I can't argue that they put a lot of time into the game, but I also found myself frustrated throughout most of the game because of the things you've described...I wonder what the next iteration will have...
I stopped getting truly excited about games a few years ago. If you follow games in any great detail you know there is always the potential for a game not living up to expectations. We set our sights low and hope for the best.
If there was one game that I thought was going to deliver this year, it was Assassin's Creed 3. Let's take a moment and re-examine the pitch of the game: "An Assassin's Creed game set in revolutionary America with a new protagonist developed by the team that brought you Assassin's Creed 2" Couched in those terms, AC3 should have been the next leap forward in the series after three successive games iterated on the formula.
Instead, my time with Assassin's Creed 3 has been characterised by a feeling that I'm appreciating it on a purely academic level. AC3 is ambitious, sprawling and grandiose on a scale that even the previous games haven't really touched upon, but all I can think of while playing it is "wow, this is indeed grandiose and ambitious. I want to play something else."
In their attempts to make sure we appreciate every period-appropriate item of clothing and architectural detail, Ubisoft Montreal sacrifice your ability to play the game how you want. So much of the game feels scripted, confined down to a single path despite the size of the world. If you don't play the mission according to the critical path set out before you, you can expect to be brutally rebuffed. Assassin's Creed as a series has allowed you to mess things up more and more with each game, reducing those tedious binary fail-state missions to a minimum, which makes it doubly infuriating when Assassin's Creed 3 indulges in eavesdropping and stealth missions that can fail you instantly if you don't follow the path laid out before you.
There is no fun in hiding in the hay bale that is the only source of cover and you can't derive excitement from taking out a target that has been set up to be killed in a specific way. Some missions will even respawn you in front of a conveniently designed path to your objective as if to say "No, here see? This how we want you to do it." This is because the way the developers want you to do everything is the way that shows you all the detail they have packed into the world. Take this predetermined path to your target, why?, because you get to jump from a flagpole bearing the Union Jack and stab him! Symbolic right?
So much of AC3 is about funneling you down a path that hits you with cutscene after lovingly rendered cutscene featuring incredible character models and (mostly) strong voice-actors trying their best to lend some gravitas to proceedings, all the while limiting your involvement in what's going on. Of course there are plenty of side activities that you can tackle in the manner you see fit, but you have no real incentive to complete them. Brotherhood made a compelling case for why you should check out every icon on the map: the more stuff you do, the more money you get, the more property you can buy, the more stuff you can do. A glorious cycle of throwing money at things to make more money, and in the meantime you could send your assassins out to conquer Europe while you waited for the cash to trickle in.
AC3 has almost all of what Brotherhood had in abundance, it just ensures that the activities you undertake require you to travel longer distances to do less enjoyable chores. Some side mission icons aren't even real side missions, instead they are conversations telling you to run to the other side of the map to partake in busy-work. The wonderful gameplay loop of stringing together a set of 30-second side activities before stumbling onto something more substantial is missing, replaced by random encounters with wolves, because a lot of people really like Red Dead Redemption. It's telling that this was the Assassin's Creed 2 team who seem more concerned with constructing a world for the player to inhabit rather than making what you do in that world interesting.
But at times you can't help but admire what an amazing world it is. For the first time I've really gotten the sense of the fact that hundreds of people from all over the world spent years working on Assassin's Creed 3's assets. There is so much custom content in here, from the cutscenes to the animations to the architecture that the game truly realises the historical tourism aspect that has always drawn me to the series. Though I may have dismissed most of the side-activities, some of the missions seem like they could have made up a whole other game. The Peg Leg missions play out like Ubisoft Montreal's fan-letter to Naughty Dog's Uncharted series and the sailing sequences are some of the most incredible looking set pieces I've seen all year. There are definitely fantastic parts, moments, sections, of Assassin's Creed 3 that capture the essence of what makes the series so enjoyable an elevates it to a flash of brilliance. When you manage to kill a fort captain and blow up the powder stores using the canopy of branches to stay undetected, it reminds you why turned up to play in the first place.
You can see the money dripping off every inch of Assassin's Creed 3. Time is taken with each and every character to establish their place in the world and no AC game to date has managed the sense of time and place that AC3 nails from the outset, with all the moral shades of grey that you'd expect from the series' deft handling of time periods thus far. In short, no expense was spared in making Assassin's Creed 3 an epic.
A pity then that it's not a more interesting epic. Though I have no problem with a slow-burn, after all AC2 took 4 hours to properly get the ball rolling, the 5 or 6 hours it takes for you to see the real Assassin's Creed 3 is spent completing tutorials that explain holdovers from the series in minute detail while forgetting to contextualise other systems completely. One gets the feeling that if a specific tutorial wasn't going to fit with the thematic beats the developers wanted to hit, then it didn't make the cut. I still don't understand what crafting is for, why you would want to hunt anything and how to recruit assassins to my order, the game was too busy developing Connor from a cipher into someone you wouldn't want to share a drink with.
Make no mistake, if Assassin's Creed 3 had a subtitle it would be "Connor's Quest". Though the same could be said of Ezio, he actually experienced growth as a character. In the space of an hour Connor evolves from altruistic neophyte to similarly altruistic murder-machine. Though I'd argue that the writers try to make the player doubt whether Connor is making the right decisions, it doesn't make the end result any less tiresome. There are antagonists that I identify with more than Connor, and that's not just because I my ancestors are thoroughly British. Connor isn't an interesting man, and the rest of AC3's characters bounce off him like ferrero rocher thrown against a cement bunker. Player characters are often designed to allow us to identify with them, no one wants to identify with an aggressive simpleton.
There are a host of small design quirks that I also take issue with, but I'll spare you that much. Suffice it to say that I completed AC3 out of a sense of obligation to see the amount of incredible work Ubisoft as a whole put in to making the game a reality rather than any sense of enjoyment. So much of this game is astounding in its scope and ambition, and it's depressing when one realises that this has come at the expense of it being game that is consistently engaging.
it is all a matter of opinion - some people like it and others didn't while I decided I would not take a chance because I already have too many games I haven't played yet.
IF however they gave us the option to play the game so you could have the Tories and British win against the war then I would have bought this game right away.
I give you credit for how thorough this blog is, but I can't agree with much of what you said. I've played truly linear games before (ever try Cabela's Dangerous Hunts 2009? No? Good) and believe me, AC3 is nowhere near as annoying as they are. I didn't mind the developers TRYING to funnel players down a specific path if that path is indeed the one they imagined players using and as such will provide the most cinematic pleasure, as long as they never force it, which they didn't unless you attempted to get all the optional objectives in a particular sequence, and I admit that was irritating at times.
I was also put off by the extended opening and was asking myself "Okay, this is fine and all, but...when do I get the white robes?". However once I actually did get the robes and began progressing with the story, I was grateful for all the content in the beginning because it fleshed out the story and in the grand scheme of things, when you consider the length of the quest, it was worth it.
I agree when you say that the game did a poor job of explaining certain things, like how to recruit assassins. I also agree that crafting is pointless aside from making extra weapons and pouch upgrades for yourself. But to address what you said about hunting...I want to do it because it's fun, especially after completeing all the main missions. It's a break from the cities and it gives you something meaningful to do when you're exploring the vast Frontier, and it's by far the easiest way to earn money quickly.
In closing, I would give AC3 somewhere between an 8.5 and a 9. It was almost everything I expected, and apart from some minor gripes and glitches, I had a lot of fun with it. Now keep in mind...the only other Assassin's Creed game I have played was the first one. I can't compare this to AC2, AC:B, or AC:R. So as such I don't know if it was better or worse than they were; I just know it was a lot of fun for me.
@RedHawk4 You should definitely play AC2 and Brotherhood, they are huge fun and Ezio is one of the best protagonists of this generation so far. It's due to the quality of those games that I'm judging AC3 so harshly, the series has been better before.
I really enjoyed AC3. I don't understand all the hate this game is getting from the gaming community.
@dylan417 I wouldn't say I hate the game, it's simply not as good as games like Brotherhood and AC2. It's the first AC game I've been bored by, mainly because they lost sight of what the series did best.
I appreciate that Ubisoft took a risk and changed up the formula. Revelations bored me to tears, the worst AC game IMO (though I loved Altair's story). The AC series was getting repetitive and stale. AC3 might have saved it with its new feel. Hopefully Ubisoft recognizes what worked and what didn't, and makes a kick ass finale to Assassin's Creed in 2013.
@dylan417 Ubisoft are never going to end the series until it stops selling, finality doesn't happen in modern game franchises.