Assassin’s Creed II, a third-person adventure game by Ubisoft, creates a beautiful, lush, deep world and gives you the unfettered freedom to play around in it. All games should be this fun to play.
You can climb buildings in seconds, dive off towers, assassinate guards and slip into the crowd unnoticed. You can run over rooftops with grace and ease and then jump onto an enemy with a quick tap of a button. You can hire mercenaries, thieves or courtesans to distract guards, making it that much easier to sneak up on your foe. You can pickpocket, swim, ride a horse, guide a boat and fight with an array of weapons that include daggers, swords, wrist blades, smoke bombs and throwing knives. While you’re running around, you might miss out on the extremely well-detailed recreations of ancient Florence, Tuscany and other iconic Italian areas. Go ahead, climb onto the Duomo. Jump over the canals in Venice. Or go art shopping in Monteriggioni. It's all in Assassin's Creed II.
Assassin’s Creed II, a third-person adventure game by Ubisoft, is a fantastic gaming experience not just because it gives the player the feeling of being an assassin, but because it creates a beautiful, lush, deep world and then the unfettered freedom to play around in it. All games should be this fun to play, as brilliantly realized, and as immersive.
The plot of the Assassin’s Creed series may be a bit confusing to those new the series. According to the game’s lore, there has been a secret war going on for centuries between the Assassins and the Templars, with the Assassins seeking to protect Pieces of Eden while the Templars hope to use them to control people.
In the first Assassin’s Creed, you start off as Desmond Miles, a modern-day bartender, but then you play as his assassin ancestor, Altair, in 1165 AD. A pharmaceutical company run by the Templars has taken Desmond prisoner. In one of Templars’ labs, Desmond is strapped into a machine called an Animus, which allows him to relive the memories of his ancestors. The modern-day Templars apparently are looking into Altair’s life to get clues to the location of the pieces of Eden. The game had a great deal of promise, but was marred by repetitive missions and a disappointing amount of things to do.
Assassin’s Creed II changes all that. Desmond has been freed of his captivity and now aids other assassins in their search for pieces of Eden. This time, he relives the life of his ancestor Ezio Auditore da Firenze in 15th century Italy. The game primarily is from the point of view of Ezio, whose father and brothers were betrayed and killed by the Templars. Through several cities, Ezio tracks down the members of the conspiracy and gets that much closer to unraveling the mysteries of Eden.
The Italian part of the game opens with Ezio running around the city, getting in fights with rivals of the family, and chasing women (and later, being chased by their angry fathers). Few games take the time to properly pace the story and draw you in, but Assassin’s Creed II does. While the primarily story-arc is about a boy who becomes an assassin and avenges his family, the historical context is much more interesting. The Animus II’s database provides background on all of the characters or places you encounter, and virtually all are based on real people or locations. During the course of the story, Ezio will get aid from Leonardo da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Caterina Sforza. Sure, History majors may laugh at the idea that a young Leonardo would fix assassin’s blades on the side, but such nods to a larger world surprisingly work in Assassin's Creed II.
We were also pleasantly surprised by the variety of the missions. There are approximately 200 missions to complete in Assassin's Creed II and about half of those are plot related. Side quests include assassinations, races, 'beat-up' missions and catching criminals. Even when you’re just assassinating people, there’s an open-ended element: do you sneak up onto the rooftops and jump down on to your target, or do you sneak in with the crowd and attack him that way? In between assassinations of the conspiracy members, you’ll have escort missions, platforming segments, rescue missions, and artifact collection objectives. Enzio’s uncle’s home in Monteriggioni serves as a base of operations and you can upgrade your cashflow (and the city) by buying famous works of art, investing in city renovation or upgrading your weapons.
At the game’s best, you’re running around the city’s rooftops, easily hopping from perch to perch, and then leaping into a seamless battle or quick kill. The controls are on the whole well thought-out, and we especially appreciated the improvement of the combat system from the first game. While Ezio can take out a group of soldiers, the more the numbers (and the better their weapons), the less likely he is to survive. Assassin's Creed II's AI is smart enough to block your attacks and strike when your back is turned, providing incentive to avoid the fight in the first place.
Still, there are some missteps. The previously discussed combat system works most of the time, but we had some responsiveness issues with the counter system and often found larger battles became predictably waiting games until our opponents let down their defences. Similarly, Assassin's Creed II's movement system is on the whole terrific and very intuitive save for those brief moments in your family’s crypt where you have to negotiate narrow caverns and encounter some camera issues.
Our biggest complaint was in moving between the different cities in Assassin's Creed II. While there are some spots to fast travel between the cities, they are few and far between. We wanted to keep returning back to Monteriggioni to collect the money we were owed and upgrade the city, but travelling there often took minutes and so we often didn’t bother.
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