Jan 31 2013

My Favorite Video Game Character of 2012: Connor

Published by at 12:00 pm under Editorials,Video Games

connor1

I recently went back and booted up Assassin’s Creed 3 to hunt down the last few remaining chests and feathers I hadn’t yet found, and remembered that since I played it a while after release, I didn’t actually review it.

I’m not going to do that today, but I will discuss why in some ways, it was a rather fantastic title. A lot of that has to do with the protagonist this time around, the half English, half Native American assassin, Connor.

I’ll say this up front, Assassin’s Creed 3 is not the best game in the series, not by a longshot. That honor goes to Assassin’s Creed 2, which was my favorite game of that year, and shined where titles like this are supposed to, the gameplay.

Each mission felt expertly crafted and you had to use a large amount of strategy and every weapon and trick at your disposal to advance. The landscapes were gorgeous, the fighting intense and the stealth satisfying.

Not so in AC3. Gameplay was…adequate, at best, and the game ditched stealth for nearly its entire duration. With this latest game, combat has been simplified to the point of annoyance, and the addition of counterkills and chain kills in the past follow-up AC2 games, Brotherhood and Revelations, have made stealth more or less useless. If you can press B, then X, then X again and again you can shred an entire platoon of guards with a parade of one-hit kills and walk away unscathed. If you sound an alarm when you’re spotted, you no longer die, but merely easily kill everyone who comes to fight you.

fight

“Why you stabbing your friend? Why you stabbing your friend?”

So if it’s not the gameplay that’s so great, why did I enjoy the game so much? Well, for as much as I loved AC’s 1, 2, 2.5 and 2.6666, in nearly all of them, it was incredibly hard to tell what the hell was going on in the story, and your protagonist didn’t help matters. Altair barely spoke a word and Ezio was a cocky rich douche with a fun accent, but barely a trace of a personality.

But in AC3, we meet Connor. Or rather, we don’t.

(spoilerish story discussion follows)

Instead, we’re first introduced to “Haytham,” a white Brit sent to the Colonies in order to locate a “forerunner” site. You know, those places where alien ghosts wake up and talk to you?

You play as Hatham for a few hours, helping local Native Americans, falling for one and eventually knocking her up before its revealed that you’ve been playing as a Templar the whole time.

As it turns out, all these events are in place to give our hero a backstory. Connor is born with a Iroquois name I can’t pronounce or spell, and we play segments where he’s a boy, then a teenager, then finally grows into a badass young man under the tutelage of his mentor, old man Achilles.

achilles

“Get a haircut, boy.”

It’s rare in any game that so much backstory is crammed into the actual gameplay of a title. Yes, it makes the game start slowly, but it gives Connor a history, motivation and a sense of place that other video game protagonists usually don’t have. And his lineage? The bastard son of an English Templar and a Native American? He’s definitely got the coolest pedigree of any hero in a game I’ve played in years.

It’s nice to see so much time spent on developing a character in a game like this, especially in the very long AC3 where you’ll be spending 20 hours or more with him. You feel much more connected to Connor than past AC heroes, and there’s a lot more to him than simply killing people from a list of names (though he does that too).

Connor finds himself allied with the rebellion attempting to overthrow the British, because freedom is what the Assassins strive for above all else. The Templars for the most part side with the British, as they desire control and order.

But if you’re expecting a game that’s cheerleading America or idealizing its history, you’re wrong. Often times, Connor discovers that the men he’s helping are no better than the ones he fights. Great American hero George Washington is portrayed as weak-willed and shifty. At one point after protecting him for years, Connor discovers that Washington has ordered a raid on his native village. Connor loses it, and threatens to butcher Washington as he did the British if anything happens to his tribe.

washington

Prick.

Connor speculates about what these rebellious colonialists are truly fighting for. After years of aiding them, he begins to see that their war for freedom only meets freedom for white, male landowners. He sees his own tribe murdered and swindled. He watches black slaves being treated like refuse. How great could these “founding fathers” truly be if they abided such treatment of others, and even participated in it themselves?

There’s an interesting series of missions on the “Homestead” in the game, which serves as Connor’s “home base” of sorts. The idea is that you recruit a bunch of skilled laborers you find in your journeys, and invite them to settle on your land. You find a tailor, a blacksmith, a doctor, a fur trader, and so on, and there are dozens of missions where you interact with them and run errands for them.

In many reviews, these missions were lauded as rather pointless. Most are quite easy and the reward only allows you to craft better items for a really awkwardly implemented trading system I never bothered to use more than a few times.

But for me, the missions served another purpose. It humanized a protagonist who in the main game, is a brutal killing machine. Here, he set about building a community full of the sorts of immigrants the rebellion was leaving behind in their crusade for freedom. By the end of the game, these people in your community have gotten married, had children, or passed away. You felt like you knew them, and it brought a new dimension to Connor that was nice to see, where most games don’t quite care about investing much into the humanity of their murderous assassins. It wasn’t done in a cheesy way, and felt like a natural evolution of friendships, establishing that you wanted an ideal nation of equals more than the actual colonists did. The game’s story isn’t perfect, and really starts to fall apart near the end, but I never felt lost and Connor was a much more relatable, multi-dimensional badass than most heroes in games these days.

warpaint

Connor goes all Taxi Drive by the end with his hair.

Also a big factor in creating effective storytelling here is that Ubisoft has once again left out an semblance of a moral choice system. Yes, there are many games that use this effectively, Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead and so on, where your choices shape the story, but it’s so commonplace now it’s almost refreshing NOT to do so. You don’t have to be “good Connor” and wonder what “evil Connor” would have been like, or vice versa. You’re a bit of both at times, and the game takes decisions out of your hands and forces you to trust it to write its own story. How many movies would you say might have been better with a “choose your own ending” component? Few, if any.

The game isn’t great, and I really missed the ingenuity of Assassin’s Creed 2 as I was playing. It felt like an incredibly easy brawler with a pinch of stealth thrown in on occasion, and almost none of the missions feel the least bit strategic.

That said, it was still a great experience from a story perspective and Connor is definitely now one of my favorite gaming protagonists after spending 20+ hours together.  Ubisoft finally managed to tell a pretty great story after hinting at one for four games now, and have created a lead with more dimensions than we’re used to in the genre.





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8 responses so far

8 Responses to “My Favorite Video Game Character of 2012: Connor”

  1. MurderBoton 31 Jan 2013 at 1:20 pm

    In terms of voice and presence I found Connor to be dull as dishwater. His motivations and moods were all over the place. I couldn’t invest in him at all. As a result, for me AC3 felt like more of chore in getting through than AC2.1 and 2.2 combined.

    On the plus side I was pleased with Haytham Kenway and Charles Lee as antagonists.

    Haytam had Ezio’s charm and swagger wrapped in pragmatic ambition, and Lee beginning as a loyal and stalwart companion slid very well into polite malevolence and barely contained rage. This was all terrifically expressed through their voices, expressions and mannerisms.

    It’s just too bad Connor bored me to tears.

  2. Lubzon 31 Jan 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Connor is actually my least favorite of the 3 main characters. I distinctly recall the moment where he was talking to someone on the Homestead and I realized “This guy has zero emotion…I actually dislike him”. He felt like an emotionless shell.

  3. Paul Tassion 31 Jan 2013 at 2:01 pm

    I’ve heard a lot of people say that, but I don’t know, something about him just resonated with me. I felt more attached to him than most protagonists I’ve controlled in games.

  4. Caleb Kon 31 Jan 2013 at 2:23 pm

    In hindsight I think this game will be commended for it’s ambition. It may have it’s faults but story wise I felt like it was the best of the bunch. I also really like how Ubi-soft broke from a lot of the conventions in the previous games. It’s a whole lot bigger than the other games and many missions can be beaten in a couple different ways now. Plus the time period is so unique and proves they can handle a different setting. It just needed more refinement. We’ll see that in future efforts I’m sure.

    How good was the naval stuff too? I would like to see a game involving way more of that and some land missions as well. It Doesn’t necessarily need to be under the AC Banner either.

  5. Tasmon 31 Jan 2013 at 2:44 pm

    The character development was the best in the series, and of most games I’ve played. The actual voice actor was terribly inexpressive and bland. You could feel much more passion and liveliness from Ezio Auditore.

    I compare my disappointment with the end of Desmond’s story to my disappointment with the ending of Lost. I would love to play an AC title with no connection to the present. OR play an AC with a well-crafted storyline in the present. The story of those who came before should have been wrapped up (latest) by the ending of AC:R and AC3 should have focused on more character development for Desmond as an Assassin.

    The free-roaming was amazing!

    The hunting was the funnest part of the whole damn thing!

    The Tomahawk was kick-ass!

  6. Johnon 31 Jan 2013 at 3:08 pm

    I’m still playing it now as the multiplayer as steered me away from the single game. Got to find the time to get back into it now. If you haven’t tried it, it can be addictive!

    I’m sold to the AC franchise and I loved every game in it’s own way, but I agree that it as become increasingly easy to fight. I used to run away from guards as you could get overwhelm by them in AC2. Now, it’s just so easy to kill everyone that I try to take the forts by stealth just for my own pride.

    I think ubisoft is well aware of this and it’s why the optional objectives are a lot more harder this time. It often take a couple of reload to get the 100% synchro… when i just don’t give up!

  7. Johnon 31 Jan 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Oops, forgot to say that Connor is my favourite character from the latest games I’ve played too.

    I kind of liked The Witcher as well…

  8. DaveyJ1on 31 Jan 2013 at 4:48 pm

    I loved Altaïr and the way the story was told in Assassin’s Creed 1. Something magical that the rest of the series never got. Ezio grew on me in the trilogy and knowing his path Assassin’s Creed 2 is much more bearable to replay.
    I didn’t love Assassin’s Creed 3 mainly because of the gameplay, but playing as Connor after getting intrigued by Hatham was absolutely terrible. I didn’t feel immersed by Connor. Rather than being a serious but professional assassin kinda like Altaïr (which I feel like he was kinda intented) Connor seemed an arrogant prick with a constant frown and badly defined motivations. I know there were enough points to make Connor feel like a good character, but they never pulled it off for me. The story was a mess, in terms of writing and pacing. I think my other problems with the game make Connor seem worse than he is, now that I think about it. Perhaps he was a fine character, but terribly executed.

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