Italian flair can make good, great.
Assassin’s Creed II sees players once again taking on the role of the franchise lead character, Desmond Miles, as he once more delves into the past of and ancestor. This time it’s Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a young man of some standing in Renaissance Italy. The story quickly picks up from the end of the first game, with just enough recap to catch fans back up to speed, but not enough to fill in some of the more major blanks for newcomers, so the game assumes some familiarity with Assassin’s Creed. This isn’t too bad though, as the new story soon develops itself, with Ezio getting a fully realized story, showing of one of the biggest improvements in Assassin’s Creed II, a lot more character and believability to its story and hero.
Whilst in Ezio’s shoes, players will find themselves exploring all over later 15 century Italy, living the life of a once nobleman on his quest for revenge after events early in the story mean his life takes a drastically different direction. The story lends itself well into tutorials, with the player learning as Ezio does, and it flows smoothly enough without ever dropping too much on you at once. Also, the next part of the story is always available, meaning you never have to go and do side missions to get to the next part of the story, letting the game progress at the players choosing. Assassin’s Creed II also breaks up Ezio’s story much less than the first game did with Altaïr,with just enough returns to Desmond to keep him in the picture without diverting the player away from Ezio and his story. Technically these are small improvements, but they do make Assassin’s Creed II less polarizing than its predecessor with simple things like explaining why Ezio is murdering all these people in the first place.
Gameplay wise, Assassin’s Creed II is very similar to Assassin’s Creed, however many tiny improvements and additions make the game much more accessible and varied. Ezio has many more weapons at his disposal, as do his foes, as well as more ways of using them, making combat feel more functional than in Assassin’s Creed. Counter attacks are still one of the best ways to dispatch guards, but with new disarm techniques, and the use of the hidden blade in face to face combat, there’s a lot more choice and freedom to dispatch your foes, often in some gruesome ways. Which is a good thing, as the AI of the enemy’s has also been refined, thereby making guards more of a challenge than a test of how well you can use the counter attack system. Assassinations have also been greatly improved by adding more variety, be it simply taking out two targets at once with the twin hidden blades to the more extravagant stuff life assassinations from rooftops with dramatic leaps, or more useful things like Assassinations from hiding spots. Sadly, the combat never gets too hard, and while no one method can dispatch every enemy you’ll encounter first time, once you learn the disarm skill you rarely ever need to use anything else but that and the hidden blades.
The free running and exploration is much more of a mixed bag. Much like the first game, Assassin’s Creed II suffers from its path finding seemingly being random at times, with it sending Ezio in a completely different direction to what you intended and expected. However Ezio also moves better than Altaïr, climbing and moving faster, and just having more moves at his disposal. But this just means its all the more frustrating when an otherwise great traversal system sees you suddenly going somewhere you weren’t expecting. With landscapes as big and varied as those of Assassin’s Creed II allows players to traverse through, these issues are often one event’s and a little more forgivable. Another great thing about the environments is that there’s always something to do or collect, meaning you’re rarely ever running from place to place with nothing between the two points to do, and the inclusion of fast travel makes getting between the major locations a lot less of a chore. All these parts are brought together well by the story missions, varying from following someone through busy streets, to flying over to infiltrating buildings and assassinating targets.
Aside from the main missions that progress the story, there’s also a whole ton of side stuff to do in Ezio’s . Between assassination contracts, beat up events, courier jobs and races, a lot of the core gameplay is used a lot. The best part though, is that all these side tasks are fun in their own right, though sadly, sometimes more fun, and importantly, challenging, than the actual main missions. There’s also a lot of collectibles to gather as well, ranging from useful weapons and armour to more cosmetic stuff like paintings. Add these to hidden treasures and an upgradeable villa, and Assassin’s Creed II has a lot to keep you busy. It’s best side mission though lies in Subject 16 and glyphs hidden on specific buildings, which when found reveal puzzles that unlock parts of a story not vital to the plot of the game, but add a lot to the series’ fiction.
Visually Assassin’s Creed II is gorgeous. The locales all have their own feel and style and there’s little to no immersion breaking architecture, no buildings look climbable that aren’t and vice-versa. All the character models look great too, from the humble street beggars to the suave looks and dashing attire of Ezio. With no slowdown even with a screen full of people Assassin’s Creed II maintains a constantly high visual standard throughout. The only exception is Lucy Stillman, one of the characters Desmond interacts with whose face just doesn’t seem to look right next to other characters. The high levels of standard set by the visuals are also maintained in the sound. All the characters are well voiced, with none of them sounding out of character or scene. The music is often understated which adds to how good it sounds by not being overused or overpowering. However, if I never hear “Money, Money!” in an Italian accent again, it’ll be too soon. Also, Cam Clarke seemed to be pulling double duties on voice acting smaller parts, I seemed to hear him as much as I heard Ezio.
Assassin’s Creed II is a really great game. As you plow through the main story, there’s always something else you can be doing too, and with characters and a setting as solid as the game presents, it’s a joy to follow through. But once it’s done, it’s done. It’s a fair sized game, but added to its ease and few frustrations, it just falls shy of excellence. That said, Assassin’s Creed II tells an incredible tale, and is an utter joy to play, and thoroughly worth experiencing.