An excellent sequel that addresses the flaws in the first game while expanding the series with new gameplay elements.
Ubisoft had a lot to work with when they started this game. The technology is amazing, and the basic mechanics in the first game worked really well. This is especially true of the open-ended parkour style exploration. Thanks to a great control system and a lot of terrific animations, climbing buildings and running across rooftops was smooth, easy, and often breathtaking. These elements are all still in place, and just as great as before. When it comes to exploring a city on foot, there is still no other series that comes close to this one. Acrobatically speeding across a half mile of rooftops is a little piece of gameplay that never gets old. The view of a grand city from the top of a 200-foot building that only you can climb never fails to amaze.
Where Assassins' Creed 2 deviates from its predecessor most strongly is in its mission design. Gone is the endless rotation of the same three or four generic mission types. In its place is a very long series of unique story-related missions, along with a huge collection of quality side missions. There is an entirely different feel to this sequel – so much that it hardly seems like the same studio designed it. It doesn't feel, at all, like a tech demo. It feels like a real world, just like the worlds in the Grand Theft Auto series or Piranha Bytes RPGs like Risen. When you pull off a mission, and there are some good ones, you feel like you are legitimately advancing the storyline.
The story missions are really good, and so are the side missions. You get freelance assassinations for money, which provide you with some interesting twists as you progress through them. There is also a small set of indoor treasure hunts through some elaborately designed areas. These areas don't include a lot of enemies, but they contain more puzzles and Prince of Persia style platforming. These optional hunts are just a small portion of the game, but they provide you with a couple of quality hours of gameplay and a big reward if you complete them all. The best, and most bizarre of the side items is a game-long quest that you receive to find a series of runes hidden on buildings. When you find them, you get a puzzle to solve, and when you solve it, you unlock a short video clip. When you unlock them all, they combine to form a crazy short video called "The Truth". It's a fantastic reward for a very fun scavenger hunt. The first game had nothing remotely like this. Most games don't.
In addition to the gameplay, Assassins' Creed 2 provides a more varied look than the first game. Specifically, the major areas in the game look different from one another. There are unique, actual buildings in the cities that are fun to look at and climb. Along with them comes a codex that gives you all kinds of background material on them and some of the game's famous historical figures, if you care to read them. The campaign here is about as packed with quality content as any game in recent memory.
Assassins Creed 2 doesn't just do a great job of putting the elements from the original game to work. It also expands on the gameplay in a couple of meaningful ways. Some of them work better than others, but none of them are bad. The best improvement is an upgrade to your stealth abilities. Ezio, the protagonist in this game, has more tools at his disposal than Altair for staying hidden. There are a couple of ways that you can distract guards, like hiring a pack of hookers to flirt with them, or thugs to pick a fight with them. You can blend in with crowds more than you could in the first game if you need to lose pursuers or sneak up on somebody. In addition, you have some additional tools that you can use, like poison. Assassins' Creed 2 feels exactly like the assassination game that it was always meant to be. It's fun to stalk a target, plotting how you can sneak in close unseen or lure his guards away with a distraction.
The combat has been upgraded since the first game, as well. This was absolutely necessary, as probably even the most hardcore fans of the first game were sick of the combat by the end. Assassins' Creed 2's uses the same basic principles, but it provides a wider variety of enemies, and it is more challenging. Blocking and countering still rules the day, and button mashing is worthless. Armored enemies no longer go down with just one successful counter. You have to beat them up a little bit first. Disarming has been added to help you through some of these encounters, as well as a one hit kill pistol. Combat is better, although by the end of the game, you will probably be at least a little bit tired of it. Even with the improvements, there is still too much combat in this game, and there still aren't more than a few kinds of enemies. A big challenge for Assassins' Creed 3 and beyond will be to make more improvements in this area.
Assassins' Creed 2 is a very complex game. In addition to improved stealth and combat, it also adds some RPG-like gold management to the picture. You now earn money for your assassinations, and you can buy maps that will lead you to treasure chests all about the city. This part of the game doesn't work quite as well. There isn't a whole lot to buy with your money besides better weapons, armor, or collectibles that don't have any in-game impact. You get a home base in this game that you can upgrade and decorate, but there doesn't seem to be much of a point. The treasure chests are scattered in abundance around the city, usually just sitting unguarded for no reason in particular. Since you mostly need money for 100% completion and it's not particularly fun to scavenge for it, this is another area of the game that could have used some improvement.
This game will take you a long time to finish, and a big reason that you will want to stick with it is because of the storyline. The main story is of a young man, Ezio Auditore, growing from a playboy to a seasoned assassin while defending his family from a grand conspiracy. He is a very likeable character, and so are his family and friends. The game succeeds easily at getting you to care about their fates, and
getting you angry and the family's enemies. The background story is the modern day war of the Templars vs Assassins, with Desmond controlling Ezio via the Animus. The two stories come together with a huge unexpected twist at the end that is one of the greatest "whoa" moments in gaming history.
I can't quite say that Assassins' Creed 2 thrives because it focuses on quality instead of quantity, because the game has tons of both. It is, for the most part, a masterpiece of a game and everything that a sequel should be. It's flaws are limited to things that get sort of monotonous after you have played the game for 20 hours, but it takes a special action game to suck you in long enough to notice. If you were put off from playing this game because you got bored with the first game, or because of Ubisoft's controversial copy protection scheme, then I highly recommend that you put those reservations aside and play the game. This combination of stealth, exploration, and adventure gaming should not be missed.