Published on December 9th, 2009 | by Cameron Woolsey
Review: Assassin’s Creed 2
Release Date: November 17, 2009
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platform: Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3 and PC (March 9, 2010)
This review may contain some slight spoilers regarding the original Assassin’s Creed.
Assassin’s Creed fans rejoice! Assassin’s Creed 2 has finally hit the shelves, and it is good. No, really, in fact it is easily better than the original in every way. The original Assassin’s Creed was a pretty good game, make no mistake. But it was riddled with small issues such as: repetitive combat, boring travel scenes, disconnected characters, and poor plot progression, which kept it from truly achieving greatness. Thankfully, Ubisoft took notes and listened to frustrated gamers, and returned with a perfected formula, making the sequel the essential Assassin’s Creed experience.
Assassin’s Creed followed the story of Altair, actually, it really followed unwilling protagonist, Desmond Miles, as he sifted through his “memory DNA” and reliving events as Altair as he climbed and killed during the Third Crusade. The story follows the secret war between the Templar, who are oppressive and corrupt, and the assassins whose duty is to protect people by taking lives of the corrupt in order to maintain peace. The game ended with more questions than answers, with Desmond still imprisoned by the Templar. AC2 begins where the previous ends, but Desmond is freed by the assassins and they give him a new mission: Desmond must become a true assassin. How? It is revealed by his prison-breaker, Lucy, that using the Animus creates a “bleeding effect.” She explains that the bleeding effect allows the skills of his assassin ancestors to transfer to him by reliving their memories. This explains Desmond using “eagle vision” at the end of the first game. But Altair’s story is done, and Desmond must learn more techniques from another. This time, Desmond must take the role of another assassin ancestor named, Ezio Auditore de freakinglongname, during Renaissance Italy.
You live Ezio’s life literally from the beginning, and even run the streets as a young man. Rooftop escapades, brawls in the streets, and a forbidden love affair, manifests Ezio’s fiery devil-may-care personality. Ezio is a strong contrast to the cold and silent Altair, whom many gamers felt little connection with. As the game progresses, we see Ezio personality change; the weight of his assassin heritage turns him a little darker and colder as time passes, making him a believable character that gamers can really care about. In fact, Ubisoft does an admirable job with many of the important characters that appear throughout the game, many of which have been taken directly from history itself. Lorenzo ‘de Medici, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Leonardo da Vinci all make appearances throughout Ezio’s quest. The characters are cast very well and Ubisoft’s decision to cast Leonardo da Vinci as an excitable, high-spirited partner to Ezio is perfect. In AC2, Leonardo plays the role of inventor to Ezio (much like Q to James Bond), building weapons and other assortments for him to use.
You start in the city of Florence but you will not be there for too long. The original Assassin’s Creed gave you three cities to travel to and explore. AC2 gives you five areas to explore, each with variable sizes. Most cities you travel to are smaller in scale to the ones in the first game, but the last city you reach, Venice, is enormous; climbing tall buildings to look around the incredible floating city impressed me every time. A major difference that separates the environments to that of the original is how much the towns in AC2 vary to one another. Florence is a medium-sized city with few towers and many buildings of average height. Tuscany is even smaller but has huge farmland surrounding it. Venice is a city on the water that has many high buildings to climb and watery canals to swim or boat across. Visiting a new city was an exciting moment for me every time and I eagerly anticipated what each city had in store.
The second area you visit in the game is Ezio’s family villa, run by his uncle, Mario (its-a me!). After a few missions, you are given charge of restoring the battered villa back to its original splendor. AC2 brings the necessity of earning cash (Florins) as award for completing missions. Paying to fix the villa, increases its worth, bring in more traders and earning you more money in the process. Basically it follows the old saying, “you gotta spend money to make money.” Rebuilding the many shops and dilapidated buildings of the villa will steadily increase your cash income, allowing you to purchase top tier items to help you on your quest. Yes, that’s right. AC2 brings the welcome addition of shops that will allow you to buy weapons, armor, medicine, treasure maps, and more. As the story progresses, more powerful items will become available to you in shops. They start off simple such as a long sword and leather armor, but soon you will be able to purchase stronger swords and tougher armor giving you speed and strength in combat with plenty of defense to spare. You can also purchase different types of weapons to suit your style. These include maces, war hammers, and weapons to improve hand-to-hand combat. There exists a secret armor to discover somewhere in AC2. Can you find it? There is also a clothing shop that can dye Ezio’s clothing a different color. So if you ever grow tired of the standard white, why not go for a charcoal/red look? Or maybe you want the light brown flair of Venetian Wine? Each town offers different styles to choose from. There are also art shops that allow you to purchase fabulous Renaissance art to decorate your villa, plus treasure maps to hunt for hidden chests full of florins just begging to be taken. The addition of shops to the Assassin’s Creed universe is a very welcome change. The ability for players to shape Ezio into the assassin of their choice makes the game a more personal experience, allowing for some mildly different experiences for each player.
One complaint about the previous game is that it often felt too linear. This is no longer the case with AC2. After some story progression, the game lets you loose to continue the game at your own pace. You have quite a few side missions to complete along with the main quest. You can complete assassination missions, races, build up your arsenal, hunt treasure, look for hidden feathers (there are 100 total to find), or fix up the homestead. Unlike the first, Assassin’s Creed 2 achieves real sandbox gameplay offering you a lot of stuff to keep you occupied; at times I even felt there was almost too much to do and if you believe what is written during load times, AC2 sports nearly 200 missions, half of which are side quests. Prepare some extra time to play Assassin’s Creed 2. It took me over 24 hours to complete the game, and I still had a few more side missions to complete.
There really is not much I could say about the storyline without giving away any important elements. The overarching story of the Assassin’s Creed series is riddled with the plot twists and secrets of an expertly woven conspiracy novel. So instead of risking an accidental leak, I’ll just say that Assassin’s Creed 2 is a great story that leaves you guessing until the end; an end which, of course, will leave with more questions than answers, making the way for the inevitable third chapter. The plot progression is near- perfect, only slowing down slightly near the middle before picking up again. Once you begin to feel a little too familiar with the area you’re in, you soon get transported to a new town to explore, filled with its own secrets and, like I said above, completely different than what you have experienced prior to entering it.
Desmond thankfully takes more of a backseat during the game. In the previous title, plot progression felt broken with the sudden halting to gameplay as Desmond is taken out of the Animus to wander around in a confused circle before being plugged back in. Players will take the role of Ezio for 90% of the game, pausing only once to allow Desmond to take a break and practice his quickly growing assassin skills by climbing and leaping in a training facility.
The story of AC2 takes place over the course of 20 years of Ezio’s life. However, you don’t play every moment of Ezio’s existence; instead, you only get to play through the more interesting moments of his life, namely, the major assassinations. The decision to do this is fine, but it comes with a strange problem I couldn’t help but to notice. Jumps in time are usually only 1-3 years that will immediately occur right after the final target is dead. However, the time in the game seems to have progressed very little. The main characters still look exactly the same—even later in the game when the time since the start has progressed nearly 20 years—and they seem to converse as if no time has passed at all, except by Ezio who speaks of the years that have passed. Sometimes information that Ezio is looking for is given to him after the time change which leaves me wondering: why didn’t the information get to me before the change? Another example is when I saved the life of a major character and then killed his attacker, only to move through time then get back to him to hear him thank me for saving his life. He then proceeds to offer Ezio a reward for his efforts. This makes no sense. Why does he thank Ezio for something that was finished nearly two years prior to this moment? Why couldn’t he offer the reward back then? The time progression is a good idea, but very awkward in its execution which happens several times and helps to break the moment. Beyond that issue, the storyline is well-structured with appropriate plot pacing and fascinating characters and the end will leave you in high anticipation for an explosive finale for the third title in the series.
The gameplay in AC2 remains similar to that of the original, offering only slight improvements to the game mechanics. The fighting engine still makes use of the counter kill move where you wait for the opponent to attack, then deflect the attack and administer the killing blow. Jumping across rooftops and climbing has been improved making travel across areas faster than ever. The only main issue I had with moving over rooftops is that, as you run, the camera will focus itself behind Ezio’s back. This makes it so you can no longer see what is directly ahead of you. Several times I found myself leaping gracefully onto nothing, landing into a large crowd of people who probably just crapped themselves. Having to slow down just to check at surroundings slows down the game immensely. The same thing happens when going full speed on horseback. Except the camera then hovers above Ezio, forcing players to stop or slow down every so often in order to find out what is ahead of them.
In addition to smoother gameplay, you are given new ways of fighting enemies. Unlike the previous game, you can now use your hidden blades as offensive and defensive weapons. You are also given the ability to take an enemy weapon and use it against him. This is especially helpful against larger enemies who have powerful weapons that you cannot parry. The best option would be to take their weapon away, and kill them quickly as they stand there confused and, hopefully, a little regretful. There is another type of enemy that uses a long halberd as a weapon. His reach will keep you at a disadvantage, and it is impossible to parry his attacks. The best option for these foes is to take their weapons, then, well, give them back. Heheh.
The ability to have two hidden blades now instead of the one is a very welcome addition. I giggled like a little girl every time I was able to take down two guards at once either by jumping down from a ledge to them or, my favorite, to simply walk up completely nonchalant and give a couple of guys a warm high five. With knives. Through the neck. God, that never gets old!
Ubisoft also included some Sam Fisher-esque killing moves you can perform such as killing a guard while hanging on a ledge and killing a guard while hidden in hay then dragging the body in with you. The latter is a great way to hide corpses in case you’re worried about getting caught.
With all the areas you get to explore, the thought of having to travel everywhere by foot or horseback would quickly conjure up bad memories from the first game. Thankfully, you are granted an option for quick travel in between all the places in the game. There will no longer be any boring ass traveling for 10 minutes at a time, unless you want to of course; the option lies with you but I have no doubt that you will be thankful for it after you discover all five areas.
Another welcome improvement is the way the guards react to your presence. In the first game, running quickly through crowds or going faster than a low trot on horses could send a half a dozen guards chasing after you–obviously pissed off at you for breaking the medieval speeding law of three steps per second. Now the only way that guards will grow suspicious of you will be thanks to your newly implemented notoriety level. As you do bad things–pick pocketing, stab people, fight guards, and walk around with a bleeding corpse on your shoulder—a diamond-shaped meter at the top left of your screen will slowly fill up with red. When it’s full, guards will become more aware of your presence and give chance if you do anything else suspicious. You can remove notoriety by ripping down wanted posters, bribing heralds, and assassinating special targets. I thought this was a good way to deal with the fact that some people may begin to notice that Ezio is a walking death machine with a stab fetish. I did find it odd that some of the wanted posters will be posted high on buildings, where no person could possibly look at it.
Near the end of the first game, I remember how much I really hated that damn water area that I had to travel across by bounding on poles and boats. I hated it simply because Altair, super assassin, the terror of Islam, killer of hundreds of pathetic guards, couldn’t swim in water. Thankfully, Ezio is able to master the horror of this liquid foe with nary a misstep. He can swim slow, fast, and even dive under water in order to reach boats without being detected by his targets. Thank you, Ezio, for saving us the embarrassment of having to play as a fearful assassin who forgot to pack his water wings.
The biggest problem I had to face in AC2 was the AI. It is difficult to put into words how utterly stupid the guards in this game are. I mean, they can chase you across rooftops and through the streets easily enough, but basic problem solving? In more than one occasion I was able to assassinate a guard off a ledge while other guards just stood around in some happy stupor. At least in a Splinter Cell game (another Ubisoft title a may add), if I take down a guard, the other one wonders where his friend disappeared to. There are some towers in AC2 that has a patrol of two guards at the very top. Taking down one will not alert the other to the overly logical question: hey, where’d that other guy go? Don’t worry my friend, you will take that 30 story swan dive like your buddy soon enough. There are also moments where, hiding in the hay, I could kill a guard, drag him in, and then proceed to kill and drag five other guards making the same patrol. None of them ever noticed the loss of guards nor did they hear my blade plunge through metal armor and hear the guard’s amusingly confused scream before meeting his end.
The first Assassin’s Creed made its mark by being an absolutely beautiful game that featured enormous cities with expanding horizons stretching for miles around featuring detail that, all together, consistently took players breath away. AC2 continues that tradition providing highly detailed environments from expansive cities, to lush countryside and farmland to travel across. Like I mentioned above, each area is different; on top of cities, you visit farmland, wetlands, and the coastline of Italy. Every area is richly detailed and believable. Animations are top notch; Ezio climbs buildings with the grace and speed of an expert thief, and the fighting animations never stop amazing. I felt that the faces of some other characters looked a little odd at times, but that is the only complaint, if you can even mark it as one. Assassin’s Creed 2 is easily one of the best looking games of this generation.
The first thing I notice, beyond the graphics, is the music. I am a big fan of music in games and I quickly fell in love with the music in AC2 as I’m sure you will too. There is also really good ambient audio such as crowd noise, birds chirping, etc., which, used with the music, will suck you in before you even realize it. The voice acting is also very impressive throughout the entire game.
Assassin’s Creed 2 is the perfect example of a true sequel, improving the things the previous did right while fixing the issues that held it behind. The small issues in AC2 are all easily overshadowed by everything else the game did right. Assassin’s Creed 2 is a defining title for this generation, and for generations to come.
+ Intriguing story.
+ Incredible graphics.
+ Stunning environmental detail.
+ Great voice acting.
+ Excellent audio all around.
+ Plenty of things to do.
– AI can be really dumb.