SettingAfter three games in the old setting (renaissance Italy), it was time for something new. At first I didn't think the American Revolutionary War would work, but I was quite pleasantly surprised. They found a good origin story for your character, Connor, and having him with both an assassin background and a Native American background gave some depth to the character, while also helping to explain some of the additional skills in this game, such as hunting and tree parkour.
Connor's background is tied in to the larger events happening during the period, although it does sometimes feel like he is shoehorned into certain events for no good reason except to be able to tie that event in to the game. We do get to see the conflict of the time between the British, Americans, and Native Americans done fairly tastefully, though the British tended to be a bit more faceless and generically evil to suit the plot's purposes.
CharactersOverall I wasn't a huge fan of Connor. After having the older, wiser Ezio of Revelations, it felt like a step back to play another young, impatient character who makes poor decisions. I did like playing Connor at several different ages, and the fact that it takes quite a bit of game time before you finally get to adult aged Connor didn't bother me, and was actually a nice change.
You start off the game playing as Connor's father, Haytham, and I quite enjoyed this character. Although his skills were more limited, you get to play through an interesting arc with him, probably made more interesting by not knowing where it was leading (at least for me, since I didn't know the connection between him and Connor when I first played).
The rest of the characters are servicable enough, with some needlessly over the top bad guys who never seem to shy away from reminding you of how evil they are. The inclusion again of famous historical characters is fun, but I suppose as a non-American it didn't really do anything for me.
World NavigationThese games are all about navigating the world in a cool way, and in this aspect, I felt that navigation regressed compared to previous titles. I found myself doing the wrong thing more often than I remember in past games, and getting frustrated by it. The fact that running and freerunning are done by the same button seemed to catch me out a lot when I would be trying to run from place to place and end up running up a doorway at my destination or jumping onto something that I ran too close to on my way past. Maybe this was more noticeable because fast travel points were very scarce in some maps and tedious to unlock in others, so I ended up having to travel on foot a lot more.
I found navigating on the Frontier map particularly annoying due to the ridiculously small number of fast travel points, combined with the fact that it's not obvious where they are unless you find them by luck or using an online reference. There were also bugs which meant that you would have to run around the two general stores that two of the points were located at, trying to make them unlock. And in one case, I unlocked one, only to travel away and find that it had disappeared again! I had to travel back manually, unlock it again, and have it disappear again!
The horse also seemed fairly useless unless you travelled on paths. Going overland, it would keep slowing down at obstacles, and the irregular nature of the terrain meant you would frequently find a cliff or river where you'd have to ditch the horse and go on foot anyway.
Tree navigation worked fairly well, but I found that I rarely used it to get from place to place since it was usually hard to tell where a particular tree path would get you. Unlike rooftop navigation where you can usually head in any desired direction, the trees would tend to have a more or less single path to follow, and it usually ended up being quicker and less frustrating to just run. And sometimes, you will go ahead and jump off a tree into empty space and kill yourself. Good times.
CombatMelee combat was definitely improved in this game, with timing reactions to enemy attacks and doing counters being much more important. It frustrated me a bit at first until I got to understand it and gave up my preconceptions from the previous games, but eventually I got into it.
Other weapons were much less useful, specifically bow and arrow, and guns. There are a lot of glitches related to guns which make them next to useless, such as the reload button frequently not working, and the second gun (once you go through all the effort to get a second holster) seems to be ignored. But the biggest problem with the ranged weapons is that you can only aim and fire them when an enemy is close enough, and due to the slow charge up time before you can fire, I found them rarely useful in any open combat. Same was true when trying to fight animals such as wolves. You would see them coming, but by the time the game would allow you to start aiming, you would end up getting into the close range quick time events that typically happen with wild animals, making the ranged weapon useless. Oh, and in one mission with some scripted wolf attacks, the quick time events wouldn't work for some reason, so I was left having to run up a tree and try to pick them off from up there.
I also found it very hard to pick up weapons on the ground in combat if I had enemies close by. I could never get the 'pick up weapon' option to appear for long enough before getting struck. And since there was another bug that seemed to make my sword sometimes vanish when I travelled, this left me falling back to the tomahawk to deal with a mob of enemies far too often.
Side MissionsThere are a whole set of naval side missions that were all very fun. The handling of the ship was easy and intuitive, and naval battles were exciting and the right level of challenge. You can upgrade your ship, but this tends to be very expensive, and since money can generally only be gained by doing other side quests, is not really worth doing unless you've got plenty of time to kill.
The assassin recruit feature is back, though you're limited to a maximum of 6, and the whole minigame of sending them off on quests is not as much fun as before. It used to be a fun strategy of picking missions with different levels of risk and reward, but there is very little difference between mission rewards this time, and the trick of sending a rookie with a veteran on a mission to level up faster no longer works. This means that levelling up your assassins is much more of a grind, and I found I rarely had them available to help me in my missions because I always had them sent off on their own ones.
All the minigames were fun, being recreations of real world games. Diana and I both found ourselves playing checkers or nine man morris, something we would probably never bother to do normally, so it felt good to actually practice a real world game.
The whole crafting and trading system was interesting but felt a bit pointless. You go to a lot of effort to unlock different craftsmen, which lets you use new recipes for items, but other than crafting specific items for your own character like bigger ammo pouches, I couldn't see much value in it. I still found myself generally just purchasing animal skins and selling those. Maybe more valuable items can be crafted later on? Also, trading tended to just be tedious, where you would just repeat the same action numerous times to fill a caravan to send off to trade. You can easily make a lot of money if you invest the time in this, but it feels like such a pointless grind.
EnvironmentLike all Assassin's Creed games, this one is very pretty. The amount of detail in the world is great, with your view always feeling full of lots of objects. City streets are appropriately cluttered, while the countryside is full of vegetation, tree stumps and so on. I never noticed any repeating textures on terrain, which is typical in open world games.
Water is gorgeous, and the naval missions really allow you to appreciate it. One mission in particular has you navigating giant rogue waves which were excellently implemented. Other effects like rain and snow are well done, and the fact that you get to visit each location in both summer and winter (as well as with a dynamic day/night cycle) is very cool.
Final ThoughtsI would definitely recommend Assassin's Creed III despite the bugs, though I would suggest waiting until a major bugfix patch gets released. This will definitely happen since many of the bugs are quite irritating but look like they will not be major issues to fix.
If this were the first or second game in a series you would cut them a lot more slack with these bugs, but as the fifth game in the series there is simply no excuse for it. It's good that they tried to innovate with this game, but that's not a good enough excuse for the quality level to regress. If we're going to be forced to have so many sequels these days rather than original content, we should at least demand that quality improves each time.