Since my own personal game of the year 2009 has seen some extra content be released in this very packed first quarter, I felt it was my duty to plunge back into Assassin’s Creed II feet first and see if the DLC could stand up to my amazing reception of the original game. I’ve had an opportunity to finish it off, so let’s head right in.
If you’re unfamiliar with Assassin’s Creed II, I’ll do a quick recap of the premise to bring you up to speed. During the course of gameplay, your character is forced to skip replaying a few years of Ezio’s life due to error in the Animus, a machine used to relive memories of ancestors past. The downloadable content restores the damaged memories, and that’s where the expanded missions take place. Both content packs have been released already for fewer than five dollars and are included with the PC version, if you can actually get past Ubisoft’s DRM measures. Some people have complained about the fact that Ubisoft is charging for cut story content, but I feel that AC2 is complete enough as it is, and anything else they deign to add to it is fine with me. But how well do the two memories fit in with the overall experience?
It turns out that Ubisoft probably made the right choices about which memories to cut due to time constraints, because the Battle for Forli and the Bonfire of the Vanities missions don’t really mix all that well with the remainder of Assassin’s Creed II. The first DLC, the Battle for Forli, details what happens right after Ezio comes into possession of the Apple, a mystical device that allows the owner to control the minds of other and spawn clones. The Assassin Order has the bright idea of hiding the Apple in Forli with its leader Caterina Sforza, and the Order’s enemies quickly find out about the plot. To capture the Apple, Ezio’s antagonists send the Orsi brothers to take the city. The Orsi brothers, who are sort of like the mercenary equivalent of the Jonas Brothers, waste no time in besieging the city and then draw Ezio out in an obvious ploy to kidnap Caterina’s children. After fighting through waves of flimsy guards in a manner reminiscent of the end of Assassin’s Creed one, Ezio assassinates both brothers before he gets a knife in the gut for trying to get the last word in edgewise against one of the dying brothers. As Ezio lies on the road bleeding, the Apple is stolen by a passing monk missing a finger; hardly the most inconspicuous disguise for a thief, if you ask me.
That’s where the DLC ends, though, taking place in a mostly unsatisfying hour of repeated sword fights. While it is cool to start off the battle fighting beside Sforza’s troops, the novelty wears thin when you watch ten of them crowd around one Brute, trying to take him down with ineffectual strikes. Caterina herself also likes to wade into the thick of things. Not really a problem, since she is a tough character, but most of the AI seems designed to prioritize her over the guy in black robes stabbing them in the back. Another problem with the fighting in Forli itself is that merchants and heralds still litter the street, shouting their random lines. I mean, there is a fairly bloody battle going on right outside your stall, buddy, maybe you should take the day off.
Besides the repetitive combat, the Battle for Forli is also littered with sound glitches, and several times during the cut scenes all dialogue will stop and you’ll sit there for a few minutes watching the characters flap their jaws at one another. This occurs several times during the Bonfire of the Vanities as well, and it really ruins the immersion. Thankfully I had the subtitles on, but I still feel that if you take content out of your game you should at least spend a bit more time polishing it up.
While the Battle for Forli is stuffed to bursting with straight up brawls, the Bonfire of the Vanities is packed with assassination missions. The premise of Bonfire is that the monk that stole the Apple, Girolamo Savonarola, has taken control of Florence and is trying to reverse the cultural effects of the Renaissance. This doesn’t sit well with the Assassins, both because the mad monk holds the Apple and they believe that people should live by their own free will. To encourage Florence to rise up against Savonarola, you need to dispatch his nine lieutenants to loosen his grip on the city. This is done all through assassination missions, and let me say that a few of these had me pulling my hair out.
A lot of them require you to stay hidden for the entire mission, something that proves quite difficult as most guards have eyesight that varies between some form of subterranean mammal and that of Superman. Most of the other missions are fine, but the forced stealth surprisingly does not work here. Also, since you have access to the wrist gun for these missions, killing some of the harder targets is embarrassingly easy; you just stand in a knot of pedestrians and take aim. Bonfire of the Vanities also features the new Spring Jump move, but it’s so underused that it’s barely worth mentioning. All the move does is give you some extra jump length by vaulting you off of flag poles.
Once you’ve purged Florence of Savonarola’s posse, the populace rises up against him and rids the Renaissance of his presence once and for all. You come into possession of the Piece of Eden once again and it’s like these memories never happened; they wrap up nice and conveniently like a weekly sitcom.
At their core, the missions are still Assassin’s Creed II all over, and I can’t really fault them for giving me another opportunity to drop into that world. I just wish that Ubisoft had actually taken the intervening months to work out the technical bugbears and give the stories more of a comprehensive flow, something that would make them feel worthwhile to the overall narrative. My advice is to avoid the DLC if you’ve been curious, as Assassin’s Creed II is a superb game without these subpar moments.
So, what do you guys think? Surprised I can muster some hate for Assassin’s Creed II? Are you going to give the DLC a try anyways?
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