Impact Games in Review: Assassin’s Creed III

Developer: Ubisoft 
Release Date: October 30th, 2012
Availability: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U
Cost: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

What’s it About?

It is 2012 and the world is about to end. Desmond Miles, a modern-day assassin, is tasked with saving it, using a special virtual reality machine known as the Animus. Through this, Desmond is able to reenact and relive the memories of his ancestors, finding the locations of keys hidden long ago to use in releasing the goddess Juno and preventing the utter devastation of Earth.

Inside the Animus, Desmond relives briefly the life of Haytham Kenway as he sails to the New World, Boston circa 1754, in search of a storehouse belonging to the enigmatic First Civilization. As time passes, Desmond becomes the young Ratonhnhaké:ton, known otherwise as Connor, a half-Mohawk Indian, half-Englishman who seeks revenge on the Templar organization that devastated his tribe and murdered his mother.

Connor becomes a pivotal participant in numerous points in American history, albeit a loosely interpreted one, serving as an ally to Samuel Adams during the Boston Tea Party and leading Paul Revere on his midnight ride, among many others.

Be warned! Assassin’s Creed III spoilers to follow.

What’s it Like?

  • Third-person stealth-action game where players take on the role of Desmond Miles in modern-day, closed-world scenarios, and historical figures Haytham Kenway and Connor in open-world adventure sequences.
  • Players have an arsenal of weapons at their disposal, from traditional assassin hidden blades to Connor’s tomahawk, pistol, rope darts, smoke bombs, and various traps.
  • For the first time, the traditional freerunning feature is augmented with the ability to climb and run through trees and escape pursuers by dashing through open windows.
  • Setting focuses on Revolution-era Boston, New York, and an expansive open countryside known as the Frontier.
  • Explore the spacious Frontier and hunt for the valuable pelts of native animals.
  • Take command of the warship Aquila and engage in exciting and dangerous naval battles along the American East Coast.

What’s the Impact? 

Cultural Emergence

Culture within Assassin’s Creed III is twofold; players are first presented with the plight of Connor and his people, their land and lives threatened by the Templar force in the New World. Connor is unique in this; he is both of white and Indian cultures, able to balance and exist in each throughout the course of the game. His actions reflect his deep-seated desire to protect all marginalized peoples, such as his African-American mentor, Achilles, regardless of their race. Several sequences allow the player to experience the Mohawk culture of the mid-18th century, following a young Connor as he interacts with other children in his village and speaks in his native language.

Connor’s struggles are only intensified as players are dropped directly into the middle of the American Revolution, able to act as both a participant and observer in many of the important events. From leading the charge at Lexington and Concord, to standing by as the Declaration of Independence is signed, and even helping to toss tea into the Boston Harbor during the Boston Tea Party, players are given a contextualized (if not loosely interpreted) view of American history, complete with interactions with many major figures and run-ins with belligerent Redcoats.

Questions for Discussion: 

  • Who were the most important figures in Revolutionary-era America? What did they do and why are they important?
  • What does it mean to be marginalized in society? How has society changed since Connor’s era? How has it stayed the same?

Engaged Citizenship

Many of the quests and side quests players engage in as Connor contribute to the state of the colonies as a whole. Playing on the side of the Assassin Order, a group committed to the protection of those who can’t otherwise protect themselves under the siege of figures abusing their power, Connor must help to squash the oppressive Templar force that acts against independence seeking colonists. Through rescuing citizens in towns to recruit to the growing Assassin force in the new world and aiding wandering travelers in the wild Frontier to encourage settlement and growth, Connor is able to have a direct influence in the state of the game world. His influence always works to his own benefit, creating a resource of allies and materials to help further the Assassin cause, strengthening in numbers to topple the Templar Order.

Though it may seem as if the game’s morality system is binary, with the Templars acting as the force of ‘evil’ in the game, many of Connor’s assassination targets bring into question whether or not Connor’s actions are justifiably moral. The player constantly finds themselves confronted with the potential good in the Templar force, from playing as Connor’s Templar father Haytham early in the game, to working collaboratively with the Templars to confront corrupted members of their order, and interacting with assassination targets on the moments of their death as they are forced to explain their actions. In as much as the Assassins, and Connor himself, is indicated as making the right choices for the good of the New World, players are constantly confronted with moments of doubt, encouraging them to consider their own moral choices.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How important is it to see both sides of an issue when making a decision? In what ways does it affect your beliefs and choices?
  • What does it mean to be moral, in your opinion? What does it mean to be immoral? Where do the Assassins and Templars fit in to your beliefs? The Colonists and the Redcoats?

Economic Prosperity

With the young United States still in a period of rapid growth and expansion, players are able to more directly influence the economic state of the Davenport Homestead–an area of new settlement in the Massachusetts countryside–through a system of trading. By completing special Homestead missions, Connor provides land for settlers who each bring with them special skills, from logging to mining, which in turn provide him with tradeable goods which he can use to make money. Players are able to hunt for animal pelts in the expansive wilderness, selling furs for amounts based on its condition, depending on the way Connor killed the animal. Further, Assassin contracts provide Connor with various goods, which he can sell or craft with, suiting the player’s needs.

The trading system itself is intricate, forcing players to consider many different aspects of 18th century shipping methods to assure the highest profit. They are able to choose the convoy they wish to carry their items and must account for the length of the transactions as well as the potential dangers the convoy will face on the road. The player is able to influence this as much as they see fit, from protecting the caravan themselves or proactively liberating forts as a means of lessening the dangers on the road. With the money raised through trading and the services that are provided by Homestead settlers, players can expand Connor’s trading system even further, crafting more caravans and even naval ships, creating a miniature trading empire.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How important is Connor’s impact in the economic system in the game? What did you trade, with whom, and why? How big did your economy grow?
  • In what ways do we influence the economy every day? What parts of it don’t we control and why?

Impact Games in Review: Dishonored

Developer: Arkane Studios
Release Date: October 9th, 2012
Availability: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Cost: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

What’s it About?

Corvo Attano, Lord Protector of Dunwall’s Empress Jessamine Kaldwin, returns home for an assignment abroad only to bear witness to the brutal murder of the Empress by supernatural assassins. When he is found at the scene of the crime, he is stripped of his title and framed for her murder by the Royal Spymaster Hiram Burrows, who condemns Corvo to execution and imprisons him.

Following the death of the Empress, Dunwall falls to ruin under the vicious Rat Plague: a debilitating disease that overcomes its victims and is fatal unless treated with an expensive elixir in incredibly scarce quantities. Weepers roam the streets, zombie-like shells of infected humans who seek only to spread the disease. Due to the severity of the disease, Dunwall becomes a utilitarian dictatorship, with whole sections of the town shut down for quarantine and riddled with Walls of Light and Arc Pylons–electrical traps powered by whale oil that will kill anyone unauthorized to pass through them.

Corvo escapes his prison cell aided by a group of Loyalists to the Empress who seek to see that her now-missing daughter, Emily Kaldwin, is found safely and takes the throne. He then goes on a mission of revenge, searching out the aristocrats who wronged him and see peace restored to the empire. But, when he is visited by the mysterious Outsider, who grants him extraordinary supernatural abilities, Corvo is forced to balance his morality and his incredible power in order to create the Dunwall young Emily will be fit to rule.

Be warned! Dishonored spoilers to follow. 

What’s it Like?

  • First-person stealth-action game where players take on complete control of protagonist Corvo Attano.
  • Players have the ability to choose their preferred play style, from stealthy to violent or a mixture of the two.
  • Corvo is armed with his retractable sword, pistol, and crossbow, along with a myriad of traps and explosives suitable for any occasion.
  • Supernatural abilities such as Blink (short-distance teleportation), Bend Time, and Possession help to make all stealth or all melee gameplay easier and more fun.

What’s the Impact?

Public Health

Prominent in the game is the Rat Plague; a deadly disease with a catastrophic mortality rate vaguely similar in nature to the Bubonic Plague. Citizens die in such large volumes that bodies litter the streets and sewers in bags. The Plague itself is revealed to have been engineered and implemented as a means of ridding Dunwall of its poverty, but these plans go awry as half of Dunwall’s entire population falls victim to the plague, forcing the implementation of cruel and violent methods to control the disaster.

Dishonored can be looked at in terms of its impact on Public Health in the way that it demonstrates the effects of poor management of a pandemic. Due to the violence of the outbreak, Dunwall’s government is forced to find some way to deal with the volume of bodies, resorting to dumping them into sewers, where more become infected, and by simply committing violence on Weepers and healthy citizens alike. The disaster proves to be so great that even more violent and controlling methods are implemented, found in the Walls of Light and Arc Pylons, in desperate attempts to maintain quarantines. Through the navigation of the world in which Dishonored is set, players can come to see the lack of effectiveness in the quarantine methods focused on by the government, understanding the importance of proper body disposal, along with the availability of a cure, in the event of a pandemic.

Questions for Discussion:

  • In the event of a pandemic, what steps should be taken to preserve public health?
  • What role does the government serve in handling and managing a pandemic?

Environmental Sustainability

Almost all of Dunwall’s economy relies on whaling; whale byproducts are rife throughout the game, scenes are picturesque with whaling ships dotting the horizon while players themselves may come to rely on whales to replenish their heath, in the form of tins of potted whale meat. The whole of Dunwall’s source of power and electricity comes from the utilization of volatile whale oil. While it may be seen as a marvel of science and technology, much of the bizarre and incredible machenery found in Dishonored, such as Arc Pylons, Walls of Light, and Tallboys, rely on it entirely, effectively weaponizing this technological advancement. Due to the explosive nature of the oil, players may even turn to it as a weapon themselves.

The use of whale oil in the space raises some important considerations when it comes to non-renewable power sources as a whole, particularly when looked at in relationship to the similar trend found in the world’s reliance on oil. Whales are in limited supply, inevitably, and the governmental control of the oil directs its use for militarized purposes, instead of as a means to help citizens of Dunwall. At the same time, it is incredibly dangerous in its use, considering its highly explosive and destructive nature.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What are the dangers in using a non-sustainable energy source?
  • What kinds of energy alternatives to oil exist today? How are they being used?

Civic Engagement

At the end of each mission, players receive either a high or a low chaos rating, directly related to the manner in which they eliminated their target and the number of NPCs they murdered (or didn’t) along the way. These moral choices, though binary, directly influence the state of the game world as the player continues; high chaos results in a more negative experience whereas a low chaos results in a brighter Dunwall and a more positive end-game scenario. Players are able to directly engage in the decision they make, seeing the immediate changes in Dunwall, and in the NPCs they come in contact with, from mission to mission as they make both friends and enemies along the way.

Considering the game as a tool for civic engagement and understanding, players are able to experiment with moral choices in a space that is safe and has no real impact on the real world around them. They are not only able to explore different options of interacting with people but they are able to see how important their contributions to society are as the game they play in changes from mission to mission. All of their actions have active consequences, whether they be in relation to the difficulty of the game or the disposition of their allies and enemies, and they are able understand the way that their individual actions can relate to society as a whole.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What kinds of moral choices do you make every day? How simple or difficult are they to make?
  • What kind of role do you play in your society? How strong is your individual impact?