Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is not Assassin’s Creed 3, but it would be folly to dismiss it as a cash-in of Assassin’s Creed II. Ezio Auditore da Firenze’s story is chronicled further in this fantastic opus as the conspiracy in the series’ modern era deepens. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is a game that introduces new elements, expands on the ones that already worked, and adds multiplayer to an already excellent single player. The result is easily one of the top games of 2010.
The story picks up directly after Assassin’s Creed II as the war between Assassins and Templars rages on in both the present and the past. In the real world of 2012 modern day Assassins Desmond, Lucy, Shaun and Rebecca elude the ever-persistent Templars of Abstergo Industries by hiding in the lone refuge of Villa Auditore in Monteriggioni, now a historic ruin.
After the revelations of the coming cataclysm Desmond enters the Animus to search for clues. Meanwhile, in Renaissance Italy, immediately after Ezio Auditore da Firenze’s victory over Rodrigo Borgia, Villa Auditore is attacked by his son, Cesare Borgia, and the Assassins are forced to flee. Ezio arrives in Rome, whose people are oppressed and brutalized by the ruthless Borgia family, devout Templars. Basing himself at Tiber Island, Ezio launches a new campaign against the Borgia regime.
What has always worked about the Assassin’s Creed games is that it’s easy to grow attached to characters explored through the Animus. Ezio’s story continues developing him as a character as events give him new external and internal conflicts to deal with. His battle for control of Rome with the Templars is fraught with conspiracy and conflict, and without spoiling it’s a thoroughly engrossing and well paced narrative. Ezio surrounds himself with both real and fictional figures of Roman history who are equally likeable from the moment Ezio and Machiavelli first walk around Rome debating the merits of human potential and reliability. Characters like the mysterious La Volpe or the familiar Leonardo da Vinci are as much an asset to the story as Ezio himself.
The weak end of the story is the arc concerning Desmond and the others. Assassin’s Creed games in general are developing a worrisome habit of being ambiguous just for the excuse of not telling us anything, and it’s only more apparent in the 2012-era arc of Brotherhood because of how many unanswered questions longtime fans probably have. While Ezio’s story culminates in a spectacular finale, Desmond’s story doesn’t bother to explain any of the bizarre phenomena or the questions raised in either prior Assassin’s Creed game. I’m glad that Ezio is given more screen time but Desmond and his allies don’t drive the story in any significant way by this point.
Let’s get back to the real reason why we’re here. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood takes Ezio to the city of Rome where the familiar crowd blending, graceful parkour, and stealth assassinations continue to shine. Rome is where you spend the majority of your time but the city is appropriately massive – three times the size of Florence from Assassin’s Creed II. There are subtle differences in the districts of the Vatican, Downtown, Tiber, Country and Antique: Narrow, clustered alleyways, wide open lanes of commerce, and expansive grassy areas with grand villas and historic architecture such as the Roman Coliseum. All lend themselves to different strategies and situations in missions or chases to elude Borgia guardsmen and it creates a unique feeling of diversity.
The attention to detail in Rome is stunning. The classical Roman architecture is filled with the hustle and bustle of people moving around and selling wares, beggars pleading for coins, and guards patrolling the streets, making Rome feel like one of the most vibrant and lifelike cities I’ve ever seen. Even in Ezio’s Tiber Island hideout the sight of little details like a pigeon in a cage meant for delivering messages illustrates the amount of effort that went into the city. The beautifully ambient soundtrack fits whatever you happen to be doing, be it serene leaps across rooftops or sprinting away from cavalry.
Brotherhood keeps its working formula but there have been some incremental tweaks to gameplay. Combat, always a sore point in Assassin’s Creed, is a little more fast-paced because enemies are more aggressive, leading to a more typical attack-block-counter formula rather than just standing around waiting to immediately do a block counter in Assassin’s Creed II. It’s still not a strong point by any means but it’s been refined since the original Assassin’s Creed. Leonardo da Vinci returns and faithfully provides Ezio with new inventions, and there are some new weapons. Horses are more integral to the game and can now actually be used for combat techniques and assassinations.
The main story alone would make Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood stand up on its own, but Ubisoft has gone above and beyond. One of the aspects of the titular brotherhood of the game is the new management system that lets you recruit and train new Assassins to strengthen the order against the Templars. You can customize your new initiates – who all have unique names – and send them on missions throughout Europe, which allows them to level up and grow stronger. Managing the Assassin Order in Rome is done strictly from menus, which was a wise idea. The gameplay still focuses on the free roaming elements that have characteristically made Assassin’s Creed great while making this new aspect fun without resorting to needless micromanagement. There’s a gameplay benefit to training new assassins as well. You can call your followers to your side and watch as they dispatch troublesome guards. The tactical applications to this are fantastic, and there’s a sense of pride in seeing the tangible results of work you’ve put into the system.
The villa-renovation from Assassin’s Creed II is also back on a much bigger scale. In addition to decorating your Tiber hideout you can spend money to rebuild the city of Rome, in disrepair due to the Borgia regime. Every monetary investment has a return: Repairing underground tunnels will allow you to use them to fast-travel, renovating shops will give you discounts and new items, and constructing guild buildings will allow courtesans, thieves, or mercenaries to aid you. There are more Borgia flags to find as well another set of special armor that can be obtained by collecting scrolls from underground puzzle-parkour areas. Side quests are much more involving and more diverse than they were in Assassin’s Creed II. There’s a notable quest arc that delves into Ezio’s past and an underground fight club in the mercenary guild, and this just scratches the surface. The amount of content available should you choose to pursue it is staggering.
One of the standouts of the litany of things to do is the Borgia Towers. Ezio has the ability to infiltrate Borgia-controlled chunks of territory, assassinate an officer, and subsequently light the nearby Borgia Tower on fire to free it from Borgia influence. What makes these so memorable is that they’re open-ended, flexible, and varying in difficulty. Planning out your route, monitoring your target, and slinking past unsuspecting guards is the stuff that great stealth games are made of and it’s done beautifully here. Even if you mess up so hard that your target escapes and the entire Roman army comes after you, all you need to do is wait until the next guard shift for the target to return.
Twenty plus hours of stellar single player makes Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood stand tall, but this time you can share in the experience with friends; the much hyped multiplayer is here. You can choose one of several available character “classes” who have unique weapons but are essentially all the same. Gameplay is split between four modes. Wanted is essentially a deathmatch where one player is given a target to assassinate, and other players must stop the would-be assassin. Advanced Wanted makes the target more difficult to stop. Manhunt features two teams of four, one team being the assassins, and the other team being the targets. Alliance has three teams of two assassins working together.
What makes the multiplayer of Brotherhood intuitive is that it relies on the same stealth and assassination that make single player great rather than resorting to full-on combat. The result is a vastly different experience than Call of Duty Black Ops or Halo Reach. The tension of being a hunted player will have you looking wildly around the city for any flicker of movement among NPCs, looking for any sign that your would-be attacker is about to strike. Similarly, in Alliance the thrill of carefully shadowing your target’s movements may go foul when you realize you’ve been marked by another team. It’s a deeper and much more tense experience that most multiplayer shooters can’t hope to match, and with a level up and experience system similar to the Modern Warfare series there’s always incentive to come back for more.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood outdoes Assassin’s Creed II after only a year. The dynamic, vibrant city of Rome, polished stealth gameplay, and immense amount of content mean are worthy of dozens of hours of enjoyment, and that’s not even taking the multiplayer into account. It’s gratifying to see a game that stands up on its own as a single player story before releasing multiplayer that’s equally fun. At this point Brotherhood is the culmination of Assassin’s Creed that raises the bar almost impossibly high for other contenders of the stealth genre.
Rome is a stunningly beautiful city, and everything from assassinations to parkour leaps to the daily bustle of Rome is artistic in its execution
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The stealth, parkour, and assassinations of Brotherhood have been beautifully honed. The game dabbles in enough extra content to be fun but not overbearing, and combat is even a little better
The soundtrack is stellar and voice acting continues to be superb all around. Shouts of guards that they see you, steel clattering against armor, and gunshots all sound crisp
The main story is at least fifteen hours but between the side quests and multiplayer you can conservatively double that
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is a deep, rich, and sublime experience in both single player and multiplayer