I cannot deny Assassin’s Creed 1 was my cup of tea. Sure, it had its problems, sure there were only a few different objectives after all, sure most people were interested because of the beautiful graphics. Still, controlling Altair in never-before-seen ancient middle-east was a wonder to behold. The whole stealth concept was done right, the parkour as well. It was not a brilliant game when we look back to it but had such differing factor upon everything we were used to at the time that I just could not resist.
I cannot really blame people disliking it but as far as I can tell, I enjoyed that game immensely; played on both PC and Xbox 360. Since Ubisoft learned the do’s and don’ts after a successful first attempt it’s natural to expect a much better polished game, more varied missions and a continuation of the complex backbone story behind everything that sometimes feels a little overboard, I guess that’s what they were aiming for.
Notably Ezio Auditore, the new protagonist, controls pretty much like Altair did, some tweaks can be noticed on how the buttons are bound but everything is customizable, so most of the time no problem whatsoever, just rebind the whole thing. There is one big letdown though, the quick selection for weapons. Some do not have the option to be bound to numbers, which leads to frustration having to rely on the button-wheel every time you need to use throwing knives for example. Those moments are often swift where you need to hit someone on the run, and not having a single button to press and equip is frustrating.
It is debatable whether the rudimentary fire-weapon needed a quick button since it destroys stealth and takes too long to fire. The wide selection of weapons is nice, some dual-hand axes along with nifty short swords encompass Ezio’s arsenal. The combat system feels similar to what the first installment provided. Chain blows are golden while the defensive stance counter-attack move still rules, though slightly less effective than before.
Strangely, the outer-world is much more compressed. The first AC threw the player into a sterile land with countless collectibles, while the next step should probably be the addition of purpose to those large areas of land, what you get is a long pathway that might be visited twice since fast travel is served with general abundance. Everything develops within classic Italian cities much like the first one did in the middle-east.
The change of color hues in the original was what set apart Acre from Jerusalem, for example. In this continuation the cities offer more nuances between them. They’re not exactly apparent per say, but the player should notice as the game moves, especially when you learn that water is not a pit straight to hell to Ezio as it was to Altair. In addition, outskirts paint the sceneries of most locales, offering much more dynamism in exploration.
There’s an area introduced early in the game that will be the headquarters, if we can call it that, to all assassin operations. The Villa starts out small-time. Struck with poverty, it stands as nothing more than a safe haven for someone wanted throughout the country. As you inject money it prospers and ultimately becomes your main source of income. By investing in the small town you will have access to better weaponry from the forger and other merchants, as larger quantities of money will flow through the place.
As explained later in a nifty extended gameplay, The Villa was founded by the one first Auditore after changing his own name in order to seek avenging on the death of his wife and father, killed by Templars. The Templar organization is the main antagonist in AC, they have been craving for the powerful pieces of Eden in search of great power since hundreds of years past. The “actual” protagonist Desmond Miles who in the first AC was submitted to a strange machine called Animus, marks appearance as well. No more of those tedious interludes walking around the laboratory, thank the Gods.
Assassin’s Creed has quite a complex story, Desmond Miles, now a fugitive, enters the Animus in a hideout after escaping with the mad doctor’s assistant, Lucy. This weird “off-the-book” Animus allows Desmond to revisit his ancestors’ memories by DNA processing. The moments controlling Desmond are brief, mainly to state that any skill gotten from memories will be kept intact in the present.
The production value shows much better perspective. Although I loved the first one, I could not help but notice the robotic Altair portrayal. Everything seemed strangely out of place since Altair was constantly being outsmarted by anyone on the verge of dying. The linear nature of Ezio’s quest might have helped a lot.
Along with Ezio the famous inventor and all-around know-it-all, Leonardo Da Vinci, marks a presence as a true assassin helper. His superior intellect will come in handy when Ezio finds the need to understand encrypted tomes. The dialogs between the two friends are surprisingly well-written, from the moment they meet to several years past, their relationship deepens and the player gets to watch it all.
If AC1 did not do much and ended up boring you out from repetitive quests do not expect this to be any different. To tell the truth, it surprises me to think people often cite AC2 as what AC1 should have been from the beginning. There is still not much more than going around killing whoever crosses your path, with eventual running quests and beating up of cheating husbands.
Much of what could be called innovative comes from the amazing synergy between objectives and story. There is a lot going on, and it happened in a more meaningful flow this time around. The story is better told, better paced, better explained. The side characters fit better roles in the overall picture. Altair sought enlightenment, Ezio seeks revenge. Half his family is ordered dead when the Templars get to his father’s assassin roots. Ezio takes on the duty after seeing his father and two brothers hung by the neck for a trumped-up charge of treason.
As always, the first thing to do is search for a high point within the city. From there you synchronize what you have learned and objectives will pop-up the screen. Some are secondary, some are quite essential to move the story. There is still quite a lot of synchronization to be done, while some started an uproar in the first for being a monotonous task, there is in all 73 towers, basilicas, churches, walls or whatever the case may be that large portions of land can be seen and analyzed.
The gigantic amount of collectibles is still there. AC1 had hundreds of flags and Templars to kill. AC2 has feathers—which Ezio’s little brother adored, a sort of memento to ease the pain from his mother–and many paintings. The paintings only require money and can be bought in the different cities Ezio visits. The feathers are as the flags were, except fewer in number, 100 of them scattered around.
There are hundreds of chests everywhere, finding them and keeping track is easier since one of the merchants sells maps that help the player. Every time one is opened, it disappears. That does not happen with feathers nor are the locations shown. For true exploration and desperation, a no-guide hunt is preferred. There is also the possibility of dyeing Ezio’s clothes to change the color, giving further personal taste to the everyday assassinations.
Assassin’s Creed 2 is a definite step forward from its predecessor. Although I would severely argue on the matter of quest variance, there is no denying that it feels more cohese with the story, with a higher polish rate. While there is a higher chance that anyone who disliked the first one might change their mind, I still think fans of the original will have a better time with it. The changes made are possibly enough to justify another try, though keep in mind they are not so massive and one might expect.