You will not have seen feedback taken so seriously as it has been with Ubisoft’s giant new IP, Assassin’s Creed 2. Whilst the first game was received well, there were major complaints on the repetitiveness of gameplay. The forums were awash with discouraging speculations on the second title, expecting same gameplay with a new skin. I’m so glad they were wrong.
You see, I loved the original Assassin’s Creed. It mixed fun free-running gameplay, realistic environments, an actual good looking male protagonist and mystery wrapped storytelling, which left me hungry for more. Sure the game was repetitive but that was my only complaint. Assassin’s Creed 2 takes all these elements and improves on each one.
So the major change with Assassin’s Creed 2 is the main protagonist, who has switched from the delicious Altaïr ibn La-Ahad to the equally handsome Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Ezio is a young, charismatic, Italian nobleman from the renaissance period of which the game is based. We also see Desmond Miles a lot more this time around, taking a more active role in the game.
As you begin, you are treated to a quick reminder of what is going down with Desmond, Lucy and Abstergo Laboratories. You are also treated to some actual gameplay with Desmond, which was distinctly lacking in the previous Assassin’s Creed. One other major change with the Desmond sections is how infrequent they are in comparison. Previously you would be pulled out of the animus after each chapter. This time around you are only pulled out when there are actual story developments that require Desmond, which is more refreshing and keeps you constantly immersed.
While Altaïr’s role was a very serious one, Ezio brings the sequel some humour and fun. From starting boyish fights, protecting his sister and checking out the local ladies, Ezio exudes enough light entertainment to what would seem a rather serious affair. While the story is still a tragic one, as would be expected in the life of an Assassin, there is something for everyone. Adult humour, slapstick and iconic characters which lead the story further than just your generic action adventure title. Assassin’s Creed 2’s story telling has evolved, from how cut scenes are now more cinematic rather than focused and the assassinations themselves more dramatic.
Missions are no longer slumped into pickpocket or overhearing conversations, and with 16 new mission types, compared to the original 4. Chapters seem to flow by effortlessly rather than in blocks and repetitive objectives. This is the real selling point and reassurance that Assassin’s Creed 2 has honestly taken the consumer feedback to heart. It took me a while to even notice missions repeat and even then a lot of the missions are optional, meaning the story really pushes the assassinations and the characters rather than a mundane attempt at building up to the real objective.
Free running still plays a pivotal role in Assassin’s Creed 2. Set in 15th century Italy, you get quite accurate renditions of Florence, Venice, and the Tuscan countryside. As with the old game, sections of each area are cut off until you have completed story based objectives. The usual high points offer you an overview of the areas and it still feels as breath-taking as the first game. Getting rid of the flags, Assassin’s Creed 2 revolves around feathers for collection. With a smaller amount of obtain, but harder to find, the feathers actually go to grabbing some special things for Ezio rather than achievements. While I won’t tell you what you achieve from collecting them, they are worth the time and effort put in if you want to max out Ezio’s armoury.
Which leads us onto the rather RPG elements of the game. This time around, Ezio relies on new weapons and armour which can be purchased from stores. Each city will sell new weapons and armour to purchase, which can be damaged from combat and will need repairing for them to stay effective. Instead of increasing your health bar by synching with missions, it is increased by obtaining new armours and strength from weapons. Of course everything costs money in this world and there is no exception in Ezio’s world. Where do you earn money? Missions! It all comes full circle but you will notice that while money seems to be an issue near the start, by the end of the game you will be rolling in it. This is why there is no rush to buy all the best equipment near the start.
You won’t be spending all your money on upgrading your armour however. Money is used to hire courtesans who will distract guards, thieves who will protect you on the roof tops, mercenaries who will protect you on the ground, paintings, maps and the Villa. The Villa is one of the more interesting aspects of Assassin’s Creed 2. You start off with a rather crummy and unkempt Villa, a family heirloom. Here you will purchase upgrades for the town, such up improving the tailors or blacksmith to rejuvenating the well or mines. Slowly the town becomes more profitable, meaning more money is being spent and coming back to you. This combined with a whole plethora of collecting objectives from statues to paintings; add hours of additional fun gameplay to be had for the OCD collector.
Assassin’s Creed 2 also offers two additional gameplay features such as the secret rooms and glitches. Secret rooms are found by uncovering sections of the map, by syncing at high points, and usually contain treasures. There is a lot of money to be found in the secret rooms as well as plates which unlock the ultimate armour in the game. Rather than just be a small room to loot though, secret rooms offer more of an environmental puzzle to Assassin’s Creed 2. You are required to chase after guards through difficult conditions as well as reach areas before timed doors close off. If you ever do manage to get bored of the missions above ground, these are certainly there to feed your hunger for a more challenging platform experience.
Animus glitches are the other additional feature in Assassin’s Creed 2. Hidden on historical buildings and areas in each city, glitches are found by switching into Eagle Vision. They tend to be symbols that do not match with the current period Ezio is living in and each have a puzzle to solve. Once found you switch into a puzzle mode which requires you to match images, find hidden objects in pictures, solve riddles and so forth. If you successfully unlock the puzzle, you are treated to milliseconds of ‘The Truth’ footage, which is slowly unlocked as you solve more puzzles and find more glitches. This element brings more of Desmond and the team back into play, as they discuss and discover what it all means. Of course, none of it will make entire sense until Assassin’s Creed 3 rolls out.
Last but not least is the combat system, which honestly plays out pretty much the same as the first title with a few improvements. This time around, you can steal weapons from your enemies and use them against them. This can be done by countering them while not holding a weapon or by picking them up from the ground. There are more options this time around, double daggers let you kill two guards at once and it feels so satisfying when you pull it off. Poison tipped daggers can cause guards to go irate and kill targets or other guards for you. The gun giving you a ranged combat alternative, as well as warning guards away. Throwing knives can now be thrown in sets rather than just one at a time and there are more weapons to choose from for delicious victory. The combo kill animations look just as stratifying as they did in the last and Ezio has a more flamboyant battle stance which is enjoyable to watch. If you just don’t want to take on a bunch of guards however, and can’t run away easily then drop a smoke bomb for an easy get away or to take out each guard with ease.
Rounded up with a memorable soundtrack from Jesper Kyd, Assassin’s Creed 2 has not only lived up to expectations but has also raised the bar to how much quality and quantity of content makes a huge difference. You can easily put over 20 hours into Assassin’s Creed 2, the story is intriguing and starting to evolve and gameplay feels solid. You can see Ubisoft Montreal have really understood what they wanted from the series and are innovating in every way. If you are looking for an action adventure title this year, look no further than Assassin’s Creed 2.