As Assassin’s Creed III came out this week, I have been playing it more than sanity should dictate, especially when an election is looming and the daily crap is still there. However, diving into yet another trip into the world of the Assassins isn’t just about happy slaughter (although slaughter is part of the fun. It’s the same reason we watch movies, read books, and seek any other distraction from the mundane: because we enjoy it, and because we may discover something we didn’t know because we were otherwise too busy with the daily grind.
So I’m going to break this post into sections, which should stand alone, since I’m going to review the game, discuss the history, and relate the game world to our actual political situation. Feel free to skip parts that are of no interest, and I will avoid spoilers for those who hesitate to read a part for that reason. The last part should be of interest to all:
The Game and Mechanics
I’ve played through all the prior games, so I’ve seen the mechanics of this world evolve, to where, by Revelations, I was getting damn good at climbing buildings and slaughtering guards. They threw out the old fighting mechanic, and I’m still learning the new one. It means I get overwhelmed sometimes and get the fun of dying. Still, once you get into the flow, the bodies get stacked like cordwood right quick. And visually, the kills are even more brutally awesome. And that’s saying a lot, since the body count got higher every game.
Some new things that were awesome: First, free-running through the trees is smoother and easier than the old free-running mechanic of prior games. Second, you can play out multiple missions, so you don’t have to run the hell all over the place doing one mission, then come back and do it again (which is good when you’re wandering the wilderness). Third, hunting. Yeah, the hidden blade is fun to put into a deer, or even a bear. almost as fun as doing an imitation of a mower blade in the middle of a bunch of guards.
In short, if you like exploring open worlds, and slaughtering the occasional pack of guards (in this case, the redcoats), there is nothing related to suck here.
The History and Story
Now game mechanics are all well and good, but what flipped my dinger from the moment they announced the setting was the history. The game are set in 2012 (ACIII begins on October 30, to be specific), but use a device to explore past lives of Assassins. So the events of games take place in the real-world history.
To recap, the first game was set during the crusades, and you got to drop Templars (the “bad guys” for those of you unfamiliar with the game) while exploring cities such as Jerusalem. The fun in this was climbing landmarks, as well as the town criers sounding off about some of the events of the day (like the Crusade going on).
In the next three games, you explore the Renaissance with an Assassin named Ezio Auditore. From Florence and Venice, to Rome, To Constantinople, there’s historical fun in climbing the buildings, watching historical events unfold (with some tweaks to fit it into the universe), and hanging around with the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Machiavelli. It was enough historical background that I had to investigate a bit of the real world history. And like before, it’s the little things, like the bits of Italian and Latin and other languages thrown in at the appropriate moments. Or crawling through the half-finishes Sistine Chapel to assassinate the Pope (he’s a Templar) as he is reciting, in Latin, the Apostle’s creed (I know enough of both to recognize it and had to wait for it to loop before I killed him. There are all kinds of moments where you just have to stand there and listen to the world.
But those parts of history we only know in passing. Assassin’s Creed III takes place during the American Revolution, with the Assassin known as Connor Kenway(birth name Ratonhnhaké:ton, half English and half Native American). So far, people I’ve met include Charles Lee, Samuel Adams and John John Hancock (since they’re the big troublemakers in Boston, Paul Revere (who you get to ride with on a particularly historic ride), Benjamin Franklin (who, in a side convo early on, goes on for five minutes about the advantages of having sex with older women (and yes, he really was this horny)), and George Washington (you meet him, in Philadelphia, immediately after he is given command of the Continental Army). The database entries really delve into all the bits of history and people, and I’ve spent much time with the game paused reading about things I have some familiarity. As for places I’ve been, most of the early game takes place in Boston. I fought to stop the Templars from triggering what became known as the Boston Massacre, , threw some tea into a harbor (yeah, THAT Tea Party), helped fight the Redcoats to a standstill at Concord, and raced across a battlefield to pull off an assassination (the Battle of Bunker Hill). As I write this, I’m preparing to go to New York on the next main mission.
And the politics of the day are truly reflected, as in a discussion between Connor and Sam Adams, over Adams’ slave. The issue of slavery was, in the actual history, put off during the fight for independence, and then to establish the United States.
In short, the gameplay is good, but it’s the real history that’s happening that got me to pre-order a game for the first time in my life. And I have not been disappointed. If you do any gaming and love history, this is absolutely the game you must play.
Assassins and Libertarians
Now, the underpinnings of the story is a struggle between two factions, the Templars and the Assassins. As you are playing Assassins through the games for the most part (the exception is a spoiler), the Templars are the “bad guys” in a game sense. But as with all good storytelling, good and evil, and right and wrong, are contained in a gray area the size and scope of the games. And it is always a point of view thing.
An example of this comes in Philadelphia, where the discussion is whether using dishonest propaganda to sway public opinion in the direction of what the patriots believe is right is justifiable, or just dishonest manipulation (or, does the end justify the means)? And it gets more complicated as the Assassin and Templar motives are not clearly the same as the British/Loyalists and the Patriots.
The Templars believe in order, control, governments, and a social structure that brings about peace, by force if necessary. There are moments in all the games when the Templar way is appealing. For example, one assassination is to stop a Templar from buying up Native lands (from Connor’s people, specifically). In the post-kill moment (you get to talk with the guy you just stabbed after story assassinations), the Templar explains that he was doing it to protect the people from the colonists. With what we know of the subsequent history, would this alternate history been better? The same thing can be said for the assassination at the Battle of Bunker Hill (where the target talks about trying to find a peaceful end).
Compare this to the Assassins, who seek to impart knowledge and protect free will as a means of promoting peace. Although to do so, they slaughter a whole lot of Templars. I would almost be willing to compare them to libertarians in philosophy for that reason, as they only seek to kill those who would take individual liberty through force or fraud, or with cool artifacts from what is known as the First Civilization (These artifacts, known in game as Pieces of Eden, can be used to control, but also can impart knowledge). And Connor, in many cases, chooses the path that may lead to conflict, but always sides with those who seek to allow men to choose their own path.
So we have two sides in a political fight, juxtaposed with those who would impose order fighting those who would allow free will to trump all. And with millennia of history to draw on, and even current events playing part (in one of the puzzles, it’s revealed Chief Justice John Roberts is a Templar, and orchestrated Citizens United for the benefit of the Templar corporation Abstergo), it brings us back to the political discussion of the day, which boils down to the belief in central government vs self-government.
Now, being a libertarian, you know where I fall in the spectrum of these politics.
Assassin’s Creed III is a game that brings so many of my passions together that I can think of few games better. The gameplay improves on what came before. The history is lovingly brought to life as accurately as is possible within a fictionalized world. And one can even find the politics of the day reflected in this epic struggle across time. So if you have any time to give to play, this game is absolutely on the list of must-play games.