Power or Oppression. Control or Freedom. Liberty or Death. These recurring themes dominate the worlds and mythos of Assassin’s Creed, and are the very same ones that served to guide a splinter group of Ubisoft’s creative talent looking to come up with a brand new concept for the franchise.
Flash back to December of 2010. The location is Paris, Ubisoft HQ. A concept video is played to internal senior staff. Boston, 1775. New York, 1776. Mohawk Village, 1779. The outcome of that meeting, is now of course, history. Assassin’s Creed III was officially born, and the first steps could be taken towards development of the next numbered instalment. An intensive research period follows, especially with this being the first game to full explore the Revolutionary War time period. A strong and clear creative vision would be required to accurately portray such a significant period in both American, and world history. As part of the presentation we got shown by IP Director Tommy Francois, the vast majority of Assassin’s Creed III will be grounded in historical fact. Characters such as George Washington, Charles Lee, Benjamin Franklin and even General Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette (who served as a major-general in the Continental Army under Washington) will reprise their historical roles, while allowing Ubisoft to tell a story that fits within the Assassin’s Creed Universe.
It is immediately apparent that the size and scope of this game is unlike anything Ubisoft have attempted before with eight of its studios across the world have been working simultaneously on the project and a production capacity double the size of all previous Ezio titles combined. We were shown the previously secret Target Gameplay Footage (TGF); a video only seen by internal teams up until that point. The aim of the TGF was to focus the creativity of those that would be working on Assassin’s Creed III, as well as serve as a handy reference point upon completion of the game. It also gave us the chance to see some early design and gameplay changes that had been made in the 2 years that AC III had been under wraps.
Scalping enemies was originally a planned feature, but this was taken out after research showed that Mojave Indians never actually scalped their victims. The other major change was to a weapon originally known as the ChainBlade. We were informed that the teams felt this to be heading down too much of a fantasy route, so it was replaced with a new weapon called the Rope Dart, which allows Connor to retain some long range capabilities, all the while grounding the weapon in some realism (the Chinese made extensive use of Rope Darts well before the time of the Revolutionary War)
From an Animation standpoint, the TGF showed the first glimpses of the new direction Ubisoft were looking ahead to with AC III. The power of the AnvilNext engine meant that seasonal changes could finally be fully realised in the game. Snowfall affects both movement speed and effort, and Connor himself has a more brutal, predatory style to his animations, which Ubisoft state has all been made specifically for this game. There is also a brand new approach to traversal now, with Connor apparently able to climb “anything you can see” that is within the bounds of the memory. This immediately opens up numerous new possibilities for tracking, stalking and dispatching targets, both human and animal. Our hero will find himself at odds with all manner of foes, be they soldiers, elk or even bears. We were treated to a spectacular bear assassination as part of the presentation. Pelt, fur and other resources can now be hunted too, with the quality of the bounty being determined by the quality of the animal kill.
The new Anvil tech also means that Connor can now traverse both over and under terrain and the environment around him. Other improvements include grander vistas and considerably larger maps. The fully explorable Frontier region alone is described as being 1.5 times the size of Brotherhood’s Rome, with the cities of Boston and New York receiving similar treatment. With this comes more populated cities and the need for improved NPC behaviour and AI. We got to see Boston in the Summer of 1775 bustling with life; traders, newspaper boys, redcoats, street cleaners, everyone had a sense of purpose and went about their tasks without hesitation. Familiar NPCs waved and greeted Connor with a smile. Random events presented themselves, such as a thief stealing and making off with an apple from a market trader and all of this was enhanced by the brand new visual style presented in Assassin’s Creed III. Dubbed Animus 3.0, Tommy informed us that this was the first fully realised 3D set of environments that have ever appeared in an Assassin’s Creed game. Everything from the Out of Memory Bounds projection right down to the waypoint markers within the Animus simulation.
Much of the fan focus will be on the new ancestral protagonist, Connor Kenway (native name Ratohnhaké:ton) who joined the Assassin Order in 1770. As opposed to Altair, whose motivation was duty to the Creed, or Ezio whose passion was initially motivated by vengeance, Connor is described as being driven by justice, inspiring those around him to fight for freedom. Despite watching white colonists burn his village down while still a child, Connor will likely aid both sides of the Revolutionary War in his quest for justice, and his ultimate fight against the Templars. His Native American heritage is well represented in his appearance and his weapons.
Alongside the already mentioned Rope Dart, Connor will utilise Dual Pistols, a bow and arrows, his signature Tomahawk and the iconic Assassin Hidden Blade. His natural gifts, heightened by Assassin training means that he is an excellent tracker, and possesses a smooth, but brutal fighting style. In one sequence, the Assassin impales a soldier from a tree vantage point, drops down and uses the unfortunate victim as a human shield while his comrades open fire. Given their long reloading times, Connor dumps the body and circles round them, dispatching them with relative ease using counters and chaining kills. Unlike his predecessors, Connor has a few unique tricks up his sleeve. Ubisoft have added a brand new game mechanic known as Stalker Zones, which allow Connor to automatically use foliage as a hiding spot when stealth is of the essence. From these zones, he can initiate an unbroken chain of kills in a fluid path towards his target. He is also able to make leaps of faith into moving blend groups now. During the demo, we were treated to William Prescott’s famous “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” speech at Bunker Hill. Tasked with assassinating a British general on the other side of the vast battlefield, Connor is now able to take cover using the environment (in this case boulders) to avoid the volleys of cannonball and musket fire that dominate the scene.
Many might worry about the scale of Ubisoft’s ambition with Assassin’s Creed III, fearing they may have reached too far., but we were reassured that the quality of the upcoming game was paramount to the teams. The 10 minute demo we got to witness was what Tommy called the “first playable” build, essentially an Alpha. Bar a few minor issues, that build looks ready to play right now. And this is their ace card; having a high quality build ready to play more than 6 months prior to release allows them time to actually polish and refine game elements, something Tommy admits they hadn’t had since Assassin’s Creed II. First impressions have left us suitably impressed and excited for more, with this looking like a fantastic jump in point for new fans, and the true sequel that the hardcore crowd have longed for. Probably the biggest worry though lies with the Desmond arc of the overall story. His fight against the modern day Templars still rages on, with the events of Revelations setting up a possible climactic showdown as plot elements come together. How much screen time Desmond will get with the introduction of a new ancestor has yet to be addressed. There are still remain many questions to be answered but one thing is for certain, his story arc ends with AC III, set in the final months of 2012 to coincide with the game’s release.
We hope you have enjoyed our first preview of Assassin’s Creed III. Be sure to check out XGZ’s interview with Lead Scriptwriter, Matt Turner via the link below (with big thanks to community member LightRey for his help compiling the questions.) Assassin’s Creed III, is due to arrive on October 31st 2012 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. Stay tuned for our continued coverage all the way up to release.