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Assassin's Creed 3: home, home on the range

Assassin's Creed 3 is set in one of the most turbulent and consequential periods of American history, but protagonist Connor just wants the quiet life, according to mission director Philippe Bergeron.

"What guides him is justice. He believes in the right thing to do. The continuation of his culture, and of his village, is his main goal. He sees these Europeans encroach on the lands and threaten his way or his people’s way of living, and he wants to protect that at all costs. That’s what guides the whole thing."

Ordered to spend a couple of hours previewing Assassin's Creed 3, I thought I'd lost my battle against pre-release spoilers. But the historical adventure series has always provided an engaging sandbox, and even out on the frontier, far from the crowded cities of Altair and Ezio, it packs in plenty of action for those averse to following mission markers.

Plopped down somewhere in sequence six and with no clue as to what had brought me there, Connor and I embarked on a handful of side-quests and self-directed missions, gathering a population for our gorgeous country mansion - the homestead - and making a serious dent in the local wildlife with the intent of catching 'em all.

I enjoyed myself thoroughly, but it all felt a little more Red Dead than stab-'em-up. As I viewed my inventory full of animal pelts, expanded my naval trade empire, and ran over the array of apparently useful functions my happy homesteaders performed, I caught myself wondering - what's the point of all this? Why are we here? What on earth does any of this have to do with assassins, templars, or the American Revolution? Mission director Philippe Bergeron answered my burning questions.

VG247: The last game, Revelations, closed off the Altair arc altogether. But that story had been important through the first game and the series of games that made up the second entry. Is there no figure who takes a role like that? You know how Altair was kind of the shadow of Ezio? Does Connor have someone like that?

Philippe Bergeron: No. Seeing as we created a new protagonist, we wanted to focus on Connor. We have so many things like, oh we could tell this story, this story, this story - but in the end we're like, no. To tell a cohesive story - and this is my point of view - from the beginning of the game you want a directed storyline that doesn't have a gazillion branches.

If you think about Grand Theft Auto, the fourth one, if you look at their mission tree? It looks like a bonsai. It just goes in every direction and then comes back - it's real hard to determine like, if I want to finish this game do I have to do this thread, or is it optional? When is it going to open up? And I really wanted to be more like: if you want to know what the main story is, just follow the yellow brick road. Follow the nuggets and you're gonna be told a story. It's a directed storyline that we try and keep simple, because Assassin's Creed has a legacy. The whole Templar and Assassin story arc from the very beginning starts to become complicated. It's one of the complaints that we have from previous games, people had trouble getting into it, so I wanted to have a more - not dumbed down story, but easier to understand and easier to get across.

Does Connor take orders from anybody? Ezio, you know, was the master of the assassins' order - and he used to do everything his mother and sister told him to, immediately, without question. Is there anyone who bosses Connor around or is he more independent?

Connor's a little bit more strong-willed. He listens to his mum, and he'll listen to the matriarch - coming from a Native American heritage, the Mohawk, it is a matriarchal society; the village elder, who's female, will give guidance in the beginning.

A landscape to get lost in.

And then as he moves out of his village and goes into the world, he starts meeting Achilles, who becomes like your mentor. At first, Connor is more like "yeah, whatever old man, you're too old for me", and then as he gets to know him he starts to learn "no, this is a wise man" and starts to respect him and follow him a little bit more.

What's Connor's overall goal?

Basically what guides him is justice. He believes in the right thing to do. The continuation of his culture, and of his village, is his main goal. He sees these Europeans encroach on the lands and threaten his way or his people's way of living, and he wants to protect that at all costs. That's what guides the whole thing.

So, after a series of events he goes out into the world to…?

To keep his village safe.

Wait, by building a European homestead? How does that help - is it to raise money for the village?

The homestead is not necessarily to save the village; it is to raise money in a sense. It sort of plays into it. He comes to understand the concept of commerce and of relationships, which are not as familiar to the Native American cultures; they're much more family-oriented. At first he doesn't really understand the concept of social interaction with other people not of the tribe. It sort of forces him not necessarily to become European, but to understand European culture.

When I was wandering around I rescued a dude who was being dangled off a cliff, and he said that he could make creates and barrels for me. What do I need crates and barrels for?

Basically, most of the people that you recruit or meet that shack up on your homestead take one of two roles. Either they're resource gatherers, like they cut down wood or create lumber for you, or they modify your existing material. So in that case, that woodworker will modify the existing lumber that you have to make barrels, chairs and whatnot out of it. And then you sell that stuff on the market. So most of the homestead is your money generator. The entire economy is based around acquiring new people, making them work, putting them to good use, and then you start setting up trade routes with the different merchants that you meet through the game, and the start selling your merchandise . You either sell raw materials or modified materials.

Connor is caught in a culture clash.

I did wonder. I was like, crates! Maybe they're for making bombs. I tried a naval mission as well. It was very exciting. I had a good time with it. But I got really confused with the controls and it was very embarrassing for everyone. I did one called Martha's Vineyard, but there were three others on the map there, and they all said 80% risk. Is that a lot of risk?

There are trade routes that you can set up that are naval trade routes. So you send out ships to sell stuff in different colonies. By eliminating or by doing those missions, you're reducing that risk. Like, by doing a mission you made reduce your overall risk factor of trading.

Oh, I thought it was the difficulty level. Like, this one must be really hard, 80% risk, I'd better not go.

Yesterday we were playing around with it and I was trying to find a good bit to show at EB Expo [in Sydney this week]; we're trying to find one good naval mission to show. I found one that I was like wow, this is really hard! I had trouble doing it.

I couldn't aim my cannons. I'm clearly not qualified to captain a ship. Connor looks really nice in the uniform though.

The trick is pressing and holding [R1 or R bumper] as long as you can; it starts out with a really wide shot, and the longer you hold it the more it focuses, and then it becomes like a cone. When the cone is at its smallest width then everything will be focused on your target. That's the trick.

Assassin's Creed 3 arrives on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 at the end of October; it hits PC and Wii U in November. Stay tuned over the next few weeks as I relate more adventures from the hours I spent hogging the preview terminal.

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