Assassin's Creed 3 is a mockery of the series, highlighting its glaring failures while hiding its few successes.
Cons: Terrible campaign with an overlong tutorial; Tons of unnecessary and boring side missions; Bland stories; Tough to find some of the best content
Assassin's Creed 3 is frustrating.
It's also boring, disappointing, bloated, shallow, and occasionally fun. But above all, Assassin's Creed 3 is an exercise in frustrating design choices that baffle at every turn.
I'm honestly not sure where to begin. I suppose I should say that I still enjoyed moments of the game, despite all that I have to rant about. The core parkour controls from the past games are better than ever here, now with the ability to climb trees as well as buildings. Thus, I might as well say now that the core action is still fundamentally sound; even if Ubisoft has done everything they can to make you forget that.
It all starts with one of the worst tutorials that I have ever had the misfortune of playing. Although there is a cool little plot twist at the end of the tutorial, everything else about the first three hours of Assassin's Creed 3 is pretty terrible. Mechanics are fed to you at snail pace, and there is arguably more time spent on cutscenes than in actual gameplay.
And the cutscenes are SO boring, even beyond the tutorial. It's hard to believe the amount of time and effort that must have been dedicated to telling such a bland tale. There is absolutely nothing about Assassin's Creed 3's story that is worth telling: the characters are bland, the conflict is unclear at best, boring at worst, and the ending is such a slap in the face to anyone who actually might still care at that point.
So to recap, the first three hours are spent doing simple, uninteresting missions to constantly have control wrestled away from you to watch bland, boring cutscenes. This perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the campaign, which somehow doesn't get better. In fact, for plot specific reasons, the second three hours are also essentially a tutorial, so you get a cumulative six hours of tutorial before the campaign really starts.
Why spend so much time in tutorials? Because Assassin's Creed 3 is a terribly, terribly bloated game. Despite what the "assassin" part of the title might indicate, assassin is hardly Connor Kenway's main job. He's also a hunter, a boat captain, a collector of miscellaneous goods, a trader, an explorer of the underground, and a general servant to everyone's menial tasks.
Each one of these errands gets its own poorly designed tutorial mission, and yet very few of them are actually worth doing. Most of the side missions in Assassin's Creed 3 can be boiled down to walking to a point on a map and either a) killing someone, b) collecting something, or c) pressing a button (literally that is all there is to Courier missions). There are exceptions, including the surprisingly good (though still out-of-place) ship captain missions, and the bloated trading system, but the vast majority of side missions are as uninteresting as they are unnecessary.
These are, of course, side missions, and are able to be ignored easily once their tutorial missions pass. The same can not be said about the campaign, which continues to fumble far beyond the onslaught of tutorials. Even when you've learned all the core mechanics, the mission format doesn't significantly change: watch too many cutscenes and do the most unsatisfying tasks imaginable. In some particularly egregious cases, missions basically involve walking from point A to point B. And that's it. You do nothing but walk from one point to another. The existence of these missions is a curious oversight of design, particularly since they seem just as common as missions of actual substance.
The campaign really is terrible through and through. And yet that is the content that Ubisoft thought as most essential for players. That is the content that Ubisoft thought everyone should have to play to finish the game. That is the content that Ubisoft deemed most suitable to tell a story they've clearly invested many resources in. That exercise in poor design and film envy is what Ubisoft thought all players should experience in their game. It's depressing, really to see the series fall so far.
And then it's frustrating when you actually find the good content, pushed as far to the side as possible-sometimes literally. The core of Assassin's Creed is a combination of platforming and stealth; I don't think anyone outside of Ubisoft will be surprised by that statement. Thus, the best missions are those that either involve fun parkour, or a challenging stealth environment. And they do exist, you just have to look for them.
Fort missions-which see you sneak into guarded enclosures to take them over for the Patriots-are a blast. But they are hidden on the fringes of maps, and you have to look to find them. Exploring the underground can occasionally involve some neat platforming and puzzle-solving. But the first sections of the underground, including the parts you have to play as a tutorial for the main campaign, are all boring. You'd be excused for thinking that there was nothing else but walking around in circles.
Most excitingly, there are also a few side missions similar to Assassin's Tombs from the past games. These are tightly crafted, yet surprisingly varied segments reminiscent of Prince of Persia. These involve platforming puzzles, chase sequences, and daring escapes, making them the best parts of the game by a decent margin. The game doesn't even tell you that these missions exist, and for some reason, you have to look through the ship mission menu to find them. A couple of the missions also require that you collect a bunch of trinkets scattered about the map to even be accessed. I honestly didn't know about these missions until I discovered them by fluke. It's somewhat tragic, realizing that I nearly didn't experience my favorite parts in the game because they were so carefully hidden from plain view. Ubisoft makes it disturbingly easy to miss the best content in Assassin's Creed 3, as if they were somehow ashamed of having anything quality in their game.
There are people at Ubisoft that know what they're doing, but the terrible mission design of the campaign threatens to make their entire work void. In addition to the designers of the above side missions, I want to call out the animators and world designers, who have clearly put a lot of care into their work. Animations are silky smooth, and the game world is impressively detailed; it's just a shame that the resulting game is rarely as fun as it should be.
This is why I'm mad. Assassin's Creed 3 has the strong core foundation, the great attention to detail, and some legitimately fun moments, but instead it chooses to highlight all of the things it does wrong. I would love if Ubisoft would take a year off, cut out the fat, and double down on what made the series work in the first place, but I doubt that'll happen. And if this is the path Ubisoft is going with the series, Assassin's Creed 3 very well may be the last entry that I and several other frustrated former fans bother playing.