Assassin’s Creed 2

16 06 2010

I’m just gonna jump right in with this one. This post is going to be about my vote for Game of the Year 2009, and what will no doubt go down as one of my all-time favorite games. As with the last post, there are going to be spoilers for the story, so more than ever, DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT THE STORY SPOILED!

Right then, with that out of the way, holy shit. THIS is how a sequel should be made. If there was one image that could sum up this game, I’d go with this one.

Awesome. That sums up the entire game.

Where to begin? This game did what all sequels should do: it took the groundwork from the first game and expanded it in just about every possible way. It continued the overarching story of Desmond, the story of the Assassins fighting the Templars and it introduced new characters and several new layers to the story, including an incredible conspiracy theory that goes all the way back to the birth of civilization and even before. Wow.

While the original took place in 1192, in the Middle East, this game takes place several hundred years later and several hundred miles away. The bulk of the story takes place in Italy, but unlike the first, there’s a real sense of time passing. In the first game, you were never told how much time passed between the game’s start and end; it could have been a few weeks, a few days, you never knew. In AC2, the story of Ezio Auditore de Firenze begins in 1459 and ends in 1499. That’s right, you follow the main character from the moment he’s born (literally) to the point where the story ends, and what an ending it has. The actual gameplay where you control Ezio takes place over 23 years of his adult life, starting when he’s a young, wide-eyed 17-year-old and ending as a hardened, 40-year-old badass.

But before we can even get to that, the game itself picks up literally right where the first game left off. AC1 ends with Desmond finding several very cryptic glyphs hidden on the walls and floor of his room and the area surrounding it. AC2 picks up immediately after and you’re rescued by a familiar face from the first game. You’re then taken to a hideout, where you meet more people who are descendants of Assassins, just like Desmond. What they plan to do is not only use Desmond’s memory to find the location of the pieces of Eden, but also to train Desmond, to make him a true assassin just as his ancestors Altair and Ezio.

So that’s essentially the basic premise for the story, no real spoilers just yet. I’ll get to them in a moment. First off, though, let’s talk about some of the huge improvements the game made. For starters, the repetitive structure the first game had is completely gone. Instead, you go around the map, find someone to give you a job and do that, similar to the GTA games or most open-world games out there. It works a lot better and fits the story the game weaves, since Ezio isn’t really a formal member of the Assassins like Altair was. Another addition, one that was flaunted since the game was announced was the addition of another hidden blade to our hero. Like the picture above, Ezio has a hidden blade on both hands, allowing double assassinations and some really badass finishing moves.

The combat had also received a major overhaul since the first game. Its structure remains basically the same, often groups of enemies surround you and you must defeat them by countering their attacks. In the first game, you were limited to three combat weapons: your sword, a dagger and your hidden blade. The sword and dagger were essentially the same, and the hidden blade was hard to use, but if you had good enough timing you could land one-hit kills on your enemies. What AC2 did was add different types of weapons, such as hammers, scimitars and so on instead of your basic sword. You could also use your hidden blades as a full on weapon in battle, able to parry and still counter for one-hit kills if your timing was good enough. One of the coolest things, however, was being able to use your bare hands to disarm opponents and defeat them with their own weapons.

More sub-weapons were also added, like poison vials you could inject into unknowing enemies to silently defeat them, smoke bombs to aid in a quick escape, potions to heal yourself in mid-battle and more. You felt a lot more in control when you were fighting, and it really helped to make you feel like a badass, which you should be.There’s also the introduction of a monetary system which was lacking in the first game. When you completed missions, you received money, which you used to purchase new weapons and armor, repair armor, hire help (in the form of escorts to hide you from and distract guards, thieves to distract or fight guards, and mercenaries to fight guards) and you could even throw money to the ground, creating a crowd of people to help slow down pursuers.

The free-running and climbing was also quickened, which was just a minor thing but it certainly helped to streamline the game’s mechanics and make things more fun. Almost everything that there was to complain about in the first game was removed, with the exception of a few things. For one, you escaped from pursuers by hiding in stacks of hay, rooftop garden… things and sitting on a bench. It does seem a bit silly that a man in a large white robe and hood could disappear like that, but it’s a minor thing. There are also guards that will search these areas, forcing you to assassinate them if they get close. It’s a bit more realistic and it was added to make it so when you hide, you aren’t instantly safe. Of course, people love to pick on that you still climb very high buildings and leap, sometimes hundreds of feet into a small bale of hay and land perfectly fine. Nonsensical, but hey, it’s a vidja game.

All of these things come together perfectly and make gameplay incredibly fun and exciting, and there’s plenty I’ve not mentioned, but this will do for now. Let’s move onto what has become one of my most favorite things about the series: the story.

I shouldn’t have to mention this, but here it goes. STORY SPOILERS FOLLOW!
Here we go, now we’re getting good. As good as the gameplay is, and it’s great, the story is what I’m really interested in now. Everything the first game introduced is expanded greatly here, so much so it’s hard to believe the two are even related. The game starts (at least where players control him) with Ezio as a 17-year-old, living a playboy lifestyle as the middle son in a wealthy family. Unfortunately, his father and brothers are murdered by the Templars, and Ezio discovers his father, and his entire family, are actually Assassins, like Altair. Ezio takes it upon himself to find those responsible for their deaths, dons the Assassins’ hood and cowl, and begins what would be a 23-year tale of revenge.

That alone gives you much more insight into the character than Altair. We never learn of Altair’s past, we never know WHY he’s an Assassin, just that he is one. To some that’s a good thing, but you never form a connection to the character; he’s just a blank slate, almost like a silent protagonist from an RPG. Ezio’s character develops over the course of his journey from a young, irresponsible and brash boy into a hardened, wizened adult by the journey’s end, and it more accurately reflects what would happen to someone in that lifestyle. Sure, he rarely feels remorse for those he kills, but when you assassinate an important target, he often laments that it’s not his choice, but rather something that must be done; if not just for revenge, but because the targets are all corrupt.

The game’s story leads you through much of Italy, starting in Florence and ending in Rome where the game ends with, I kid you not, a fist fight with the Pope. Who could have expected this game would end like that!? It’s brilliant, and when you follow the story, it makes sense. Ezio’s greatest enemy, Rodrigo Borgia, the leader of the Templars (so we’re led to believe, anyway), eventually seizes control of the Vatican, becoming Pope Alexander VI, who was historically one of the most corrupt Popes of all time.

That’s Ezio’s story in a nutshell. What about the pieces of Eden, what about Desmond’s ties to the story and what about the conspiracy I mentioned before? I’ll get to those in my next post. Like I said, the story in AC and AC2 is among my favorites in recent history, so I want to take the time to discuss those in further detail. I mostly wanted to talk about the gameplay and changes made to this game, and give you some reasons as to why it’s not only my choice for the best game of last year, but why it’s also one of my most favorite games of all time. Sure, it has its problems like any game and the innovations, you could argue, are nothing new (they aren’t) but everything just comes together so well that I can’t help but love it to death.

So, look forward to my next entry where I’ll break down the game’s overarching story, try to explain how it all ties together and talk about where I think it’s going to go next.

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