Assassin’s Creed II has a lot of pressure to not only live up to the expectation for the series but to surpass the original game. The original Assassin’s Creed had potential but it was bogged down by repetitive gameplay and a stilted plot. So the question is, did Assassin’s Creed II learn any lessons from the past?
If you want the short answer then yes, yes it did. Assassin’s Creed IIpicks up directly where the first game left off, with Desmond being held at the Abstergo facilities. Fortunately for him, and the player, a far more competent Assassin, Lucy, is there to break him out. Lucy reveals her plan to use the Animus and Desmond’s Bleeding Effect to train him to become an Assassin.To this end, Lucy and her team, the tech genius Rebecca and sarcastic historian Shaun, help Desmond explore the memories of his ancestor, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. And that is pretty much the modern day plot, albeit with a few twists towards the end of the game. It definitely seems that the developers listened to the players about not wanting to have the ancestor’s story being interrupted by the modern plot. It definitely shows, as it makes the pacing far more fluid and allows for a sense of urgency for Ezio’s story.
Speaking of Ezio’s story, which is the majority of this game, there has been huge improvement in terms of the plot. In Assassin’s Creed II, the player follows Ezio as he learns the truth about his family’s heritage and helps him avenge the deaths of his father and brothers, whilst learning to become an assassin. In some ways this plot would have made a better story for the first game, as it introduces the Assassins and Templars in a way that doesn’t leave the player scrambling for information on what is going nor drowning in exposition cut scenes. There is not doubt that the reduced amount of forced time spent in the modern day, greatly supports Ezio’s story but the gameplay also plays a huge factor as well. Previously in Assassin’s Creed, you would have to complete three tasks then assassinate someone, you then had to do this nine times. It was repetitive and boring. Fortunately the developers’ heard this complaint that players had and vastly changed the gameplay. Instead of the same repetitive actions, players now have a variety of objectives that play out out as each memory sequence is played. SO for example, in one of sequence, Ezio has to tail his target and eavesdrop on a conversation, then through a series of side activities, perform a task for an ally, gain access to a secure location and then perform the assassination. This makes the game feel more fluid and less repetitive.
Another element of the game that has greatly improved are the collectables. Again, in Assassin’s Creed, search for the collectible flags and hunting the additional Templars down was nothing more than a boring, repetitive chore, that didn’t offer the player any reward for completing them. Now, in Assassin’s Creed 2, every collectable serves a purpose, whether it is hunting down the feathers for Ezio’s mother to searching the Assassin tombs for the seals to unlock Altair’s amour, the game rewards the player for the additional effort that is put in.
However not everything has been improved, the combat still lacks any real challenge. The enemy AI hasn’t really been improved, except when multiple enemies decide to mob you, but most of the time, they all patiently wait their turn to fight. This was a bit of a shame, as was a good area for the developers to improve on. On the other hand, with the introduction of money and the ability to buy new armour, as well as adding a variety of different weapons there has been an attempt at making the combat a little more diverse and giving the players more freedom in how they fight enemies.
An interesting new addition is the notoriety system. If Ezio commits a crime or the guards are looking for him, he can notoriety which can affect how the guards interact with him, whether they ignore him or attack on sight. I can see what the developers were going for, they were obviously trying to encourage players to be more stealthy in their assassinations and less ‘Leeroy Jenkins’. Unfortunately, it is rather easy to lower Ezio’s notoriety and so this whole systems tends to be more an annoyance than anything else.
The other thing that hasn’t been improved upon since the first game is the way the character controls. OK, I get Ezio is a young independent man who won’t be controlled by anyone, however when he is deciding to leap off a building instead of grabbing a ledge, you have to draw the line. Although this did not happen too frequently, it happened enough for me to notice and at times it was frustrating. The other thing I notice is that horse riding still doesn’t feel right, as when you are riding a horse; it feels like the horse is gliding across the ground rather than galloping.
As always the locations are amazing and even nine years on, they still hold up as spectacular. Each of the cities has its own look and personality. I personally like Firenze and Monteriggoni but even the grimmer Forli grows on you. I particularly like that the various areas actually varied in size as well as appearance giving you the feel that these are different parts of Italy. By travelling to different cities at different point in the story, it also helped to stop the game getting repetitive.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed II is an amazing game and is definitely one of the stronger entries in the series. It is clear that the developers did listen to and act on the criticism raised from the first game, which I have to give them props for. I would highly recommend Assassin’s Creed II as great action adventure game and I would actually recommend newcomers to the series to play it first over playing Assassin’s Creed.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I have forty feathers to find.
Assassin’s Creed II is available to play on Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. Assassin Creed The Ezio Collection is available for Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
All images were taken from the Assassin’s Creed II Steam storepage.