What better way to start off the new year than with the review of a game that’s taken me the better part of the previous year to complete? Granted, that was no fault on Assassin’s Creed II‘s part, but rather my own lack of time. But now that I’ve officially graduated & with a new career looming (after a lot of paperwork), I’m trying to manage my free time better. If you recall way back when, I gave Assassin’s Creed an average score for some fun aspects that were bogged down by repetition & boring combat. Does the sequel fare any better?
Assassin’s Creed 2 picks up immediately after the events of the first game, with Desmond Miles making his escape from the Templar-run Abstergo with the help of the revealed mole Lucy. They meet up with a small group of Assassins who want Desmond to continue using the Animus to search his ancestral memories for clues about the Pieces of Eden. But this time, we relive the memories of Ezio Auditore during the Renaissance. Ezio is unaware of his family’s involvement with the Assassin Order until his father & brothers are betrayed & hung. After fleeing the city with his mother & sister, Ezio meets with his uncle, another Assassin, and while he cares little for the Order itself, he allows them to train him to be an instrument of vengeance.
Most of the controls are the same as in the previous game. Ezio can free-run around the world, climbing & leaping to your heart’s content. The main structure of the game is to complete the “memory sequences”, which send you on a variety of tasks, all eventually leading up to the planning & killing of specific conspirator. AC2 has done away with having to complete a certain number of side missions to unlock the main story, instead focusing on collecting Codex pages or raiding assassin tombs as the main diversion. You’ll unlock a variety of means to kill enemies, including poison & guns, as well as having improved the ability to stay anonymous during missions. AC2 also added a villa for you to manage, purchasing upgrades throughout the game to increase its value, which in turn gives you more money.
Narrative: Overall, I have mixed feelings about the story in AC2. Let’s focus on the good parts first. Firstly, Ezio is a much more enjoyable character than Altair. The game also did a good job of fleshing out the people who help Ezio along the way. They all had memorable parts to play, & I like that the game includes famous people from that time. Although I feel some of the effort was wasted on me, not being a history buff. But I do wish Ezio’s family had been more involved. After the first chapter, they’re just kinda there. The whole revenge plot is nothing new, but it serves its purpose. But in the end, I wondered why Ezio decided to join the order. True, he’s already been doing their work. But unless I missed something, Ezio never expressed a desire to get any more involved than taking revenge for his family. The whole thing with the Pieces of Eden didn’t really come into play until the last few chapters. But I will give the game credit for the ending of AC2. I liked the way the “creator” broke the fourth wall, almost speaking directly to the player, & the end sequence during the credits. However, for all that praise, I couldn’t help feeling the story meandered a bit. I just didn’t feel a sense of connection between the targets, at least not to some overarching plot. And I have a hard time buying any world-controlling organization conspiracy. So when all things are taken together, I’d say the story was average. Score: 3
Mechanics: AC2 improves on the gameplay mechanics from the previous title in nearly every way imaginable. There’s more variety in how you can kill enemies (although you don’t really get to use these on the main targets). Ezio also feels more agile, being able to execute assassination moves from different angles. Being able to pop out of a haystack on a guard is very satisfying. They’ve also improved on the blending mechanics. You can hire different groups to help you distract or kill guards. My personal favorite was to hire courtesans to follow me & use them to lure guards away from their post without a fight. You can also hire mercenaries & thieves, or throw money on the ground to create a mob of chaos. But the courtesans were the most useful, because they follow you, making it easier to tail targets. The missions also offer a lot more variety in tasks, lending to a more dynamic story. Sometimes you’re tracking messengers, or planting fake guards, or escaping on a carriage. It really mixes things up. I also enjoyed finding glyphs & tombs a lot more than the side missions in the first game. Other minor improvements include Ezio being able to swim & that you can run full-pelt without attracting attention. However, for all these improvements, the combat is still pretty bad. True, there’s more moves, like disarming guards & throwing sand to blind them, but most fights devolve into waiting to counter them, just like last time. And I have to complain about the button layout. Whether running or fighting, you end up holding the right trigger all the time. Combined with moving your thumb for the other controls, it’s hard to play the game for long periods of time without cramping. And while the villa aspect isn’t bad, it’s a bit useless. The regular income is nice to buy supplies you’ll need, but you get money for completing missions anyway, so there’s little benefit in upgrading it. I think it would’ve been better if the money just instantly went into your account automatically rather than having to go back every so often to get it (because your income chest has a limit how much it stores, thus anything gained above that is wasted). On a smaller gripe, I didn’t like the number of guards on the roofs. I get it’s so you don’t cheese the game by sticking to the roofs all the time, but it takes away a lot of the fun. To save time & hassle, I ended up just running around street level. Overall, these persistent issues held the gameplay back from being stellar. Score: 4
Aesthetics: Overall, the graphics are good. Especially when you’re on the rooftops, you get a good sense of scale from the game, & I really enjoyed the environments. However, some of the characters look blocky up close, and the model textures can be a bit flat. The music is the game is really good. It’s such a shame it doesn’t play all the time, though. The music only plays during missions or cutscenes, not during the regular overworld. Still, the game’s soundtrack is very nice & I think it fits well with the atmosphere. In fact, I’m listening to it while writing this review. Score: 3
Replay Value: Below average. I don’t see much in playing the game more than once, since nothing changes. And besides, after you finish the story, you’re dropped back into the Animus, so you can mess around, going after any achievements or whatnot you didn’t pick up during your normal playthrough. Score: 2
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: Assassin’s Creed II improves on the previous game in nearly every way, but still has enough flaws to hold it back from being truly excellent. The empty addition of the villa & the tedious combat are the greatest offenders. Still, it’s a fun action game with enough style & substance to appeal to even gamers who didn’t care for the first title.
Title: Assassin’s Creed II
Console: PC, PS3 & 360
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: November 17, 2009