The biggest location by far is the Frontier. Cliffs, valleys, forts, villages and hundreds of animals are spread across ten regions, and the trees provide Connor with an Assassin's first - their branches are a kind of arboreal 'first floor'. It's not as accessible as the rooftops of the cities, where every window is a climbable pathway. In the forest, you have to look for access points - toppled tree trunks forming a ramp, trees with climbable nubbins on the trunk. Once up there, the new safe-running system ensures you can get around without taking a damaging fall. If you want to get a good kill on a deer, drop some bait under a tree and wait above it.
Naval missions are a surprise - if only because they look so good, for something that's so underused. A fast-paced, semi-arcade take on naval combat, fighting on-board the Aquila is a engrossing combination of taking out smaller ships with your left-trigger swivel cannon, and bombarding the bigger ships by pointing your side at them and letting rip with a right-trigger volley of cannonballs. These moments would be genuinely amazing if they had been seamlessly stitched into the world. But as it stands, they're brilliant moments of cutaway action.
Becoming rich through trade is complicated, and threaded through most aspects of the optional game. You can earn money by activating an account book, where you can buy, craft and trade items. Privateer missions take out pirate ships, and reduce trade risk on sea routes. Defeating Templar forts reduces the tax you pay on land routes. Collecting Almanac Pages unlocks Benjamin Franklin's inventions, which are the best trading recipes. All of this requires positive attention, rather than ACII's passive regular income.
If you're going to go for 100 per cent completion, you'll have to accept that completion is its own reward. Many of the most expensive items you can buy are for your ship, the Aquila, and by the time you can afford them, chances are you'll have already completed most of the optional naval missions to get the tax rates down so you could afford the upgrades. This makes trade less satisfying - like there's no real end-goal, beyond that mythical 100 per cent completion rate.
The main story takes around 20 hours, but it'd require a person of single-minded resolve to avoid the constant barrage of distracting map icons. Some of the missions are more rewarding than others, with the very worst mission feeling a little like a slap in the face. The Peg Leg missions stand out as the closest replacement to the wonderful tombs of ACII, which have sadly disappeared.
The strongest aspect of ACIII is the more mature moral tone - there's none of the anticipated "yay, America". Connor is righteous but ineloquent, and he's convincingly called out on his naivety by the Templars he kills. With one important character in particular, this leads to some of the best dialogue in the whole series. Even if the acting of the Mohawk tribe sounds to our ears like a bunch of Ike "Kick The Baby" Broflovski impersonators.
ACIII does what no-one really expected it to: it draws together the plots of the precursors, Desmond and Connor. In writing this review, we've been cautious to avoid even the gentlest spoilers. However, we can say that instead of being left thinking "you what, mate?", at the end of this game, you'll be left thinking "oh, sweet gods - what now?"
There are all the usual Assassin's moments of frustration. Connor repeatedly jumped into a pile of hay during a tough and hateful chase scene. He failed to catch onto a couple of ledges, leaving us thinking we were trying to go the wrong way. And he triggered a guard whilst anonymous and incognito, simply because he was running. But all of these momentary frustrations were forgotten in the downhill slalom of the third act. And the epilogue? Well, the first person to come up with a plausible way to follow that gets a very big bag of Bonios.
You'll remember the fun, not the flaws
- Brilliant, climactic writing
- Refined running and combat
- Homestead a great distraction
- Some busy-busy side missions
- Economy feels a bit pointless