vendetta's Assassin's Creed II (Xbox 360) review

Twice the hidden blades, twice the fun?

 
 

Twice the hidden blades, twice the fun?
 

The first Assassin's Creed game was quite polarizing. There were plenty of good things to be said about the free running, the graphics, and the quality of the settings. The chief drawbacks that were stated were the repetitive, gamey aspect of the side quests that were required in between assassinations. Assassin's Creed 2 has completely fixed that aspect. With that being said, does that make it an instantly better game than the first? Yes... And no.

The sequel has exactly the same strengths as the first game. The set pieces are simply amazing. Florence and Venice feel incredibly real and you'll spend the majority of your time there. Gone are the lengthy, annoying sequences requiring you to ride between cities on horseback. Ubisoft has also incorporated a fast travel "caravan" system that can put you immediately where you want to go for a small cost. If you do choose to travel by horse, the landscapes are much more compact and much more interesting than they were in the first game. The problems of Assassin's Creed regarding lengthy traveling have been almost completely fixed in this game, and the pacing of the game is helped a great deal because of it. The soundtrack is beautifully composed and helps out quite a bit. I didn't remember it being as much of a factor in the first game, but it really adds a great deal to the feel. The soundtrack is at its best when it's dark and brooding, such as when you're dungeon crawling in search of the assassins' tombs.

The cities themselves are still the single biggest strength of the game and are largely unchanged from the first installment. They're beautifully constructed and quite true to history. They're also packed with people and they feel just as living and breathing as Damascus, Acre, and Jerusalem did in the first game. The scale of the cities is amazing, and it really makes the building-climbing platforming rewarding when you're sitting atop a tower peering over a bustling landscape below you. The graphics are just as strong as the first game. The building textures all look great up close and the character models are equally good.

There are several improvements over the first game to be had. Side missions in this game are greatly improved from the previous game. They've incorporated a great deal more variety, are spread further apart, and in general just feel a whole lot less gamey and repetitive. You'll do a lot more actual assassinating in this game as you can collect contracts from chicken coops almost limitlessly. There are also beat-'em-up missions, courier missions, races, and more. It all feels much more applicable to the reality of the game and the strict requirement of the side quests has been all but removed. For the most part they serve only as an additional way to earn money. Aside from the improvements, there is an entirely new level of customization added to this game that was absent from the first game.

You can now purchase several different types of armor, swords, daggers, health pouches, and more. One of the new aspects that I greatly enjoyed was the new dye system. Sick of the same old white assassin's costume? Visit a tailor. There are a large amount of different dye options, varying from locale to locale, but each of them are interesting and do a lot to freshen up the game. Gone are the piles of collectible flags from the first game, replaced by a significantly different quantity of collectible items such as feathers for your brother and mother, assassin's seals to unlock a special armor, symbols to scan that engage you in an interesting (and slightly creepy) minigame, and codex pages to give you new equipment. All of the collectibles may seem a bit daunting at first, but it begins to become more manageable once you grasp where to find each of them and which rewards you get for each collectible. Most importantly is the fact that all of these collectibles are interesting and relevant to the game -- not generic and boring like the flags of the first Assassin's Creed.

The single best addition, though, has to be the acquisition of a stronghold and your ability to increase its worth by investing money into shops, mines, brothels, and more. It became one of my driving forces behind playing the game, and I was soon dumping all of the money that I earned back into my stronghold in order to improve its worth. This isn't without reward, either. The more your stronghold is worth, the more people will stop by to visit mid-journey, and the more they'll spend on your various points of interest. You make a certain portion of money every twenty minutes, which is deposited into the chest in the architecture room of your villa. This also ties back to the collectibles, which increase the value of your stronghold as well. It's incredibly enjoyable and was one of the brightest points of the game for me.

Unfortunately Assassin's Creed 2 isn't without its faults. Ezio's character development is interesting and it does feel as if he's changed significantly by the end of the game, but I still didn't really feel enthralled by him as a character. The story is very political and can be a bit tough to follow in the beginning if you don't have much of an interest in history. But it picks up towards the middle and becomes very engaging for the rest of the game. The worst factor of the game for me was something that I loved about the first game: the platforming and free running. When it's good, it's great, but when it's bad, it's downright frustrating and nearly caused me to turn off my console at times.

Attempting to free run with speed is inevitably difficult and there are many times when you'll be chasing somebody with the camera locked and inadvertently begin to scale the wrong wall or structure, causing you to lose your target. This is far too easy to do and can be incredibly frustrating. It led to me all but totally bypassing any of the side missions that required a race or a chase sequence. This also leads to the chase sequences being purely trial and error -- mostly error -- and very unenjoyable. There are also occasions while scaling when Ezio would inexplicably stop moving in the direction that I was climbing, causing me to think that I couldn't continue any further that way. Later on I'd realize that Ezio sometimes simply stops for no reason and just cranes his head in that direction as if to say that it wasn't possible to continue climbing in that direction even though there is indeed to possibility to continue. Only letting go of the left control stick and then once again moving it to the direction would cause him to continue. It's mind-boggling as to why he does this, and incredibly frustrating when you're attempting to move quickly. More than one time it caused me to attempt to jump which resulted in my untimely death and a string of curses erupting from me and directed at Ezio's onscreen corpse. As an extension of this, it's also far too easy to jump in the wrong direction during a climb, and several times the camera would crane to show me an object to jump to which would result in my attempting the jump several times and missing it each time until I decided to just move on and forget about it. These factors combined with the lack of a quick "restart from checkpoint" option greatly diminished (if not totally removed) any of my enjoyment from these types of sequences. This all came to a head for me when I spent nearly a half an hour removing several archers from surrounding towers in order to get to my target, made my way all the way up the main tower with the objective of hanging onto the edge and pulling the guards over. Ezio inexplicably climbs up over the top of the edge, and I'm sent falling to my death as a guard immediately pushes me back over. The lack of adequate checkpoints now forces me to start the entire mission over. Thirty minutes of gameplay lost due to poor controls is not an experience that I enjoy in my video games. These types of control-oriented platforming and free running issues are indicative of a system that hasn't aged very well, as I don't remember having this many problems with the first game and the system has remained largely unchanged.

Combat returns largely unchanged from the first game. It's still based mostly on countering, and it feels alright in general but has a number of inherent issues. Performing a nice counter is incredibly enjoyable, as are the killing sequences that follow. Disarming is another aspect of combat that's incredibly fun, and when I was involved in minor encounters with guards I often wouldn't draw a weapon at all in favor of just disarming a guard and taking his. There are a few bugs here that diminish the experience much like there are in the free running system. There are times when Ezio will become stuck in an animation, such as stumbling, when he comes into contact with a wall, allowing the guards to continue to beat on you until you die. The camera is also a major issue. It will attempt to find the right angle when battling, but gets caught inside and behind walls and ceilings often when you're doing combat in a closed-in area. These issues were enough to damage what was a genuinely fun combat system for me at times.

The Good: Nearly every drawback of the first game has been improved upon. Superb graphics. Fabulous, brooding soundtrack. Living, breathing cities and landscapes that really make 15th century Italy feel authentic. When platforming works, it's spectacular. Meaty, lengthy game that's packed with content. Armor management, weapon management, new costumes, build-your-own-stronghold additions all designed well and addictive.
 

The Bad:

Free running control has aged poorly and can be frustrating at times, especially when attempting to move quickly, making races and chase sequences an annoyance. Ezio doesn't always go where you want him to. Chase sequences are purely trial and error. Bugs in general are a big problem. Camera is a massive pain during battle sequences. No quick checkpoint restart option and fewer and further between checkpoints only make existing problems worse.
 
Final Verdict: There are plenty of nice things included in the package here, but the drawbacks could have been addressed with some more play-testing and tweaking from Ubisoft to make this a far better game. When it's good, it's fantastic, but when it's bad, this game is downright infuriating to play. I had a very love-hate relationship with Assassin's Creed. There were times when I marveled at how good it was, but there were also several moments that saw me turn my system off in utter frustration rather than continue playing the game.
9 Comments
Posted by ChernobylCow

Under The Good: you listed "Excellent replay value."  Care to clarify on this?  The game does not seem to have a branching storyline, diverging paths based upon morality, or any of those sort of tropes that would warrant a second play-through.  Are you specifically speaking about upping the difficulty?  Do collectibles carry over?  Free-roaming isn't exactly "replay".

Posted by Vendetta
@ChernobylCow said:
" Under The Good: you listed "Excellent replay value."  Care to clarify on this?  The game does not seem to have a branching storyline, diverging paths based upon morality, or any of those sort of tropes that would warrant a second play-through.  Are you specifically speaking about upping the difficulty?  Do collectibles carry over?  Free-roaming isn't exactly "replay". "
I was considering the collectibles and the free-roam, so you're correct. It wouldn't be considered "replay". I'm going to edit the review to reflect that. Thank you for the comment.
Posted by The5th

Great review man, better then the Giantbomb guy's review in my opinion. You're complaints are actually real complaints that have happened to me but I don't generally get frustrated enough to scream at a videogame character, lol.  Then again I love the free running and I hardly ever mess up while chasing someone down.

Posted by ChernobylCow
@Vendetta said:
"I was considering the collectibles and the free-roam, so you're correct. It wouldn't be considered "replay". I'm going to edit the review to reflect that. Thank you for the comment. "
So you are saying that in the long run the game has a lot of content or "meat" to it.  Do you have an estimate of length for the storyline or how much time you spent playing with it.  I can't recall how long it took me to complete the first AC.
Posted by Vendetta
@The5th said:
" Great review man, better then the Giantbomb guy's review in my opinion. You're complaints are actually real complaints that have happened to me but I don't generally get frustrated enough to scream at a videogame character, lol.  Then again I love the free running and I hardly ever mess up while chasing someone down. "
Thanks! I appreciate the compliment, but I'm no Ryan Davis!
 
I do tend to yell at video games, which is pretty embarrassing now that I consider it. I wonder what my neighbors think?
Posted by Vendetta
@ChernobylCow said:
" @Vendetta said:
"I was considering the collectibles and the free-roam, so you're correct. It wouldn't be considered "replay". I'm going to edit the review to reflect that. Thank you for the comment. "
So you are saying that in the long run the game has a lot of content or "meat" to it.  Do you have an estimate of length for the storyline or how much time you spent playing with it.  I can't recall how long it took me to complete the first AC. "
Hard to say as it depends totally on how you play it. For the average gamer I'd estimate around 30 hours, but it's definitely possible to play through much faster than that.
 
It feels longer than the first game from what I can recall.
Posted by RsistncE

I'm not sure how much your frustrations with the free running controls are related to actual game mechanics rather than what just may be your ineptness in regards to the controls. I'm not saying you suck; instead it might just be possible that you're just not good at the game. This concern mostly stems from the fact that no reviewer out there has voiced concerns on level with yours regarding the free running system. Either way, the quality of the review was excellent, keep it up.

Posted by Vendetta
@RsistncE said:
" I'm not sure how much your frustrations with the free running controls are related to actual game mechanics rather than what just may be your ineptness in regards to the controls. I'm not saying you suck; instead it might just be possible that you're just not good at the game. This concern mostly stems from the fact that no reviewer out there has voiced concerns on level with yours regarding the free running system. Either way, the quality of the review was excellent, keep it up. "
That's definitely a possibility, and it's one that I considered, but I decided that my criticism was warranted considering that I played through the first game without anywhere near the problems that I've had with this one. But you could be right. I'm going to continue playing the game, and if the complaints are indeed more due to my inadequacy with the game than the faults of the control then I'll edit my review to reflect that.
 
And thank you for the compliment. As long as you guys keep reading them then I'll keep writing them.
Posted by GunstarRed

Your review is spot on about the controls... I found myself getting stuck on the sides of buildings, getting knocked unfairly off of ledges... jumping in the wrong direction... jumping to the wrong ledge.... just a lot of weird jumping... 
 
Which like you I did not encounter with the first game. I really enjoyed the story and the pacing of the game and got far too sidetracked by the  house/painting minigame. but the controls (why can I not climb up the building diagonally from the get go?) really made me swear at times along with the numerous times it crashed or scripted events just didn't happen like they should have. at least they fixed the constant harrassment of the guards from the first game.

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