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Assassin’s Creed 3: the one-button power trip

Tuesday, 6th November 2012 13:45 GMT By Dave Cook

Assassin’s Creed 3 makes you look badass with minimal effort. VG247′s Dave Cook asks if feelings of empowerment should be earned through skill, or doled out free of charge.

As the need to be inclusive rises, many developers will judge the point at which they begin to cut less-skilled players out of the loop. Weekend gamers, family-oriented players and the young still want to game, but they don’t have the time, desire or skill to put into mastering a brutal experience.

The latest, long-awaited instalment in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise launched last week, and while it offers a rich open world full of character and colour, the game still manages to feel restricted and guiding – which is no small feat for such a large sandbox title. It’s just the latest example of the notion of accessibility drilling the challenge out of core games in general.

I have to stress that I’m not putting the game down at all. I’m enjoying the experience. However, Ubisoft Montreal has opted for a dumbed-down combat mechanic, as well as a parkour system that’s almost too smart for its own good.

Challenge doesn’t always mean an ultra-hardcore approach to difficulty – not everyone wants the punishing brutality of Super Meat Boy – but by the end of a game I expect to have at least been tested incrementally along a smart, well-devised and rewarding learning curve. You earn victory: you aren’t just handed it.

In truth, though, Assassin’s Creed 3′s combat system is devoid of challenge. It simply isn’t there. It’s possible to simple hold one button to enter a counter-attack stance and wait for enemies to hit you. Then some handy slow-mo signifies that you can switch to the attack button to kill your target.

That is not skill, but rather a QTE chain without the on-screen button icons. As a result, it’s lacking challenge, immediacy and tension. I realise this is a completely different type of game, but one of my favourite third-person titles ever is Bayonetta. It’s Assassin’s Creed’s diametric opposite in terms of combat.

Every battle in Bayonetta is a tough, potentially fatal challenge. When victory comes, you know you’ve earned it through raw skill. You look damn good doing it too, but executing the most insane-looking moves on the labyrinthine combo tree requires expert timing, discipline and cat-like reflexes.

The same goes for Dark Souls. Nobody beats Ornstein and Smough simply by holding or tapping one-button.

I understand that if every game were so difficult hardly any of us would have time or the inclination to complete one, but that feeling – any feeling – of reward simply doesn’t exist in Assassin’s Creed 3′s combat mechanic. Although it looks stylish, we’re now getting back to the days of QTE over-use – developers are simply finding new ways to mask the prompts.

Hold ‘B’ and occasionally press ‘X’ to win. Congrats, you’re an AC3 master. How does it feel?

Another issue is the game’s parkour system. The player holds down the right trigger to climb or leap around rock faces, tree canopies and buildings. Again, this requires minimal skill, but the mechanic feels dated and regularly gets confused when approaching Assassin’s Creed 3′s open world.

It worked fine in previous games, but chances are you will – at least once – climb up or fall down something you didn’t want to, or get yourself caught by pursuers because the mechanic tripped itself up. Simplicity is not always the answer to creating fluid gameplay.

But we appear to now be hurtling down the motorway, slavishly following the signs to “Access”. Checkpoints are getting narrower. Killing’s getting easier. Racers – most recently, Forza: Horizon – have rewind mechanics in case you crash. Games ask you after multiple deaths if you’d like to lower the difficulty. Some Nintendo games are even completing themselves.

I’ve interviewed several developers in my time doing this who talk about challenge like its a bad thing, that they’re almost afraid to make their product too difficult for fear of it cutting out less-skilled, time-poor or casual players. In real-speak this means, “We want to make more money by including a wider audience”: few can deny this is smart business.

But at what point does coddling players become unbearable? It’s a vastly subjective topic, but it’s no accident that we’re seeing difficult games, such as Hotline Miami or Dark Souls, championed almost specifically because they’re hard.

As the need to be inclusive rises, many developers will judge the point at which they begin to cut less-skilled players out of the loop. Weekend gamers, family-oriented players and the young still want to game, but they don’t have the time, desire or skill to put into mastering a brutal experience.

They still want their adrenaline fix, and while some developers are keen to simply hand it to them, no questions asked, when does this impede on the enjoyment of the rest of us?

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14 Comments

  1. Telepathic.Geometry

    It’s all about boredom management in my opinion.

    If a game is just brutally difficult from the get-go, then you’re just taking a beating with no opportunity to learn anything from the exchange, and hence you will quickly switch off the game.

    Likewise, if it’s too easy, and there’s nothing else in the game to hold your interest (like story, an interesting world, the element of discovery etc.) then again, you’ll completely lose interest, or worse, never have it sparked in the first place.

    I think the reason that games like Vanquish and Demon’s/Dark Souls are never boring is that they give you a clear avenue for self-improvement, and a world filled with enemies and weapons and whatnot so that you can learn at your own pace, which will always be the best pace for fun.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. OlderGamer

    All I know is that I can’t wait to get my hands on ACIII. It will be my first Cred game. I am drwn in by the setting and back drop from the historical perspective. I know the story in the game never happend and is made up ofc, but the world it is set in intregues me.

    I will be getting the game for WiiU this Xmass.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. GK

    in the text you write that is one button game,but later you write that you have use B and X :D so is’t one button or two? but there are diffrent tipes of enemies where you have to use every button,in PS3 that are O,X,[],and sometimes triagle :) half of the text is just trolling,nothing else.

    in the game are a lot of bugs,if not the bugs,the game is epic,sea battles epic! :)

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Dave Cook

    @3 Yeah the sea battles are epic dude, really good fun. I wasn’t trolling, as I said early on that I’m really enjoying the game. It’s just that I’m not really feeling challenged, and the occasional QTE animal attack becomes grating after a while. I feel true control is being wrenched from my hands at every juncture.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Hcw87

    Batman Arkham Asylum/City has the same style of combat, and even though it’s real easy, you still feel like a badass when fighting. Also, for me it never gets old, no matter how easy it is to pull off the counters.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Gekidami

    Common excuse used:
    “Bayonetta isnt about X, its about the combat!”.
    (X in this case being pretty much everything that isnt combat, because Bayonetta is 98% shit).

    Therefore, the logical conclusion:

    “Assassins Creed isnt about the combat, its about X!”
    (X being everything AC3 does better than Bayonetta, which is pretty much everything bar combat).

    /Article.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Dave Cook

    @6 the article wasn’t an attempt to compare the two though mate. It was asking questions about the relationship between accessibility and skill.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. GK

    4,the bad thing that is not so much sea battles,i like to play more :)
    i really like sea battles in the storm,waves are huge,you can hide in the waves :)

    maybe they create Pirate game? ubi have all the tools to do it :)

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Dave Cook

    @8 I wouldn’t be surprised if a multiplayer iOS ship game is in production now :)

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Cobra951

    @4

    “I have to stress that I’m not putting the game down at all.

    . . .

    I understand that if every game were so difficult hardly any of us would have time or the inclination to complete one, but that feeling – any feeling – of reward simply doesn’t exist in Assassin’s Creed 3′s combat mechanic. Although it looks stylish, we’re now getting back to the days of QTE over-use – developers are simply finding new ways to mask the prompts.”

    You seem to be at odds with yourself over this. You say you aren’t putting the game down, and then you follow that up with one of the most damning statements possible against it. Copious QTEs in games kill them. I think that happens when a dev wanted to make a movie, but was forced to release his creative vision as a game instead.

    Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. I had no idea they had dumbed down the AC mechanics. That’s very sad.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. YoungZer0

    You already know my opinion about the game. I just like to add that i definitely think the parkour mechanics are a step down. More simplicity means less control and this is definitely the case here. I really thought i had mastered it in Assassins Creed 2. Now this game comes out and fucks it up.

    Considering AC3′s nonexisting difficulty, i think it’s absolutely ironic that one of the developers came out to tell people not to bitch about harder difficulties.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. vicrysty

    I hope it does not change the gameplay (only to see a chaotic gameplay that hit in all directions, the fingers hurt, I prefer actual gameplay), but its location is in ancient Rome (just think of how it would look fighting in Roman galleys (warships), the famous Roman legions, testudo formation, Colosseum looks different than in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood). Personally for me this game is as good as the Discovery Channel. Learn a lot from history, just travel in time. I hope you make a wise choice and choose a good period of history.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. freedoms_stain

    Agree with Dave, AC is devoid of challenge and it has been since the 1st game.

    Someone mentioned Batman being the same. It’s not. In Batman you can at least challenge yourself to build perfect combos or switch up the difficulty so those combos are harder to pull off, they remove the incoming attack warning so you have to be able to recognise. Batman also has a variety of moves at his disposal that give the player a choice in how to build their combo. The standard in AC is to stand with your guard up and hit counter when someone attacks or use an auto-aim projectile if a heavy wanders up. You can even multi-kill with no effort using auto-aim throwing knives. Every other aspect of combat is superfluous thanks to the easy as fuck counter mechanic. The dumb thing is there is no risk in these counters either, most of the animations clearly leave you open for a good stab in the back but none of the enemies ever bother. There isn’t even an option to make the game harder, it just is.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. Puggy

    Hm, interesting. I always wonder, why people want a game to be challenging and feel they have achieved something when it is done. I for my case just enjoy the story. It is more like a graphical interactive novel, that I can enjoy, and fool around with. Audio and video clips that are strung together by (more or less) short sequences of certain control inputs.

    Sure, there is no “option” to make Assassins Creed games harder, beside not using counters and streakkills. However people do not accept that. I guess they would accept it, if there was a setting for it, lets call it “hard.” But without settings, without a way to show others, that they are better than them, well, players do not like to hinder themself.
    In real, nothing is forcing you to use the counter button. You as player chose to do so. You can make it harder by not pressing it, but no one would know and thus hardly anyone would use that option to increase difficulty (yeah, I know. Internet rule number one, some dude will post how he beat the game without countering, not looking, kissing his beautiful girlfriend and doing his math-homework just recently and it still was all super easy).

    Anyway, the game engine itself is not build to have hard fights. Bayonetta or if you want DMC is faster with movements and thus can allow for harder and more challenging fights. Assassins creed, well the enemies are like taking a second if not more to execute their attack. You to not start a fight with long wide attacks. First you have fast, short cuts and stabs to wear down your enemy. If you pull back your axe to attack like those dudes in AC, you totally open up your defence.

    The game is as hard as you want to play it. It just does not offer you predefined pptions for it and also offers no prove that you actually have done it the hard way. But who really needs that anyway, right?

    And for the record I think the free running is still damn hard to get off right. I can’t imagine how often my avatar jumped left when I was holding straight, leaped across to the other house when he was supposed to drop down and take some damage to catch that stupid piece of paper or got trapped on a tree stump. And lets not forget running into a cave, hunting that stupid cat, just to hit a wall, try to run up it, fall down, press flat against it and let the cat escape… god bless step mines. >.>

    Beside, I guess too hard difficulties would reduce the sale numbers. Just an assumption but (most?) AC players are propable not the hard core challenge types.

    #14 2 years ago

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