Assassin’s Creed 3 Preview:

The gem they meant to make the entire time

Assassin’s Creed 3 has been in the works for years. While other teams turned out the titles Revelations and Brotherhood, the 3 team took years crafting the story, world, and ground-up rebuilt combat system behind this E3 darling.

Playing it on the Playstation 3 and on the Wii U, it shined well on both, but the mechanics behind what the Wii U game pad offered were strong offerings. The screen acted as a quick inventory and as a large map for navigation. A map large enough that ten square city blocks seemed to be viewable, highlighting enemies long before encountering them, which I can only imagine allows for more tactical planning.

Speaking of the map, gone are the days of climbing a church or tower to synchronize. In AC3, wandering and the cities, wilderness, and sailing the open seas now unfogs the map as you go. This is in the tradition of games like BioShock and others. Exploration is the key to defining a map. Traveling at a higher elevation unfogs the map further than walking the streets. This encourages the player to stay in the trees and on rooftops to efficiently see the map more quickly.

The maps in AC3 are the biggest ever designed. Each city is larger than past cities combined. Florence and Rome are equal to one city in this game, not to mention the ocean and the wilderness. These large maps also forced the team to think of new tasks and ongoing quests. Hunting and exploration clubs encourage the player to explore and track and hunt animals. There is a monetary system, and hunting gets you meat and pelts you can sell. There are more than 25 species of animal to hunt from rabbits to bears. Don’t over hunt in an area too much, or those animals will disappear from that zone for a while. This is in keeping with the balance of nature and using everything that you kill that comes from Connor’s background as half Native-American.

The story of AC3 takes place over thirty years. It starts with Connor as a boy in his village, and ends after the Revolutionary War. Your enemy will be the Templars primarily, but this might be anyone from Americans to British to others. As always, this game is made by people from many religious and political backgrounds, which is the disclaimer found before the menu screen of every title.

Since this is a very open, realistic world, tasks will pop up and come and go. Exploration is everything, and Connor is not one to let a chance to fight for the people pass him up. The Templars are the enemy, but fighting power, oppression, and violence is a key goal. The common people will sometimes need Connor’s help. Whether it is a random street crime, a task to find meat for hungry villagers, or the task of securing medicine for sick and dying soldiers, Connor will have the option of intervening and upping his support from the people. This system is much like the one found in Brotherhood, where the people needed to be liberated from the tyrannical Borgias which allowed you to buy businesses and repair the city. Connor fights for his nation, his people, and anyone who is oppressed. You gotta respect a guy like that.

The combat system had to be retooled as well. There are a host of new kills and counters available, and stringing them together looks incredible while being so satisfying. Just as in the past, Connor can grab a weapon and use it in a fight, but can’t store it. You’ve seen the video of him grabbing a musket, shooting one man while stabbing another with the bayonet. There are new executions like stringing up the enemy. When you do this, you have the option of staying in the trees after the kill, or swinging down to the ground while the dying enemy goes up like a pulley system. One hell of a way to make an entrance. The combat system was rebuilt to account for the new class of weapons and Connor’s native background. He fights fluidly and viciously. There are now styles of running kills without missing a step, jump executions, and an endless way of mixing and matching your play style. He carries guns and a bow and arrow instead of the throwing knives we’ve seen in the past. Include his tomahawk and double wrist blades among others and you’ve got just about any combination of ways to deliver justice.

The free running in my gameplay was very intuitive. Back are the lifts for quick ascent to the rooftops, but when the team had to account for shorter buildings and the difficulties of navigation trees and natural growth for the first time, they had to rethink how Connor gets around. Just the programming and thinking about how to use the V-shape of branches and trunks and getting from tree to tree called for a complete redesign of how Connor could get around.

The team had the time and the fresh blood to redesign almost every aspect of Connor’s mannerisms. This is a completely new world, new type of character, and they even went as far as to think of how a man from his background would walk. It was explained that his gate, his frame, had to be rethought. Connor is a man who grew up in the wilderness. He was taught by Indians, and spent a lot of time hunting and respecting animals for their sacrifice. After explaining this to me, I saw that Connor moves like an animal. He lurks, hunches over, peers fro side to side, and seems to stalk his enemies. All movements that come from hunting in the wild. It is this attention to detail that new team members with fresh eyes and ideas could put in to place over a design cycle rarely heard of anymore. With three years from initial design meetings to release date, they were able to focus on this kind of detail and further define and flesh out a character as dynamic as Connor.

Another instance of great care was the time taken to properly match the physics of snow. Snow took so much attention, because it is a large part of the game. Snow had to have different depths, banks, and beaten tracts. Moving through it had to be dynamic. Running in to fresh, shallow snow had to be fast but then high steps and slower progress had to be designed as the snow got deeper and more difficult to navigate. I was able to watch Connor high-step through deep snow. That initial pull of the leg out and then set down on the snow where it plunged back in. This labored walking encourages Connor to keep to the trees. Snow also had to leave tracks until it snowed again. Connor can be tracked by his steps as he’s pursued, but this also comes in handy when Connor is hunting an animal and can follow it’s tracks.

The maps are bigger than ever. The enemy is everywhere. There are many side quests and random tasks that will come up when even on a major storyline quest. You hunt, you sail, you explore. The combat is fluid and dynamic. The free running has been reworked with care and intuition regarding how the player should be able to move through a world with obstacles never seen in an AC game before. The character of Connor has been lovingly created and realized down to the greatest detail. AC3 represents what enough time and support for a team of developers can accomplish. Ubisoft has allowed a team to create a game that will be a shot in the arm for the franchise, and get more kids Googling American history sites and Wikis than ever before. Assassin’s Creed 3 hits shelves on October 30, 2012.

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