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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
Assassin's Creed II is a vast improvement upon its predecessor, and delivers an engaging narrative with a heap of longevity.