Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood continues the story of Ezio Auditore da Firenze in dramatic fashion. After waking up in bed next to a buxom redhead who's begging him for another round of action, Ezio finds Villa Auditore under attack from a torrent of cannonballs. Our hero makes his escape across the rooftops, before jumping on a horse and mounting a counterattack. It's an impressively bombastic return for the Italian assassin, and considering that we called him a "terrific new character" in our review of Assassin's Creed II, we're incredibly pleased to see him back.
Brotherhood takes place pretty much immediately after Assassin's Creed II, in 1499. Ezio is happy and his villa is prospering, but there's a new villain on the scene named Cesare--the general of the Papal army. Cesare happens to be the son of Rodrigo Borgia--the villain of ACII--and they're both out to get the newly contented Ezio. Cesare launches an attack on Ezio's villa, with cannonballs lobbed into the town as large towers deliver the evil general's soldiers over the walls.
Ubisoft promises that new advanced equestrian moves will improve on the horseback riding from the last game, with new attack and acrobatic skills on offer. Ezio is also able to use the town's cannons to launch a counterattack on the army, using it to destroy other cannons and towers that are used to get soldiers over the walls. All of the action is directed in a fast and frantic manner, highlighted by Ezio's new ability to use merchandise lifts to scale heights quickly. Ubisoft claims to have listened to fan feedback about ACII, particularly in the combat system. You'll now be rewarded for striking first and hard, with one combo that we saw ending with him shooting his opponent dead from close range.
Ezio's fight didn't end successfully in the demo we saw--despite Ezio's valiant attempts, Cesare breached the gate, showed off an item called the Apple of Eden, and proceeded to shoot Ezio's uncle Mario. At this point, Ezio passed out and fell off the rooftop, in a cutscene that hinted at a major new development in the story. Ubisoft then moved on to demonstrate Brotherhood's new gameplay mechanics. You'll be able to give hope to the people by building up an army of assassins--the Brotherhood of the title--and help restore balance to Italy.
The section we saw jumped forward to Rome in 1503. The archers on the rooftops are now gunmen, and we watched as Ezio called in another assassin to jump in and use concealed blades to bring the guard down. If you need to take out a group of enemies, you can call in an arrow shower, or your team can jump in and fight alongside you hand-to-hand. We watched as Ubisoft demonstrated all these techniques to kill a religious figure in a church, before fighting a group of enemies outside. We didn't get a good feel for how the commands were issued, but it looked simple and impressive in action.
You'll be able to upgrade your team of assassins as you progress. You'll have a set number of tokens to spend, and you'll have to allocate them wisely so that you have the right balance of skills for each situation. The assassins can also die in a fight, so you won't want to send them into a situation they won't be able to handle. If you improve their experience enough, they'll become master assassins and will really be able to help you take care of Cesare.
Brotherhood will also continue the story of Desmond, and according to Ubisoft, "very important things" will happen to the contemporary character. We weren't given specifics, other than that the developer will "start to close some doors" on Desmond's story, so we'll have to wait and see what that rather ominous statement means. Thankfully, Rome will be three times the size of Florence from ACII, so there will be plenty to do in the game as Ezio. Watch out for Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood on November 16 2010, and in the meantime, you'll be able to check out our multiplayer hands-on later on during this year's E3.