DISCLAIMER: The following article does contain spoilers that may apply to the gameplay and overall story arc of Assassin’s Creed II. Be advised that by reading this article, you may ruin your experience playing through the game itself.
Despite having much critical success, many gamers denounced Assassin’s Creed for being a repetitive “grind-fest” with little narrative closure to offer. What’s that you say? You did as well? Well, perhaps the time has come to shed those deep-seeded feelings. Enter Assassin’s Creed II. Ubisoft have offered up the sequel to their 2007 hit(which has sold 8 million copies to date) nearing the cessation of the holiday release window. Ultimately, you are likely to ask, “Why should I attempt to partake of a franchise in which I disliked the debut?” Simply because Assassin’s Creed II truly bests it’s predecessor in practically every way.
The first installment in the series was set in dual time periods: Desmond Miles(Nolan North), a kidnapped bartender in the year 2012, is forced to relive the existence of his ancestor, Altair, in the Middle East during the Third Crusade. Upon the first forty-five minutes of gameplay this time, it is come to be known that Desmond is to become the central “behind-the-scenes” character of Assassin’s Creed II as well. The cute and smart Lucy Stillman(voiced by actress Kristen Bell) reprises her role, but the player quickly realizes that she has much more of an “edge” to her character. Uttering a few four-letter obscenities, she springs Desmond for the evil clutches of the Templar corporation, Abstergo, leading to the conclusion that she is in league with the Assassins.
Lucy and Desmond.
Once the man with the world’s most sought-after DNA is secured in the safehouse, he soon discovers that the “good guys” have their own model of the tech used to decipher these “memories”- the Animus 2.0. Why is Des so willing to slip back into the chair? It would seem that Altair is not Mr. Miles’ only ancestor associated with the Assassins. Ezio Auditore de Firenze, a rough-and-tumble young man hidden under the cloak of being a nobleman’s son, happens to be Desmond Miles’ next inhabitable patriarch.
In contrast to the prior game, Ubi shows forth an extremely methodical and well-paced narrative throughout the entirety of Assassin’s Creed II. Each mission makes sense because, even though the player is using the same mechanics for most of the journey, numerous objectives and elements are introduced from beginning to end. But gameplay structure is NOT what keeps the title fresh for a majority of the 25+ hours you might spend with it. The development team achieved something special in the connection the player is drawn to make with it’s main protagonist. Simply by drawing back the white Assassin hood once every few hours and adding facial hair as time passes(years DO go by as the story progresses), Ezio becomes much more human than Altair ever was.
The control scheme is pretty much the normal faire that one familiar with the first title would expect, but with one rather large addition: the selection wheel. Akin to something a la Mass Effect or Dragon Age, the wheel is the only manner in which to make sense of the numerous gadgets Ezio amasses along the way. Left on the directional pad(which used to be the dagger) is now replaced with single-dose medicine. Yes, that’s right! Gone is the set amount of health as self-healing is now possible. Other than these changes, traversing the world is almost identical to Assassin’s Creed, but it’s been given a shot in the arm. Ezio climbs faster and, around the midway point of the game, he learns a “leap” addition to his climbing skill, eliminating the ever-present possibility of having to find the specific path of scalable objects.
“I sure could use that weapon. Thanks!”
Remember how vanilla and uninteresting the combat felt two years ago? It would seem that the development team payed attention to the fact that spamming counters was AC’s “insta-win” button. It feels much more tactile this time around- each button press really seems to correspond with in-game movements. One new component brought on-board is the ability to disarm your foes while engaged in unarmed combat. Nothing is more satisfying than pilfering an enemy’s polearm, then turning him into an armored shish-ka-bob.
Of course, every “public” kill or assassination adds to the gauge of yet another new element- the Notoriety Meter. Once the outer ring of the meter fills, Ezio becomes “notorious”. With this status, guards are aware of(and sometimes seems like expecting) your every move. Luckily, there are ways to reduce your newfound and unwanted fame: tearing down wanted posters cuts small chunks, but if you are in a hurry, simply pay off a few town criers and you may carry on as you see fit.
“How many guaranteed kills on used weapons?”
As if all of these new ingredients were not enough, Assassin’s Creed II also boasts a monetary system. Treasure chests are sprawled out across the landscape and merchants wait with baited breath as they heckle you to loosen your purse strings. Once Ezio discovers the family Villa, it is up to him to revive it from it’s run-down state. Doing so nets you merchant discounts and incoming revenue, making play that much easier. It is a great addition, but once the surface is scratched, it’s lack of depth becomes apparent.
But what about the graphics, you ask? Assassin’s Creed II sports a graphical engine that improves over it’s forebearer in look and scope. The only niggle here is that, while increasing the size and height of each city/location, fogging is a bit more apparent to the eye. The textures are beautiful, placed correctly, and amazingly, there are many types of them on several different structures. The recreation of Italian locales must have been a painstaking process as each landmark is almost it’s real-world doppleganger. These famous buildings are not just placed here for your parkour pleasure, though: some grant you the ability to explore inside.
If your love for Assassin’s Creed as a series began with interest in titles such as Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia, you will find even more diamonds in the rough here. There are six optional Assassin tombs(plus a few Templar strongholds) that are the inner havens to the landmarks described above. These are more physically puzzle-based rather than combat-focused(although there may be guards present). There are timed switches by the boatload, advanced techniques are needed to progress, and if Ubisoft is smart, the sections will be more fully integrated into the last installment.
“Can we chat a bit before you expire?”
With as many innovative progressions as have been made in ACII, one thing was conspicuously absent- “glitches” in the cutscenes. Simple button presses corresponding to screen flashes would allow the player to watch it for a fresh angle. Also, after a satisfying assassination, these semi-quicktime events gave the opportunity to view the dead mark to pace back and forth, all the while revealing pieces of the plot. It definitely helped to prevent yanking the player out of the action. This needs to make a return in the future.
This article is the first in the Platinum Retrospective Review series, so how could it not culminate in trophy discussion? Assassin’s Creed II should be the shining example on how do implement trophies(and achievements) correctly. Silvers for completing each chapter, a Gold for completion, and various Bronzes for physical accomplishments. Most are earned simply by finishing the main story, but three to four hours on the back end can net you a really satiating Platinum. MAKE SURE THAT YOU ATTEMPT THE TROPHY FOR “FLY SWATTER” AS YOU ONLY HAVE LIMITED ACCESS TO THE FLYING MACHINE. Ubisoft has also setup their own rewards system entitled “Uplay”. Certain actions can offer your choice of reward. The player can spend their points not only on this games, but future Ubi titles as well. Items extended to you are themes and DLC, among other things- yet another worthwhile augmentation.
In summation, the latest installment in the Assassin’s Creed franchise is improved in voluminous manner. Aside from a few extremely limited detractions, ACII markedly ups the ante and shows that the series has been prepared to ascend to the realm of AAA titles. A large part of this is thanks no doubt to the growth as well of the soundtrack’s composer, Jesper Kyd. The series can now be considered among the greatest of the industry. The Assassin’s Creed is simple: “Nothing is true; everything is permitted.” Apparently, Ubisoft took those words to to heart.
SCORE: 94 out of 100