I've heard about three lines from Connor Ratohnhaké:ton, the hero of Assasssin's Creed III and I don't know what to make of him.
The hero of Ubisoft's massive October video game is no Ezio Auditore or even an Altair. He's not a beloved rogue or a noble assassin. He's not the star of multiple games.
He's the new guy, and even in the dozen minutes I've seen of the new game in action, recorded off of a PlayStation 3 development kit, he's been a cipher.
I've seen him leap through trees, assassinate British Redcoats. I've heard him say a few lines to Colonial general Israel Putnam at the game's Battle for Bunker Hill, but Putnam chewed the scenery and I don't remember Connor showing much personality.
So who is this guy?
"The story of getting to know this guy is the game," Assassin's Creed III creative director Alex Hutchinson said to me. "Ezio is this character who is over the top. He's the Errol Flynn. He's a womanizer and a braggart. We wanted a character [in the new game] who is more earnest."
Connor is Native American. He's a member of the Mohawk tribe. He sees his tribe's village destroyed and wants to take action, according to some basic bulletpoints the game's team shared, though the fact that ACIII is still in development means things could change. Something drives Connor to the Assassins, this ancient order dedicated to combatting the equally ancient Templars and to help people be free.
Why not a female assassin this time? Assassin's Creed lore is full of female assassins, but we've yet to be able to play one in the game (though we have played as female Templars in the game's multiplayer. Why not a heroine for AC III "It's always up in the air", the new game's creative director Alex Hutchinson said, "I think lots of people want it, [but] in this period it's been a bit of a pain. The history of the American Revolution is the history of men. … There are a few people, like John Adams' wife, [Abigail] — they tried very hard in the TV series to not make it look like a bunch of dudes, but it really is a bunch of dudes. It felt like, if you had all these men in every scene and you're secretly, stealthily in crowds of dudes [as a female assassin], it starts to feel kind of wrong. People would stop believing it."
"We knew early on that we wanted a Native American assassin, because it's someone outside the conflict [of the American Revolution]," Hutchinson said. "We didn't want you to be a Patriot. We didn't want you to be a Redcoat.
"It's been a big challenge to get the right guy," Hutchinson continued. "It's not like creating an Italian who is part of a robust country. We're sort of picking a character who is part of an oppressed people. We had to be very very careful with it. We wanted to be both historically accurate and earnest in how we treated it. So we wanted to get an actor who is Native American. He is half-Blackfoot, and we wanted to get the events that happen in the game that are historically accurate as possible."
The team didn't want a jingoistic hero, though they knew that's what people would expect that as soon as they heard the game was set in America. "[People were worried] that it's going to be ra-ra- Team America and flag-waving," Hutchinson laughed. "It's not something we wanted to do and it's not the story we wanted to tell, anyway."
If Ezio is Errol Flynn, who is an analogue for Connor? Hutchinson and AC III producer Francois Pelland mentioned a 2001 French movie to me called Le Pacte des loupes, but didn't zero in on which character from that film helped inform Connor (I've asked in a follow-up and will update this if they're able to elaborate.)
The Ubsisoft creators want Connor to feel like an outsider. They want him to feel like an agent with his own allegiance outside the ones American players might feel. "The natives at the time," Pelland said, "...they fought for the British, they fought for the Patriots, they fought for the French."
"They were selling land because they thought it was funny," Hutchinson said. "They didn't think you could own land."
"They were not feeling the true oppression, but still they were being abused," Pelland said. "They were being abused, but they didn't have that reaction of: Let's fight everything."
So Connor's tale will be that of an oppressed people, but it won't necessarily be one of a rebellious people. It doesn't sound like it will be the tale of a man who decides to go, unquestioning, to one side.
And yet one of the player-fantasies cited by Ubisoft's creative team is to let players feel as if they are helping found a nation.
Our portrait of Connor is still vague. He's no Ezio yet, but maybe he just won't ever be.