Assassin’s Creed 3 – Preview

For once, it was a Monday I couldn’t wait to arrive. At Ubisoft’s behest, we’d been summoned to London for an advanced look at Assassin’s Creed 3 and the first screening of playable content. Brimming with curiosity, I met fellow Gaming Lives writer, Pete, and together (safety in numbers… less chance of assassination should Ubisoft reveal too much) we arrived just outside King’s Cross for the event.

Any inklings of having arrived at the wrong place were immediately quashed as the doorway was guarded by two chaps donned in circa 1760’s soldier garb of the British Empire (the red coat with white livery and tricorne hats). As they held bayoneted musket rifles, I decided not to ask questions and instead headed down some stairs that were similarly guarded.

Shortly after, we were herded into a dimly lit presentation room which had been decked out with Betsy Ross styled flags, except that in the centre of the circle of stars lay the familiar Assassin’s Creed triangular logo. On a large screen was a retina-burning white background with the Assassin’s Creed 3 full title and logo. To accompany this was instrumental music that wouldn’t surprise me if it ends up being part of the game soundtrack. A couple of tracks played, the more ethereal and light vocalised music with which Assassin’s Creed is well known, followed immediately after by a marching drum-styled instrumental which perfectly set the mood for what we already knew would be the next setting for the franchise: The American Revolution.

The entrance of the entire British soldier force (bayonets, guns and all) posted around the building had me wondering for a brief second if the rule for ‘no photos in the presentation hall’ was going to result in a few skewered members of the gaming press that’d wantonly disobeyed. To be fair, I could understand their urge to break the rules; the place looked amazing.

The presentation soon kicked off and it was clear from the outset that Assassin’s Creed 3 is not another annual release. In fact, the conceptual video shown to the Ubisoft board in order to ‘green light’ the project was created back in January 2010, making this the longest development cycle since the original Assassin’s Creed. As if that wasn’t enough, Ubisoft then revealed that, alongside Ubisoft Montreal, eight other studios were assisting with the game’s creation – in total, twice the production capacity attributed to the Ezio trilogy of Assassin’s Creed games. The message was clear from the get go: Assassin’s Creed 3 is a new addition to the franchise and aims to be new, bigger and better in every aspect.

To put some background behind Assassin’s Creed 3, it will be based between the years of 1753 and 1783, a massive thirty year time period. The new hero for this outing goes by the name of Connor Ratohnhaké:ton (pronounced Ra-doon-ha-gay-doo) but I think I’ll just stick with referring to him as Connor! After fighting images of a Highlander-styled Assassin going hidden-blade to sword with the Kurgan, I was able to concentrate back on the presentation and find out that the oddly cobbled together name is due to Connor having one British parent and one native American parent – one from the Mojave tribe to be exact.

Although not explained as to why Connor becomes an assassin, it is revealed that he becomes a member of the order in 1770 and his purpose is to see justice done to the native American people – more in the making sure there is a place for them in the post-revolution world rather than the revenge driven motives of Ezio, and duty bound reasons for Altair’s adventure.

Looking every piece the assassin, Connor dons the white garb of the Assassin’s Order but it has been slightly updated to reflect the times. The long coat, similar to that of the soldiers, is the main garment but it has the distinctive ‘eagle’ hood as all predecessors have enjoyed. In addition, there were little decorative pieces more related to Connor’s Mojave background, with the odd weaved arm band or feather-decorated addition. It’s clear that Ubisoft are aiming Connor to hold values from both parts of his background and merge them into his distinctive look and feel. That continued when his weapons were discussed.

A short list of weapons for Connor listed the hidden blade, dual pistols, a bow and arrow, and a tomahawk. Always looking to add its own twist on things, Ubisoft has made the head of the tomahawk axe the assassin’s triangular symbol; something I really quite liked.

Naturally, the briefing was short on story details – for obvious reasons – but places revealed to us consisted of the ‘the frontier’, a vast wooded area where a number of the pitch battles seem to take place, Boston, and lastly New York. It was hinted that around 30% of the game time would be spent in the wilds and it was here where most of the innovations for Assassin’s Creed 3 will lie.

You can expect to interact with historical figures, much like Richard the Lionheart from Assassin’s Creed and Leonardo Da Vinci in Ezio’s adventures. Unmasked for us were four key players in the war: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Lee and Gilbert Du Motier de LaFayette. Quite what role they all have and how much interaction Connor will have wasn’t discussed but it was clear that Ubisoft are gunning for the highest level of historical authenticity yet, even showcasing a famous speech that is embedded into the game verbatim.

So that was the background to Assassin’s Creed 3, and sat above the main story are the universal themes that run through the series such as the struggles of power and oppression, control and freedom and, perhaps more poignantly for this particular setting, ‘liberty or death’.

The presentation then moved on to the more technical features that were coming to bear with this next adventure in the franchise. First, a new engine is being used for Assassin’s Creed 3 and, named ‘AnvilNext’, offers a great advance over the previous games in terms of graphical power and the ability to populate the gaming world with more models. The first fact given was that the frontier portion of the game was 1.5 times larger than Rome in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, a great forested area spreading out for 2km by 2km. Ubisoft isn’t just adding greater roaming space though, boasting that during large battle scenes between the two armies they are rendering up to 2000 people on screen.

The visuals are also a lot more detailed, from better clothing through to much-improved character facial modelling. The examples shown via cinematic cut-scenes had a much higher level of detail for the characters involved and it looked as though the speech may more closely mirror what the mouth is up to, a problem suffered greatly to date with the Assassin’s titles. It doesn’t end there, however, as walking in snow will leave footprints and wounding enemies will leave blood trails – the implications this may have for Connor in terms of stealth and regaining an ‘anonymous’ status weren’t covered but it could be an interesting issue to overcome for players if explored.

In addition to improved character modelling, Ubisoft have opted to introduce weather effects into the game and not just for aesthetic purposes. An example showed Connor struggling to wade through snow as it got deeper, but other situations alluded to were Connor requiring more effort to get up steep inclines, rain rendering muskets inoperable and ice causing movement issues. To further this new functionality in the engine, Assassin’s Creed 3 will feature seasonal change, so that you will have the opportunity to revisit areas in multiple weather conditions to try and spice up the issues that come with side-mission territory where repeating already-trodden ground can get dull quickly.

Ubisoft promise more NPC interaction (both with Connor and with each other), one example given was a woman spilling apples from a basket which a passer by then stole one of and ran. The presenter commented that, if you opted to, you could have given chase and aided the lady in recovering her property. Improved crowd AI was also promised, although no evidence of what improvements that would bring were obvious in the short demo.

A revamped climbing mechanic is due to debut with Assassin’s Creed 3 making for a much more interesting time of scaling buildings, trees and cliffs. Taking mocap and climbing methods from real rock-climbers, the idea is to add more varied animation and options to climbing. In something almost similar to Brink’s SMART system, Connor can also dodge, leap, or dive over certain obstacles such as fallen tree trunks rather than just running into them and stopping dead.

The Animus has also had a rebuild and, dubbed ‘Animus 3.0’, is more tightly integrated into the game world than ever before. Aiming for a 3D experience, all of the menus have been completely overhauled from the inventory through to the map. With bringing the Animus into the game world to reinforce the fact that the adventure Connor is having is a simulation, there are some additional features such as a ‘go to marker’ and interaction highlights that actively employ the fractal/wire-framed animus styling. Although briefly shown, the new system looked quite intuitive, possibly based off a selection wheel as is becoming the de facto method for dealing with multiple options or abilities in console games.

The session finally wrapped up with a chase scene and some combat. The chase scene involved Connor racing through the streets of Boston which are, obviously, a lot less confined than those of Rome or Venice. In order to compensate for the expanse, Connor was able to leap onto moving carts, street stalls and even the odd tree in order to cross the street. At one stage a lady opened a window and Connor went in, running through two rooms before going out the opposite window and onto the roof, the first time Assassin’s Creed has used running through buildings as a method for escape and, potentially, a very interesting addition. Connor’s ability to leap onto moving objects didn’t stop at the street scene; he also performed a leap of faith from a branch into a cart as it raced through the forest.

Connor can kill wildlife and skin them too, much in the vein of Red Dead Redemption. Quite what purpose hunting plays in Assassin’s Creed 3 wasn’t alluded to, other than that the way in which Connor kills an animal will make a difference. For instance, a musket shot would leave a lot of pellet holes and, as such, would be a lesser quality of pelt after skinning than say a single hidden blade stab to the throat. As the game was at concept stage back in 2010, they admitted that Red Dead Redemption beat them to the post but they’ve kept the hunting aspect in so it may be a form of earning money or upgrading armour… at a guess.

The combat scene proved very enlightening to watch. Starting on horseback (yep, horses seem to be back) and then making his way across a battlefield on foot, Connor had to ensure he timed his cover-to-cover runs to coincide with the long reload delays of the musket rifles and cannons that were tearing up the battlefield. Once traversed, he took to the trees in a free-running style familiar to previous games. From a position up in the trees he then used a rope with a spike on the end to effectively spear an enemy (similar to Scorpion from Mortal Kombat) and use the dying body on the rope as a counterweight to drop down to ground level. From there Connor used the tomahawk to brutal effect on a single opponent whilst the group of regimented soldiers took aim with their rifles. He then held the melee foe as a human shield and once the firing line had spent their shot, Connor moved in making use of weapons in both hands (a feature heavily spoken of but not really displayed in the demo). The excessive reload times of that period are cut short for playability but they are still long enough to give Connor the chance to go from med/long range into close melee. Despite trying to impale him on their bayonets, the smooth counter attacks and defense break moves displayed dispatched with them all very swiftly. Interestingly, not once had I seen the hidden blade used, and all combat seemed to be pretty hectic and less stealthy than usual.

That all changed, however, when Connor met a bear who’d come to see what a dead body was all about. In a rather unbelievable feat of skill, Connor blocked the melee swipe of the bear and thrust the hidden blade into the bear’s heart. Admittedly that was the only piece of the demo that had me questioning the abilities of Connor as, for all the historical authenticity and the embellished combat skills, it seemed ridiculous that a bear could be defeated so easily… or, more to the point, a melee blow from a bear could be blocked.

But realistically, stack that one slight niggle of a negative up against the fantastic new features, tweaks and adventure that Assassin’s Creed 3 promises and it’s so easy to forgive Ubisoft. I walked into the building a fan of Assassin’s Creed but doubting the choice of the American Revolution – I walked out a grinning maniac, utterly converted and desperate for October 31st to arrive that bit quicker than before.

TL; DR Overview:

  • Biggest AC game to date
  • In development since 2010
  • New engine (AnvilNext)
  • Improved graphics and detail
  • Set in American Revolution (1753 – 1783)
  • Frontier region is 1.5x larger than Rome
  • 2000 character models on screen
  • Animus 3 brings redesigned UI and menu/inventory system in a pseudo 3D style
  • Historically accurate characters to feature, such as George Washington
  • New crowd AI
  • Revamped climbing
  • Weather effects (affecting gameplay) including Ice, snow, rain, fog and weather seasons
  • Improved movement (ducking/leaping objects)
  • Horse riding returns!
  • Able to run through buildings
  • Hunting and skinning animals
  • Two handed combat, human shields, tactical improvements
  • No slow down on executions to keep combat flowing
  • Mobile leaps of faith
  • Improved NPCs
  • Stealth hide in some foliage


Last five articles by Stu



  1. Victor Victor says:

    I will be buying this on release. It sounds immense.

  2. Edward Edward says:

    Sounds like I’m finally going to have to give AC2 a shot to enjoy this one, then!
    Amazing preview, Stu! You’ve got me excited for a series I haven’t cared about since the first one :D

  3. Pete Pete says:

    I had sorta lost interest in AC a bit after brotherhood but seeing the presentation really got my interest again :) very much looking forward to this now :D

  4. Lorna Lorna says:

    Great write up Stu, and it has left me very much wanting October 31st to get a damned move on. Even though it didn’t immediately grab me, the setting for the game is, admittedly, an interesting one – the American Revolution is not one of the popular or overused wars in games, so it makes for a reasonable and perhaps far fresher choice than some of the other ones bandied about before the reveal. I’m also looking forward to seeing the colonial feel to the towns and built up areas, as much as I’ll miss the more familiar Assassin’s Creed stamping grounds.

    What really grabbed me about this title, however, was the snow. It opens up great possibilities, as you said, in terms of stealth and cover and how smart the game will actually be. Blood trails and footprints will be an issue, and will require smarter planning on the part of the player, but being able to blend or ‘dig in’ are surely also possible, which will (or, at least, should) lead to some great gameplay. I’m also very much loving the idea of the weather and how it will affect things. Great move on the developer’s part there.

    Given the expanse though, and how much of it will take place in the wilds, I question how much breathtaking freerunning there will be, as it is hard to imagine the chance for that fantastically liberating free-flow rooftop running will be as present. The idea of escaping through buildings though… now that is intriguing. All in all some great new features. As much as I’ll mourn and miss the characters and places we’ve come to love, hopefully Ubisoft will give us something new to fall in love with.

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