Assassin's Creed 3: Monster 3-hour playthrough, new gameplay videos
24th Sep 2012 | 16:00
"We're going to drop you guys into Memory Sequence six - that's about half way through the game," says Steve Masters, lead game designer on
No offence, Steve, but the enormity of trying to sum up the intricacies and key features of a game that lasts 25 hours minimum - with a game map that covers most of America's north-eastern coast - is grinding my mind to a fine powder. What's more, there's no context. As I sit, pad in hand, Connor Kenway stands in front of his homestead in Davenport, New York, just waiting for me to fulfil his destiny, to unpick the knotty Templar conspiracy that is bringing conflict to his home, and help him birth the new world via the cutting edge of his tomahawk.
Yet I'm clueless about what happened in Memory Sequence five. Has he just killed a British General turning the tide of war forever, or has he spent three hours hunting a deer in the woods so George Washington can have venison burgers for lunch? Given the lack of meaningful context or consequence to anything I can do, I decide to just behave like a dick. For three hours.
FREE AS A BIRD
Okay, that sounds more flippant than it is. A large part of Assassin's Creed 3 - as I quickly find out - is discovery and side-missions. While previous games provided concessions for those who wanted to explore beyond the central story, AC3 is the first in the series to go truly open-world. Here, you've got two cities (New York and Boston), sea battles, and a vast open expanse of New England countryside to explore. It's vast. No, really: VAST. The map itself is one huge area, and you can zoom out with L2 to reveal the entire north-eastern coast, or zoom in with R2 to see specific spots inside major cities. (We played it on PS3.)
The first thing I decide to do, though, is frolic in the trees. Connor's gaff is in the middle of some beautiful woodland, so I head into the nearest copse of trees to check out the new one-button free-running (just hold R1). He nips pleasingly quickly through the branches; it's effortless. Pretty soon, I spy a deer minding its own business, chewing grass. I put an arrow into its cute face (using L1 to aim and Triangle to shoot). It tries to run away, but collapses in a nearby stream, so I nip out from my vantage point and skin it. Deer meat, deer hide, deer marrow - delicious.
Now 'familiar with the controls', and with plenty of deer-based good to sell, I use fast travel (you can fast travel from anywhere) to go in search of Sam Adams in Boston, who can help me find out why some rich white guy is trying to mess with Connor's native village. I arrive at the docks, where a smattering of grimy men are hacking at things with pick axes.
I immediately pick the pocket of the nearest worker, yielding... a piece of charcoal. Oh. He seems upset, so I sprint around the corner and hide in a trusty stack of hay. From here you can whistle to attract attention, but there are no Redcoats around, so I quickly get bored and start heading towards the mission start marker on my mini-map.
On the way I bump into a crowd of people in the docks, and they ask in a fierce northern accent if I want a fight. The population of Boston seem more reactive than in previous games - some even taunt you because of your native Indian heritage. I sprint off, trying to avoid conflict and keep a low profile, but spot a viewpoint marker on my map and head towards that.
The building is easy to climb, and I'm at the top in seconds, pressing Triangle to synchronise the view. Boston appears authentic, but there are few distinct buildings - unlike the Florence of
He's expecting me, and we walk and talk through the streets of Boston. It's a familiar, gentle introduction to a fresh plotline, and the only rough stuff happens at the end of the walkthrough when Connor and Sam witness a Frenchman called Stephane Chapheau having his shop repossessed by a bunch of Redcoats. Unable to ignore the injustice, I get involved and butcher the Redcoats with my tomahawk.
Combat has been simplified too, just like the free-running. Connor automatically enters a combat stance, and attacks with Square. Counter-strikes are mapped to Circle, and you know when enemies are about to strike when an exclamation mark appears over their head. It seems the developers have been playing
My bloody work done, I stroke a passing cat and head towards the tavern where Adams is waiting for the second part of the mission. Along the way I bribe a newspaper seller to decrease my notoriety (although I could have just ripped down a wanted poster), and wander through a farm that someone has set-up in the middle of the city. It's a bizarre experience, but historically sound, and I take the opportunity to pet a sheep and feed a pig, hoping that it balances my karma after murdering that deer at the start.
After arriving at the tavern, I'm told that Connor's village is being bought by a man called William Johnson who is making a killing smuggling tea past the blockade in the harbour. See, this Memory Sequence takes place around the Boston Tea Party - in fact, in a later mission, Connor boards a British boat and lobs a bunch of tea crates into the sea.
My task for now is to destroy several shipments of tea on the dock, which is done by picking up carelessly discarded barrels of gunpowder, placing them next to the tea, and blasting them with a pistol. This part of the mission lacks subtlety, but the next is more interesting.
Here, I need to track down couriers who are distributing the contraband tea throughout the city, which is easy enough, but a secondary objective of the mission - remaining under a notoriety level of two - proves tricky. In fact, one assassination leads to a bloodbath, and I achieve a notoriety of three, which means tougher Redcoats start tracking you down and it's tough to walk anywhere without conflict. After completing the mission, I spend a few minutes tearing down wanted posters and finding a herald to bribe. And feeding pigs.
While searching for wanted posters, I spy a 'treasure' chest guarded by a barking dog. Pretty sure there's a non-violent way to access the chest, but time is precious, and I shoot the hound with an arrow to stop it yapping (and drawing attention to me). Opening the chest means a simple lock-picking mini-game using thumbsticks. It's easy, but time consuming - so it's tough to get locks open under pressure, quickly. Inside the chest? Recipes for various items that can be crafted using the materials you'll find throughout the game. My favourite was a recipe for 'a wig'.
The next mission, which I grab after returning to the inn again and telling Sam Adams that I'd destroyed all the tea, is my favourite of the day. Stephane Chapheau is back, and he's pissed off. The Redcoats have finally seized his shop on a trumped up 'non-payment of tax' charge, so he heads out on the town in a rage.
He taunts and attacks random groups of Redcoats, and it's up to Connor to protect him. I oblige, quietly pre-empting his rants and knifing guards in the back with my hidden blade as they walk towards him. A nice touch, I see random pedestrians cheering Chapheau on as he fights his oppressors, and some even wade in to kick the fallen bodies of the Redcoats.
At one point, I manage to incite even more chaos by encouraging a group of disgruntled Bostoners to riot. They shout and start fighting nearby guards, great if you're in need of a distraction. By now I've seen enough of Boston, and probably stroked all the cats in the city, so I fast travel to the New England countryside to do some manly hunting.
Arriving in the countryside, I feel unprepared, so decide to trade in the coins and items I've collected in Boston for something substantial at a local shop. I buy Connor a natty Charlestown outfit, which has a pleasing red trim, and some extra arrows. There are so many things to buy and trade, it's intimidating, but now I feel ready to take on the wilderness.
Heading into the nearest woods Connor spots a clump of flowers and investigates them. They've been chewed by a hare, and after looking at them Connor is pointed towards his prey and given a rough estimate of how far away the animal is. I find the hare, shoot it, skin it. Ok, so hares aren't the biggest of beasts, but later in Assassin's Creed 3 tracking down larger animals will require more time and skill.
Whilst tracking another deer through the woods, I get a message asking if I want to loot a nearby Redcoat supply wagon. Figuring it would be rude not to, I head to the trees and quickly get into position above the road. As the wagon rumbles under me I leap onto the guards at the front, killing one with tomahawk and flowing quickly into an instant takedown of his buddy.
Before the Redcoats at the rear can react, I'm on them, and they're soon dead. In small pockets like this combat is almost too easy. The wagon brings in a nice haul of money (interestingly, the currency is £ sterling).
As I stand over the bodies of the wagon guards I spot a windmill in the distance, and feel a great urge to climb its rotating sails. Doing so looks great, but it's fiddly as gravity shifts when the sails turn. My slight disappointment is tempered by finding a feather on the roof of the windmill - annoying collectibles confirmed. This was one of five in the specific region I was in, but New England is split into all kinds of territories so expect to be hunting feathers for hours.
After climbing down from the windmill, I look for a Redcoat fort to attack, and there's one nearby. I hug the coast until it looms into view, built half into the woods, and half on the cliff-edge. I've seen the E3 demo, I know how this works. Approaching the fort puts you into a high-alert zone, so if you're spotted guards will attack on sight, which they do as I blunder towards the front gate. Dispatching the sentries is easy, but the soldiers inside sound an alarm and the gates are locked, meaning I can't simply storm in through the front door.
I look for an alternative route in, and there's a back door accessed by scaling the cliff-face. Here the free-climbing falls apart a little. It wasn't obvious where Connor could and couldn't grab, and although it's tough to fall off I managed it, and spent a couple of minutes trying to climb out of a crevice. No fun. Finally inside the fort, there's more fighting before I set fire to the gunpowder store and blow the place to pieces.
Seems like a good place to end, right? No, there's even more stuff to be done, and I've got 10 minutes of hands on time left. I fast travel to Connor's homestead in Davenport, and poke around the house. It's a little bare, but there's a man inside called Achilles, who asks Connor to record rural life around the homestead for his book, the Encyclopaedia of the Common Man.
I think about it, but consider it too grand a work to complete in 10 minutes, so I give him a few vague assurances and immediately head off to do something else. Sorry chum. There's a ledger in the homestead too, which lets you arrange wagon deliveries (an extra stream of income) throughout the whole of New England. I send a wagon off to some nearby shop, hoping to sell a consignment of deer marrow. Apparently I stand to make £10, but the probability of a successful is only 30%. Hmm, hardly seems worth it.
Finally, I decide to head to the beach to spend my last few minutes gazing out to sea at some ships. Here I meet a salty seadog with a peg-leg, and challenge another land-locked mariner to a game of Checkers. He smashes me, and I lose the £10 I bet on the game. Hope that consignment of deer marrow makes it, or I've lost money.
And that's where it ends. An anticlimax perhaps, but a perfect snapshot of how easy it is to simply get distracted and waste time in Assassin's Creed 3. After this session I can't tell you how the character of Connor develops, what the hell is happening with Desmond, or how the war is going - between either the Brits and Americans, or the Assassins and Templars.
The story remains a mystery. However, I do know that this is clearly the most ambitious Assassin's Creed yet - the scale and depth dwarfs past entries - and although it's currently rough around the edges, this is a game large enough to hold your attention for months, regardless of how many pigs you decide to feed along the way.