes Connor invisible to human enemies (although dogs can still sniff him out).
  • Eagle: Allows Connor to soar through the air from one ledge to another.
  • Bear: Perform an area of effect attack that can wipe out many enemies at once and damage structures.

 

The DLC campaign is short — about five to six hours long — but worth playing just for how weird it is. It was probably my favorite part of playing Assassin’s Creed III.

 

Overall, I was less engaged with this game than I was the previous three entries. I mostly stuck to completing the main story missions and barely touched the side quests. There are so many things to do that I didn’t do in this game, which explains the low synchronization (completion) number at the bottom of the review. And many of the things I didn’t do were things I happily did in previous games — things like liberating city districts from Templar influence, upgrading my armor and weapons, or fully renovating the homestead (which is this game’s version of the Villa from ACII). Hell, I didn’t even bother climbing to the top of all of the viewpoints this time around, something I’ve tried to do in every other game in the series so far.

 

So, why didn’t I want to do the side quests? Thinking it over, I’ve determined that there are two reasons why I’m willing to complete the side quests in a big, open-world game like this. First, they are fun to play. They don’t have to be mind-blowing in their quality, just good enough were I don’t find them tedious and boring. I can’t say I found the extra quests particularly interesting in this game. I don’t want to hunt animals in the wilderness  so that I can collect materials to craft new gear because it’s not what I’m here for. I want to blend into crowds, climb buildings, and assassinate targets without being detected. You know, the stuff you do in an Assassin’s Creed game.

 

Second, I have to get a real sense that completing side quests will benefit me in a way that makes finishing the game easier. For instance, in Ghost of Tsushima, completing side quests will lead to experience points, more health, and more resources to upgrade gear. This, in turn, will make it easier to finish the main game. However, as I noted above, I found little reason upgrade my gear because I could almost always survive enemy encounters with what I already had. So, if I’m not loving the game and I’m already able to complete missions without any trouble, why would I want to spend any more time playing it than I have to?

 

Without a doubt, Assassin’s Creed III has been my least favorite game in the series so far. I did wonder while playing it if I was starting to burn out on the franchise — a thing many of you warned me about at the outset of this journey. I don’t think I am. I would be more than happy to play another game as good as Brotherhood or Revelations (minus the glitches and crashes of the latter on Xbox One). I still enjoy the Assassin’s Creed formula; it’s just that this particular installment didn’t match the quality of the three games that came before it. It’s a shame too, because, like I said earlier in this review, it had so much potential.

 

Synchronization: 38% (55% for “The Tyranny of King Washington” DLC)

Play Time: 18:25:58 (including “The Tyranny of King Washington” DLC)

️ (out of five)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ubisoft: Remove the frame rate caps, you cowards!

 

 

I’ve decided the next game on my list will be Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, instead of Black Flag. I have it anyway as part of my Assassin’s Creed III Remastered bundle. It looks to be a pretty quick campaign overall at around 8.5 hours (according to How Long to Beat). I’m also curious to see if a game set in the same time period as ACIII can do a better job of grabbing me and keeping me interested.

 

By the time I get through that, I’ll have more or less entered the 8th generation games in the series (Black Flag, Unity, Syndicate, etc.) save for Rogue, which I’ll be playing before Unity. However, I’ll be playing them on a 9th gen console — Xbox Series X. I don’t know if Ubisoft will bother to go back and remove the frame rate caps on these games or do anything to improve them. Even if they don’t, it will be nice to know that the hardware I’m playing them on is more than powerful enough to run them with ease. Plus, I’m looking forward to some drastically reduced load times. Always a plus.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD

(Remastered)

 

Originally, I didn’t intend on playing Assassin’s Creed: Liberation at all. My plan going into this project was to focus on the mainline Assassin’s Creed series, specifically, the major releases on console and PC. I wanted to keep this endeavor somewhat manageable, so I decided to skip mobile and handheld games such as Liberation, which originally appeared on the PS Vita back in 2012.

 

However, I kept hearing good things about it, even from some folks here at LCVG, and ultimately, I decided to give it a go for three reasons. First, it was included as part of the Assassin’s Creed III Remastered package, so I already had it. Second, It appeared to be a brief campaign, clocking in at under ten hours according to How Long to Beat. Third, with the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S consoles nearly here, I figured this would be a good title to sneak in before they arrive. I suspect I won’t be playing any Assassin’s Creed games again until sometime after the new year.

 

Now that I’m done and have had a few days to dwell on it, I’m glad I played it. This is a solid  entry  that executes well on the Assassin’s Creed formula. It may not have the scope or production values of its bigger siblings on console, but what it does, it does well.

 

With Desmond Miles’ story having come to a close at the the end of Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft invented a new framing device to tie the events of the past with the modern day. A nameless player (essentially, you) is presented with a consumer-grade Animus device made by Abstergo Entertainment, a subsidiary of Abstergo Industries, which, as we know by now, is a front for the Templars. The player is told that they will relive the memories of  Aveline de Grandpré, a member of the Assassin Brotherhood in America during the French and Indian War during the 1760s and 1770s. 

 

However, because this device was made by the Templars, they have censored certain events that portray them in a negative light. As the game progresses, an unknown hacker breaks into the game to show the player the truth about what happened. Who the hacker is and why they are doing this are never explained — nor are the Templar’s intentions for releasing such a device to the public. Additionally, the nameless player never really does anything with the information presented to them. In other words, the story of the past does not affect anything in the present day. Perhaps I will better understand what’s going on when I finally play Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, but for this game, I’m not sure it even needed the modern day bits with the Animus at all. Just tell Aveline’s story and let that stand on its own.

 

Speaking of Aveline, she is notable for not only being the first woman protagonist in the series, but also the first black one as well. As far as backstory goes, she has a fairly unique one. She is the daughter of a French merchant living in New Orleans and a woman who was a former slave that was freed by Aveline’s father. The parents were (unofficially) married and lived happily together until the mother disappeared when the Aveline was just a little girl.

 

Despite her heritage, Aveline grows up as a member of the upper class, but her strong sense of justice leads her to the Assassin Brotherhood, where she uses her skills to free slaves and try to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance.

 

In typical Assassin’s Creed fashion, the story takes a few twists and turns. Overall, I enjoyed the story, although I did have to read up on the social structure of the time to really understand what was going on.

 

As I mentioned earlier, Liberation was first released in 2012 on PS Vita. Originally called Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, it was later ported to the Xbox 360 and PS3 as Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD. The version I played on Xbox One is officially titled Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD Remastered, as if the name needed a few more descriptors at the end.

 

Anyway, the point is that this was a handheld game originally, and it shows. Coming off of Assassin’s Creed III, which arrived at the tail end of the seventh console generation (360/PS3) and utilizes all the power of those consoles, Liberation doesn’t escape its roots as a handheld game visually. Ubisoft did a pretty good job scaling up the graphics for consoles, and for the most part, the environments look pretty decent. It’s the character models which look less impressive this time around — something you would expect from a game made for a lower budget on a device that isn’t as powerful as a 360 or PS3.

 

At the same time, the campaign is much shorter than the previous entries. I finished it in about nine hours forty-five minutes, whereas the previous games would take an average of twenty hours or more. Missions are shorter most of the time, feeling more like bite-sized snacks than big epic adventures. The two main areas of the game — the city of New Orleans and the bayou — are also a good deal smaller than the maps from previous games. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it means that I never had to spend too long running from one waypoint to another.

 

As for the gameplay itself, it mostly sticks to what worked in previous games. The biggest addition this time around is Aveline’s use of personas. Unlike in previous games, where the protagonists wore their Assassin cloaks throughout the entirety of the story (with some cosmetic variations), Aveline can change into different outfits and assume different personas depending on the situation.

 

Aveline makes use of three personas in total: the Assassin, the Lady, and the Slave. Each persona has different strengths and weaknesses. For instance, the Lady persona — which has Aveline donning a fancy dress and carrying a parasol — allows her to more easily blend into crowds and remain incognito. She also builds up notoriety slowly. However, she can’t run, jump or climb. Her combat abilities are also reduced. Conversely, the Assassin persona allows her the most maneuverability and best combat options, but guards are far more likely to notice her and she builds notoriety very quickly. The Slave persona is somewhere in-between those two, offering her the ability to run, jump, and climb like an Assassin, but also remain anonymous more easily. However, her combat abilities are not strong as compared to the Assassin persona.

 

For a series whose central gameplay hook is blending into crowds and remaining anonymous, it strikes me as odd that this hasn’t been a mechanic used until at least six entries in. Sure, you may have had a few missions in prior games where Ezio dressed up as a minstrel to sneak into a party at a palace, or something like that, but never did you get to change costumes at will. I liked the idea and would like to see it return in future games. I’m not sure it will though, so I’m not getting my hopes up.

 

Beyond the use of personas, Liberation is mostly rote Assassin’s Creed gameplay at its core. Still, I really enjoyed it. Unlike Assassin’s Creed III, which got bogged down in extraneous side quests and and excessive bloat, Liberation works because its smaller size and limited budget force it to stick to what made Assassin’s Creed fun in the first place. Yes, there’s still lots of extra tasks to complete, collectibles to find, and secrets to uncover, but they’re not so abundant as to be overwhelming. In fact, this is the game for which I have reached the highest level of completion at 91%. Some of that can be attributed to Liberation’s shorter length. I attribute much of it to the fact that this extra was just worth doing. And honestly, I can’t think of a nicer thing to say about at game than that. Especially for a game I didn't even plan on playing in the first place.

 

Synchronization: 91%
Play Time: 09:44:44

 (out of five)

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  • 3 months later...

It's been a while.

 

I just wanted to provide a quick update on this project. After finishing Assassin's Creed: Liberation back in October, I decided to take a break from Assassin's Creed for a bit. The PS5 and the Xbox Series X were about to launch, and I wanted to clear out my schedule to make way for the numerous next gen launch titles arriving at that time. As much as I was enjoying playing through these games (with, perhaps, the exception of ACIII), I didn't want to feel like they were crowding out the other titles I wanted to play at that time. Besides, I figured a little break would help prevent me from burning out on the series before I reached the end.

 

Originally, I planned on trying to get back into this series after the holiday. However, my return to the Animus kept getting bumped by other games (most recently Immortals Fenyx Rising and Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury). Now, it's nearly the end of February, and I haven't even started the next installment, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.

 

My current plan is to finish up what I'm playing now (Mario + Bowser's Fury), then start the ACIV. Depending on how quickly I can finish both it and Freedom Cry, I'll hopefully have the next review done by the end of March. From there, I'll try to finish the games on a more regular basis. I had been able to finish one game each month prior to my break, but looking at the titles ahead and seeing how long some of them are, I'm not going to commit to a schedule that ambitious. Still, my ultimate goal is to finish up Odyssey by the end of the year, which I think is doable. 

 

The only thing that gives me pause is knowing there's a chance that these games may get enhanced through Microsoft's new FPS boost program. I'd be perfectly fine with playing them at 30fps, but I would kick myself if I were to play them now and the next day find out they've been enhanced to run at 60. Such is life though. If it happens, it happens. I just don't want to wait for who knows how long to actually finish playing all these games.

 

Stay tuned.

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