Review by thecrobar

"A fantastic upgrade that adresses the issues of the original game"

Assassin's Creed 2

Despite the mediocre reviews of the first game, Assassin's Creed sold very well. Add to that the cliff-hanger ending from the first game, and a sequel was inevitable. Assassin's Creed 2 takes the idea of the original game-living in the shoes of one of history's most notorious assassins attempting to discover a massive conspiracy- and transplants it into Renaissance Italy for a walk in the shoes of Ezio Auditore de Firenze, an up and coming assassin on the road to revenge. Thankfully, Assassin's Creed 2 takes the complaints people had with the first game to heart and creates an Italy that as fun to explore as it is detailed.

As Desmond Miles, descendant of many great Assassins, you will once again step into the shoes of one of his ancestors. This time around it's the Italian noble Ezio, a young man with an axe to grind. After his family is betrayed, he must take up the mantle of the Assassin and hunt down the men responsible for the death of his family, in turn revealing a dastardly plot that seeks to control all of Italy. But Ezio isn't alone in his adventures. It appears that you can't walk down a street in Renaissance Italy without running into a famous historical figure, and by the end of the game you've met most of the influential people of the period as both allies and antagonists.

The series still has the sci-fi elements of its predecessor, and they're more apparent this time around. In addition to hunting down ancient evil-doers, you'll find snippets of information dealing with the modern conspiracy surrounding Desmond. Without spoiling too much, the story ends up much grander then it originally appears to be and has one of the most jarring endings in recent memory. Overall the plot is handled well, as long as you don't think too hard about many of the elements it deals with. If you wanted to nit-pick there are certainly issues you could have with many parts of it, but as a whole it's an enjoyable experience and is certainly refreshing against the typical space marine/teenager saving the world from aliens/evil magic. The pacing is perhaps the only serious issue with the plot: while the game has numerous regions to explore, a few of them are criminally underused. Florence and Venice make up about 80% of the game's content, and it would have been nice to see the other towns they included get a little more screen time. There is some down-loadable content coming out that seeks to address that issue, being based around the underused areas.

The game is presented very well. Its strength is its use of expansive and meticulously created cityscapes, closely modeled after the genuine articles. While many of the buildings are copied and pasted, the environments are amazingly rendered and fun to more through. The models can be hit and miss (especially some of the eerily vapid faces), but Ezio is animated well and his model has plenty of depth to it. There are certainly better looking games out there, but they rarely have as much going on in one scene as AC2 does. Each of the cities in the game feels unique and has its own style.

The sound design is fantastic: the voice acting has been greatly improved over the original, as well as the soundtrack. The Italian can occasionally sound gratuitous, but it is well acted and that makes up for a lot of it. The sheer variety of sounds in the game is one of its best features: run through a busy street and you'll hear people comment on you, a herald talking about the newest taxes, the ten guards running after you yelling for you to stop, all paired with an excellent musical score.

The biggest improvement over the first game is the actual game play, which is great. As Ezio, the goal of the game is to assassinate the various people responsible for crimes against your family. You'll do this through the numerous weapons and items at your disposal, some familiar and some new. There is the now classic hidden blade from the first game, as well as your standard swords and throwing knives added into the mix. New weapons include a poisoned blade that kills enemies slowly, smoke bombs for your inner ninja, and even a primitive pistol. Perhaps the best new weapon is simply the addition of a second hidden blade, which makes combat with them much more interesting this time around. There's a virtually unlimited ways to kill people in the game, regardless of what your weapon of choice might be.

Similar to other sandbox games, Assassin's Creed 2 has a notoriety meter. Doing impressive things like killing people or jumping around in the town square will cause it to rise, which then makes the guards notice you more easily. While a nice concept, it's ultimately much too easy to escape from guards for it to truly end up mattering. You can also hire groups of Mercenaries, Thieves, and Courtesans to distract or fight guards as necessary, but this is mostly optional. The game is also much more noticeably a sandbox game this time around, and there are side missions and optional events in towns accessible pretty much whenever you want to complete them. The mission structure is revamped as well. Each assassination has 3-4 smaller missions leading up to the actual kill, and each of them is unique. This is probably the single best change in the game, as each assassination now feels unique.

The biggest change from the first game is the addition of money. There's about a hundred different ways to get money: pickpocket it, complete missions, find it in chests, make discoveries, etc. The most unique is the villa introduced early in the game. The Villa is your own personal mansion and town. By investing money in it you can improve it through the addition of shops and amenities, which in turn raise the value of the villa and attract more people. Every 20 minutes you play, you receive an amount of money dependent on how developed your town is. The system is simple, but it's fun to watch the town transform from a slum into a castle befitting a king. Using the money you earn you can buy paintings, ammo, upgrades, and new weapons.

For the most part, combat is unchanged from the original game. You can attack and block as much as you want, but countering attacks is far and away the best way to fight in combat. With that in mind, fights often just turn into you waiting for enemies to attack so you can kill them instantly. There are a few new options like disarming opponents, and there are some enemies that use different types of weapons, but combat is still a little shallow and disappointing.

The one complaint that is not corrected from the first is the ridiculous number of collectible items. There are a ton of side missions, special treasures, and upgrades to collect. The problem is that there is no real incentive to do any of them outside of a trophy or two, and most of them don't even have that. The only reward you'll get for these missions is more money, but if you've invested in the Villa then you make so little money by doing them that they might as well not be there. Money itself is even sort of useless, as the only real things you need to buy for Ezio can easily be purchased without delving into the side missions. It would have been much better if the game had optional content that actually gave you something, like upgrades for your equipment. Hopefully the next game can fix that and give us more worthwhile missions.

Assassin's Creed 2 is a solid title with few flaws. Most of the complaints from the first game have been addressed, and the game is much better for it. The game is fun in a summer blockbuster sort of way, and for the most part that really works. The main flaws with the game boil down to it being too easy: you'll never have to look for money, or worry about overly difficult fights. However, sometimes that's not a bad thing in a game and the experience is overall very enjoyable. Assassin's Creed 2 is a great example of a game that manages to appeal to both the casual crowd and more hardcore gamer, and both groups will enjoy it.

-Interesting Characters and Story
-Great Visuals and Audio
-Revamped Mission Structure
-Plenty of new Elements added, many complaints fixed

-Simplistic combat
-Too many pointless collectible items
-Money is useless after a while

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/16/10

Game Release: Assassin's Creed II (US, 11/17/09)

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