Assassin’s Creed 2 is a masterpiece, that’s really the main point of this rather long review. Ubisoft and Jade Raymond took their already exceptionally creative and fun game, and made it even better, fixing what was broken and adding to it without burdening it. No game is perfect, but the team behind AC2 manages to execute (no pun intended) one of the most fun and immersive sandbox games ever made.
But before we start analyzing all the things Ubisoft did right, we have to remember just where the hell we are, and why we’re running around stabbing people in the throat.
Desmond is on the run with Kristen Bell after Templar Corp. realizes they’re both assassins who want to destroy them. They bail out of the building with shockingly little resistance and head over to the secret assassin fortress, which happens to look like a crappy warehouse. But fortunately, they have their own jury-rigged animus which Desmond uses to hook up to another one of his past ancestors.
The hooded killer in question this time is Ezio de Something Something Auditore, but instead of being a hard boiled badass, he’s something of a pretty boy, but once his father and brothers are hung as part of a conspiracy, he learns the legacy of his assassin family, and starts training, teaching present-day Desmond all his killing moves along the way.
But not content with simply learning kung-fu in the Matrix, Desmond is told that Ezio discovers a very important secret that the modern day assassins need to know about to stop the end of the world, and to uncover this secret, there are a crap ton of people to kill along the way.
No screenshots show this, but you can now change your robe color, which is way more badass looking than it sounds once you see it firsthand.
The team behind Assassin’s Creed 2 has gone and done something that I wasn’t even sure was possible in this day and age of video game creation. They LISTENED to the hate heaped upon their original game, and rather than dismissing the critics and fans, they embraced their suggestions and by doing so created one hell of a sequel.
The biggest problem with the original game for most was that it was simply too repetitive. People loved freerunning and stabbing people in the neck, but after about two hours, everything felt the same. All the main missions were only fractionally different from each other, and were usually best completed by killing forty guards using counterkill or hurling throwing knives at a fleeing target until they fell. The side missions were equally repetitive, but also massively boring, which exercises like eavesdropping and pickpocketing something that no one wanted to do.
The city environments were massive, but seemed clone stamped as time went on. The collection of secret items scattered throughout the city was a monumentally frustrating task as once you found them all, it was revealed that you received, uh, nothing.
Also, in the last game your badass assassins could be killed by…water
It’s like AC2 had a checklist of all these issues, and went down one by one and fixed almost all of them. The new game is infinitely more exciting, way more fun and far less repetitive.
There are pretty much no two assassination missions that are exactly alike in the new game, and with all Ezio’s new moves and weaponry, there are usually multiple ways to come at each target. For example, I was given the task to kill 10 hulking brute guards in under a minute. I could have run in there, sword swinging, but even if I could hold all of them off, the combat time would probably be over my goal. Instead, I hired a group of mercenaries, told them to attack the guards, and while they were busy, I snuck in, sticking all the brutes with a poison needle. In fifty seconds they were all dead, and none of them ever realized I was even there.
The side missions are a lot more fun as well, with pickpocketing and eavesdropping replaced with races and beat-em-ups, even though those two can be a bit repetitive themselves. Perhaps the greatest side-mission addition are the Assassin’s Tomb quests, where Ezio must use his climbing skills to essentially solve architectural puzzles hidden inside famous landmarks in order to eventually unlock a badass set of armor.
Combat has drastically changed as well. In the original, practically every single enemy could be dispatched using the counterkill maneuver, but not so the time around. Many enemies are immune to the move, and are better killed by either dodging, or better yet, Ezio’s disarm move, where he takes a foe’s weapon and subsequently sticks it in their head. It can be a bit frustrating to figure out which tactic works on who, but it definitely adds more diversity in combat, and the whole affair seems a lot faster paced.
It’s kind of a bummer you can’t buy and equip spears and polearms though.
For a more stealthy approach, Ezio’s got new tech there as well, thanks to his inventor pal, Leonardo Da Vinci which is totally historically accurate so shut up. This makes the game a lot easier to play like a traditional assassin, who wouldn’t normally be taking on a platoon of guards all at once. The aforementioned poison needle kills targets slowly without anyone realizing you did anything. Smoke bombs let you sneak by guards, or kill them as their coughing. And lastly, Ezio’s new wrist-gun can snipe targets from afar, though it essentially makes underpowered throwing knives completely useless.
Another issue the AC2 team solved was the drab brown-beigeness of the Middle East. By having the game take place in Italy, we now have a world full of color, and town sizes and style are mixed up so that each area has its own distinct flavor. Staged events like Carnivale spice things up even more, the cities are littered with gorgeously rendered famous landmarks and I absolutely cannot fathom just how much work went into making these environments so detailed.
Though the game has made huge strides over the already excellent first installment, it’s not perfect, and still has a few issues to work out.
The addition of a money system and upgradable base to the game are welcome, as I’m a big fan of earning income in any game, and the armor and weapons you can purchase are both exceptionally useful and stylish. However, the game suffers from Fable 2 syndrome, in which a point is quickly reached where the player has so much money, there’s no longer anything to do with it. The game tries to solve this by allowing players to buy stock in buildings in their hometown, and even purchasing expensive paintings that do nothing more but sit there, but by the time the game was finished, I had more money than God, yet I ran out of stuff to buy about ten hours ago.
Graphically, the game suffers a bit as well, as even though the environments are beautiful, the character models look distinctly last generation. Maybe I’m holding everything to a higher standard after Avatar, but I’m really tired of creepy faces and blocky fingers in video games, and AC2 makes only backwards progress in that area.
Lastly, the plot of Assassin’s Creed 2 went way, way over my head. The first game was pushing its luck, but most of the time I understood WHY I was killing my targets. Not so in AC2, where I only killed to help seemingly random people I met in the city, with no real understanding of what exactly I was even working toward.
“I’ve no idea who you are, but I’m pretty sure you need to be dead.”
The game also doesn’t see it necessary to review the plot of the original game, which had a complex story in its own right, and when I last played that title three or four years ago, that’s kind of an issue. I vaguely remember “Pieces of Eden,” but I’ll be damned if I know what they do, and this time around, we spend a lot less time with Desmond and there are really no mysteries of the present day to be solved. This is as opposed to the first game which pulled you out of the animus every new chapter to hunt for new clues, here you only wake up maybe twice ever, and don’t really learn anything interesting when you do.
The big reveal of the game isn’t exactly mind blowing, and the whole “end of the world” scenario it presents is pretty damn nonsensical. I’d rather have just stuck with the Templars vs. Assassins story rather than throwing this out of place third element into the mix.
But unquestionably, Assassin’s Creed 2 is a superb game, and in a world full of online multiplayer, offers perhaps one of the greatest single player experiences ever made. The game is far longer than your average 10-12 hour 1-player game, but never feels like it’s trudging on, and you really just don’t want it to end. It’s not perfect, but it’s one of the richest and most creative games I’ve ever played, and I can’t wait to see where Ubisoft takes us next.
4.5 out of 5 stars