Assassin's Creed is a game of mystery. It has traded heavily on a palpable sense of "you what, mate?" Assassin's Creed II, in particular, was pregnant with imagery, secrets, puzzles and references. But now we're approaching the end of the tale, and Ubisoft has promised us a proper ending. And Mystery is no friend to Closure. In fact, those guys hate each other, and if you're driving a story with Mystery and Closure in the back seat, they'll spend the entire journey screaming and giving each other dead legs.
So, Assassin's Creed III is powered not by mystery, but resolution. Lead writer Corey May has written a traditional and satisfying three-act story for Connor, layered with a finale to Desmond's personal arc that's going to be so difficult to follow, that you can be almost certain that May isn't going to write it himself. It even manages to address that trumpeting elephant in the room - the fact that Desmond killed Lucy two games ago, and normal people would want to talk about that.
Our modern-day Assassins are now installed in America, inside the precursor Grand Temple. A short intro does its best to clue you in, but if this is your first Assassin's game, go and read a couple of wikis or, better still, go and play ACII. The resolution on offer here won't have the same impact, unless you've thought "you what, mate?" a few times.
Once you join Connor - and we're deliberately hedging around a rather large spoiler, here - your map is split into four main locations. The Davenport Homestead is your base of operations, and the home of your new, slightly bewildering economy. Homestead Missions are a regular feature on the map, and involve convincing skilled strangers to join your growing village. Lumberjacks, hunters, miners and farmers bring in the raw materials. Artisans like blacksmiths and woodworkers will turn them into fancier goods that you can ship and sell as you discover recipes in chests dotted around the world. Further missions build their loyalty and skills, bringing in new items and abilities.
Hit the town
The two big cities are on the map, too. Boston and New York are great locations - they may not have the opulent clean architecture of Rome or the dusty appeal of Jerusalem, but there are ledges to grip onto, pigs in the street, and weather vanes to perch on. Ubisoft's fidelity to the architecture of the time and locations has been slightly limiting - because its hands were tied by research, most of the map-unlocking synchronisation points are deflatingly similar and repetitive. Less excusable are the two identical trees we climbed to unlock sections of the map. That said, there's great variety in the towns, from the pox-riddled ruins of New York, to the bustling harbour markets.
The aggressive town guards mean that even stealthy assassins will find it hard to avoid a fight, and the new combat works as anticipated. Connor has a weapon - blade, tomahawk, sword or axe - mapped to the X button, with a tool on Y. Tools can mean anything from hunting tools like bait and snares to pistols and bows, with smoke bombs and poison darts in between. Melee fighting has a touch of the block and counter-attack of Batman, but once you've blocked a move, the strategy comes from recognising your opponent's weakness. Some can block a B-X counter-kill with a damaging riposte, and are prone to B-A counter-disarms. Others are vulnerable after their strong attacks miss, and it all builds into a quick and satisfying two-minute loop of combat that'll kill you just regularly enough to make you improve.