Assassin’s Creed III Is The History Class I’ve Always Wanted

I’ve had a bit of a checkered past with the Assassin’s Creed series. I played several hours of the first game and, admittedly, hated it. Two  is okay, but the control scheme drives me crazy at times. Brotherhood was a competent enough game, and nothing about Revelations was enticing to me and my limited budget.

So after sitting down to play through and review Assassin’s Creed III, I was pretty surprised with how much I enjoyed it, especially the game’s world and portrayal of the American Revolution.

Maybe I’m just feeling patriotic today, what with it being election day and all, but there’s something about Assassin’s Creed III and the world it has so meticulously constructed that has suddenly piqued my interest in American History again.

Now, I’m not a major history buff by any means. I did fine enough in all my classes throughout the high school and college years, but it’s never been something that ever struck me as interesting. However, being Connor, interacting with all of these historical figures, and playing an active role in such an important and powerful time in my nation’s history is something really special, and a testament to the power of the interactive medium of video games.

The game started to really impress once I stepped onto the docks of the Boston Harbor. Immediately, I noticed something here that I hadn’t seen in any other game before: life. Sure, games have the tagline of having “lifelike worlds”, and incorporating crowd elements to bring realism to an environment. But in other games, there’s still a bit of an uncanny valley that arises, leaving the crowd to feel stiff and artificial.

Not so in Assassin’s Creed III.

Even from the moment you arrive in Boston, there are people moving everywhere, talking, interacting with each other, carrying out their business, working, laughing…it all is set up so well, with such an eye for detail that works brilliantly.

And this is an important part of how the game succeeds on its historical merit, I think. After all, the time before and leading up to the Revolutionary War was a very turbulent and divisive one. There was a widespread feeling of unrest throughout the nation that rested in the hearts of the people, threatening to boil over at any moment as more and more tribulation was piled on them. Mobs were formed, people spoke out, brave acts were performed, and people participated in public spectacles and displays of protest.

In ACIII’s Boston, the crowds have been so carefully constructed that they do just this. They ridicule collectors and soldiers, cheer whenever a fight breaks out, share their unease for the Redcoats and British policy, and call out for justice. There’s something really unique about walking into a plaza or street and seeing a crowd gather as a British soldier is attacked by protesters, making the game’s world feel more alive and immersive than any other game I’ve encountered.

But even beyond the crowd, it’s fascinating to experience so many important events in history in a firsthand way. Sure, I know about the Boston Tea Party and the events leading up to it, but it’s really neat to be standing on the deck of the ship alongside Paul Revere, protecting him from Redcoats and helping him dispose of the hated tea. And I can’t help but feel like a bit of a geek when a big event pops up and I get all goosebumpy, realizing exactly what’s about to go down.

Creators obviously had a fine eye for detail, even in the way characters interact with each other. One that stood out to me in particular was when the Harbor Master scolds Connor for stepping on to the boat with his left foot first. After doing a bit of internet sleuthing, I found that this is an old sailor superstition that dates back years and years. Now, did this add anything significant to the story or the campaign? No. But, it did add a new layer of realism and attest to the care with which the world of Assassin’s Creed III has been constructed.

Using Connor as the player’s position within the story is a brilliant convention as well. All too often, we focus on the rosy and fantastic parts of the Revolution, making it seem a lot more heroic than it might have actually been. It was a war, and it was a messy business during a messy time. In this time, there was some major discrimination and hypocrisy going on, and Connor eludes to this even very early in the game while talking to Sam Adams in the streets of Boston.

Connor is an outsider, a man who doesn’t necessarily share the same beliefs and convictions of the Patriots, but who uses them as a means to achieve his own goals. This makes him an almost neutral figure, allowing the story to tell itself on a broad scale while not being inhibited by any form of bias.

Now, I realize there’s probably a fair bit of embellishment that has been added to make the game’s story more interesting and appealing. But there’s still something to be said for how engaging and interesting it is to experience the events of the Revolutionary War in a firsthand way. Interacting with the people of America, meeting the leaders, seeing the world as it might have actually been during the eighteenth century…suddenly, it’s taken on a new life and meaning for me that textbooks never could have lent it, making Assassin’s Creed III the history class I’ve always wanted.