Review: Assassin’s Creed II

ac2The first Assassin’s Creed was a love it or hate it affair. The game was, to be honest, a proof of concept more than anything else, a playground where Ubisoft could test out a really impressive graphics engine. The game rightly caught flack for its repetitive nature and the general silliness of its sci-fi overtones, but there were a lot of people out there who believed that the series had some merit. The game ended up selling fairly well, so the green light was given on the sequel.

Whereas the original game took place mostly in 1191, the second Assassin’s Creed is set during Renaissance Italy around the late 15th century. While you still control hapless kidnap victim Desmond Miles during some sections of the game, you spend most of your time inhabiting the body of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a brash young nobleman and banker’s son. The game starts off very similar to Grand Theft Auto where it walks you through a bunch of missions that teach you how the game’s mechanics work while setting up for the first big plot point. Some of the early missions are, admittedly, fairly stale but serve as a good introduction to the setting and some of the major characters you’ll be running across.

Ezio himself is far more likeable than Altair was in the first game. There’s no denying that Altair knew his business, but he wasn’t a sympathetic character. During the course of Assassin’s Creed II you’ll actually be rooting for Ezio as you pilot him through his trials and tribulations and, in a way, you’ll sort of feel like you actually grow with him. While the story does get kind of muddled around the end (I’m fairly sure the gaps in the plot will become downloadable content, but that’s just a guess), Ezio’s tale is full of likeable and hateable characters, and the writing and voice acting are both sharp.

The world itself is just as important to the game as Ezio and crew, and the graphics engine that powered the scenery in Crusade-era Middle East works just as well at building the various city-states of Italy. During my play-through of the game, I was showing some of Florence to a friend of mine who had traveled to Italy and he marvelled at how the major landmarks were placed in approximately the right locations by the art team. As great as the scenery looks, the graphics fall a little flat when it comes to animating facial expressions. Ezio and Desmond look OK, but some of the ancillary characters are visually very strange, like the animators were taking cues from Robot Chicken. There’s one of Ezio’s targets in particular that has some very pronounced fish-lips, and a couple of the modern day characters bear more of a resemblance to dolls than actual people. For a game with abundant visual splendor it can be a little weird to watch some of the characters talk and move around in such a strange fashion.

assassins-creed-iiFortunately for those of us who will be staring at Ezio’s back for about twelve hours, the control scheme has been tightened for the second outing and is a lot easier to master than the first. Combat is still a “wait to counter” undertaking, but now you have a few more options when it comes to both straight up brawls and assassinations. You can disarm, poison, take down two targets at once, and finally hide in a bale of hay and pull an unsuspecting target to their doom. There’s dozens of way to distract and ultimately dispatch your foes, and if you’re running out of ideas then you’re just not doing it right.

For distractions, Ezio can hire one of three factions: courtesans, mercenaries or thieves. They all have their own special way of distracting the guards and depending on what kind of approach you want to take, from stealthy to belligerent, there’s a way to do it. Besides the aforementioned bale of hay surprise, Ezio can now swim and dive, and take out his foes from the water. In the first game just getting the hem of Altair’s robes wet was a ticket to Davey Jones’s Locker and in a city like Venice dying upon contact with the water would have lead to several controllers being snapped. The new controls aren’t perfect however, as the free-running is somewhat automated and it’s up to the game to interpret where you want to go. In this it’s mostly successful, but I have hurled myself off a few buildings that I didn’t mean to.

Assassin’s Creed II isn’t just about kicking ass and taking names, it also fills out the game with a lot of interesting side features to compliment the main story. Ezio comes into possession of a villa and a small town fairly early in the game, and as he’s a lone man out for vengeance instead of an Assassin bank-rolled by a whole keep, he needs to earn some money. You come by florins through completing main quest missions and side quests, and can you spend your blood money on either upgrading the town, which in turn puts more money in your pocket, or buying some armor, weapons and pieces of art for your mansion. The more cash you spend on renovation the more you get back in the long run, so it’s prudent to upgrade the various shops and guilds that inhabit the town. Buying weapons and armor will add a boost to Ezio’s health and combat abilities, but the best suit of armor in the game is earned for free by completing six Prince of Persia style challenges. Buying armaments adds to your villa’s income anyways, so you’ll eventually end up owning every suit of armor before you get the final prize.
You have to go back to your villa every once and while and retrieve florins from the collections chest, but seeing as you’ll usually be carrying several story items and feathers and statues and seals at the same time, it’s a good way to break up the pace. The game now features a fast travel system so you can hop quickly from one unlocked location to the next, which is a great addition after the interminable horse rides of the first Assassin’s Creed. There’s a bit of collection in the game, but nothing as mind-numbing as the flags in the first. All of the collections quests have tangible rewards, and unlocking Subject 16’s Truth video is a challenging but fulfilling task.

Suffice it to say that there’s way more to do in Assassin’s Creed II than there was in its predecessor. True to their word, Ubisoft removed the repetitiveness of the original and left us with a game that’s part GTA, part Hitman, part Prince of Persia and all awesome. While I did make mention of the wonky character animations and the sometimes imprecise nature of the free running controls, the fact remains that this is probably the most fun I’ve had in a single player experience. While what it offers differs from something like that of Uncharted 2, I just couldn’t tear myself away from the game and found myself gobbling up every possible side quest in order to delay the actual completion of the game itself. Assassin’s Creed II is, hands down, a fantastic game, and something you should check out even if you’re on the fence.

That’s what I thought of Assassin’s Creed II. I certainly loved the game, but what did you guys think? What platform did you play it for, and did it meet your expectations? What do you want out of the third?

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Written by Twitter: @mi7ch Gamertag: Lubeius PSN ID: Lubeius SteamID: Mister_L Origin/EA:Lube182 Currently Playing: PUBG, Rainbow 6: Siege, Assassin's Creed: Origins, Total War: Warhammer 2

10 thoughts on “Review: Assassin’s Creed II”

  1. Man, I can’t wait to play this game. I was largely uninterested in it, but after all the rave reviews I’ve been hearing, I’m going to have to check it out.

  2. I quite enjoyed the original and I’ve been hearing so much good stuff about this that I’m sad about the Jan. 25th release for PC.

    I really hope it doesn’t turn into a bad PC port…

  3. Great review. I hated…HATED the first game, but I have heard enough good things to make me give this one another go.

    But you better not be wrong, Mitch…

  4. Just thought I’d point out that the 1st game DID have fast travel, just not in several locations like in this one. I’ve not finished AC2 yet (my mock exams ended today and I’m off school tomorrow so 3 guesses what I’ll be doing) but I’m loving everything about it so far.

  5. Ha, I’ll eat crow and admit that I forgot about the limited fast travel system in AC1, but it’s nowhere near as valuable as this one is. Plus, there was still a lot of horse riding.

    Anthony, I hope you will like it. I liked the first game myself, but this one is just so good.

  6. Eh, I’m saving this game for the suckage that is summer that seems to hit the industry every year, that and border lands. Plus too much of my time is occupied with L4D2.

  7. I didn’t want to post because we had a nice colour scheme going on in the comments but anyway.

    I was reading/watching some other reviews and from what I hear there is no longer that bloody annoying system where guards think anyone is evil if they don’t walk very slowly with their head bowed.

    That was enough to make me pre-order it.

  8. Random reference from me FTW. Haven’t had a chance to play it much as my D bag friend failed to lend it to my last weekend as he previously stated he would. You know who you are. Looks like a great way to waste a week during christmas break though!

  9. Great review man. I gotta wait for the PC version tho =/.

    I had a lot of fun in the first one, sure the sidequests got a bit repetitive, but the free running was second to none. My friend bought the first and traded it in, really displeased, and he’s already been texting me non stop about how great the 2nd one is. So since I loved the first one, this one is leaving me to shit myself with anticipation. Yay.

  10. I loved Assassin’s Creed 1, and now that I played Assassin’s Creed 2, I can safely say that I love AC2 more. While it is a great game, there is room for improvement that makes AC2 warrant an A, not so much an S, but whatever I’m sure the guys at Ubisoft are thrilled. The combat is still a counter-fest, sure, but when you’re doing epic slitting-of-throats and replacements of spines with spears, it’s still fun and does take some skill. I loved the story (and Subject 16’s Truth video was well worth the hours of confuddlement caused by the puzzles lol), the easy-to-use parkour funsauce was still fun thanks to the new landscape, and who can’t love more assassination targets! And you’re right; Ezio had more connectability with the player since he goes from carefree playboy to Altair-level badass de la Renaissance.
    I will say that the villa was a nice idea but nagging and sort of overkill, and honestly the first AC had much more of an impact because its gameplay was so revolutionary, but whatever I still love it.
    And thank you, THANK YOU, for writing and most likely pronouncing Ezio’s name properly. Some asshole called the poor kid “Easy-oh duh Audio-tory”. I screamed at my monitor for seven years and then wrote a comment saying “Learn how to LISTEN TO THE GAME WHEN IT SAYS THE MAIN CHARACTER’S NAME FIFTY-KAJILLION TIMES, Morooon!”
    And believe it or not, I got +3 Thumbs up.

    Anyway, good review. I don’t know if AC2 deserves an S, but it’s an admirable game and I loved the 50-ish hours that I played over the course of 3 awesome days on Turkey Day break. Good times, good times.

    Oh, and no spoilers, but Desmond summed up the ending PERFECTLY. Best ending ever.

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