Developer: Ubisoft Montreal/Virtuos
Release Date: 2/17/2022
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Assassin’s Creed II is by far one of the biggest sequels in video game history. When it came out everyone was blown away by the scope and ambition put into this game. It made the first game feel like a concept demo. It felt like just the core of the first game was present and so much was built on top of that game. The world was five times as big, there were new mission types, cinematic story missions, and tons of overall additions and improvements, however, the game did suffer on its own for various reasons.
This game starts the epic saga of Ezio Auditore De Firenze. One of the most iconic video game characters of all time. It was a surprise that Ubisoft scrapped Altair and his story so quickly, but we are greeted with 15th century Italy and various historical characters that appeared during that time such as Catarina Sforza, and Leonardo Di Vinci, and Machiavelli. The story itself is fairly easy to follow and has a few twists, but most of all have a really surprising ending. Ezio works his way up as an assassin knocking down templars to retrieve the Apple of Eden and keep it from the templar’s hands. The main villain, Rodrigo Borgia, is a nasty snake and overall all the characters are well written and I wound up really liking most of them.
First off, the overall way you maneuver has been improved slightly, but more things have been added. While you can swan dive into haystacks and climb ladders, the entire game has been built with parkour free-running in mind. You can climb every building and stay off the streets by staying on the rooftops. Overall, the system was impressive back in the day, but it has a lot of quality of life issues. The overall parkouring feels too sticky. Ezio will jump around like a rabbit sometimes so fine-tuning your turns is difficult to forget any type of mid-jump changes. Once you get close to a wall or object Ezio will climb and quick button presses just aren’t responsive. I would start climbing a wall and then try to tap the descent button, but instead, he would just fall to the ground. Other instances had guards chasing me while I was trying to round a corner and Ezio would cling to the wall and get stuck or jump onto the wall or object nearby instead. This can get incredibly frustrating as the system just doesn’t allow fine tuning or sudden changes.
That’s not to say the parkour system is bad. When you have a good line of sight it works well or you just want to climb broadly over a building. There were other instances in which precise jumping became a chore during Assassins Tomb missions. There is a fast walk button and holding down the run button together allows Ezio to scale things quickly. If you are holding that run button after each jump Ezio will just go in that direction whether there’s something to grab on to or not. For small jumps across beams, I had to let go of the run button after each jump to re-align myself for the next jump. Quickly parkouring around just isn’t possible due to this finicky system.
Some other frustrations stem from combat. Firstly, the system is mostly the same as the first game as it can be easy due to the whole system being a parry-fest. You can whack away at enemies, but instead, just hold the block button and parry when enemies strike and it’s a one-hit-kill city. Once I acquired my wrist blades I didn’t even use my sword anymore and never once used my secondary dagger weapons. This is a flaw in the combat itself and needs serious overhauling. It makes open combat boring and sometimes too easy. What is challenging, and annoying, is trying to lose guards and become anonymous. Sure you can blend into crowds, benches, and haystacks, and you can now hire prostitutes or mercenaries to distract guards and get them off your tail, but the combat plus finicky parkour system makes losing guards incredibly frustrating. You have to lose their line of sight by rounding corners or jumping off buildings and if you can get far enough away it will create a search radius. You can hide in that radius or continue escaping. There is an anonymity meter and once it’s solid red every guard will recognize you and it’s a frustrating mess of finding a town crier to bribe and take 50% of the meter away.
With those two major things out of the way that leaves content itself. The sad thing about all this new content is that it’s meaningless in the end. There are no rewards for any of it except for achievements or completion’s sake. There are 73 viewpoints to find which are actually fun as most of these are climbing puzzles on their own. Now it does still feel like overkill as each viewpoint only reveals the surrounding buildings and not much else. I felt there were just too many. There are races, assassin contracts, courier missions, and fights. These are boring and pointless and just there to add in filler. You can really tell this is where the Ubisoft plague of too much crap to do in a game starts. The only rewarding side content is The Truth puzzles. There are 20 hidden glyphs throughout the game and finding them will grant you puzzles to solve. These get increasingly hard, absurdly hard in fact, in which the clues become obtuse and impossible to decipher. However, what’s revealed is a cool video.
The story missions themselves are mostly varied with various tasks such as assassinations, tailing, fights, horseback riding, and the occasional scripted mission. I really liked the story and characters enough to stick around and wound up completing all viewpoints, The Truth puzzles, and finding all the codex pages which max out your health. I do need to mention the various gadgets you get which are mostly useless. Poison darts can make enemies go berserk and attack each other, but you also have smoke bombs, throwing knives, a pistol, and that’s about it. I mostly used the throwing knives to take out rooftop guards and smoke bombs were great to get away from large groups of enemies to become anonymous. In fact, they’re required to reduce frustration.
The visual upgrade for The Ezio Collection is minimal. There aren’t any actual improvements outside of some draw distance gain, anti-aliasing, and texture filtering. The lighting is slightly improved as well, but not by much. The game runs incredibly well through with no slowdown, but I did run into a few crashes and glitches. I wish we got a full remaster or remake, but what’s here is fine. It’s crazy how well this plays so many years later and just shows how far ahead the game was at the time. There are a lot of quality-of-life improvements that need to be done and most of the core mechanics have frustrations you will need to forgive or workaround, but the story and characters are worth sticking around for. There is also a lot of bloated side content that has no meaning or rewards including fully upgrading your villa which literally just generates more income and isn’t used for anything besides dying armor, buying weapons, and armor itself. The assassin and templar tombs are a lot of fun as well.