Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 11/17/2009
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Maybe once a decade we get a truly beautiful game that really represents what games are: Cinematic experiences that the player can get lost in for hours. Assassin’s Creed II is one of those rare games, and also represents what a sequel should be.
Assassin’s Creed II boasts a wonderful enrapturing story that really grabs you both in a politic/historical/science fiction sense. Never have I seen the three mixed so well with an ending that can make your head spin for hours afterward and have you talking amongst your friends about it for days. You are not Altair, but Ezio Auditore who is on a path of vengeance for the rival banking family that killed his. In the real world you are still Desmond Miles trying to unlock the secrets of his assassin ancestors, and figure out what the Apple of Eden is really meant to do and why everyone wants it.
From the start, you will notice major changes from the original, and this is graphics. The game is truly one of the most beautiful of the decade capturing the Italian Renoconce era with all of its amazing architecture, historic figures, and language along with the social classes of the time, but before we talk more about beauty let’s talk gameplay.
As everyone recalls the first game was very repetitive and pretty bare-bones so expect Assassin’s Creed II to have tons of things to do. Not only are there more side missions, but there are more scripted story-driven missions and playing a Desmond isn’t so boring. You actually go to a different location with Desmond and even fight with him…just a hint without spoiling anything. You have your Messenger, beat-up, and race events from the previous game, but gone are the “helping citizen” events. You have tons more variations from raiding assassin tombs (interior Tomb Raider style levels) to Templar Lairs, races on horseback, assassination contracts, finding codex pages to upgrade your health, chasing down people stealing your money, chasing down messengers, solving glyph puzzles, finding statuettes, restoring your uncles villa, more viewpoints and the list goes on. Yeah, there is more variety, and because there is so much to do, and so many ways to do them you really never get bored because I never did.
You can do ten side missions then three main missions then fast travel back to your uncle Mario’s villa to upgrade the city to get more income for you to spend, then go find some feathers for your mother in mourning, then maybe get some Codex pages.
Doesn’t sound like enough? That’s ok the variations in story missions never get dull with all the weapon upgrades you get. You even get to use Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine about 2/3 of the way through the game. Want to talk about upgrades? Well, there is an economic system in play here, but don’t get too excited. It’s your simple buy stuff from merchants and upgrades your stuff type thing. You can upgrade your armor over a dozen times, buy dozens of weapons, upgrade medicine pouches, throw knives, and even poison vials. You can dye your clothes, buy paintings to increase the value of your villa. Did I mention there is every assassin weapon in this game? You have smoke bombs, dual hidden blades/punch daggers, poison blades, hidden guns, and even a passive ability to toss money on the ground to distract guards.
Fans of the original remember that the best attack was the running and jumping assassination attack. Wanted more? Well, you get more with the ability to pull guys down from hanging on a ledge, from a hiding spot, on a bench, in a crowd, jumping off something, and anyway you possibly can. You can now swim which is a huge plus, and blending has totally changed. Instead of having a “blend” button the previous “blend” button is now a “walk fast” button which can be used to pickpocket people for money by just running into them. Blending now consists of using any group of pedestrians or hiring people. You can hire courtesans, thieves, or mercenaries to do your dirty work or distract guards from important posts or patrols. This allows you to walk right on by to wherever you need to be. You can blend by sitting on benches or dropping your notoriety. Your notoriety is the creed diamond that has a red bar around it. The higher it gets the more the guards will be on your case and chase you for subtle things. Ripping down posters or bribing heralds can bring it down, but becoming anonymous first is a must.
Now that we have basic elements out of the way let’s talk combat. The core combat system is here, but with upgrades, such as being able to counter a counter-attack, take away weapons, use your hidden blade as a weapon for instant counter kills, and so on. The enemy AI is also better with four enemy variants that can chase you down or kill you with their bulk and massive weapons.
Free running is also slightly improved with tighter controls and better-designed levels, more climbing puzzles (viewpoints), and just more terrain overall. The game really only gets frustrating when the controls get a bit sticky and you cling too well to ledges. The world is 3x the size of Assassin’s Creed with the towns of Forli/Venice, Firenze, the Villa, and Roma. After about ¼ through the game, you get to ride a horse-drawn wagon in a chase down a mountainside to get to Forli/Venice which is a rich cinematic experience that the game is full of. Once you get to Venice you can ride gondolas and swim in the water.
So with all this greatness and beauty that Assassin’s Creed II gives us how does this soup taste? With all these ingredients I have to say it tastes damn good. Everything works well together and the game feels like a rich illustrious world that doesn’t feel dead. With fluid combat, free running, plenty of stuff to do, amazing visuals, voice acting, history, and science fiction you get anywhere from 15-25 hours of a wonderful game. This game will have you sitting back and savoring every moment, not because of just how amazing it looks and sounds, but how beautiful the game is as a whole. These games come once in a decade and Assassin’s Creed II, is it.