Review: Assassin’s Creed 2
The original Assassin's Creed was released back in 2007, and had many shortcomings but still gained a noticeably large fan base. Despite all of its flaws, however, the game was unique, innovative and it set the groundwork for what is fast turning out to be an awesome franchise. Here we are, two years later, and the sequel, Assassin's Creed 2, has just been released.
- Worth The Time?Yes, without any doubt.
- Things LovedIt has improved on its predecessor in nearly all possible ways, the gameplay is excellent and hugely refined, the amazing graphics, there's just so much to do and a truckload of variety with regards to player options, the story is gripping and there's a shocking conclusion waiting for you to set the stage for the third game, the world is vast.
- Things HatedIt takes a few hours of tutorials before you really get into the game, the economic system is a bit shallow, the fact that your armour can get damaged does get irritating, there are a few bugs.
- RecommendationAnyone who enjoyed the original should race to pick up its sequel. And a big recommendation goes to all of those who were disappointed with or did not like the first game as well, because this one has improved in every possible way.
- Name: Assassin's Creed 2
- Genre: Action Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox360 (PC version delayed to Q1 of 2010)
- Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Price: R350 (PC), R550 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PS3
Assassin’s Creed 2 begins with a short, flashback cutscene that summarises the events of the first game and, thereafter, picks up right where the first game ended, with Desmond Miles using his newly acquired Eagle Vision to read the blood writing on the wall of his cell at Abstergo Industries. The game throws you straight into the action as Desmond is forced to perform a prison break and escape, with the aid of Lucy, to the Assassin’s secret hideout. From there you’re introduced to the “new crew” and discover that they have access to an Animus machine to allow Desmond to relive the memories of his ancestors. Instead of following Altair in 12th century Jerusalem, Desmond is made to relive the life of Ezio Auditore di Firenze, in 15th century Italy, in order to learn the ways of an assassin.
Upon entering the Animus you witness the birth of Ezio and you’re then allowed to briefly move the baby’s arms, legs and head in a humourous and quick lesson on movement controls. The game then jumps into the future where Ezio is roughly seventeen years of age and already a tough guy, wealthy son of a banker and a womaniser. However, this is where things go downhill and, in all honesty, it’s probably one of the few big problems with the game. See, from this point onwards and for the next hour and a half or so you’re going to be playing through missions that are virtually all tutorials. At a glance it’s easy to see how much more depth there is to this sequel and these tutorials will be very helpful to newcomers to the game, but those who have played Assassin’s Creed, or any moderately experienced gamer for that matter, will eventually begin to feel as though the game suspects that you are a moron. Getting to the know the characters, background information and events that set the whole revenge plot in motion is truly awesome and will definitely have you interested in the story, but sadly the tiresome tutorials you’re forced to do will put a damper on your day. A lot of the tutorials are necessary, both to learning the gameplay and story, but one can’t help but feel that they are a little too long overall.
What’s good is that the tutorials provide plenty of time to get used to the controls, combat and climbing system, because Ezio has all of the key abilities right from the start, so once you finally get into the game you won’t need to learn anything. From the moment you’re left to your own devices the game instantly turns into a blast and you will soon begin realising just how much more is on offer compared to the first game – so much, in fact, that no one would blame you if you decided to make a to-do list in order to plan your time effectively. The story really starts kicking in at this point as well and, while it may at times be convoluted, it’s an excellently told plot with brilliant characters and voice acting that will drive you to continue playing the game in addition to everything else. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Assassin’s Creed is really great at duel-protagonist storytelling, Desmond Miles features a lot less in this sequel, but when he does his parts are of vital importance and are some of the best in the game. Fortunately, Ezio also has an awesome story to tell and you’ll be immersed in the game world from the beginning right until the shocking conclusion that brilliantly sets the stage for the third and final game in the trilogy.
Regarding the gameplay, Assassin’s Creed 2 stays true to the original formula, except it has been expanded and changed for the better in almost all areas. Players control Ezio similarly to Altair, except the control system and gameplay have both been significantly improved and polished. The excellent free running system is a prime example of this, as you’ll be able to control Ezio with ease, after becoming accustomed to the controls, and you’ll be running around the city scaling buildings and stunting around without any frustrations. Ezio is a fair deal faster than Altair and packs a few new moves, some of which you unlock later in the game, that make the free running system and controlling Ezio even better. Not to mention that you can hijack and pilot gondoliers, if you’re too lazy to swim. The control scheme itself is the same as it was in the first game, where the face buttons control Ezio’s actions, the shoulder pads his targeting, high profile mode and weapon radial selection screen, which is your inventory, and the directional keys control his equipped weapons and items.
With the missions, gone is the long winded game structure of repetitive investigations followed by assassinations, instead replaced with a far more logical and open system. The original system worked well for the concept and story of the game, but the main problem with it was that the side missions were repetitive and lacked variety. That’s not an issue here, as there are an enormous amount of things to do and lots of different activities to partake in. The mission structure is open ended and scattered around the world are side missions, treasures, collectibles, viewpoints and, of course, the main missions. It’s up to you to choose what you want to do – and this time all are beneficial to you. Unlocking view points reveals the map and they are very useful, since there is so much more you need to look out for this time around, although they are not essential to progress. The game has plenty of collectibles and treasures that give bonuses such as money, extra health and special in-game items. Some, such as the secret “glyphs”, that you have to find and scan using eagle vision, and the collectible feathers, unlock story-related content as well which adds to the experience. There are the six Assassin tombs that become accessible as you progress through the story and collecting all six “seals” hidden within will reward you with a special surprise. Then there is the extensive and interesting database, which contains in-depth information on the various cities, the characters and other important information for you to indulge yourself in.
There is a great deal of content in Assassin’s Creed 2, but at a basic level you’re going to be cruising around the city either to complete story quests, harass random people in the streets, search for collectibles and treasures or explore the vast cities. There is so much more variety in this sequel, noticeably with the mission types. With the first game Ubisoft failed to realise what made their game so fun – the actual assassinations, but unfortunately you had to go through a lengthy, repetitive and painful process in order to get to them. Now, you aren’t forced to do tedious side missions and watch excruciatingly long cutscenes – which were cool the first time, just not the twentieth – because not only are the main missions packed with variety and fun, but the side missions are also a welcome distraction this time around in addition to them being a little rewarding. There are chase sequences, assassinations, races, beat-up events, courier missions – and a number of them are fun indeed, but unfortunately you probably won’t bother with most of them. While they add variety and are interesting to try out, you’ll most likely only do the assassination contracts and forget the rest since you can gain more elsewhere, particularly from the main missions, collectibles and treasures.
The game features an economic system where, by using money you’ve earned – or stolen, since you can pickpocket anyone you see – you can purchase new weapons, items, equipments, upgrades for your home villa and even bonus moves for Ezio. There are tons of things to spend your money on, but unfortunately a lot of it, mostly referring to the weapons, just aren’t worth it. Ezio is able to carry, at any point in time, one main weapon, a side weapon, throwing knives and items, like medicine or smoke bombs. While the items prove to be very useful throughout the game, the weapons aren’t always worth buying. There are plenty of them, granted, but most of them are not only hardly any different to the next and are costly, but you also don’t need them because fighting with the hidden blade and your bare fists will do the job easily enough. It might be enjoyable for some to test out the vast array of different weapons, but when looking at it from a critical perspective the weapons don’t really add much to the game. They do differ in their stats as well, but the effect is minimal when you’re actually in combat. You’re most likely going to end up buying one weapon to keep around and stealing the rest from your enemies. Still, it’s great to see so much available for the more adventurous player.
Aside from buying weapons, you’ll also be able to purchase armours, although these are added to the shops at set points in the game. They’re progressively tiered, in that the latest set of armour will always be superior to the last, so you won’t be sorting through a list and picking out the best one, but rather just purchasing the next set of armour that becomes available. It’s a straightforward system, but it works well. What’s better is that you have the option of buying dyes to colourise your armour to your liking as well as purchasing pouch upgrades to increase the amount of items, poison vials and throwing knives you’re able to carry. Another area to clean out your wallet is on your villa, which serves as your home base, where you can buy a whole list of upgrades for it, such as improved shops for discounts, brothels and other nice things – all of which increase your villa’s overall value. See, every twenty minutes your villa generates an income, which you can collect at any time, but it has a limit, so you won’t be able to wait it out for hours to get heaps of cash. However, the more upgrades you buy for the villa and the more you improve it the higher that limit becomes, so it can become quite profitable.
The combat system has been hectically improved. In the first game, while it was functional, it was quite stiff and repetitive, but in Assassin’s Creed 2 it’s far more enjoyable and exciting. The system still remains the same at the core, in that engaging enemies will have the camera zoom out in a 360 degree radius where you can then fight enemies in all directions. You’ll be able to perform quick strikes, combo attacks, counter attacks, dodges and grapples like before, except there is a lot more to it. For one the hidden blade and fists have become full weapons, so you can block, attack, combo and counter hit with them. Pulling off a successful counter attack with your fists will have Ezio disarm his opponent and use his weapon against him, while performing a grapple will allow you to beat down your opponent in addition to throwing him. You’ll also be able to attack your enemies while they’re on the ground by sticking a sword or blade into them or savagely kicking them – which is sadistically appealing. Ezio has a huge amount of awesome-looking, brutal and gory fighting moves at his disposal, that all differ depending on the weapon he’s wielding, and the combat is much faster in pace than it was in the first game – so all things considered, Assassin’s Creed 2 offers a far more enjoyable and polished combat experience than its predecessor. Added to the fact that Ezio’s animations are spectacularly well done in all areas of the game, especially in combat, and there is no debate here. The only unlikable factor is that the game no longer features a health regeneration system and your armour can become damaged, where you’ll then have to visit doctors and blacksmiths to heal or repair damaged gear. Luckily, there are doctors and blacksmiths everywhere and your health heals to full at certain checkpoints in missions, but it still can become irritating at times, especially for the reckless players.
One of the best things about Assassin’s Creed 2 is that stealth and assassination is much more of an option this time around. Not only do you have access to smoke bombs, poison and loose change to throw around to create crowd chaos or aid you in an escape, but you’re also able to hire your own personal squads from the three factions to aid you. The thieves cause distractions and remove guards from their posts, the courtesans can both hide you from sight and distract the guards and the mercenaries can fight it out with your enemies so you can sneak passed unnoticed or attack from behind. You’re also able to assassinate in many new ways, such as while climbing, hiding in hay, being able to take out two enemies at once with the double hidden blade, with poison, with the aid of your hired friends – it all allows you to feel much more like an assassin, in addition to being a rambo, than the first game did. There are also a lot more ways in which you can use the environment to escape or hide, as now you can blend in with any group of people standing near, hide in hay, garden houses, wells or under water and even carry dead bodies around and plant them in plain sight to cause distractions, buying you some time. The game uses a new notoriety system, where causing chaos and killing guards will raise your wanted level, which determines how quick guards will notice you, so you’ll have to be careful how you act. To reduce it, you’ll have to take down wanted posters, bribe public speakers or kill officials.
Now, there is the business of what makes Assassin’s Creed 2 so great, right? Well, there are many answers to that question, but beyond all of the above, one of the best things about the game is how much time you’ll be able to spend playing it. Most games these days show you the end credits after roughly eight hours of playing, but Assassin’s Creed 2 has so much more to it. Just doing the bare minimal and focusing on the main missions will take you well over 10 hours to complete the game. If you decide to broaden your horizons and explore all that the game has to offer, you’re easily looking at 20 plus hours of gameplay, which is mighty impressive. The game is massive both in gameplay and scope and it really does address every problem area that the first game had, either correcting or greatly improving it. Assassin’s Creed 2 has most certainly learned from nearly all of its past mistakes.
In the graphics department Assassin’s Creed 2 is nothing short of incredible. The various locations and cities you’ll explore are all massive in size, designed extremely well and look beautiful. The game is visually amazing and that’s all there is to it. On a technical front the game is mostly solid, although you will experience the odd bug every now and then, mostly graphical glitches or animation bugs. In the seventeen hours or so I spent playing the game I didn’t encounter anything game breaking, so there are no worries here. As expected after the first game, Assassin’s Creed 2 has awesome and capturing music that set both the themes and tones of the game perfectly. While you’re traveling through the cities you’ll hear gentle and soft music that goes with the theme of the city you’re in, but the minute you hit an alert the music will flare up and become tense, bringing excitement and feel into the combat and dangerous moments. Coupled together with the fantastic voice acting and excellent sounds and the game is a winner in this area.
Assassin’s Creed 2 has done everything a sequel is expected to do. It has surpassed its predecessor in nearly every possible way, providing a huge amount of variety, greatly improved gameplay, much more depth and a thrilling and engaging plot. The game will draw you in and entertain you for hours with its awesome gameplay and gripping story. Any issues you could have had with the first game have been addressed and improved in this sequel. The only things bringing it down are the dragged out tutorials in the beginning, a few bugs and the rather shallow economic system, mostly referring to the indifference with the weapons. That aside, Assassin’s Creed 2 is, without a doubt, one of the best games of 2009, both as an action and sandbox experience, and it doesn’t need to be said that it’s a sure contender for Game of the Year. This is a game that you definitely wouldn’t want to miss.