11 Things You Need to Know About Assassin’s Creed 3 [Preview]
If you’ve read our review of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations then you’ll know full well that, while we still liked the game, the series is very much in need of a makeover. In short: the same gameplay, ideas and visuals that have existed since Assassin’s Creed 2 are no longer cutting it.
Based on the 90 minute presentation Ubisoft gave us recently, it seems our prayers are being answered. Assassin’s Creed 3, which has been in development for over three years by the way, is aiming for something altogether bigger, more ambitious and more detailed than the series has ever seen.
In Ubisoft’s words, Assassin’s Creed 3 is a “revolution, not an evolution”.
Based on what we’ve seen, it’s difficult to argue against the sentiment. For that reason, and because there’s just so much information that you need to know, we’ve departed from our usual preview format in this instance and broken down the main points into their own sections.
Below you’ll find details on the game’s lead character, the new engine, the setting and time period, the new weather system, the revamped climbing and combat and the brand new ‘Frontier’ zone and much more. Enjoy.
Hero Connor is half British, half Mojave Indian
Born into a Native American village community, Connor is half British and half Mojave Indian. Early missions will see you take on the role of a young Connor and experience life in a Mojave village.
In true Assassin’s Creed style, adult Connor’s primary mission involves seeing that justice is done and that the world remains safe from villainy. However, and perhaps most interestingly, we’re promised that Connor is equally concerned with making sure that the Mojave have a place in the new world that will be forged from the American Revolution in which the game is set. Connor’s village was burnt down when he was still a child, so expect some form of retribution there…
As well as the quintessential hidden blade, Connor will have access to a tomahawk, dual pistols, bow and arrow, various knives and a musket. More weapons may well be revealed before release day.
New Engine – AnvilNext
Ubisoft boast that the Assassin’s Creed 3’s new engine, AnvilNext, allows for over 2,000 characters on screen at once. Although it was impossible to count the exact number of NPCs during our gameplay demo, a certain battle scene did feature an enormous number of soldiers; the musket smoke, the mix of background and foreground characters, the cannon fire and the dense forest backdrop made for an undeniably thrilling sequence.
All of these characters benefit from a rebuilt animation system that affects enemy movements, how smoothly you can climb and fight and the realism of facial expressions in cut-scenes (with a particular focus on eyes and mouth movements).
It also allows for a dynamic weather system, which we’ll come to in a moment…
In theory then, AnvilNext allows for equal focus on scale and detail.
Been in development for over three years
While Assassin’s Creed 3’s development has hardly been a secret, Ubisoft has done a great job in keeping the vast majority of information regarding its make-up away from our prying eyes. From what we’ve seen so far, the three years seem like time well spent as it’s clear that this is anything but a rush job. A lot has changed, a lot looks to be improved.
Described to us as Ubisoft’s “biggest game and the biggest launch ever”, eight different studios are working on the game’s various elements – with Ubisoft Montreal leading the charge and taking top billing. Those nine studios allow for nine times the production capacity of the Ezio trilogy, which goes a long way to explaining why Assassin’s Creed 3 is so comparatively vast…
Explore New York, Boston and ‘The Frontier’ circa 1753-1783
Assassin’s Creed 3 takes place in two cities, with ‘The Frontier’ zone separating them. In terms of sheer size, The Frontier is a 2x2km forest filed with wild animals, snow and climbable trees and rock faces. 2x2km makes it (we’re assured) one and a half times the size of Brotherhood’s recreation of Rome.
New York and Boston’s appearance will alter as you make your way through the game’s thirty year time span. It seems as though the main story will play out equally between the three areas. More specifically, Ubisoft told us that 30% of the game is set in The Frontier.
The team are aiming to include certain key events that occurred in the cities during the time-frame we’re going to witness; the aftermath of 1776’s Great Fire of New York, for example, is given some game time.
You can hunt animals and harvest their pelts
The frontier is full of animals, with the idea being that the wildlife takes the place of “the crowd” that characterises many areas of the series’ cities. In our demo we spotted foxes, bears, wolves and deer.
Protagonist Connor can hunt and “harvest” these animals for their pelts and meat. Exactly what kind of rewards this harvesting will provide is as yet unknown, although we do know that the way in which you go about it will affect their quality. Shoot an animal with a gun and the bullet/s will ruin their skin and thus negatively impact the value of its fur, whereas stealthier kills with your knife provide a clean yield.
New climbing/free-running system
Given the inclusion of The Frontier, a new system for clambering over, through and under the environment is required. Connor can climb flat faces of rock by using natural cracks and small hand holds as grips. Think the opening scene of Mission Impossible 2…
Trees can also be scaled and jumped between, giving you a monkey’s perspective of the forest and allowing you to gain a height advantage over hunt-able animals and/or enemies. Deep snow will cause you to move more slowly and forces Connor to visibly exert more effort in a bid to traverse it effectively.
Free-running is being given a facelift and will allow for a slicker means of dodging through crowded areas and around low standing obstacles. One gameplay sequence even saw Connor escaping armed guards by jumping from the top of a lamp post and in through the open window of a private house. That seamless incorporation of interior/exterior areas has not featured in Assassin’s Creed in the past.
According to animation director Jonathan Cooper, the main goal behind the new climbing/movement system is to provide Connor with “added variety” and “allow more natural flowing movements”.
What we don’t know is whether the control system will be altered to reflect in the in-game changes. However, in all honestly, it would be surprising if any major changes were incorporated given the familiarity players have with the current setup.
New dynamic weather system
Whereas previous Assassin’s Creed’s have been characterised by the kind of weather that would make a cactus wilt, the third game promises a fully dynamic and seasonal system that directly affects gameplay.
As the game progresses through its thirty-year cycle, weather will reflect each of the seasons. Presently, we’ve seen The Frontier zone when covered in snow so it’ll be very interesting to get a look at it in the height of summer.
Fog, rain, wind and snow are all promised across the entire game. Most interesting are the hints about how the weather will force you to alter your combat approach. As muskets are fired using an exposed plate of gunpowder they can’t be fired in the rain, which will reduce the risk to Connor when fighting enemies equipped with such weapons.
There’s no word yet on how frequently the weather will change, or whether it’ll be entirely random.
Aiming for historical accuracy
A team of researchers has been recruited with the sole job of making sure major personalities, events and locations depicted in the game remain as historically accurate as possible. Key American Revolution personal, such as George Washington, Charles Lee, Ben Franklin and Gilbert du Metier de Lafayette, are all included with the promise that we’ll get to see them from a perspective not usually focused on in the history books.
Further, certain famous speeches given to troops before battle have been recreated word for word and key buildings from New York and Boston are present and correct.
As far as Connor’s Native American heritage is concerned, the ability to scalp enemies was originally included but then removed when the development team found out that Mojave Indians didn’t indulge in the practise.
Combat still seems to be very much focused on a counterattacking system, allowing the team to use slick animations and a simple control scheme to provide the excitement. Connor can dual wield various weapons, although the exact combinations have yet to be revealed. As mentioned before, weather will affect combat and force different approaches depending on the enemy type.
Hopefully, that will play out in a more interesting way than merely having to kick an enemy with a certain armour type before attacking them with your weapon (as has been the case in previous games in the series).
Connor can grab enemies and use them as cover from musket fire. In one moment during our demo, the remaining enemies hesitated and refused to shoot the soldier being used as cover – this provided the time required for Connor to launch an attack and take them all out before they could react.
There were also glimpses of a cover system being used and the promise that you’ll be able to take enemies out in a single surprise attack when hidden, although we didn’t get a chance to see it in action for ourselves.
Full scale battles included
This is a game set around the American Revolution… and to my understanding, the American Revolution features quite a few battles. The one battle we’ve seen featured soldiers lined up in tight formations and stationed across opposite sides of a shallow valley flanked by thick forest, each side backed up with rows of cannons. Thanks to Anvil Next and its ability to throw 2,000 characters on-screen simultaneously, things were suitably epic.
Connor’s mission here was to assassinate the enemy commander station at the far end of the battlefield which was protected by a thick bank of musketeers. The time it takes the muskets to reload gave Connor time to move between positions of cover and eventually exit the battlefield stage left and flank around the forest ahead of the enemy camp.
The half British, half Mojave hero automatically crouches in short foliage which allows him to sneak up on the enemy leader before diving towards him and using the hidden blade to full effect.
Visually, the battlefield scene was stunning. From a gameplay perspective the avoiding of bullets and use of cover is something new for the series and something that could potentially add some much needed diversity to the formula that has dominated the past few games.
Redesigned presentation system
“Assassin’s Creed 3 features a completely new style for the Animus and its related feedback and information systems,” Brent Ash, AC3 presentation director tells us. “It’s more integrated into the players experience and allows us more space for the presentation to breath”.
Essentially, from what we’ve seen, this means that the team are working much harder to make sure the player is fully aware that the historical settings they’re wandering around are in fact projections of the Animus.
This means the instances of those white wireframe shapes we’re used to seeing in previous games are increased and made to look a lot fancier. Brent Ash goes on to tell us the idea is to create something much closer to “high end motion graphics” than what we’ve seen before from the Animus’ wireframe effects.
To the presentation team’s credit, the loading room goes look a lot better and includes a stylish sweep across as the Animus transforms into America circa-1753. Menu systems for selecting weapons, accessing historical data and gameplay settings have also been completely rebuilt.
“The idea here is to have something fresh,” IP development director Tommy Francois added.”We want to move away from the Ezio style, while staying true to the franchise itself.”