About a month ago, I jumped back into Assassin’s Creed III, thanks to the Deluxe Edition of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. ACIII is a game I never managed to finish, but I always remembered liking the first three or four chapters that I had managed to finish back on PS3. Like most games in my timeline, I got distracted by the newest shiny thing and the workload of the time. So, I never got to finish it. I took time for it now.
Historic sets keeping it real
“Regret” isn’t the right word I’d use, but it shares the same ballpark feeling. In any case, I learned a great deal about my preferences when it comes to Assassin’s Creed. As an aside, I also think Connor is a conceptually good character who just got a bad game, but that’s a conversation for another day.
The sci-fi elements of Assassin’s Creed are what initially pulled me into the game. I loved how the original Assassin’s Creed approached this concept. However, as Ezio became the coolest part of the next few games, the modern time rigmarole with Desmond took a backseat. It’s not that the concept was bad. It was just badly executed. This made that side of the game stale and cumbersome.
All I wanted to do in ACIII was play around in Colonial America. That’s all I wanted in ACII’s Italy, and the same goes for Odyssey’s Greece. I see Odyssey, as well as Origins, as the vehicle that the main character drives: You don’t want a bad driver, and the type of car as well as where you’re driving it makes the ride feel worthwhile. I really love Ancient Greece, so that helps, but even the layout and presentation in Egypt saw me smoothly to the end credits.
What also helped is that Kassandra stole the show for me. That’s what an open-world main character should do: be a set piece on their own. A main character can simply be a vessel you move around to collect and explore. However, a good protagonist, in my mind, lives and breathes the world, interacts with it, and shapes it. That’s what Kassandra did for me. Connor never got that option. He helped, but it felt more like a contributor rather than a mover.
The gameplay itself also feels so much better In Odyssey. This is to be expected, what with Odyssey being much newer and all. Things aren’t perfect either, as I still came across odd platforming struggles that have plagued the franchise for over a decade. At the same time, I only encountered those issues a handful of times in Odyssey, whereas I couldn’t go an hour without some sort of parkour misstep or unintended automated command happening in ACIII.
New gameplay dwarfs old entries
Many times, I wanted to run around a tree trunk to the opposite branch, but Connor instead tries to climb the tree instead, followed closely by a pawing at the tree before falling back down to the same branch. This comes down to how ACIII combined buttons for different movement. In order to move quickly, you hold R2 and Cross at the same time. Doing that in the above scenario has you trying to run up the tree instead. In Odyssey, you just hold R2 to jog and then also press Cross to sprint.
ACII played much like this, making Odyssey basically a refinement on that formula. Couple that with more visceral, intriguing combat, and the base gameplay is just so much more interesting when compared to ACII’s template.
One of the things missing from the new Assassin’s Creed games is a focus on the lore behind the series itself. I am ok with this approach, since these last two games have been set so early on in the timeline when most of the foundations between Templars and Assassins have not been established yet. At the same time, there has to be some give to it. I want to know more about the Isu, what happened to them, and how they came to love humanity. There’s so much gray area there with plenty of room for narrative. Just give us more of that with the current gameplay formula, and I’ll be sold for a long time.
Do not forget about the fans
Putting all of that lore goodness behind paywalls is also not a move I fully respect. I understand a want to make extra content have quality to it, but that sacrifices a great deal of what could make the core game more compelling. Give us more narrative hints interlaced between the random encounters or shadowed behind main objectives.
I benefited from the DLC included in ACIII, strictly in terms of lore. The narratives were bland, took forever to get anywhere, and offered minimal payoff. At the same time, the final seconds of the DLC yielded a very specific piece of lore pertinent to Odyssey itself that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. While I’m happy I experienced that ending, I regretted the slog I waded through to get there.
You know that fans will buy into DLC, but that is taking your fan base for granted. Earn their attention and money by giving them more of what they want in what they already paid for: the core game.
A conversation I had with Mark, an Associated Writer for PSU, led to our two conflicting pieces, his defending old Assassin’s Creed and mine defending the new entries. We have different reasons for liking different games, but the common denominator between us is that we want more of a balance between lore, narrative, and gameplay. Balance helps everything look better, even the rough edges.
I gave up on Assassin’s Creed well before I finished ACIII on PS3. I saw my way back with Origins, but Odyssey was the hook that caught me. Now you, Ubisoft, have to reel me in with something even better.