Assassin's Creed II Hands-On

We played through the first few hours of Assassin's Creed II to learn how Ezio moves from troublemaker to assassin.

After two years in the development oven, Assassin's Creed II is finally ready to be served next month. To celebrate the game's completion, the development team from Ubisoft Montreal flew out to meet with us in Florence, which is the first city featured in the game. It was a no-holds-barred gameplay session--they let us tear through the first few hours of the game while remaining on hand to answer questions. The game is looking very impressive, with the new locations and the historically accurate setting, and the hours flew by as we played. But, before we begin our preview, here's a substantial SPOILER ALERT: This preview contains some major plot reveals from the beginning of the game.

As has already been revealed, ACII starts out almost immediately after the first game. You take control of Desmond moments after Assassin's Creed ends, and he's lying in his room when Lucy enters in a panic, covered in blood. She has just minutes to get Desmond onto the Animus, the machine that can visualise his genetic memories. This time, though, instead of heading back to the Third Crusade, he wakes up in Renaissance-era Italy. He is literally born as the new character Ezio Auditore, at which point you have to use the face buttons to kick your feet and shake your hands. Just as your father enters the room to meet his new son, Lucy is interrupted and you both have to escape from the lab.

After running to a nearby warehouse, you meet the new team that Lucy has been working with, who are armed with the new Animus 2.0. She introduces you to Shaun Hastings, the spitting image of actor Danny Wallace, and a brand new Animus machine. Using intel that Lucy has stolen, the team uses the new Animus on Desmond to explore more of Ezio's life, so you jump in the machine to rejoin Ezio as a young adult.

The first proper action sequence is apparently an homage to Scorsese's Gangs of New York. Ezio and his friends get into a fight with a rival family, allowing you to get to grips with the combat mechanics in the game. In the Xbox 360 version we played, you can strike with X and grab with B, which allows you to string basic combos together. You can combine the two to hold enemies while punching, kneeing, or head-butting them, or you can just throw them over a nearby bridge or into other enemies. You can also block, and counter incoming attacks with some brutal combos.

With our adversaries dispatched, our brother arrived to find that we had taken a bit of a beating. He instructed us to raid the bodies for cash so that we could pay a doctor. By going over the bodies and holding B, you can rob people for cash, which is important as money plays a big part in the game. You follow your brother to the doctor, who will heal you completely for 50 Fiorinis. However, he'll also sell you healing vials for a premium of 75F, meaning that you don't have to find a doctor if you're in the middle of a battle.

Once we were healed, the next hour of the game was spent getting to know the family. Your brother challenges you to a rooftop race, your sister asks you to beat up her cheating lover, and your father gets you to deliver important letters. In between, you also perform more perfunctory tasks, such as collecting feathers from the rooftops, which will act as the new hidden collectibles in the game, and visiting your girlfriend, where you press buttons in order to kiss her and undress her.

These introductory missions merely act as tutorials for the fighting and exploring in the game. The real thrust of the story is the framing of your family for treason, which results in your father and brothers being taken away to prison. Once you learn of this, you climb to the top of the Palazzo della Signoria (do a Google image search for this incredibly impressive building) to consult with your father. He instructs you to deliver evidence of your family's innocence to a judge called Uberto. However, the next day, you witness Uberto's betrayal as he leads the public execution of your family, and you see firsthand the horrifying sight of your brothers and father hung to die.

It's not long before you're donning the familiar assassin's outfit and running across rooftops.

Thankfully, by this point you've picked up your father's assassin equipment--the familiar hooded cape, his armour, and his trusty sword. It's not enough to cope with the huge guards that chase you after the execution, but it's enough to give you some protection from regular enemies, who are stronger than the street thugs from before. Combat looks to be a big part of ACII, but there's always the option of running and hiding, as there was before.

At this point, producer Sebastien Puel jumped a little further into the story to show us the fist "dungeon" area from the game. These dungeons will be optional side quests, but they will extend the life of the game considerably, making this a much larger experience than the first Assassin's Creed. These areas are made up of complex physical exercises--the sorts of things you might see in Uncharted or Tomb Raider--where you have to explore the environment and occasionally beat up a guard. In the first secret dungeon, which is the only one in the game that's compulsory, you make your way down to a sarcophagus and find out Uberto's secret plans to assassinate other prominent Italian families.

Jumping forward through the game again, Sebastien Puel showed off another important feature--your villa. This will act as your home space, but it will grow out to be a home for many other people as you progress. Basically, you can build shops, churches, and even brothels, which will attract non-playable characters who will in turn pay a tax to stay there. This will encourage you to improve the area over time, which will increase your income--proving the old business adage that you need to spend money to make money.

While Ezio may be a wanted man, he still manages to run a pretty pimped-out house at the villa. He has rooms where you can install the best art, show off your weaponry and armour, and fight it out in practice arenas to unlock new special moves. This guy sure isn't modest--his bedroom is decorated with portraits of all the major people he has killed, and his immense basement is filled with statues of famous assassins through the ages. You'll be able to install plaques on each of these statues by playing the aforementioned dungeon missions, which will unlock the statue at the centre of the hall--that of Altair, the character from the original game. Your reward will be access to his armour, which is the most powerful in Assassin's Creed II.

The villa is certainly an interesting new twist to the game. You'll be able to ride your horse there if you desire, but acknowledging the complaints of excessive traveling in the first game, the developer has included travel shops around each city that will take you there for 100F--a relatively small amount of in-game currency. We particularly liked the way your family continues to play an important role--your mother is distraught by the death of your father, while your sister takes up residence in the library, where she handles the finances. The developer also explained to us about your uncle, Mario, who will introduce himself to you by saying, "It's-a-me, a-Mario!"

Our final experience was of Venice, but sadly we're prevented from reporting on most of it. The city looks stunning though, and you can steal a gondola on the huge canal--Grand Theft Ezio, as someone joked. We also got to play around with the different groups of people in the city--hiring thieves to distract enemies or stabbing an incredibly annoying guitar player using our concealed blades.

Money plays a large part in ACII, and you can loot from enemies to buy a whole variety of weapons, armour and other upgrades.

Much has been made about the new setting of ACII, and as anyone who played the first game would expect, the environments look stunning. More than 30,000 images were taken of the real buildings in Italy, many of which have made it as textures in the finished game. The buildings are also much bigger than before, such as the Duomo in Florence, and many of the characters actually existed in the time the game is set. No attempt has been made to hide the seedier side of 15th-century life, either. Characters swear at each other and use extremely crass terminology, and you can hire prostitutes to distract enemies if you so desire.

Assassin's Creed II is set for release on November 20 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in the UK, November 17 in the states, and 2010 on the PC. We'll have a full review for you in the coming weeks.

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Discussion

567 comments
beso1999
beso1999

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

beso1999
beso1999

this is supposed to be number one not demons soul

beso1999
beso1999

the game owenes any other game. can't wait to buy it!

gunners4
gunners4

how do i get Ezio's black cape

stephen1341
stephen1341

And of course us pc players have mods to look forward to =) maybe even the SDK... that would be so sweet!

Hobbitslayer18
Hobbitslayer18

@homegrownvandal 1. What are you talking about? 2. Don't be so childish, if you want a proper comment, you should behave like an adult and not like a 12 year old boy.

Sagrannus
Sagrannus

@andrewboza...because people actually like a challenge? it got dull having to *wait* for ur enemies to catch up with u in the first game

PCFreakPC
PCFreakPC

Really, to summarize what everyone has said so far... It looks like an awesome game, maybe one or two flaws that can be overlooked, and one heck of a fun time. the only thing is that you guys with the consoles get to play it months before us PC guys can... sucks, but hopefully some extra content and maybe better graphics?

taas
taas

Great,money plays a large part in this game :). It is going to be cool buying those top class armours and weapond

mookaone
mookaone

is the PC version still only available from 2010? i pre-ordered the White Edition on PC from Game UK and the date came up as 20/11/09. hmm, so will there be big differences between the PS3 and 360 versions? If i have to wait until 2010 for the PC version i think i'll just go for the better of the two console versions.

Today4u
Today4u

ok thanks guys for making it more clear

andrewboza
andrewboza

certainly in real life, but in a video game part of the fun is that you are a hero with unique extraordinary skills

-Adob-
-Adob-

@Andrewboza Because it is realistic; no matter your proficiency at any occupation or skill, there are almost certainly people better than you, or at least as good.

GamerJedi29
GamerJedi29

merc7523 it dosent say sexual themes it says sexual content and on ESRB.org sexual content says possibly including partial nudity, they probably wont go that far with the sexual content in it, anyways the only thing they might show is some ass cause Ubisoft isnt full of perverts like some other game companys.

pcgamer06
pcgamer06

This is gonna rock to F***ing hard, Ezio you gonna be an amazing character to plays as

crimsonandclovr
crimsonandclovr

great game! dont get me wrong i loved it. but hopefully its better than the first. maybe add a mp option? or more replay value? doing the same thing seven times, no matter how 'fun', got boring after a while.

hunter212yy
hunter212yy

Great text guys. Keep up the good work.

hyttenhoof
hyttenhoof

FlashCharge I for one think the storyline was definately AAA rated. the gameplay was so-so (i love that it was almost 100% free-flow'ish though)

D-Rock14
D-Rock14

Well, the first one got a 9 rating so i'd assume this one should be off the chart.

andrewboza
andrewboza

anybody else hate the idea of an enemy class that can run and climb just like Ezio? what's the point of being that agile and awesome if the enemies can do it too?

the_edge7
the_edge7

I loved the first game, however it was very flawed looking back. I think I'll rent this one before I make the tough decisions of what to buy this Xmas season.

altair-ezio
altair-ezio

why does it have to come out for PC 2010

FlashCharge
FlashCharge

Although Assassins Creed one was an awesome graphical game its gameplay was less than awesome. Storyline not AAA rated. Assassins II has a lot to improve but if it does it a must have game.

sniperdude87112
sniperdude87112

this is going to be awesome cause you can get 2 assassin blades sweet!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! >:)

merc7523
merc7523

@ today4u there is no partial or full on nudity if you look at the posters they say M for intense violence,blood (maybe gore not sure),strong language, and sexual themes. Not any nudity

Zero_Burn2
Zero_Burn2

I watched the preview video for this on the Xbox video marketplace, and i have to say it looks extreme. Not only do you have a new, improved arsenal of weapons at your disposal (unlike its predecessor), but the movement system has been improved, and the storyline enriched. I don't think I am the only person who disliked the finish sequence and conspiracy of AC1, so apparently this time the story reveals all. At the end of the day when i had completed AC1 i got straight on the forums to see what was happening, and it was definitely a great talking point. I bet I'm also not the only one that loved the idea and the gameplay, and certainly have trouble waiting for the next installment!

vecsim89
vecsim89

Definitely getting it. There are so many more features than AC1. I'm a little confused about the most powerful armour though, because everyone is saying the black Master Assassin suit is the best, yet this text says Altair's armour is. Or is it Altair's armour dyed black?? Please message if you know.

Today4u
Today4u

by partial nudity do they mean like full on breasts and such or just a little more skin like do u know if this is going to be adult or just mature?

LFvictor
LFvictor

man i will can buy others thing it will be cool=D

dirtbikes029
dirtbikes029

this game is gonna be the coolest thing since sliced bread

Dualmask
Dualmask

It's really going to have to spice up the gameplay to get my attention. The first one was a complete yawnfest. I hate it when the best part of a game created in this day and age is the graphics.

GamerJedi29
GamerJedi29

this game looks better and better every video or preview that comes out

mtbarone
mtbarone

The first game was extremely repetitive and uninspired. It depended completely on its visuals. I hope they put a lot more work and creativity into this one.

MuffintopX
MuffintopX

I can't want to visit the Fist Dungeon.

mgibuk
mgibuk

I hope they added more different types of side quests

howie1926
howie1926

I am drooling...The first one was amazing...this one looks 10x as good

GamerJedi29
GamerJedi29

I knew I shouldnt have read this now I REALLY CANT WAIT!!!

GamerJedi29
GamerJedi29

Hey zemmeo I know that but there is parital nudity in it.

Slinqy
Slinqy

I read somewhere on the Internet that Rome is going to be in the game. Plus, there is a picture where you can see the Colosseum is in the background. Patrice even says that you will meet the Pope at a certain point. Anyway, this all sounds very good reading the review. I'm glad to hear that there will be a source of income. That way you don't have to keep pickpocketing everyone you see. I'm contemplating right now what weapon I should use as my signature. Maybe I'll just use my bare hands. :D