A few days ago I was sat in Ubisoft’s Montreal studio checking out Assassin’s Creed 2, the sequel to their biggest and fastest selling new IP to date. After falling in love with the original Assassin’s Creed, even with its few repetitive flaws, I was pretty hyped to see how they would sculpt the next. Sitting in front of a near final version of the game, which is due to release on the 20th of November, I played the first few hours of one of the biggest action titles to release this holiday.
Assassin’s Creed 2 quickly recaps on the previous game, after some rather dramatic developments with Desmond and Lucy over at Abstergo Laboratories you are thrust back in Desmond’s DNA memory to the renaissance period, meeting the charming new assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze.
The first feeling you’ll get from Assassin’s Creed 2 is how dramatically the tone changes story wise. One minute you are enjoying the comedic side as Ezio charms the ladies and discusses vaginas with his mother (seriously), the next you’ll be witnessing a rather heavy scene where half of his family are killed. I can’t say I was happy with the differences from the start, Assassin’s Creed was a rather serious and realistic title and it felt weird to see the sequel take a different approach. There are some good moments though, and after a few missions I got used to the change.
Regarding the mission structure, Assassin’s Creed 2 has tried to make the whole experience less repetitive by introducing more mission types and a whole horde or new content to explore. Of course you will have the high climbs to explore the area, a feature that still blows my mind on how beautifully detailed the construction of the maps really are, but along with that you have more collecting, upgrading, shopping and such. Assassin’s Creed 2 has certainly fleshed out enough story wise while still remaining an obsessive collector’s dream boat.
Introducing some mild RPG elements, you can upgrade Ezio’s armoury by heading to the stores. Purchasing new armour upgrades and weapons which can be used and equipped in the menu. No longer will you be spending hours pick pocketing big thugs for throwing daggers, you can now quickly purchase a few.
My personal favourite addition would be the villa you acquire from Mario, Ezio’s uncle, which you start to upgrade throughout the game. It is mainly about pouring money into the town the villa is situated in, getting more tourists and cleaning up the place. You pay an architect to improve the buildings around as well as open stores; this unlocks more things to do in the game as well as some interesting upgrades for Ezio.
Other additional content included secret rooms and finding of digital hieroglyphs, which were input into Ezio’s world from someone in the future. Finding the hieroglyphs unlocks milliseconds of a video dubbed “the truth”, I only managed to find two during my time with the game and I am already desperately wondering what the 3 seconds of footage I unlocked really meant. Secret rooms on the other hand are drop down areas on the map that are marked by the Assassin’s Creed logo. Dropping down into one of these offers up a small environmental puzzle, once completed you can gain money and items. Some of the items found in these rooms contribute to gaining ultimate armour later in the game, so it is worth checking them out.
Like the last Assassin’s Creed, free running still works well. You control Ezio just as you did Altaïr, but these cities are quite different, which means you can’t just run from one side of the city to another easily. I would say that AC2’s environment was more challenging to travel around, defiantly not a bad thing though. I found that if I got spotted by guards in the original I would just jump up to the roofs and run out of sight, this time I had to be a bit more careful as to where I went and how. Guards a lot more aggressive this time around, and comparing to the last game, they are more willing to chuck rocks on you and bring you down.
Don’t worry though; hired help is always at hand. With money being quite a big influence this time around, Ezio can pay NPC groups to lend a helping hand. Groups of thieves will usually hang out in roofs, paying them will make them follow you around where most other NPC’s will not. They will attack on command and generally do their best to protect you; mercenaries will do the same job on the ground. There are even groups of prostitutes who can distract guards out of doorways, allowing you to gain entry. They also provide crowd cover when you need to remain hidden, which seems to have replaced the rather frustratingly slow monk cover the last Assassin’s Creed had. Any group of people walking around can offer crowd cover and this is activated by standing in between groups of people and a small area around you turning black and white.
When you are spotted and attacked by the guards then combat follows the same rules as the last game but with a few extra twists. This time around if you remove your weapon and use fists you can disarm guards and use their own weapons against them. The most satisfying would be when a large axe wielding guard heads your way, they are quite tough to beat, but stealing their weapon from them takes the fight into your favour. Battles this time around have a little more flamboyance, and with a little help from your good friend Leonardo da Vinci, you can pull of some really cool assassination moves. Once I upgraded to my double hidden blades, running around and taking out random guards was a real pleasure. Actually, just pulling guards off of ledges was good fun too!
Assassin’s Creed 2 did a good job introducing the core gameplay tutorials without pushing too much at the start. Even after 3 hours, the game was still teaching me new things to do and there was still plenty to explore. While I only managed 2 assassinations, the ‘in-between’ gameplay no longer feels broken up into missions and murdering but more like chapters of an ever progressing story. There is certainly a lot of evolution from the last title, not only graphically but with story wise and technically. No obvious issues were spotted, only a charming, interesting and damn right addictive game coming to eager gamers this year. I just hope people can see past the last games issues and see that Ubisoft have given this relatively new IP a breath of fresh air.