Ubisoft has put quite a lot of effort into Assassin's Creed III's latest batch of DLC and it shows. The Tyranny of King Washington is a substantial campaign when considered against the industry standard - most DLC feels bolted on, an afterthought. This new story is an episodic adventure, broken up into three chapters. This is a review for Episode One: The Infamy.
All told each chapter will take you between two and three hours to complete, and the quality of the cutscenes and the voice acting is certainly comparable to that of the main game. There's been a new soundtrack written for the campaign, and it's complemented by a slight change in aesthetic - Ubisoft are calling it darker and grittier. In short it's what you would want DLC to be in an ideal world; a progression of the main themes of the main campaign, tidily put together, but with a kick in the tail. And in this case, it's quite a kick.
This new campaign asks a pretty humongous "what if?". What if George Washington, the iconic American leader, was corrupted by power? Those who played ACII will remember the Eden puzzle, revealed throughout the course of the campaign, as Ezio discovered Glyphs dotted around renaissance Italy. The premise being that prominent historical figures were somehow entwined in the alternate history of the Assassin's Creed franchise. During that campaign the seed of a potential plot device was planted: we saw George Washington clutching a piece of Eden. At the time it was but a small tease in the greater tapestry of the Assassin's mythos. Here that seed's grown and taken root as the heart of ACIII's alternate history DLC.
The phrase: "Power corrupts. Asolute power corrupts absolutely" is the opening statement of the first episode. It doesn't take long for the main plot to reveal itself: Washington has indeed become corrupted, and has succumbed to the power of his piece of Eden. He's no longer the historical figure we're all aware of. Now he's a cruel and tyrannical despot, reaping terror on those that were once his allies, and now he needs taking down a peg or two.
Each of the three chapters are set in different environments. The backdrop of the first is the Frontier, once again drenched in snow and full of wolves.
Whilst there's nothing particularly new or exciting about the snow white Frontier setting, the powers bestowed on our hero do change things considerably. Each of the three episodes offers up a new supernatural skill. We'll cover the latter two at a later date, so for now we'll just talk about the power offered to players in The Infamy: The Power of the Wolf.
The Power of the Wolf is basically stealth on tap, with players able to become invisible at the push of the button. Going invisible quickly depletes the health bar, so it needs to be used sparingly, but when used with care it is incredibly effective, allowing for stealthy takedowns and easy passage past unaware patrols. The ability to easily slip past unassuming guards certainly removes some of the issues surrounding frustrating AI that we experienced during the main campaign.
The first part of The Infamy is all scene setting stuff. We're given the game's central theme: the corruption of George Washington, and the pieces are arranged on the board, the story set in motion. It's an alternate reality to the one we experienced in Assassin's Creed III, and we want to avoid spoilers, so we'll concentrate on mechanics rather than narrative.
Once the scene is set we're introduced to the The Tyranny of King Washington's central gameplay mechanic, and the thing that separates this content from the rest of the AC series - supernatural powers that transform the Assassin's experience irrevocably.
Our introduction to these powers wasn't as smooth or as enjoyable as one would have hoped for. Tasked with drinking the "Tea of the Great Willow," an elixir that grants those who consume it unnatural power, Ratonhnhaké:ton is sent to track down the tree in question. Once climbed, we drink a concoction made from its bark. Suddenly we're in a dream like trance. A disorientating game of "hot and cold" ensues as we track an elk by following the sound of its heart beat. After wandering around in an Animus-grey world for a few minutes we were able to hunt down the animal, taking it down and thus being granted the powers of invisibility that then stay with us for the duration of the campaign. Happily things start to improve from here on in.
The ability to vanish into thin air is complemented by a secondary power, one where a pack of wolves can be summoned and set on a opponents during combat. The wolves appear from nowhere and attack the nearest targets, insta-killing them in the process. There's a short cool-down between uses, but it doesn't last long, and during the lengthier fights against larger numbers of foes, it's not unusual to see the pack emerge more than once.
These two new abilities are then used regularly as you progress through the first episode. Progress can either be fast-tracked, or if you want to take full advantage of the new mechanics, you can head to each waypoint on foot, tackling the landscape, enemy troops and the local wildlife en route. There's much fun to be had in the familiar Frontier landscape, so much so that we spent far too much time messing about, stealthing up to unassuming animals and taking them down.
The new abilities definitely add something to the Assassin's Creed formula, but at the same time they also take away. The additional power granted to you creates a boldness to what is traditionally a more conservative play style, but in the same breath, it's nice to be able to play a familiar game in an (almost) entirely new way. It'll also be interesting to see how it fits into the wider Assassin's Creed III story, as Ubisoft are promising that it will connect to the main campaign, but we're going to have to wait to see exactly how and why. It's one big puzzle waiting to be solved, but we've been promised a clear resolution at the journey's end. This isn't just fantasy for the sake of it, this is canon.
The first episode won't take too long to complete - between two and three hours - but the new powers add enough to make it a worthwhile purchase for anyone who's put in a considerable chunk of time into the original campaign and is looking to elongate the experience further. Ubisoft's promise of a grittier and darker art style, and a new musical score (once again by Lorne Balfe), only does so much to alter the experience: at the end of the day, this new content is all about the otherworldly abilities that we're given to play with, and the feeling of power that they hand to the player. Worth a download if you're looking to breathe some new life into an old game, and enough of a departure from the source material to stop it from being just more of the same.
The first episode of The Tyranny of King Washington is available to download as of today, and for those who don't already have a Season Pass (£23.99 or 2400 MS Points), each episode will set you back £7.99 on PS3, and 800 MS Points on Xbox 360. Episode Two: The Betrayal is set to launch on March 19 (or the following day for PS3 owners), and Episode Three: The Redemption will land on April 23/24 (depending where you are and what platform you own). A Wii U version of the content is coming, but dates have yet to be announced.