This was an E3 of great-looking sequels, and one of my top entries in the most-improved category was Assassin's Creed II. The first game didn't have a lot of things wrong with it to begin with, but the team at Ubisoft Montreal has clearly been working hard the last two years to make sure this sequel realizes a lot more of the series' great potential.
Though Ubi wasn't showing more of the game at E3 than what we saw at the Sony press conference earlier in the week, it was definitely talking more details. Most importantly, it sounds like the general flow of the gameplay has been streamlined and varied, addressing the biggest complaint about the first game (its lack of variety). The assassinations can now take place anywhere within the game world, rather than being keyed to specific locations, and you won't have to go through the dry investigation process to collect evidence prior to every kill this time around. There are also said to be quite a few more types of side missions than in the first game.
The team is also adding more depth to the combat, which looked really stylish in the original game but usually degenerated into a rote chain of parries and one-hit instant kills. There are now several types of enemies that use different combat techniques and have different degrees of armor, so you'll have to vary your tactics depending on who you're facing. You can disarm some enemies and use their weapons against them--I saw new assassin Ezio grab a large axe from one foe and bury it right in the guy's face. (You can then pick these weapons back up and keep using them.) An Ubi rep said the game will have four times more fighting animations than the first one, which ought to give you an idea of the combat's expanded scope.
Assassin's Creed II looks downright beautiful. The game's rendition of renaissance Venice is so expansive and detailed it almost takes on a painterly quality, and up close the crowds of people look more varied and lively than they did in the Middle East of the first game. It's no surprise that a new game would look markedly better two years after its predecessor came out, but this one is really something to behold when you see it in motion.
Ubi has confirmed that Ezio is part of the same bloodline as the first game's Altair and their present-day descendant, Desmond Miles, whose memories you're reliving via the Animus machine. But I was surprised to find out Ezio isn't another master assassin with a guild of fellow killers behind him, like Altair was. Instead, he's a young nobleman who suffers some kind of personal tragedy at the hands of some very bad people. That's what inspires him to take up the hidden blade and seek vengeance, and in lieu of a network of assassins supporting him, he'll have... Leonardo Da Vinci. Probably not a bad trade. Ubi likens Da Vinci in this game to James Bond's Q, a wise old character who provides Ezio with training and equipment that will help him carry out his quest.
There's a laundry list of minor gameplay improvements and additions that look like they'll make Assassin's Creed II play better than before. Ezio has two hidden blades instead of one, so you can perform a double kill in some situations. You can now do a climb-leap move that lets you scale building faces more quickly than before. You can blend in with almost any crowd now, rather than just the sporadic groups of monks in the first game.
I could go on, but the point is, anyone who already enjoyed Assassin's Creed the first time around is going to find a lot to like about this sequel--and if Ubi makes good on its promises, I think there's a decent chance that anyone who had issues with it may find their issues addressed the second time around.