Monday, November 12, 2012

Assassin's Creed 3 (Spoiler) review

 Warning: The following review will contain spoiler information about Assassin's Creed 3.

    The non-spoiler review of the game is available here.

    I think the moment I decided I loved Assassin's Creed 3 was a non-story moment. It was where Connor Kenway (a.k.a Ratonhnhaké:ton) comes across a Templar convoy heading to who-knows-where with a wagon load full of silver.

      It's fairly early in the story but the option for you to ambush and murder these people is there. Given Connor is only fifteen years old at this time, it was disturbing to watch him sneak up behind a bunch of unsuspecting British soldiers before bashing their heads in with a stone tomahawk.

    By the end of that encounter, Connor had slaughtered a bunch of Redcoats and killed his first Templars. It was a different sort of moment from Ezio Auditore whose first victim was, quite literally, the man who murdered his family. Ezio proceeds to go after the rest of the Templar order but he achieves his revenge early on.

     Connor Kenway is also on a mission of revenge, at least partially, but he doesn't have the grim satisfaction of working his way up to the Grandmaster of the Templars. The man Connor thinks murdered his mother and most of his tribe, Charles Lee, is distant for much of the game. Instead, Connor decides to blame the Templars as a whole for his family's death and devotes himself to murdering hundreds of them.

    Except, well, the Templars didn't have anything to do with it. That, for me, is the big spoiler of Assassin's Creed 3. The entire quest of Connor to annihilate the Templars and avenge his dead mother is pointless because the whole thing is based on a misunderstanding. The day Charles Lee showed up was the day Connor's village was burned to the ground. You can understand why Connor thinks he's involved. In fact, he had nothing to do with it.

    George [expletive deleted] Washington was the guy who ordered our hero's village burned down. This isn't even the game doing revisionary history, it's actually just mentioning one of the less pleasant elements about our first President which history likes to gloss over. It's like Andrew Jackson, the man on the twenty dollar bill, who helped make democracy about the common man rather than rich landowners. He just, you know, nearly destroyed the Cherokee nation and made it clear that assimilation was not a possibility for America's first residents.

    Even without bringing up the rest of the story, a large part of why I enjoy Assassin's Creed 3 is it's a deconstruction of the revenge fantasy. Indeed, it's a deconstruction of Assassin's Creed 2 and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Connor doesn't get to live in the same sort of world as Ezio Auditore where he's an Italian James Bond. He's, unfortunately, stuck in a world where there are no good guys or bad guys with even his allies being one sort of dirt bag or another.

    At heart, this ambiguity is the heart of Assassin's Creed 3's story. The Revolutionary War was not a war of good vs. evil or even tyranny vs. slavery. It was a war of taxation that, nevertheless, ushered in an age of free representation for certain people in the USA.

     We get to see the moral compromises made by the colonists in the very beginning with slaves being the ones to serve the people at Independence Hall. Some of the Founding Fathers manage to get off well; Benjamin Franklin was an abolitionist from the very beginning and Sam Adams thinks the USA will work towards abolition as soon as it's established.

    Still, by making the protagonist a Mohawk, they've put him squarely in the middle of the game's central premise: that no matter what Connor Kenway does, he's not going to be able to prevent the subjugation and oppression of his people.

     Despite this, he's not a helpless protagonist either. The Templars were in a prime position take over the early United States and we get to witness our hero prevent that. Also, depending on whether you get The Tyranny of King George DLC or not, at least one version of Connor Kenway does get to avenge himself on Washington.

    I also appreciate the game's handling of the Templars, who we get at least a little more insight into the doings of. Unlike the Borgias, who are evil for the sake of being evil, the Templars of Assassin's Creed 3 are ruthless but understandable. You even get to play a Templar (Haytham Kenway) for three sequences.

    I'm one of those individuals who thinks the Templar vs. Assassin conflict shouldn't be boiled down to good vs. evil. In the canon of the games, the Assassins have allied with Mao, the French Revolution, and the Ottoman Empire. I'd like to see more emphasis on the fact that while the Assassins loathe tyrants, they also rarely put anything better in their enemy's place.

    The resolution to Desmond Miles' story is something I have mixed feelings about. I'm operating under the theory that Juno has "possessed" Desmond for lack of a better term and isn't exactly dead so my reaction may be less negative than others. Overall, I think it is a fitting conclusion to his story arc but I honestly wonder why they couldn't have just continued with him indefinitely.

    Overall, I'm very glad the 2012 genocide threat is dealt with. Mostly because it would have been silly to worry about the end of the Mayan calender after 2012. I just hope the rest of the Assassins like Shaun, Miles, and Rebecca continue on in the series. I really don't want to have to repeat the 'get to know' process we had with Desmond.

    In any case, Ubisoft deserves kudos for creating a vast and intelligent story across four games and I'll definitely be picking up the fifth one.


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  1. I think the act of painting both entities pretty grey is probably the best choice they made with the series, though now I fear where the story is going to go in the future. Can the two be any more grey? Or maybe they'll have us experience an Assassin in the process of getting turned or vice versa.

  2. It's a good thing that the game showed some of the flaws of the founders. Many people seem to have forgotten or never knew that many of the Founding Fathers, as well as the large portion of the U.S.'s first Presidents were slave owners, directly connected with slavery, or at least had no moral predisposition against the institution. It makes me wonder if the depiction of slavery in the game is prepping the players for a Civil War setting in the future?

    1. I'd really enjoy that, especially if there was an even greyer tone to the story with the players forced to fight against an Assassin John Wilkes Booth. Still, Ubisoft did an excellent job with the Revolution in terms of teaching history. I hope they can continue that indefinitely.