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“We didn’t want to re-skin previous games,” says Alex Hutchinson, the new creative director for the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Going into the highly anticipated Assassin’s Creed III, that meant rethinking all of the series’ core pillars.
If that sounds like a tall order going into the sixth console iteration of a popular title, it is. But Hutchinson’s timing couldn’t be better. After three Creed games in three years, and with the apocalyptic storyline drawing to a close, when better to have a change in characters, scenery, and philosophy? Oh, you’ll still leap off high points and shank enemies with your hidden blade…but otherwise? Welcome to a whole new Creed.
So here are 10 ways Hutchinson and his team at Ubisoft Montreal plan to take your ho-hum expectations and turn them into pleasant surprises.
1. The low-key killer
If jumping forward a century and crossing the ocean didn’t do the job, new assassin Connor’s quiet, intense personality marks a big departure from swashbuckling romantic Ezio Auditore Da Firenze. As an Anglo/Indian half-breed, Connor’s used to living as an outsider long before the Assassins — recently arrived in the New World — recruit him. And while both men begin their careers in professional murder motivated by revenge, Connor’s barely contained rage boils much closer to the surface. When someone calls his mission plan “crazy,” Connor replies, “I expect an apology on my return.” His tone suggests he might carve that mea culpa directly into the offender’s chest.
2. Offense is the best defense
Forget waiting around for attacks to come in, so you can pull a quick riposte. The new Creed combat mechanics (including a new counter system) still let you play defensively, but now you can tear into groups of Redcoats at will. “If players are good enough and understand the strategy, they can be super aggressive and chew their way through all the enemies on the screen,” says Hutchinson. Indeed, test footage showed Connor dodging a blast from an enemy firing line before wiping them out in a fast, hyperviolent ballet of knife, hatchet, and blood.
3. It’s not all about the war
The canvas stretches a bit wider than you may have thought. Assassin’s Creed III covers at least 32 years, from 1753 to 1785…only eight of which (1775-1783) involve the war for independence. “The story we wanted to tell was in the lead-up to the war, the war itself, and then some of the outcome,” says Hutchinson. Asked if that meant seeing a President Washington (elected in 1789), Hutchinson demurred, saying that pushed into “spoiler territory.” Though he also readily admitted — spoiler alert! — that Washington did indeed become America’s first President.
4. Landmarks: out. Landmark events: in
Colonial America didn’t build much in the way of enduring architecture, but you’ll still get your history lesson. “There are fewer landmark buildings, but we have epic events,” says Hutchinson. “You will visit New York during the Great Fire of 1776. You will visit [pre-prez] George Washington while he is camped at Valley Forge.” Naturally, you’ll also see several famous battles, such as Bunker Hill. Historical sites do come into play but mainly in connection to a famous historical event. You’ll also hang out with Washington and Ben Franklin, among other founding fathers.
5. The great outdoors
Yep, they took a city mouse and put him in the country…and it looks amazing. “The wilderness was a new playground for us,” says Hutchinson. “We were worried that jumping around on trees would make you look like Tarzan.” But since much of the game takes place during winter, you’ll take that high road rather than plow through convincingly deep snow. From ground level, the forest looks like a forest. Once you climb up into the branches, you see pathways and traverse them exactly like conveniently placed roof beams…or else use them as ambush points for man and beast alike. Or you can take a leap of faith into a snowdrift below. “Once we got enough of those moves in, we were like OK, we can build a believable tree. And you can climb it.”
6. The big cities
The wilderness areas look so exciting that I wondered if the cities would pale in comparison. Not so far. “The new city layouts have longer streets and wider avenues,” says Hutchinson. “We realized we needed thousands of characters on screen.” Fortunately, the new AnvilNext engine bumps their character count from 200 to over 2000. That helps populate the game’s massive battles, sure, but it also turns the docks of Boston Harbor into a busy place teaming with life. And when Connor blows through a Redcoat blockade to get off the docks, he pulls off his escape by leaping into an open second-floor window — much to the occupants’ shock — and out the other side. Even Ezio never tried that one.
7. Speed kills
Outside of leaping instant-kills with the hidden blade, previous assassins weren’t exactly known for making things quick. Connor, on the other hand, can kill you at a full run. “We wanted [Connor] to be fluid,” says Hutchinson. “You can sprint past someone, hit X, and basically assassinate through them [without stopping].” You’ll also have new additions to your arsenal, including a one-use Chinese rope-dart that can string a man up in seconds. But if you want to slow things down a bit, no problem. “It’s a long and arduous process, reloading a musket,” says Hutchinson, but it’s an option. More often, though, you’ll shoot — or trigger a musket aimed at its owner’s head with your hatchet — drop it, and steal another.
8. Around battles, not in battles
“When we said it’s the Revolutionary War, everyone immediately leapt to battles,” says Hutchinson. And you’ll definitely get them, complete with thousands of on-screen characters. Just don’t expect to lead any charges. When Connor shows up at the Battle of Bunker Hill, he’s assigned a specific target, and he flanks around the front lines (taking out smaller enemy patrols along the way). “It’s such a common fantasy in video games, being a soldier,” Hutchinson points out, “but the assassin isn’t an infantryman. We didn’t want the feeling that you were in the army.” But if you really want to run at the massive British line firing volleys at you, feel free. “You will be shredded,” says Hutchinson.
9. The world is watching
Walking along the Boston Harbor’s lock dock, a fresh-off-the-boat Connor sees a woman drop a crate of apples. An opportunistic young lad steals one and runs off…activating what looked like a mini-mission to chase him down. You might see the more traditional Creed side quests around town, but some will activate (or not) based on what you do. For example, if you spend a lot of time hunting animals in the wilderness, “at some point someone will approach you and say ‘Hey, you’re a pretty good shot. Have you thought of joining the New England Gentleman’s Hunting League?'” says Hutchinson, giving you access to a new location and opening a host of new side quests.
10. Desmond rides again
Remember how we all assumed series protagonist/descendant Desmond Miles would finally take the lead role in AC3, killing modern-day Templars as a full-fledged assassin? Well, Connor might be the new cover boy, but don’t count Des out quite yet. “All I’m allowed to say is you’ll have more Desmond than you’ve had before,” says Hutchinson. He also won’t rule out a more modern — or even futuristic — setting in subsequent Creeds.