"We rebuilt the combat system. I think one of the most striking comments we've heard in the last two days is how different it feels to fans of the franchise to previous game. I think you can do a lot," Alex Hutchinson, creative director on Assassin's Creed 3, told me at a recent press preview. "The whole flow of it is different, the archetypes are different, the old strategies just won't work."
Curious about the specifics, I asked Hutchinson for standout examples of differences between the previous four installments in the series and the latest iteration.
"For example, before, a counter was an automatic kill. You didn't have to make a decision after that, you could just spam the attack button. Before, you had to target everyone individually by using the left trigger, which you no longer have to do. You would block on the right trigger, which is now a face button. You couldn't run out of a fight in the old version, but now you can, because the right trigger is still free run. Nobody attacked simultaneously, which they do now. It's virtually a complete rewrite."
"I'm much happier than we were before. It's much more fluid, and if you're a good player, you can run into conflicts, pick everyone off, be interrupted by a guy attacking you, counter him out, take his weapon and move out of the fight in one fluid motion. Before we felt the combat was very stop-start and that it had degenerative strategies, which you could discover and start spamming particular buttons," Hutchinson said.
I did find myself spamming the normal attack button during my session. Steven Masters, lead game designer, believes it's because I was dropped right into sequence six of the game at the preview event, instead of building up a muscle memory of skills over time.
"Getting in and out of combat is completely different. It's now completely state based, if you're standing near an enemy you're automatically fighting. You don't have to lock in and lock out, so you can move in and out of combat really fluidly," Masters said.
When surrounded by a group of enemies, you'll occasionally see a group of redcoats forming a musket line. It's possible to grab someone at that moment and use them as a human shield.
I spoke with Masters about how we've seen an ever-growing selection of weapons in the series, but they've never seemed to take the place of the trusty hidden blades with a secondary projectile weapon.
"How we balance them is the different weapons have a certain number of hits before they trigger a combo. As you, say, get your tomahawk, the first one will take five hits to do [a combo], then as you upgrade it'll go down to three," said Masters, noting that the variety of weapons allow players to choose the types of animations they prefer to see. "The different weapons offer a different style of fighting, it's really down to personal preference. Me, I like the war clubs because they're big and brutal. There's just sort of a 'Wham!' feeling to them."
Both Hutchinson and Masters stressed that the new counter system adds many more dynamics to combat situations, with many enemies having natural resistances to certain moves and players needing to identify the best strategy for different types.
I'm looking forward to trying the combat again in more natural increments, getting some time to find the nuance in it. Assassin's Creed 3 will send players into the American Revolution on October 30.