Assassin’s Creed II (Playstation 3 [Reviewed], Xbox 360, PC)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Genre(s): Open World, Action-Adventure, Stealth
Released: November 17, 2009
ESRB Rating: M – Mature
Assassin’s Creed II is a perfect example of what a sequel should be and what a sequel should do. The first Assassin’s Creed game was good (it earned a 7.0 in my review of it), but disappointing because of how repetitive it was and how there wasn’t a lot to do in it. Even the Desmond stuff in that game was boring and slow. Assassin’s Creed II on the other hand took the foundation that was laid down with the first one, and built an amazing game on it. Practically every issue I had with the first game was removed with this sequel. Assassin’s Creed II is truly bigger and better in every possible way.
If you haven’t gotten into the series yet, you should still start with the first one. This game picks up literally where the first one leaves off, as far as the main story and protagonist is concerned (Desmond Miles). Outside of the Desmond stuff though, this is a totally new experience. Our setting has changed from 12th century Holy Land to 15th century Italy, and we get to know our new Assassin hero, one Ezio Auditore da Firenze, from a very young age… birth.
Again, the Desmond stuff is the main story arc of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and his story is the one that binds every Assassin’s Creed console game together, and yes his story pushes forward in a big way this time around. However, the meat of the game revolves around Ezio’s story, and unlike the first game, there’s an actual story to the ancestor whose memories you’re reliving. There’s actual character development here as we cover some thirty years of Ezio’s life, from seeing him been born, to fighting as a teenager, witnessing a horrific scene, to eventually becoming a master Assassin.
In Assassin’s Creed, Altair came across as dry, egotistical, and even a little whiny, and as such we were never given a real reason to care about the character. In Assassin’s Creed II, you’ll actually like Ezio and have a reason to care about him and his story. Ezio is everything that Altair isn’t. He’s humorous, charming, a family man, and generally comes across as a nice guy (well to most people). He even dresses better, fights better, and climbs better. Oh, and Ezio can swim, which is kind of a big deal. At certain points in the game, he can even fly.
The game itself looks better too, as you would expect. The first game looked great, but given the time period and location, their was a definite dullness to it colorwise (a ton of gray), but that’s not the case here. The Renaissance is in full swing and the Italian cities you explore are full of color. Colors are popping here and it adds a lot to the visuals; there’s even carnivale going on with fireworks and everything. The Holy Land cities in the first game were packed with characters, but every city you’ll encounter in this game truly feels like a living city that you’re getting to run around in.
The best change made is that you no longer have to do investigations to finally get to your assassination target. Instead it’s actually story based this time and will make sense. You start off on a revenge path, and while you ultimately stay there the whole time, in the process you’ll come to take on a better understanding of your purpose and the role you play within the Assassin’s order. The events of old are still there, mostly, albeit refined and optional. Side quests include races, assassination contracts, courier missions, and beating people up. Basically, there’s just a ton more stuff to do in this version opening the game up to a lot of variety and you’ll easily be able to sink many hours into the game even after you wrap up the main story.
Assassin’s Creed II adds a lot, and all for the better. Ezio is able to have two hidden blades, which makes for some really sweet double assassinations (and some cool punch style kill animations). He can also more easily blend to hide from guards. Ezio doesn’t have to walk with monks or walk slowly like a monk to blend, instead he can blend with any group of pedestrians and he even hire factions to help him slip past guards. The courtesans are my favorite, with them you can easily distract the guards and watch as they act like idiots in front of the pretty girls. There’s also thieves and mercenaries you can use to distract/fight the guards. Ezio can also jump climb, which allows him to scale buildings more quickly and a lot more fluidly than Altair could. Ezio can even perform a higher range air assassination which is visually impressive and always satisfying.
My favorite addition to the game is actually mostly secondary, but still worthwhile. Assassin’s Creed II adds an economy to the series. You’ll earn/steal/find money that you can use to hire any of the above mentioned factions, purchase new armor and weapons, buy medicine and poison, and even art and new colors for your attire. And if you’re like me you’ll purchase every weapon, piece of armor, upgrade, and art in the game. All of these purchases increase the value of your family villa, Monteriggioni.
When you first arrive there, Monteriggioni is a ran down place. By the time you finish, you’ll have transformed it into a great looking little town. The better you upgrade the villa and increase its value, the money more you’ll make from the villa. There are stores to open and upgrade, and several different buildings to renovate and/or reopen. This economy only further adds to the amount of stuff to do in the game, and fully upgrading the villa is satisfying as it allows you to make a ton more money but also to see how Ezio is having a positive effect at least on one place important to him and his family.
Some environmental puzzle platforming has even been added in the form of Assassin’s Tomb. These are hidden locations, either underground or in side buildings, that you’ll have to navigate your way through by climbing and jumping, solving little navigational puzzles, and at times having to do so in a hurry. There’s also guards roaming around for you to take out, and once you make your way into the Assassin’s lair, you’ll be greeted with several treasure chests and a tomb that you can open to grab a legendary Assassin’s seal. There are six of these tombs, and gathering all the seals will allow you to unlock Altair’s armor from the sanctuary in Monteriggioni. Some folks may not like these little platforming puzzles, I for one love them, but they’re worth doing as the armor you get as a reward is the most powerful armor in the game giving you a ton of sync points (or health if you prefer).
Of course you don’t really need a lot of health in this game. The combat has been made extremely easy, as Ezio is able to better counter kill and even disarm his enemies to use their weapons against them. Even if you get hit a few times, you’ll likely have some medicine on you that will instantly restore most, if not all, of your health. Basically, you’ll rarely die from combat in this game. If you die, it’s more than likely going to be because you fell from to high a spot while trying to make a jump. Fans of hard games, this isn’t going to be up to your standards as Assassin’s Creed II makes combat a breeze (though it flows smoothly and the animations look great). It’s a lot easier than the combat in the first game, which itself wasn’t overly difficult by any means.
There are no flags to collect in this game, but there’s still plenty of things to collect and/or find. For starters there’s the aforementioned weapons, armor, and art. Each time you buy one of those items, the value of Monteriggioni goes up and your villa hideout displays all of your purchases for you. The art you buy will grace the walls of the villa, while the armor and weapons will be gracefully displayed. Interacting with the displays is also how you re-equip a weapon or some armor. The main thing to collect this time around is feathers, the reason for which is explained in the game. Collect all 100 and you’ll be treated to a touching cut-scene and you’ll get your family’s cape… Which will cause you to be notorious (i.e. hunted by guards) in every city outside of Monteriggioni.
As you wander around the beautiful cities, you’ll also come across some strange glyphs on the sides of buildings. These glyphs are part of the Animus, left behind by your predecessor, Subject 16. Standing in front of a glyph with Eagle Vision on will trigger a puzzle. These puzzles can range from cracking a code, to figure out what certain famous paintings have in common, to turning tiles to form a clear picture in true puzzle fashion. Each glyph you solve unlocks a video file in a series called “The Truth.” These don’t look like much until you solve all 16 glyphs, then you’re treated to a doozy of a video that reveals the truth. I won’t spoil anything, well much considering the game’s been out for three years at this point, but the truth has to do with Adam, Eve, and an apple (otherwise known as a Piece of Eden). Do take the time to track down all of these glyphs and solve the fun (and sometimes difficult puzzles), as the Truth is well worth it and it really adds some depth to the backstory of the Assassin’s Creed universe and what is to come.
In addition to all of that, there’s also a megaton of treasure chests to find and loot, and there’s some small statutes hiding in Monteriggioni that you should find and return to their proper place. And there are 30 codex pages to find. You’ll have to find these to complete the main game, but it’s well worth doing well before you get to that point as doing so will allow you to get some really cool and needed upgrades. Plus if you read these, they add to the backstory of the series as well.
As you can see, Assassin’s Creed II doesn’t skimp on the stuff to do department, although yes a lot of it is busy work and the side missions aren’t all that varied and once you’ve done one of each you’ve pretty much seen them all. I personally don’t have a problem with that, as there’s enough to do here where the repetition of the first game never even thinks about becoming an issue.
Like the original, Assassin’s Creed II is packed with real life historical figures. In your adventures as the fictional Ezio Auditore, you’ll encounter friends and enemies that are well known real folks of the time period. These include Leonardo de Vinci, Caterina Sforza, Niccolo Machiavelli, the de’ Medici family, the Pazzi family, and Rodrigo Borgia just to name a few. How you interact with these historical figures is still awesome, as adding these real figures to the conspiracy at large and the stunning recreation of the Italian cities truly makes the game a wonder, especially for history buffs (and I’m a big fan of history).
It’s because I’m a fan of history that I can forgive the ending, even though I do hate when games (although it happens more in movies) end the way this game does. If you know your history and dates, then you already know that Rodrigo Borgia, aka Pope Alexander VI, didn’t die during the time the game concludes in. So on that front, it makes sense that Ezio didn’t kill Rodrigo when he had the chance. I do hate endings where the good guy is on a revenge mission, slaughters countless people, and then lets the main villain walk away due to some moral lesson of being the bigger man and how killing the person won’t change anything.
Assassin’s Creed II does have a few issues, mostly clipping in animations and sometimes the controls are wonky to the point to what you’re trying to do isn’t interpreted right by the game and that isn’t good when it comes to climbing and jumping really high up. Some of the missions are even a little on the tedious side, resulting in little more than busy work to prolong the game’s main story.
All in all, the issues aren’t huge deterrents to an otherwise superb game. If you even remotely enjoyed Assassin’s Creed or the idea of Assassin’s Creed, then you should love this second one. Everything has been expanded and improved, and Ezio is such a better character than Altair was so its easy to get invested in his story. Even the Desmond stuff, which I found slow and boring in the first game, has been greatly improved and you’ll even come to start to care about Desmond too as he continues his journey to become a master Assassin himself.