Three Years of Assassin’s Creed

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The first time I saw Assassin’s Creed was at a Game Stop on a PlayStation 3, sometime in 2007-2008. I played a few minutes and died a bunch of times because I’m terrible using console controllers, but came away impressed. The game was so cool. It had a big beautiful world that you could run all over, climb buildings, and jump down and stab people. The graphics were amazing and the environment was immersive.

I bought a PS3 a few years later and picked up a used copy of Assassin’s Creed as one of my first games. I was still terrible at the controls and had trouble “borrowing” the TV to play, so I only played it for a couple of hours total. It was fun but not enough to overcome my controller disabilities and logistical limitations.

Fast-forward to 2014. My Gaming PC arrived for Christmas just as Steam was running its annual sale. Games were anywhere from 33 – 70% off so I loaded up. One those games was Assassin’s Creed III, released in 2012. It’s set during the American Revolution, and spans Boston, New York, Lexington, Concord, the open frontier, and the high seas. I started playing that Christmas and I’m still playing it now.

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Why so long? One reason is that I was already playing a bunch of other game series that I was more familiar with (Hitman Absolution, Far Cry 4, and Bioshock Infinite) which competed for my time. Another reason is that AC3 has a different control scheme and style than the other games that I play. The aforementioned games are more straightforward shooters where most of your fighting is done with a gun of some sort.  AC3 involves a lot of climbing and jumping; and focuses on hand-to-hand combat / blades / tomahawks instead of guns.

I don’t game that much in general either, maybe squeaking out a couple of hours a night for a few weeks before taking weeks or months off. I ended up playing AC3 a little bit each year, not quite enough to really understand it before replacing it with a more straightforward game. It’s not that it’s a bad game; it’s fantastic, but it is stylistically different enough from my typical games that I didn’t spend enough time really getting into it. As such, it has turned into a holiday tradition for me, making more progress than usual starting around Thanksgiving.

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It is truly an enjoyable game. The world is very realistic – the period buildings look fantastic with their colonial architecture and the imperfections of weathered wood structures, the costumes and character models are pulled from the pages of history, and the entire environment looks and feels from another time. The graphics still hold up well too – the textures are sharp; the animations are realistic; the trees, water, and weather effects look real; the shadows are deep; the lighting is beautiful.

I enjoy that it is set during colonial times; the only game I’ve ever played that is. Though it is a fictional story, it incorporates historical events and characters from the revolution that make it feel very real. I also like that a majority of it is set in Boston and other New England towns. Many of the areas remind me of Portsmouth and other historic areas of New England. I find the changing seasons particularly enjoyable in these areas of the game – the renderings of New England buildings in the fall and winter are simply stunning.

The boys even enjoy it, when I let them. They started watching a couple of years ago when I was playing a winter section that required me to hunt animals. They dubbed it the “hunting game”. They also liked it when I’d deliberately anger a group of Red Coats who would chase me through the city. This year I made the mistake of watching me fight someone. It was really exciting for them but it resulted in the creation of “hand knives” and really wasn’t very appropriate in hindsight. Oops.

I’m about two-thirds through it now and might actually finish it off. I’m not sure though. I own five other games in the series, three of which I’d like to play soon. Black Flag (2013) is the sequel to III and focuses on battles on the high seas prior to the American Revolution. It shares characters and a graphics engine with AC3. Unity (2014)  is set during the French Revolution and includes a more detailed world and upgraded graphics engine. It was criticized for poor performance and a blasé storyline but is regarded as a beautiful game. It isn’t as good as AC3, but I didn’t pay too much for it and my beefy system should run it fine.

Syndicate, released in 2015, is the most recent major release prior to 2017’s origin. It is set in London during the Industrial Revolution and allows you to alternate between playing two characters. It reviewed well and looks beautiful.

I could finish playing AC3 before playing these other entries in the series, but part of me wants to set it aside again so that I have a reason to visit colonial New England on  occasion. Plus it will make for a familiar feeling when I pick it up next Christmas.

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