Despite my many complaints, overall Assassin’s Creed III wasn’t a bad game. It lacked some polish but you could tell effort had been put into it. The world just wasn’t as engrossing as it once was… which would have been forgivable if the story hadn’t been so horrendous.
Where do I begin? For starters Connor is a pretty lackluster protagonist. His introduction to the Assassin order is forced and reeks of deus ex machina. In ACI, Altair starts the game off as the Order’s star pupil, and you watch as he’s humbled and forced to regain his stature as a Master Assassin. He was born into the Order, and was a great cipher for introducing the player to the world of Assassin’s Creed. Ezio was a much more relatable character, and as such is the fan favorite (as well as my own). He starts the game off as a loveable rogue, a brash and naïve teenager unaware of his father’s secret identity. Tragedy forces him to pick up the Assassin mantle and the plot of ACII and Brotherhood follows a very simple but impeccably crafted revenge plot. Over the course of three games you also watch Ezio’s rise from horny teenager to Master Assassin, a great and classic arc for any heroic character.
And then there’s Connor. His mother is killed and his village burned down near the beginning of the game, setting off a much more contrived revenge plot that falls flat on every level. Instead of learning that he has a family lineage or being brought into the fold of the Order in any meaningful way, Connor becomes an Assassin via plot device. The village elder gives him an “Apple of Eden” which reveals the Assassin symbol to him. Tracking the symbol brings him to a washed-up old Assassin named Achilles. Meeting Achilles initiates another twelve hours of tutorial, which in this case would have been better served as a brief Rocky training montage. Connor has no stake or emotional investment in any of the story, and his quest for revenge is framed by his ignorance and naivety. For no discernible reason Connor blames his mother’s death on a Templar he met shortly beforehand, George Washington’s right hand man Charles Lee and spends the majority of the game pursuing Lee on this unfounded assumption.
Connor, a Native American, willingly and without question allies himself with Franklin, Washington, Adams and the rest of the American patriots, despite the fact that Washington was openly racist towards Indians and fought Connor’s people in the French-Indian War a scant twenty years prior. Occasionally Connor questions the Patriots’ true intentions, but for the most part goes along with their schemes, never questioning his firmly held belief that Charles Lee is the murderer of his mother. The fact that Connor’s voice actor, Noah Watts, sounds bored all the time, does little to help imbue the story with any real drama.Even after learning that it was Washington’s men who burned down his village and that the Patriots have no intention of doing anything to help the Indians after they defeat the British, Connor still pursues Charles Lee with single-minded devotion, culminating in a bizarre chase sequence and one of the weirdest death scenes I’ve ever seen in a game. Sometimes I actually forgot Connor was an Assassin at all; his personality seemed so far removed from the “Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted” mantra that colored the decisions of Altair and Ezio that he might has well have been some asshole in a white hoodie.
But nothing is more egregious than the manner in which present-day protagonist Desmond Miles’ story was “concluded.” Since the first game Desmond was the driving force that tied all the plot threads together, and fans were excited to not only play as him in a more meaningful way in ACIII, but to also see his tale come to a satisfying conclusion that tied the events of the previous four games together. What we got instead was some slapped-together bull crap.
Much is made of Connor’s Templar ancestry and Desmond repeatedly poses the question, “could the Assassins and Templars work together?” Both groups have the same goal: to prevent the destruction of the world at the hands of fiery solar flares, but they have different philosophical ideas on how to go about it. The Templars use their noble end goal as an excuse to exert power over innocents; the Assassins value freedom above all else, and this dichotomy has always been the root of the conflict in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. During ACIII Connor and his father Haythem briefly join forces and Desmond begins to make the argument to his own father that they should put their conflict with the Templars aside until the world is saved. Connor ends up killing Haythem and so too does Desmond end up going the violent route with the modern-day Templars and their evil corporate front Abstergo.
You see, there’s something in narrative storytelling called foreshadowing. Often storytellers will set up a minor detail early on in the story only to pay it off at the end. In ACI, the Apple of Eden is set up in the beginning when Altair steals it from Solomon’s tomb, and is then paid off when it is revelaed to be a powerful supernatural artifact of potential alien origin. In ACIII it’s hinted that the Assassins and Templars will make a truce… and then they just kill each other. Nothing is made of it- Desmond just strolls in and murders Vidic and all of Abstergo, making all the talk of truce seem like a waste of time. Not only that, but Vidic- always a weak link in the AC storyline- suddenly morphs into a dumb James Bond villain when he offers to trade Desmond’s father for the Apple of Eden. This is the same guy who watched Altair’s master control the minds of an entire village with the very same artifact via the Animus, and now all of a sudden he thinks Desmond is just going to hand it over? It deflates all the tension because if Vidic really is that stupid then he deserves to shoot himself in the head… which is exactly what happens.
Revelations promised revelations and gave us none. ACIII promised a conclusion to the Desmond storyline and failed to provide one. Maybe lead writer Corey May thinks killing off Desmond means his story has ended, but anyone who’s taken a creative writing class, read Joseph Campbell’s A Hero’s Journey or really any good work of fiction would tell you that this is not the case. Desmond’s story is inextricably linked to the story of the First Civilization and the Apples of Eden. It’s linked to the end of the world plot and the solar flares. To end Desmond’s story means you need to end all of those various arcs and subplots. But all May really did was conveniently close out Desmond’s story while preventing the world from being engulfed in fire. And just like every Assassin’s Creed game that preceded it, ACIII ends on a dumb cliffhanger, with Juno released upon the world to enslave humanity. Psyche!! the ending tells us. “Stay tuned for ACIV-XXV!! I swear we’ll end this story somewhere, sometime!!”
Come back tomorrow, when I tentatively get excited for the new game, Black Flag… which’ll probably suck, but whatever, I’m a sucker.