The Assassin’s Creed franchise is finally at the point of yearly release. With Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag looming on the horizon, it’s become easier to look forward with burning anticipation, while pointing out the flaws of previous entries. Some think that assassinations have been all but removed from the game. Others claim that the story is becoming a muddled mess of mysticism and confusion. Then, there are those that say Connor Kenway is the worst assassin we’ve played to date.
While I won’t dispute that Connor is a far cry from the charming arrogance of Ezio or the stoic duty driver Altaïr, he is by no means a bad character. No, like many of the fault found in Assassin’s Creed III, the time period is more to blame than the person.
Connor, or Ratonhnhaké:ton as he is called prior to becoming an assassin, is a chess piece of one of the more turbulent times in history. Taking place during the American Revolution, Connor seeks to further the cause of the Revolutionaries, while pursuing his own goals. When we’re first introduced to Connor, he’s naive and guarded. Having witnessed the death of his mother, and the powerlessness that came from not being able to save her, he seeks out the training, knowledge and abilities which can help absolve that powerlessness.
Here is where our assassins take a split path. Whereas Altaïr and Ezio became the dominating factors of their story, Connor is never truly rid of this powerlessness. It’s a new character depth unreached by the other assassins because they were more instrumental in the events surrounding them. Altaïr outright liberated the assassins from a corrupt leader while Ezio led them into a new era of strength once he became the Mentor of the Order. Both retained the ability to directly influence their situations by rising in rank and/or accruing a loyal group of individuals to help them in their goals. Connor, doesn’t receive this luxury during his quests. With most major events, Connor isn’t the true driving force behind it; he’s merely taking part in a grander picture.
Connor’s powerlessness is a recurring theme throughout his journey until the very end. When he chooses to break away from his village and seek education at under the tutelage of Achilles, he’s rejected by the seasoned assassin. When he finds Charles Lee and his father for the first time in Boston, he’s denied the opportunity to take their lives, which is all he wants, because of their role in the brewing conflict. Even when he discovers the truth of George Washington’s actions, he’s largely powerless to affect any change.
Playing as a powerless protagonist is understandably unappealing on the surface. For some it may seem as though Connor is merely drifting from event to event during the American Revolution and never really taking hold of the reins and steering his own life. In my opinion, the struggle to further your own goals, by being forced to advance the goals of an outside party, makes for better characterization than simply bulldozing through everything in your path.
The events of the American Revolution are set in stone. The British won The Battle of Bunker Hill and Connor’s presence shouldn’t be enough to change that. Operating within these constraints, however, allows Connor to grow more as a character. From the limitations he’s placed in, we see Connor push and pull with his own wants versus the entire country’s desires. While Connor may want Charles Lee dead as soon as possible, he doesn’t have the power to do so because history prevents it. It creates external conflict for Connor to resolve which couldn’t have been achieved had he always been in a position to do as he pleases.
Externalities aside, Connor has a variety of internal conflicts which he struggles with over the course of the Revolution. To put it bluntly, he has the most daddy issues in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. To make that statement more general and abstract, Connor has authority issues. He’s forced to bounce from one authority figure to another because of his own lack of knowledge about the world. Beyond that, as was intended, there’s a struggle between his Native American and European roots. In addition, he struggles with accepting his father and seeking a stable parental figure in his life as evidenced by his willingness to see the good in Haytham and attempt to work with him despite his Templar allegiance.
All of these issues reach a fever pitch toward the climax of the story where Connor, fully educated in how both Haytham and Washington have been manipulating him, dissolves his ties to both and truly takes power and control for the first time. While it isn’t a total resolution of all of his character flaws and issues (for example he’s still rather naive by nature), it does mark a point of true growth for a character. While it doesn’t mark Connor’s ascension into a master assassin, it does bring a logical, human conclusion to a well developed character arc.
So did Connor Kenway make an effective protagonist for Assassin’s Creed III? In my opinion he did. Considering how limited he was by the backdrop of the American Revolution, the culmination of his own internal struggles and the external forces which he ultimately comes to realize he has no control over, Connor goes through a complete character arc. What’s more, at the end of this character arc, the world changing realization that he has to come to terms with is that not everyone can be trusted just because they’ve helped you in the past.
He loses more than he gains, realizes that his “friends” were only circumstantial and ends his journey relatively alone. I’d say that makes for a good, if not somewhat tragic, main character in the Assassin’s Creed franchise.