Assassin's Creed III: The Tyranny of King Washington - Episode 1 Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii-U and PC
Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me! So said Kenneth Williams in 1964’s Carry on Cleo. Alas there is nothing quite so overtly humorous in Ubisoft’s unique Assassin’s Creed III downloadable content - episode one of The Tyranny of King Washington, Infamy. Or you might term it, as you start up the new mini-campaign as confused as our protagonist and hero, Ratonhnhaké:ton (not Connor here it’s clear to see), the madness of King George. What we’ve got here is the world gone bad circa the American Revolution. George Washington did not lead his people to freedom against the maniacal Redcoat Brits, the Assassin’s Creed were not there helping to pull the strings and drive the key points in history to completion, stalling the Knights Templar in the process. No, in this alternate timeline Commander Washington is a King, the Apple of Eden is his and domination of the American lands is his desire and no-one nor nothing is going to get in his way.
The odd thing about all this - or one of the most odd as it’s probably more fair to say - is that our hero, the one we know as Connor and spent forty plus hours with as we played through the narrative provided by the third discrete installment in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s series also finds these events and this changed history overwhelmingly bizarre and confusing. Throughout the entire one to three hour playthrough he remained steadfastly bemused by everything and struggling to comprehend, a state of affairs that all players will likely find true also given the lack of answers. It makes sense that Connor is in the same situation as the player though as the story is apparently canon and it will fit in with all other events we have seen through the eyes of Connor and Desmond.
This DLC is an interesting move by Ubisoft in more ways than one. The change to the communication of a narrative in episodic form seems a logical one given the success the wonderful The Walking dead had with it, ensuring folk kept their interest between episodes thanks to the twists and turns leading to continued water cooler chatter, something which is likely to happen here amongst fans of the series. You might find your mileage here will vary though as anyone who has made it through Altair’s story, Ezio’s chapters and onwards through to the end of Connor and Desmond’s arcs might well be all assassined out. But another reason why this canon, episodic content is intriguing is that it may well show us how the games will continue outside of Desmond’s narrative. Without that present-day animus user will we find another person to take his place with their own story, will we experience assassini of the past via hacks or is there something else going on given this alternative history? It’s likely that by the time we understand quite how George came to be King we’ll also know how we’ll be transported to this autumn’s new game and new character in the Creed series.
Given what’s happening in the world is different to the reality of global history on the macro-scale, it makes sense that things within the world on the microscale offer something new too. The stand-out offerings are new skills or abilities that you learn part way through this episode, an opportunity afforded by the new world. You are Ratonhnhaké:ton the Native American and your mother still lives, your clan still exist and your village is still a vibrant community. Over time your people have discovered the tea of a particular tree’s branches when drunk sets you out on your own sky journey, an experience that will differ from person to person but will always result in a stronger, more capable person borne out at the end. In Connor’s case he learns to make himself invisible like a wolf or call on a wolf pack like he would have called upon his Brotherhood of assassins in the main game. The latter is analogous to the original mechanism - press L2, wolves join in the fight you’re involved in and eventually disperse leaving you to fend alone once more until the cooldown timer has reset allowing a recurrent call to arms of your animal brethren. The invisibility mode - or wolf cloak - is brand new and would normally be out of place given it is a magic trick of sorts, but here is grounded in the alternate narrative and played up in-game, requiring its use in many of the six main missions offered by this first episode. You can’t just press triangle to go invisible and stay that way though. It uses lifeforce and as such is temporary, causing you to recall the skills you’ve learnt over many hours trying to stay hidden and eavesdropping on folk whilst utilising the cloak to the full when hiding spaces are sparse and distant, meaning it’s necessary if you need to be hidden (and you will be).
As mentioned there are six main missions and really they set the scene for the remaining two episodes. You learn very little about this new world and both you and Connor remain as confounded at the end as you were at the start. At least it’s not just you. The missions themselves are variants on what you’ll be used to - go there, kill him, spy on them. They’re all strong examples though and the mix-up is good in this short selection of happenings. Add in the new abilities and the need to use them and it does feel fresh even to those who have played through every bit of the Creed series to now. This episode is set entirely in the frontier (the second and third episodes will head to other locations) and has side missions set accordingly - help the starving folk there, attack the convoy over here and so on. You get the option to fast travel from main mission to main mission if you’ve had your fill of exploration and hunting (although it’s streamlined compared to the main game as killing any animal for example yields just raw meat as opposed to animal specific items for selling and crafting), but the reward for those eager to see all this new content has to offer is a trophy or two to fill out the list with those gained on completion of the story.
It’s not just the history and the abilities of our avatar which are different in this offering either. Early on the colour palette appears much changed, the events lending themselves to bright reds, oranges and intense browns - even during winter as it is - immediately separating things here from what has happened previously. The whole package was clearly planned well in advance of its release and determinedly differentiated versus what had come previously. This can be seen in the confidently high individual pricing where each episode costs £7.99, but of course Ubisoft offers the season pass for £24.99 which includes each of the Tyranny’s three episodes plus other single and multiplayer content.
Assassin’s Creed III was an ambitious game and culmination to the story we’ve all been learning about since 2007’s original. It tried so much and had as grand a scope as anything Grand Theft Auto yet did so with a less energising character than Ezio, a less beguiling world than Renaissance Italia and ended on a sour note with regards to Desmond’s story. What episode one of the Tyranny storyline allows then is something which brings that which worked before, scales back that which failed and starts a fresh story more immediate than the main one became towards the end. It’s over as quickly as it started and leaves you wanting more - both for the immediate quenching of the tale to hand but also as an opening into the possible futures.