The time has come for Assassin’s Creed 3 to be revealed to the masses at E3 2012, and it has not disappointed. Plenty of changes lie in store with a new hero, new animations and all new forms of gameplay on both land and sea.
With Assassin’s Creed 3 being hailed as one of the biggest third-party titles for the Nintendo Wii U, we were more than a little curious to see what the developers at Ubisoft have in mind for the new console’s gamepad. The Wii U’s unique yet simple features were seen in the brand new demo of Boston Harbor, and were far more promising than we had expected.
Those who have been keeping up to date on AC3 news – on both console and Vita – are likely already familiar with the Frontier gameplay shown in Ubisoft’s conference and the newly confirmed naval warfare. The section of gameplay we were shown followed Connor from Boston’s state house to the harbor itself, highlighting several of the improvements and flat-out stunning effects that have been added to enrich the experience.
Ubisoft’s intention is to treat AC3 as if they are creating a brand new IP as opposed to another sequel, and they have altered nearly every aspect of gameplay in some way to reflect this goal. Beginning with the visuals themselves, it’s immediately evident that American urban environments offer a level of grit and grime that is as new to the series as it is effective in separating AC3 from previous settings.
Whether it’s a shift in color palette or improved graphics, the game’s world and animations seem much more polished than in the past, with no visible sacrifice of frame rate or definition for the Wii U. For the console’s tablet controller, Ubisoft has decided to use the video screen to display an expanded map in far greater detail than the typical on-screen mini map.
Surrounding the map is a set of weapon wheels, granting Connor the ability to switch his arsenal with the single touch of a finger. Since the weapon and inventory systems of Assassin’s Creed have always fallen short of intuitive or straightforward, this feature in itself was enough to convince us that Ubisoft might be onto something. The crystal-clear and crisp design of the map in the controller itself was as aesthetically sharp and pleasing as it proved to be effective, so there’s no need to fear gimmicks just yet.
Aside from the controller, the traversal looked and felt basically as expected, aside from the still-impressive tree-climbing that Connor is just as capable of inside cities. Hay bales are still present as impromptu landing pads, albeit now placed into movable wagons pulled behind horses. It’s hard to say how their location will be communicated to the player outside of a directed demo, but the possibility of entering enemy territory hidden within a vehicle occurring naturally in the world opens up many doors for play style choices.
When Connor used this mobile cover to eliminate a British soldier (still the only enemies dispatching based on national allegiance alone) another gameplay addition appeared: procedurally-generated missions from NPCs. Connor was triggered to assist a local woman in freeing her husband without any visible quest icon or waypoint, only the player’s choice to hear her concern and follow her away from the main thoroughfares.
Equipped with a bow and arrow to silently eliminate enemies, and Chinese rope dart to string up characters and attract the attention of their friends, the player has far more plausible methods of tackling an enemy encounter or problem than ever before. If an encounter should turn from stealth to battle, several small changes are placed in the spotlight. Connor’s offensive and defensive schemes have been rebuilt around the notion of a faster, more agile assassin, but seeing the flourishes and improved mobility be executed so smoothly will surely exceed the expectations of many skeptics.
Combo strings built off of countering enemy attacks still looks to be present, but are nowhere near as outlandish and physics-defying as the system seen in Batman: Arkham City. Some of the new combat animations have been glimpsed in previous gameplay trailers, with Connor’s attacks ranging from tumbles into leg kicks, flanking to attack an unprotected side, or simply flailing attacks with a blade or club. Add in double executions for enemies grouped together, and the combat available to players means far more options in dispatching Redcoats.
This tendency to add extra emphasis where even the simplest will do applies to several aspects of Ubisoft’s changes, no one being more intriguing than what seems to replace the Assassin backup from Brotherhood and Revelations. Instead of calling in fellow Assassins, Connor calls in members of his Native American band to assist him – in the case of the demo, wearing stolen British uniforms to lead Connor through a security checkpoint under the guise of prisoner. No word on whether this option will be completely contextually sensitive, but the impact is far more effective and satisfying than mere stealth attacks.
The major improvements all seem to be made not to the trusted and refined elements of gameplay, but to the details that punctuate combat and the game’s cinematic presentation. Connor’s ability to blend in with a crowd no longer means sitting on a bench beside civilians, but mimicking nearby behaviors, and even joining in conversations to seem less conspicuous.
Assassin’s Creed 3 on the Wii U looks to bring an elegant solution and improved navigation to the core AC experience, not constructing gameplay around the novelty of the gamepad – at least so far. If the Wii U version can perform at the same level as its competition, then the implementation of the Wii U functionality could provide one of the most immersive ways to experience the game. Rather than fumbling with a HUD or clunky menus, Ubisoft has made intuitive gameplay a much larger part of the release.
Assassin’s Creed 3 will be released on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on October 30, 2012. A Wii U release date has not been confirmed.
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