Review by Davodoa

"Much better than the first one!!"

So much has changed since the last trip to the Animus that it's hard to know where to begin. While Assassin's Creed may boast that “nothing is true, everything is permitted”, it is certainly true that this sequel feels like a new monster in comparison to its predecessor.

Let's begin with combat, as that was one of the top complaints of the first game. While there are some foes that can easily be dispatched with a simple counter-attack, many are impervious to that solution. Ezio, Altair's replacement, is now capable of using a large number of weapons. As you progress through the game you can purchase better swords, hammers or mauls to use as a primary weapon and daggers as a side arm. Each blade has a different set of statistics, so how well they deflect blows away or how quickly you can counter varies from weapon to weapon. As such, early on it may feel as if they game isn't nearly so responsive as the original. And still each foe seems to have its own way of quickly being dispatched.

While this certainly makes combat more difficult yet much more interesting, it can also become a greater chore. Health does not regenerate on its own, meaning the player must carry a supply of medicine or visit a doctor once too much damage has been received. It will take players some time and a lot of exploration before they can find the best options to use in specific situations. However, each weapon is useful in some way, even the wrist blades and throwing knives.

Of course, players likely won't be fighting as often as they had in the first game. Assassin's Creed 2 features a new notoriety system, where certain actions will cause awareness in the city to go up. The higher the notoriety the more quickly guards will recognize you on the streets. However, reducing notoriety is as simple as tearing down wanted posters and bribing heralds to discuss anything but your antics. Though players should be careful when tearing posters down, as any guard that sees you doing so will only pester you and boost your notoriety right back up.

Walking through the streets is also much easier and more interesting to do. The blending mechanic has been completely revamped, allowing players to step into any amorphous blob of peasants to escape the notice of guards. There are also factions that you can hire to help you distract guards or even fight, including courtesans, thieves that can run on roof tops and mercenaries. The ability to throw money is also incredibly useful at slowing down chasing guards or even distracting them from your illegal antics.

Yet it seems all of Ubisoft's focus on the streets has caused them to ignore balance on the roof tops. While there are plenty more objects to climb on top of, and each city's environments are unique and interesting on their own, the guards up top are more annoying than ever. In the first game a simple toss of a throwing knife was enough to clear them from your way, but it takes up to two in the sequel to take one down. This wouldn't be so bad if they weren't scattered so numerously in many sections of the game. In fact, they seem to be placed in clusters, many of which don't make sense. One section of town may be empty of guards, but next thing you know every roof top in sight has them. Step too close or take too long to escape their notice and they'll give chase. Take the time to assassinate them sneakily and your notoriety goes up, but if you allow them to attack you first your reputation remains unchanged. Instead of rewarding stealth, players are punished.

In fact, any sense of being a stealth game seems to have been thrown out the window. Sneaking through the crowd is a much better option than climbing on roof tops, which breaks half the purpose of the franchise in the first place. Yet Ubisoft also chose to listen to every player that didn't have the patience to perform an assassination properly in the first game and made nearly every story based kill a regular fight or chase. There are plenty of optional assassination missions that allow players to strike like a hawk from above or an anonymous blade in the crowd, but the satisfaction isn't there. There's nothing like breaking through a warlord's defenses only to strike him when he is most vulnerable. Yet, instead of rewarding players that took the time to learn to play the first game properly, Ubisoft merely made each assassination simple for those that don't want to bother. It almost feels like a slap in the face and pulls that stealth action away even further.

Despite this major flaw in design, the problems with the previous game's missions are gone. They are no longer repetitive, but varied and straight forward. Players that want to move on with the story are free to do so, though the campaign will be extremely short and likely rather difficult due to a lack of funds. Those that wish to do side quests and find collectible items will be rewarded with long hours of play. Even the assassination missions vary in their style. The pointless collection of flags has been replaced with collecting monetary treasures, Codex pages, seals, glyphs and feathers. Each collectible offers an in-game reward in some manner, and are much easier to locate than the previous game.

In particular these items will be highlighted in Eagle Vision, which is a much more useful tool than ever before. Allies and hiding spots are highlighted, but hidden treasures stand out against the rest of the environment. The player is also capable of moving while using this vision mode, though the rest of the HUD is gone. Even so, it's incredibly useful for those tough to find feathers and glyphs.

On the whole Assassin's Creed 2 is a major improvement on the first game. It doesn't merely have more stuff, but has taken a completely different approach to the idea of the first game. The story executes much more cinematically while offering even more side missions. Collectibles are still there but are more varied and provide some sort of bonus. Combat can still be easy but you must first learn each foe's vulnerability. At the same time, the cost of this approach has hurt some aspects of what made the first game great. Particularly the enjoyment of roof tops and actual assassinations as opposed to sloppy murder.

Yet there is no doubt that Assassin's Creed 2 is, on the whole, better than the first. This is a franchise that is going places, and if any sequel dominates your holiday wish list it should be this one.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 12/18/09

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

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