Assassin’s Creed was a huge hit for some, a massive fail for others. While I found great pleasure in roaming the countryside on horseback, picking fights with anyone who so much as looked in my direction. Others found it mundane and the sheer lack of variation in mission objectives tedious. Combat was also an acquired taste, as it’s slower and more methodical than simply running and gunning. There are no frag grenades to toss here. You’re taking dudes down one-by-one in hand-to-hand combat. Where Altair (the protagonist in the original game) fell flat, Ezio makes a bounding leap. In short, Assassin’s Creed II is a bigger and better game on every front.
The story picks up where the first game left off. A short cut-scene rolls and before you know it, you’re right back in the Animus. This time, assuming the role of a new hero – Ezio Auditore. In an effort to evolve Ezio and really put you in his shoes, you play a lengthy opening sequence that starts with Ezio’s birth. After a good hour and a half, something awful happens and Ezio is suddenly dawning his father’s assassin’s gear. He’s fuelled by rage and a thirst for vengeance, and starts to learn the ropes as an assassin from the guidance of his peers. Before too long, you acquire all the tools and skills needed to start kicking some ass. And kick some ass Ezio does!
Ahhh, That’s Better!
Assassin’s Creed II immediately feels different in regard to the way mission structure is handled. In the original game, the main goal was to assassinate a number of targets. Before you could take someone out, you had to perform a handful of small missions, which included pick-pocketing, eavesdropping, and that sort of thing. These tasks were repeated for each target, hence the common complaint of it being too repetitious. Ezio sort of makes things up as he goes. There is a main target in his sights, but he has to work his way up to him, and over the years his does just that. Ezio is not an assassin from the get-go. He’s a man on a mission to avenge his family’s honour. And along the way, gets pulled in different directions in order to help people for the greater good. Variations of the main mission types from the first game can still be found in Assassin’s Creed II. But they serve as side missions which will net you some extra coin and help to better learn the landscapes.
Get Comfortable, You’ll Be Here a While
After a couple good sessions with Assassin’s Creed II, my wife asked how I was liking it. As I was explaining all of the new elements that have been thrown into the mix, she stated, “It sounds a lot like Fable II.” That actually hadn’t crossed my mind, but she was right. Assassin’s Creed II brings many of the main gameplay mechanics that comprise Fable II. With currency being a factor now, the doors really opened as to what else Ezio could do with his time. Things like purchasing weapons, armor, medicine, poison, upgrades for your Uncle’s villa, paintings for your residence, and so on. There really is a lot to Assassin’s Creed II, but it never seems overwhelming. I finished my first play-through at 90% completion, and didn’t spend a whole lot of time micro-managing or other doing side quests that would take me off course. It’s all very manageable, and it’s all very fun.
One of my favourite new additions to the game, is the assassins’ tombs. Along the way, you find a great tomb that is missing 6 seals which allow you to unlock the ultimate prize. The seals belonged to assassins, and are now buried with them in tombs scattered through-out the various cities. Each tomb contains a different type of lengthy challenge. Some taking upwards of 45 minutes to complete. My favourites were platforming puzzles that were crazy challenging and extremely rewarding.
Tedious Traveling Be Gone!
Getting around is much easier and quicker in Assassin’s Creed II. There are many quick travel points in each city, which will get you to another city in an instant, for a small price. One of the big differences is Ezio’s presence in the cities, and how he handles himself. When you commit illegal acts, you become more notorious and guards will pay more attention to you. You can diminish your notoriety by ripping down wanted posters, silencing town criers, and assassinating meddling politicians. Ezio can also make himself scarce much easier than Altair could. There are far more civilians roaming the streets this time around, and Ezio can duck into a group and become one of them at any given time. You simply have to walk with them, and the guards won’t notice you.
Friends in Low Places
Ezio is not alone. He has a number of people he can call on when in need of some assistance. Courtesans (AKA, whores) and thieves are great at distracting guards, while mercenaries will go to battle for you. There’s also the option to throw change, which causes quite a commotion and attracts the attention of civilians and guards alike. I quite enjoyed having the option to avoid confrontation if I didn’t feel like high-tailing it out of a situation. Simply point some whores in the direction of the guards and sneak by. But then again, the double hidden blades are awfully fun!
This game is huge, and it will likely take 15-20 hours to get through the story, depending on how many of the side quests you do. Once you’re done, there’s always the side quests to go back to, and a few different types of collectibles to go after. Treasure maps can be purchased to help pin-point collectible locations, and of course viewpoints are your best way of finding objectives. Having completed the game, I still have dozens upon dozen of items in every city that I could easily sink another 10-15 hours into.
Assassin’s Creed II makes its predecessor look like a tech demo. It’s bigger and better in every way, and is in the running for one of my favourite games of the year, without a doubt.