Quickie: Just had to post this up after finishing it. Such an AWESOMESAUCE game! Read on for more details.
Assassin’s Creed 2 is an epic story of family, vengeance, and conspiracy set in the pristine, yet brutal, backdrop of Renaissance Italy. Ezio Auditore da Firenze is a young Italian noble who will learn the ways of the assassins after his family was betrayed and he seeks vengeance. He is a lady’s man, a free soul with panache yet has a very human side to his personality. Through him, you become a master assassin.
Set against the backdrop of one of the richest eras in world history, Assassin’s Creed II is a masterful blend of stealth, combat and parkour that will lead you along the thrilling ride of an assassin’s quest for vengeance and peace.
The Renaissance is best remembered as a golden age for Europe in the fields of science, art and culture. The Italy of Assassin’s Creed II is none too different from this perception; but behind the gleaming marble columns and gilded church bells lies a labyrinth of treachery, deceit and conspiracy that threatens to undo the glory of Italy’s greatest cities.
Beginning with the hanging of his father and brothers for crimes they did not commit, you follow the tale of Ezio Auditore da Firenze as a novice Assassin. As he works to clear his family’s name and avenge their betrayal, his journey will lead him to fight the evils that men do for the sake of power and wealth.
His tale is surprisingly both dark and light-hearted at the same time. Although you will meet many evildoers who have to be put down for the greater good, Ezio is a charming young man whose sense of humor and love of girls mark him as a far more identifiable and human character compared to his predecessor, the cunning and cold master assassin Altair from the first game.
This tale of intrigue will take you across four epic, full-scale cities: San Gimignano a.k.a. “Medieval Manhattan”; Florence and its churches; the fortress of Forli; as well as Venice and its canals.
All these places are fully realized in their Renaissance glory, with its peoples going about their day-to-day business so realistically that you’d do well to think that these cities go on living even without Ezio’s presence. They even dress differently depending on which city they’re in!
Assassin’s Creed II marks a return to the familiar gameplay style of parkour, stealth and combat. Ezio is a surprisingly agile person capable of scaling towers, buildings and scaffolding with ease. You’ll definitely enjoy the fluid nature of climbing and running about, and pretty soon you’ll be running from rooftop to rooftop with glee. Also, Ezio can now swim and pilot gondolas, which allows a lot of flexibility in the way you’d like to approach your destination.
Being an assassin, you will also need to hide in plain sight before carrying out your mission. Now you’re able to blend into crowds much more naturally than the first game, and there are a variety of hiding spots for use: piles of leaves and rooftop gardens, among others. The ability to silently assassinate just about anyone nearby from these hiding spots makes their use somewhat tactical as well.
Combat is easy to learn but difficult to master. Ezio has a large repertoire of moves he can execute to dispatch his enemies. Although button-mashing will eventually kill even the toughest attacker, Assassin’s Creed II rewards careful players who counter-attack, disarm and dodge enemies with the right timing with brutally satisfying instant kill moves.
My favorite example is fighting an ax-wielding guard. Disarming him involves grabbing his ax mid-swing, kneeing him in the stomach and wrenching the ax from his grasp as he grunts in pain. Ezio then raises the ax above his head to bring it down into the neck of the now-unarmed guard – then topples his still-standing form to the ground with a gentle push.
It’s moments like these are when combat in Assassin’s Creed II becomes intensely gratifying and rewarding, and encourages you to experiment with the different weapon types – ranging from double hidden blades and swords to heavy maces and long spears – to see what devious kill methods Ezio has come up with for each one.
Assassin’s Creed II also introduces a new economy system. Income can be gained by completing missions, tackling pickpockets or couriers, looting treasure chests and dead bodies, pickpocketing the general populace, and upgrading your town. (more on this last option later)
There are several merchants that sell wares beneficial to Ezio’s cause. Doctors sell health packs, poison vials as well as provide instant healing for a fee. Blacksmiths repair and sell armor, weapons and also ammunition for throwing knives and smoke bombs.
There are a few armor sets available for Ezio that provide a health bonus while they are worn. Over time though, as Ezio takes damage his armor can actually be broken. When this happens, the health bonus associated with that piece will be lost until it is repaired. Weapons also come in varying statistics and have different combat applications, so expect to buy and own better pieces as the game progresses.
Tailors sell larger pouches to store health packs, poison vials and throwing knives, as well as offer different color options for your armor depending on the city you’re currently exploring. Art merchants sell paintings that are displayed in an art gallery in Ezio’s family villa, as well as treasure maps that reveal the location of all nearby treasure chests on your map.
Upgrading and improving your family’s villa and the surrounding town of Monteriggioni is critical to earning an income in Assassin’s Creed II. The first time you arrive at the town it is a gloomy place with no merchants and a tiny population count.
You can spend your cash on opening and upgrading various locations, such as a bank, guilds, and merchant shops. Upgrading merchant shops grants you a small discount on their wares. Whatever armor, weapons or paintings you purchase also help to increase the value of the town.
As time goes by and more of the town gets renovated, the town begins to look cleaner and more attractive. The number of tourists and population of Monteriggioni increases visibly as well; all this translates into greater income to your family’s treasury, which you can then use to continue upgrading Ezio’s arsenal or the town, thus making more money.
Additionally, you can now hire three distinct groups of people to assist you for a small fee. Thieves are as agile as Ezio, able to follow him even on rooftops, and can lure groups of guards away from wherever Ezio needs to be.
Mercenaries are large thugs that wield equally large weapons, and have no qualms about fighting off guards while Ezio carries out his mission. Finally, courtesans can distract guards with their feminine wiles and provide a way for Ezio to remain undetected as he moves past groups of guards.
New to Assassin’s Creed II also is the notoriety system. As Ezio performs more daring (and thus, socially unacceptable) acts like murder or stealing, his notoriety will increase.
When the notoriety meter is full, all the guards in that city will be alerted to Ezio’s presence and are more likely to be instantly suspicious even if he is doing nothing at the time. This situation makes missions considerably harder as more guards are aware of the immediate threat you represent.
Fortunately, notoriety can be reduced in a number of ways. You can remove ‘Wanted’ posters pasted up all over the city (though oddly enough they are pasted in locations where no one would be able to see them); you can bribe heralds to stop spreading news about you; and you can kill corrupt city officials. Upon becoming notorious, you need to completely empty your notoriety meter before you can become incognito again.
Interestingly, notoriety is specific to each city; thus, you can be completely unknown in one city and yet infamous in another. Later on as you progress through the game, you gain special capes to wear that prevent your notoriety meter from rising. However, guards will still react to your suspicious or criminal behavior.
The mission types in Assassin’s Creed II are much more varied now. Aside from the story missions, some of which develop in new and unexpected ways, you have optional side quests that take the form of timed races, courier assignments, beat-up events and assassination contracts.
Also, across Italy there are several famous locations that hold the hidden tombs of legendary Assassins within. Finding and successfully navigating the challenges of all of these tombs allows players access to a special and well-deserved reward.
Also, Ezio boasts Leonardo da Vinci as his best friend. You have the option of bringing encrypted Codex pages from around Italy back to Leonardo, which unlocks new weapons, kill moves and additional health bonuses. Noticing a group of guards watching over a Codex page in a bank will severely tempt you to find a way to get it to unlock the bonuses and secrets it may contain, some of which are related to the events between the first game and this one.
Besides Codex pages, there are also numerous other collectibles such as statuettes and feathers. Collecting a set number of feathers unlocks special rewards and story developments that may not be available on a regular playthrough.
Presentation-wise, Assassin’s Creed II wins big. Every major and minor character in the game is modeled after a real person, so facial expressions look believable while the voice acting is top-notch. Ezio’s animations are the best detailed in the game, to the point where detecting transitions between animation sequences is impossible.
Every citizen has something to do or say depending on your actions, the heralds all spout different news each day, there’s a day and night cycle, Ezio looks soaked and drips water after emerging from a swim.. Basically, the game looks gorgeous in every way, and it’s obvious a lot of care went into this aspect of Assassin’s Creed II.
The game is not without its fair share of problems, though. For one, it needs a real beast of a gaming machine to run it; even at the lowest graphics settings my computer stutters and lags often as I move from zone to zone. The biggest problem, however, is if you choose to buy the original game, you need to be connected to Ubisoft’s servers over the Internet for as long as you are playing it. Should you get disconnected mid-game, you can kiss your progress goodbye.
The process of connecting is cumbersome and staying connected a problem all on its own. Rather than combating piracy, I think this measure is directly contributing to it when gamers choose to buy pirated copies just to circumvent this issue.
That said, Assassin’s Creed II is undoubtedly one of the finest games to be released this year. With an excellent storyline layered in the rich history of the Renaissance, solid gameplay elements and some of the sweetest looking graphics this side of 2010, you should definitely pick up this game for the historical adventure of your life!
Pros: Compelling story, varied gameplay elements, solid presentation.
Cons: Minor animation glitching, heavy requirements, constant Internet connection required.