There’s a special spot in gamer hell reserved for sequels with a quick turnaround. Left 4 Dead 2, Halo 3: ODST and in some cases, Call of Duty, have all received stick for coming out “too soon”, according to the Internet. So it is with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which was announced before the dust on Assassin’s Creed 2 had even settled.
Coming out such a short time after its predecessor, and tacking on a seemingly unnecessary multiplayer mode, Brotherhood fit the bill for the quick “cash-in” built to capitalize on the good will of AC2. Slowly, though, perception of the title began turning around as media came out revealing that the multiplayer wasn’t a shoddy tack-on and the single player campaign was going to add interesting new mechanics. Critical reception is very, very positive, but what’s the GamerSushi stance?
The single player game returns us to Renaissance Italy to once again don the voluminous robes of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, heir to a long line of prodigious assassins. The game picks up right where Assassin’s Creed 2 left off with you escaping the Vatican after unlocking the ancient Vault in the basement. Returning to your home base of Monteriggioni, you’re suddenly attacked by your Templar enemies and you lose all the sweet gear you had collected over the last game.
Cast out of your home and Metroided, you set off for Rome to exact revenge upon the Borgia family. Much like your villa, Rome is in desperate need of repairs, the city having gone unattended as the Borgia are using all the funds to build a grand army. Despite earlier concerns that Rome wouldn’t be as picturesque and authentic as the towns and cities of AC2, touring the city streets for the first time will shatter that notion. Rome itself is the biggest city in Assassin’s Creed history and the hustle and bustle of the city street gives way to the idyllic countryside cluttered with relics of a bygone Empire. The coliseum is just as imposing and visually striking as it is in real life, and tons of recognizable landmarks dot the area.
To rebuild the city, you need to start small by buying the various shops you’ve become accustom to such as doctors, blacksmiths and tailors. As you build you funds, you can purchase bigger and better parts of the city. To unlock different districts to rebuild, you have to knock down Borgia towers to lift the shroud of oppression they cast over a certain area. Each tower requires that you first kill its Captain then burn it down. Ridding an area of Borgia influence will not only allow you to purchase and renovate shops, but will also permit you to recruit assassins, something we’ll talk about later. One quick thing I want to mention are shop quests. The shops near your hideout will ask you to find various items scattered throughout the world, but the game won’t exactly spell this out for you. If you start picking up things like tomatoes or Buddhist prayer beads and figure that you can sell them for extra florins, don’t do it! You need those items to unlock the highest level weapons, armor, treasure maps and fast acting poison.
As great as Rome is, the story of Brotherhood falters a little. While Assassin’s Creed 2 was a sweeping, epic tale, Brotherhood is a simple revenge story with the requisite cliff hanger. It’s not a big knock against the game, especially if story is not your thing, but fans of the narrative will be a little disappointed. Some of the mission designs are particularly lacking, the most egregious offenders being Leonardo’s War Machine missions and a lot of Sequence 5. Walking through the city in disguise relying on the guard’s dialogue to guide you the right way can get annoying really quickly, especially when you come upon a fork in the road and you happen to be leaning more towards the wrong side than the right.
On the other hand, perhaps it is a good thing that you won’t particularly driven to finish the story quickly (the game doesn’t really instil a sense of urgency in you, unlike some other open world games) because there are so many things to do in this game. Besides playing a real estate magnate, you can engage in guild challenges, take assassination contracts, build your Order, collect flags and feathers, decode Subject 16’s cryptic puzzles and uncover Romulus Tombs. Like the Assassin Tombs of the last game, the Romulus Tombs are the site of some of the most engaging platforming sections to be found in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. A couple of times I honestly got the feeling of vertigo because I was so high up, and making the smallest mistake would have dropped me to my doom. Additionally, the game also comes with a few challenges which can be accessed from the pause menu. These are short segments not unlike the VR missions of Metal Gear Solid and they will test your knowledge of the combat and free running systems.
People coming into this game expecting to be an instant virtuoso at the swordplay will be let down because AC:B makes some much needed changes to the fighting. Whereas Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2 focused on countering you enemies’ attacks, Brotherhood introduces a new mechanic where you can chain together kills, sort of how the Free-Flow system from Arkham Asylum worked. You start your chain by countering one guard, and then the next series of foes fall swiftly to your blade as you dance from one adversary to the next. Properly building up a successful kill streak takes work, and there is a slight learning curve. It took me a while to figure out that you can do counters during a kill chain, but the timing is very precise. Guards will also grab you this time around and the heavy armor foes won’t fall to a quick unarmed disarm. While mastering the kill streaks can give you the upper hand in fights, AC:B doesn’t go easy on you; the enemies you fight are more often the not the heavy armor or officer variety.
The biggest change for the single player game is the addition of the Assassin’s Guild, which fundamentally changes a lot of the gameplay once you unlock it. During Sequence 4, Ezio finally gets the idea in his head that maybe it would be good to have some backup in the field once and a while, and he goes on the hunt for oppressed citizens to recruit to his cause. Adding an assassin (you get ten in total) gives you a small icon underneath your health signifying whether or not your recruit is available. A red icon means you can call them out and a black icon means it’s recharging.
Your assassins level up in a very simplified RPG way, starting off at 1 and ending up at rank 10, or “Assassino”. As they rank up, you can equip them with better armor and weapons, giving them longevity in the field and better armaments to take out guards. Besides calling them out to assist you, there are Contracts up for the taking all over Europe. Sending your minions out on missions gives them experience points and adds florins and rewards to your coffers, but it makes them unavailable to you in Rome. You have to balance how many initiates you send out versus how many you need for back up, but I loved micromanaging so much that I rarely had any assassins hanging around until I had advanced the majority of them to Assassino.
The way this changes the gameplay is that having a skilled warrior for backup at all times makes some fights and missions incredibly easy. Once you have enough assassins to fill up three icons, you gain the Arrow Storm which, when called, kills every guard in the area instantly. Even calling in your assassins on the ground gives you a distraction which can be used to complete objectives or do quick sneak attacks against targets. I really loved the addition of the Assassin’s Guild, and I’ve spent the most time in Brotherhood managing my underlings and promoting them through the ranks. While some may find the menu driven gameplay tedious, I can’t get enough of it.
All the way through that and I haven’t even started discussing multiplayer. The biggest addition to Brotherhood, the player versus player gametypes throw you into a small arena with various other Abstergo Agents (not assassins, interestingly) and has you hunt down specific targets while attempting to avoid having your throat slit. The game populates the map with repetitions of the various character skins which means that you have to pick your target very carefully; killing an NPC that only looks like them will not only cancel your contract, it will reveal you to anyone who may be chasing you.
There are several modes to play but they mostly boil down to chasing your assigned target (of which there is only one at any given time) and avoiding your pursuers (there can be up to four). This means that sometimes your prey will be hunted by up to three other people. If you’ve got someone tailing you, you have to balance going after your contract with hiding from your hunter, making the gameplay very tense and a breath of fresh air in this shooter-clogged market.
Hiding in a group of doppelgangers, watching your target wind their way through the crowd towards you, being poised to strike and getting killed right before you make a move is just one of the thrills present in the multiplayer portion of Brotherhood. It’s seriously tough to describe, and while a basic description like “cat and mouse” will suffice, you really have to experience it to see what I mean. Multilayer games don’t usually offer this sort of tension and strategy, and I’m surprised that it works so well. Some people playing right now are very skilled; being ambushed from a hay bale or shot from across the map are only a couple ways that you can be killed in Brotherhood. For an addition that many people were ready to discount, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood proves that multiplayer can work in the franchise. All they need now is some co-op gameplay and the series will be a triple-threat.
Even though Brotherhood has come out only a year after 2, there is a ton of game to be had here. Saying that the breadth of the single-player campaign will take you 15-20 hours is kind of a conservative estimate if you invest in everything it has to offer. Add that to the multiplayer, with an XP system that takes you up to level 50 and you have a game that laughs in the face of a quick development time.
Assassins Creed: Brotherhood adds enough stuff the single-player to make it addicting once again and multiplayer is its own brand of special sauce. If you’re looking to take a break from Call of Duty and Halo, make Brotherhood your next stop.
So, that’s what I thought of Brotherhood. While Assassin’s Creed 2 is still my favorite game in the series, Brotherhood is a fantastic title and a worthy successor. If something as simple as managing a few assassins through a series of menus can have me glued to the screen for hours, then everything else in this game combines to make a deadly package.
What do you guys think? Have you tried the game, and what are your thoughts on the multiplayer?
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