Assassin’s Creed – The Desmond Collection, Part 3

Assassin’s Creed is a videogame series by publisher Ubisoft. The player takes the role of various assassins all throughout history and explores historical settings, meets real people from those locations and kills most of them. It is a very enjoyable series.

This is the third part of a multi part series I’ll do on the technical and designphilosophical parts of the first five games. I will close it with a final part talking about the rest of the series in broad strokes, as it is not needed to retreat already explored topics. Click here to read Part 2.Assassin’s Creed III was released in 2012 to much hype. It was the fifth part in the franchise, although it was actually the 8th game in the whole series and if you count the PSVita game Liberation, which was part of  this marketing cycle it was actually the ninth game in the franchise.

If that is confusing to you don’t worry, you are not the only one. With all the numbers and subtitles, it’s no wonder nobody can keep track. The game was a huge commercial succes and while critics praised it, gamers were less than enthusiastic. The fact that the game is buggy to this day, after six patches I might add, did part in this, as did the lackluster writing, the stupid ending to Desmond’s story, the main protagonist Connor, who was so different from Ezio it felt quite jarring alongside the fact that we basically got an unfinished game they had to finish with addon content and DLC. The PSVita game did not fare much better, and I will keep talking about that one to a minimum because despite being marketed as sidestory to ACIII there is very little overlap – Aveline is not even related to Desmond to begin with.

ACIII did as many things right as wrong, however after all the patches were applied the good outweighs the bad a lot, really. Most issues stem from the fact that the series gained so much momentum, Ubisoft didn’t want to end it as originally planned, so they changed the entire writing. This caused problems with production and instead of delaying the game, they just shipped it in an unfinished state. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because Ubisoft has been doing exactly that for years now. I can’t even remember when they actually shipped a finished, bugfree game that didn’t need patches to work properly. And if you say ACSyndicate or FarCry Primal, need I remind you that the current version number of those games is 1.4 and we started out with 1.0? I guess not…

Now, the moment to moment gameplay in ACIII as been greatly overhauled. Traversal is much better now, with Connor being able to climb rocks and trees. Combat is also greatly improved, with combos and counter kills and some nice new animations. Connor is a brutal and violent powerhouse, without the elegance of Ezio or the slow movements of Altair. It is very easy to dispatch hordes of enemies by just jumping in and mashing the counter button until everyone is gone. While some say this ruined the already fickle combat even further, I think it was a wonderful change and one that fits well with the character. The problem is that they made that battle system even simpler and easier in subsequent games, but that’s of no issue to this one. In ACIII the combat works for the game we got and is very enjoyable.

ACIII also introduced us to sailing missions and they do a lot to make the game much more enjoyable. While sailing is not as refined as in later iterations, it is still well made and used just sparingly enough to be a nice change of pace. It also helps that sailing looks great and allows for more customisation.

Gone are the recruitable assassins and the bank. Instead we have a set of six pre-defined assassin recruits you meet during the story and a crafting system for trade. While the crafting system is incredibly bad and one of the worst aspects of the game, the recruits are better than ever. Because the game no longer features prostitutes for stealth or mercenaries for battle, those roles have been given your recruits. You can send them out to assassinate a target, use them as bodyguards, use them in disguise to infiltrate a location or just as overall muscle. The system is well executed and expertly made and I am very sad to see that this is also the last game where we have recruits to begin with.

Modern day segments also return, this time more important than ever since they finally finish Desmonds story, albeit in a shitty way. While I personally like the character and his missions, the entire plot is hamfisted and it is quite clear that this is not the way the orginal writer intended it to end. The ending, which I won’t spoil, is even worse because it opens up a new plotpoint that does never get resolved in any subsequent games, instead they are basically treading water. This was done because so many complained that the modern day segments suck. That’s the reason they scaled them back drastically in newer games, much to my dismay since I actually liked them.

Connor’s story isnt much better, really. The first three sequences you play as somebody else entirely and while the characterisations are great and very well made, it takes half the game until you actually put on your assassin’s outfit and become a proper assassin. The problem with that is that all the time you are not an assassin is just used as overly prolonged tutorial that just never stops. This drags the first half of the game quite a bit, so much even that the second half feels rushed. It’s also quite clear that those things are rushed since instead of actually experiencing the story, Connor narrates it in during the loading screens because there simply isn’t enough time.

Again, like the last few games before this (and almost all afterwards) this game was released unfinished and it clearly shows. While the map is fully accessable this time (unlike the last three games) it is quite clear that huge chunks of the story are missing. Ubisoft’s “good enough” attitude greatly harms this series and this is a shame, considering back then they actually had some inventive things going on.

Despite all that it is a great game, though. Once the technical mess was fixed and some missing depth was given to the protagonist in the addon content and the alternative reality DLC (which was horribly overpriced but well made) the game has much to offer, even if some things *cough Crafting cough* are still pretty bad. But that’s something not even our hypothetical remaster can fix 100% – but I’ll sure as hell will try.

Once again we use the latest technology from the game Rogue. ACIII is pretty as is, so we won’t see much improvement besides lighting, shadows and framerate but that’s good enough for me since, as said, it already looks quite nice.

Of course our remaster launches with all DLC, maybe a bit better integrated into the main game, especially after the story is done. The DLC is episodic but we could string it together to a full set without the episodes and integrate it into the map like they did with the pivots at the end. That would not only give us the ability to travel between locations easily, it would also open us up for more meaningful sidequests. Overall, I think the episodic release was a mistake and since we haven’t seen it again, Ubisoft might agree.

As for main content, I’d cut a few missions with our first protagonist short. The entire first mission is just walk there, watch cutscene, go back to your room. You repeat that four times and all of that can easily be condensed to a single mission were you actually do something. That would shorten the intro quite a bit. I fact we can cut down the entire first three sequences into one sequence, if we just focus on what is good and throw out the unneccesary filler. Of course that means our game is now much shorter but we’ll get to that. So we have the Opera house as is, the entire ship trip is shortened drastically, the entire thing in Boston is shortened down as well, cutting the entire first three sequences down to one.

So in our new game we would meet Connor in Sequence two and we would combine his first two sequences into one, again cutting out the filler and ensuring that you’ll get the assassins outfit sooner. Since most tutorials are either redundant or too long, we can lose qutie a bit there. This way we can move the story along at a smooth pace, cut out all redundant filler and have two solid and enjyable first sequences, both of which serve as a tutorial much more competent than what we got. The problem is that our game is now only half as long as it used to be, which is a big problem, especially if we come right from our previous remaster which was just enormously huge. But there is a way to fix that.

You see, the game is quite linear and it doesn’t allow you to enter certain regions before your time. We would get rid of that and open the game up as soon as we reach Sequence 3, allowing for tons of sidecontent being accessed, making the game much more fun. So basically as soon as you have access to your ship, you can go everywhere, doing all the sidequests. Some of this side content is optional stuff but it is still part of the story, like the Biddle ship sequences or the West Point stuff. While I would keep the Biddle missions optional, I would integrate the West Point Missions into their respective place in the timeline. They are not very spectacular but that can be changed for the better by slightly re-writing them. To make the later half even more interesting, we include the single Connor mission from the PSVita game. In the Vita game, the heroine travels to New York and meets with Connor to find a character and if you connect the two games, you can play the mission with connor from his perspective. That mission is actually quite entertaining and would fit well with the main story. Sure, our game is still much shorter than it used to be but at least most things we do now is quite entertaining. But we are not done yet.

ACIII is the last game that includes Assassin Tombs – even though they are not literally tombs, the gameplay is still the same. They are accessed with your ship once you collected enough trinkets for an old guy. Now I think instead of just walking to a chest and getting the trinket, we could tie them to assassination missions, seeng how the game only has 15 of those. We add more of those contracts and, in addition to that, tie the trinkets to the contracts as well. That doesn’t really prolong the main story but it makes the game so much better since there is actually quite little assassination in this Assassin’s Creed game. Furthermore, there is an entire sequence with story content I’d add into the game and it would basically be set up as a multi-assassination mission, similar to the Savonarola kills in ACII. I would put that mission in shortly before the end, to justify the sudden information dump Connor gets when he needs to kill the Templar Master.

The game’s money system is also very badly set up, so I would change the crafting system to something much smoother and enjoyable, crafting certain items on the fly and setting up a bigger reason to craft things. That could (but not neccesarily) include crafting materials for various optional storyquests. For example crafting the explosvive barrels they use to break open a wall. As an optional mission constraint it works since it is not needed to complete the mission in regular mode.

I would also bring in some missing memories like we did in ACII with the Christina missions. Since Connor didn’t really get another game we could focus those on things we cut – bringing back the removed missions from the first half of the game. Since those are optional, it is at everyone’s leisure to play them without distracting from the main story.

The biggest change, however, would be the ending. I would change the final scene to remove the discussion with Minerva and Juno and I would cut the final scene with Juno. This plot point was never taken up again and could easily be cut. It would bring the trilogy to a nice close and not waste anybodys time with more Juno shenanigans. Instead I would just have Desmond walk up to the pedestal, see what happens if he doesn’t activate it and then he activates it. It changes nothing in the grand scheme of things but makes for a much more satisfying conclusion.

If we combine all those things with minor tweaks and changes, we could end up with a game that is much shorter but so much more enjoyable. ACIII is a solid game, hindered again by a short development cycle and everything we can do to fix that would be welcome.

As for the Liberation sidegame, I will focus on that in my next article alongside ACRogue, followed by a final article covering the rest of the series.

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