I always enjoy playing game sequels – especially when I felt the first game could have achieved much more than it presented. Enter Assassin’s Creed 2, the 2009 follow-up to the original. Now, if you remember from my review of the first game, I loved the fluid gameplay and parkour ninja-ing my way through Crusade-era bad guys. But, I felt that it eventually became fairly repetitive – constantly climbing towers and killing this guy or that guy because some old dude told me to. Before I loaded up AC2, I assumed at least some of those negatives would have been remedied, or else the fourth game wouldn’t have just been released. What I didn’t know was how evolved the second iteration was from its predecessor. If you’re a fan of the series, and have played every game, I’m sure this is all old news for you, but if you’re like me, and are just now experiencing the awesomeness of Desmond Miles and his crazy family, sit back and enjoy.
The game starts out where the first one ended. New light is shed on just what the hell is going on between the modern-day Templars and Assassins, just as Lucy shows up and leads you from your comfy prison. You fight your way out of the warehouse, and arrive at an Assassin HQ, with a slick new Animus, a new team, a new goal, and a new ancestor’s mind to hack into. Like the first game, you’re using this awesome technology to basically go back in time. Unlike the first game, where you were forced to do so in order to find the location of a fancy relic, now you’re just learning how to fight, Assassin style (something about abilities bleeding through from ancestor to Desmond. It’s all technical). The story itself is again split into two; the Desmond story, and the ancestor story, this time following Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a young Italian man who witnesses his father and brothers hanged due to a treasonous plot, and vows revenge on those who killed them.
Throughout the game, you hunt down the killers and everyone who had anything to do with their deaths, and then you kill them. Along the way, you delve deeper and deeper into the war between the Templars and Assassins, eventually discovering that your father was an Assassin, and was killed by the Templars because he was in their way of world domination. You know, that old story. With the help of some awesome allies, you eventually tear your way through the ranks of those Templar bastards to the man behind the scheme, Rodrigo Borgia, who has become Pope by the time you finally strike.
The story ends with you defeating the evil pope (of course), where you are then allowed to see the “truth” of things, which is in fact a message from an ancient advanced race from Earth, who were destroyed long ago. At the same time, Desmond is becoming more and more talented himself, and is soon able to run up walls, swing from ledges, and leap his way across warehouses. This comes in handy when the Templars attack the Assassin hide out, and he has to fight his way out.
Now, my rundown of the story doesn’t do it justice at all. It’s quite a gripping tale, and believe it or not, it does make sense. Even better, the story seems to have a purpose this time. In the first, you were just following the orders of an old man. This time, not only are you learning the ways of your ancestors, you’re also discovering the truth behind Ezio’s journey. In fact, I forgot all about Desmond until I was pulled out of the animus. Suffice it to say, the story is well done. Gripping, emotional, and coherent enough to keep you wanting more.
Perhaps even more important is the gameplay. And there is so much to talk about for AC2’s gameplay. First, the free-running, wall-climbing, stab happiness from the first game is back. There are new and improved techniques, including super jumping from distant handholds, swinging on dangling potted plants, and even flying at one point. Every action is super smooth, without a jerky movement in sight. The fighting is even better. The combat is fluid and adaptive. Your attacks will change depending on where you’re positioned with your enemy, what weapons they’re using, and the location that you’re fighting. Speaking of weapons, in addition to the original arsenal, you’ll now have a second hidden blade, complete with poison and pistol attachments, and the ability to use a mace instead of a sword. Actually, you can pick up your enemy’s weapons, so you could actually swing a two-handed great axe if you wanted to.
Additionally, you can purchase upgraded weapons and gear – increasing your health, armor, and damage. That’s right, a bit of RPG creeping into your stealthy ninja game. That’s not all though. Early on, you’ll unlock a “home base” of sorts – your uncle’s town – that you can buy upgrade for (brothels, churches, the essentials), which will earn you money that you can spend on all those upgraded goodies. You technically don’t need to upgrade anything, but the later missions and targets can be a little challenging, so every little bit helps.
Also of note are the various friends and allies that you’ll meet. Perhaps the most important is Leonardo da Vinci (yep, that da Vinci). He will use codex pages you find to upgrade your gear – such as the aforementioned hidden pistol blade. There’s also your uncle, who teaches you to fight like a true assassin, as well as making you improve his town. And, there’s a group of thieves and assassins you’ll meet in Venice, who act like the Forrest Gump to your Jenny and teach you the proper way to dangle and climb a wall with grace and dignity.
There are also hidden items like feathers and money chests, side-quests such as races and intimidation quests, and super side-quests that send you into crypts to solve parkour style puzzles in order to find hidden seals, which eventually unlock Altair’s armor, which is better than anything 500 years of technological advancement could come up with. These crypt quests are basically like the puzzles from God of War, except slightly longer, and involving 2000% more free running. The best way to describe the gameplay compared to that of the first game is more. More quests, more content, more diversity, more flexibility, and more fun. You don’t need to climb every tower in the city to unlock every quest just to continue. You can if you’d like, but it’s optional. Oh! Perhaps most important, you can now swim. Somewhere in the lineage, your family gained the understanding that water was not acid, and now you can use the canals and rivers to disappear from enemies. You can even paddle a gondola, though singing That’s Amore is completely optional.
Like the story, just about every element of the gameplay was awesome. It kept me wanting more and looking forward to the next objective, even though the game is just a series of stabbings. There weren’t any feelings of repetitiveness or slowing down of the action. Just constant Assassiny goodness.
Like the first game, the sounds and visuals were great. The animations were fluid, there was less clipping, and every movement looked real. A few cut scenes had some instances of noticeable polygons or crab-claw hands, but those weren’t huge detriments. The actual gameplay looked slick. The sounds were just as nice. All whooshes, clangs, footfalls, shouts, eagle cries, and voices were spot on and perfect. There was no cheesy dialogue to be found, even as every character switched from English to Italian mid-sentence (subtitles help).
As far as replayability goes, it’s about the same as the first game, except there are a couple DLCs that unlock new memories and objectives. While fun, they must come to an end at some point, which means that unless you love reaching 100% and finding every hidden object, there won’t be much reason to play through again. The world you play in is fairly open, but the actions you take don’t have much consequence on the story. The ending is the ending, and there’s really only one path there. However, there are enough side objectives and hidden goodies to find to double your play time. If you’re not into 100% completion, you may find the replayability a bit low, but the opportunity to extend the game definitely exists.
Assassin’s Creed 2 is a wonderful example of building upon the aspects of a game that were great, and cutting out the bad stuff. The same, great assassin style gameplay and free-running elements are back in full force, but this time they’re beefed up something fierce. Add that to the gripping story and RPG style elements that run throughout the course of the game, and you’ll have a hard time walking away. Some minor graphical issues and an overall lack of replayability are the only negatives to be found, but they are tiny compared to the awesomeness of this game. Ezio and the gang earns Assassins Creed 2 a da Vinci tinkered A-.
Overall: 9.2/10 A-
I knew what beer I wanted to pair with game from the start. Something rich and full, with strong, balanced flavors and a noticeable freshness to capture the complete awesomeness of the game. My beer of choice: Coronado Brewing Company’s Orange Avenue Wit. With a burst of zesty orange, it stays fresh from beginning to the very last drop. And, with its witbier style, it’s sure to fill your mouth with flavor. In addition, it’s a refreshing beer that stays tasty with every drink, much like how the various ways that you can stab a dude with a hidden blade never seems to get old in this game. So grab yourself a bottle or three and enjoy. If not, you’re just a Templar, and no body likes a Templar.