Gamer Limit Banner
Avatar ImageGamer Limit Review: Assassin’s Creed II
By: | November 18th, 2009 | Xbox 360
Review |X360

ac2

Assassin’s Creed was probably one of the most polarizing titles in recent history. Fans praised its engaging narrative, robust free-running mechanics, and extravagant setting. Naysayers taunted its hit-or-miss combat system, and, most notably, its excruciatingly (and required) repetitive mission setup.

Is Assassin’s Creed II doomed to suffer the same fate as its predecessor?

Assassin’s Creed II picks up where the first game left off, with Desmond Miles: present day bartender, and member of a long line of family assassins. Through a contraption known as the Animus machine, Desmond is able to tap into his ancestor’s past life in order to uncover a secret that may threaten the world.

While the first game took place in the Middle East, Assassin’s Creed II places you in the shoes of a 15th century Italian, Ezio. The narrative takes an hour or so to pick up, but once it gets started, you’re in for a roller coaster ride. Normally, I would be turned off by an initially slow story-telling method, but it’s necessary in order to set up Ezio’s epic origin story. Rather than simply placing you in the shoes of a master assassin, like the first title, you actually get to see Ezio evolve from a common ruffian into a trained killer.

Ezio’s story of revenge spans over a decade, and you’ll no doubt grow attached to his wily charms. In the sequel, you’ll spend significantly less time outside of the modern world, in favor of seeing the world through Ezio’s eyes. Speaking of the modern day plot (or sub-plot, however you want to look at it), without spoiling anything, it’s much more interesting this time around.

ac1

It’s also apparent from the first time you enter Ezio’s world that the development team took much more care creating Italy than the first game’s Middle Eastern setting. In Assassin’s Creed, nearly every town looked identical: but in AC II, you’ll immediately differentiate Tuscany’s lush green countryside between the drab slums of Forlì and Venice’s beautiful canals. You’ll also get a history lesson for each area and character, viewable through the menu screen. Suffice to say, a lot of these will be educational, and an instant hit with history fanatics.

I’m also very pleased to say that AC II does away with the biggest problem of the original: repetitive missions. In the first title, the setup was always the same: pickpocket someone for information, beat someone up for information, eavesdrop for information, then kill the target. The missions here are extremely varied, to the point where nearly every mission is different, like it should have been in the first place. You’ll also find fun little roadblocks, like pickpockets who will chase you relentlessly on rooftops for your hard earned cash. But that isn’t to say the mission pace is perfect; it loses steam for an hour or so around the middle with a few stale races, and you won’t always feel inspired to complete every mission with a sense of urgency.

In addition to a more varied mission structure, your reasoning behind killing your assassination targets also makes much more sense. In the first game, you were constantly just doing as you were told, often not knowing exactly why your prey deserved to die. While it came together in the end, you weren’t really all that driven to kill them in the first place. This time around, Ezio chooses his targets carefully, and the narrative gives off a “Zorro-like” vibe, making the hunt much more satisfying.

ac3

You’ll also find yourself with more tools and options at your disposal. Need a way in to a compound? Feel free to throw a ton of cash in front of the main gate and cause a frenzy while you sneak around the side. Other acceptable courses of action include hiring some courtesans (prostitutes) to handle the guards or pay a group of mercenaries to attack the fort to cause an all-out war.

Tedious flags (the original game’s collectathon) are now gone in favor of chests, which provide you with lump sums of money. Other methods of increasing your income include looting enemy corpses, pickpocketing civilians, earning residuals from tourists to your estate, or simply questing. You can use your cash to buy new weapons, armor, and accessories, as well as upgrade your estate and restructure your home town to earn a little cash on the side.

Additionally, a heap of other problems from the first game have been mended. No longer are you required to constantly seek out tedious lookout posts; they’re now optional. Assassin’s Creed II also does away with the concept of a large mundane hub world.  Fast travel is now available, and it’s a very welcome addition. Thankfully, the maps are much more open and fluid, as opposed to the first game’s “poor, middle, and rich class” distinction.

Assassin’s Creed II focuses moreso on real landmarks, many of which you will recognize. Unfortunately, the only big problem that wasn’t fixed in the sequel was the occasional poor AI path finding when you’re being chased by guards. It’s a bit frustrating to have a guard fall off a ledge like an idiot and put a screeching halt to what otherwise would have been an epic chase.

ac4

Assassin’s Creed II’s story can be finished in around twenty hours, but even if you complete the game, there’s a heap of things to do. Not only will you uncover a hidden secret in Ezio’s world, but finding hidden glyphs can also unlock an optional real world riddle. Similar to Prototype’s “Web of Intrigue”, the more glyphs you find, the more insight you gain into the secret behind Eden. All of these extra quests (even the collectathon) are extremely fun, and provide actual rewards for your efforts.

You’ll also find a Tomb Raider-esque stronghold to play around in, and build up, as well as various shop upgrades, collectible feathers (that actually have a point, compared to the first game’s useless flags), and hidden statues that unlock a very exciting secret in Ezio’s family mansion.

Simply put, Assassin’s Creed II is a triumph of an action title, and Ezio is a one of a kind protagonist. Throughout the game’s narrative, you’ll grow with him, and most importantly, have a blast as a gamer.

Rating Category
9.5 Presentation
Despite the fact that the characters' facial animations aren't impressive, Italy never looked better - or more educational, for that matter! Fortunately, the level design is extremely varied this time around.
How does our scoring system work?
10.0 Gameplay
Assassin's Creed II gives you a whole host of goodies to play with. It features an improved combat system, and more mission variety than nearly any other action game on the market. Oh, and it's still a blast to parkour from rooftop to rooftop.
9.0 Sound
Ubisoft blends a perfect amount of English and Italian. While Italy's well-voiced residents will teach you a thing or two in their tongue, the game's soundtrack is underwhelming.
9.5 Longevity
Clocking in at about 20 hours of base gameplay, Assassin's Creed II is a fairly hefty action title. On top of this, you'll also have optional collectibles (which are much more fun to collect than the first game's flags), artwork, puzzles, estate management, one killer subquest after playing Cuest chain, and hundreds of sidequests/races. I didn't even think it would work, but Capture the Flag could have worked as an optional multiplayer component.
9.5 Overall
Assassin's Creed II is a vast improvement upon its predecessor, and delivers an engaging narrative with a heap of longevity.

  1. Awesome review. I seriously can’t wait to play this game. It’s been a long time coming.

  2. I love how you have to define “courtesans” for us laymen. Like we don’t know what courtesans are… (Simon.) ;)

    Looks like it sucks a lot less than the first one, however. That’s good to know! Might have to pick it up, after Dragon Age, and Uncharted 2, and Modern Warfare 2, and Borderlands, and Left 4 Dead 2… need more time in my days!

  3. Gah… looks like a great game. Nice review.

    I’m just wondering what to do now in my situation – I never played the original AC because of all the flaws people were talking about and the glitches that kept being posted up on youtube. It just seemed like a really janky game, but this looks a lot better. Wondering whether I should play a few hours of the first game before jumping into this or commit to beating it for the story, or just jump into this one off the bat. Decisions, decisions…

  4. Given how cheap it is now, Kowbrainz, don’t let everyone else’s opinion sway you. I thought AC1 was brilliant, never really cared that the investigation missions were repetitive.

    Also, I’m going to be up first thing in the morning to go and get AC2. I’m going to have to trade in a few beloved games for it because I’m poor at the moment, but I totally consider it worthwhile :)

  5. I have to wait til next week for my review copy to rock up. I’m pretty damn excited – it’s a potential game of the year contender for me.

  6. @Kow
    I really enjoyed Assassin’s Creed I, but I would STRONGLY recommend you look for it on PC. It fixes the biggest flaw from the first game, and makes it much more enjoyable.

  7. 9.5 GEEZ! Why the hell couldn’t some of these games come out in the summer when I was bored out of my skull? Now I have to fight addictions between MW2, AC2, DA, and L4D2

  8. Nice review Chris, pretty much every question I had was answered. I will be picking this up ASAP, but I’ve got to beat L4D2 first.

  9. avatar Jordan Garski

    I was one of the naysayers to the first Assassin’s Creed, the first game was extremely repetitive with a very bland rock-paper-scissors style combat system that got boring after the first hour or two of the game. On top of that completing the game with bar essentials and getting 100% completion of the game resulted in the exact same ending, a reward less effort for a lot of tedious tasks. It’s story, while well done in execution, wasn’t anything to call home about either, it was rather predictable to be honest. In short I’d say I had more fun with Dirge of Cerberus on the PS2 than I did Assassin’s Creed. Heck, I kind of thought AC1 was kind of a beta-test for the Splinter Cell Conviction engine.

    From looking at gameplay for AC2… the combat looks like the exact same rock-paper-scissors system as before, just spiced up and it sounds like the AI unchanged. I really want to like AC2, I really do, but as of right now this is a rental.

  10. @Komplex
    I agree! I frequent tons of other sites, and in the threads for all of the reviews you mentioned, people are saying things like “another 9.5?!”

    There’s just that many good games out!

  11. Great review Chris. The game must have been incredibly good for you to play through the entire thing so fast. I’ll be picking this up in a week or two, but I’m not sure how I’m gonna have time to play it considering I’m hooked on MW2 multiplayer right now. I did love the original though, so I’m going to make time at some point for it.

  12. Call me anal but I much appreciate you using the term “parkour” instead of “free run”. The prequel contradicted itself by referring to the A button action as “free run”.

  13. Just rented this a couple of hours ago. REALLY enjoying it.

    Never played the first and never plan to. Watching some videos and reading up online more than caught me up with the storyline.

    I might not realize the things they have fixed from the first but I think I can appreciate them just as much since they have done a lot of things right in AC2.

    If you haven’t played the first and just want to play it to get caught up on the storyline or get used to the controls, don’t kill yourself with repetitive gameplay just to experience it. There are websites that explain it and IGN has a quick 3 minute run through video of the story.

  14. @Jordan

    You are spot on. It is without a doubt a rental. Glitchy as all hell, terrible combat, and it is definitely repetitive.

    This game is no more than an 8 in my books.

  15. Weird. I didn’t encounter any glitches, and had no problem with the combat system: most of the time, I was just stealth killing anyway. I’m glad I bought it, as I have a lot of extra missions left, and will re-beat it in a month or so after I’ve played some Left 4 Dead 2.

  16. Combat system is just so bland to me.

    And glitches… oh lord. On more than one occassion I’ve had chase sequences glitch on me where the guy would climb up a building and get stuck on the edge of the building and keep running in place. Couldn’t kill him or anything.

    That happened on two different occassions and had to kill myself to redo it. Then on two occassions I found a shortcut to the sarcophagus for one of the tombs and JUST because I didn’t go through the ambigous, unmarked “checkpoints” I wasn’t able to finish it. Specifically it opened the window but wouldn’t let me interact with the window.

  17. The combat system, I would argue, is a completely different animal than most action junkies are used to (mashers such as Devil May Cry, Dynasty Warriors, Bayonetta), which is why some may dislike it.

    Whereas Batman Arkham Asylum’s “Free Flow” is a more action-oriented homage of Assassin’s Creed I’s combat system, AC II feels deeper, which will naturally appeal to different audiences.

    For instance, Arkham Asylum’s combat was incredibly easy (which was part of the draw for some people). You could just keep pressing the “Y” button constantly, and counter everything your foes would throw at you.

    It looked cool, sure, but AC II requires precise timing for it’s counters, and has a whole host of weapons to use (any number of the game’s 10+ swords, daggers, throwing knives, hidden cannon, and more) rather than just your fists. While Batman’s traditional allure is his fisticuffs; again, I feel AC II will appeal to a different audience.

  18. avatar Denton

    @Chris
    the way you describe gameplay in DMC (‘mashers’) and Batman AA (you could just keep pressing the ‘Y’ button constantly…) it’s clear you were terrible at these games.

    generally I appreciate when reviewers are, yknow, actually GOOD at the games they are playing and reviewing. I can see why you gave this game a 9.5 now. Thanks!

  19. @Denton
    I actually beat Arkham Asylum in 9 hours on Hard, with hardly any trouble, or any deaths.

    I’m saying theoretically, you could mash through it, meaning the combat system is not as deep as people think it is (it just “looks cool”). As far as Devil May Cry goes, I’ve beaten all of them on Dante Must Die, and at that point in the difficulty timeline, they’re not mashers. When I say “masher”, I mean on the standard difficulty (the only hard standard DMC game is DMC 3, non-special edition).

    You can easily beat every Devil May Cry (especially 2) by mashing, just like you could beat Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 by constantly using flying swallow, and the Bayonetta demo (again, on normal) using the double wave kick. They’re called exploits, and are fairly common in fast paced action games.

  20. avatar Anonymous

    As a casual gamer, I have to say this is one of the best I’ve played, for reasons already stated in the review. Glitches? I guess I’m not nitpicky enough to notice. The combat’s need for timing definitely kept me entertained. But what do I know? As a teen male, I only represent the primary demographic for video game marketing.

  21. This review is spot on in my opinion – the first game was great, but flawed, but this fixes many of the frustrating aspects of its predecessor. The combat system is brilliant – to someone watching it looks incredibly difficult, but simple timed combat sequences and counter-attacks are a piece of cake and loads of fun – to those who dislike it, you probably haven’t quite got to grips with the timing of combos and the countering of multiple enemies.

Leave a Reply