Requiescat in pace
I had a high appreciation for what Ubisoft sought to accomplish with the original Assassin's Creed, but was one of the many that felt like its gameplay never lived up to its ambition. It was ultimately a shallow, repetitive experience, and I was hopeful that the sequel would make strides to better realize the original concept. The result is double-edged, as the narrative aspects bring a much better flow to proceedings, but that coating does little to hide the lack of evolution in gameplay. Assassin's Creed II plays very much the same as its predecessor, and will primarily appeal to its fans as a result.
With that being said, Assassin's Creed II is ultimately a better game than the first. The main reason for this is that its narrative is much more well developed. Rather than simply being told "kill nine dudes" right at the start, you follow main character Ezio Auditorie de Whatever as he evolves from an irresponsible young man into a master assassin. You take it one mission at a time, and a lot of smaller characters and plot threads work their way into the mix along the way. It ends up being a fairly rich tale, and the story flows in such a way that seems to give much more meaningful context to what's going on. This in turn makes it a little easier to get into the nuts and bolts of the gameplay.
Unfortunately, this sugar coating can only assist the gameplay so much. The basic gameplay design of Assassin's Creed II is essentially a ton of glorified fetch-quests, which get old fast. Whether you're delivering a message, escorting an ally, or simply trying to kill someone, almost every quest in the game boils down to getting from Point A to Point B. The action you then do at Point B is generally something trivial, such as talk to someone, or kill a few people. And make no mistake- killing people in Assassin's Creed II is as trivial as it gets. I played through the entire game by countering or disarming opponents, which are essentially the same move. It's super easy and totally unsatisfying. It also didn't help matters that I found getting from point to point kind of frustrating. Most of the time everything worked fine, but every now and then Ezio would jump in the exact opposite direction from where I had him facing. I only died once in the entire game, and that's because Ezio decided to jump left off the Duomo, rather than forward like I instructed him to. It just felt a bit wonky. Finally, the silly economic system felt pretty tacked on to me. You'll always have enough money to buy whatever you need, yet having to travel all the way back to your estate to pick it up is just lame. It all felt like one big distraction, simply put there to needlessly extend the length of the game.
Repetitive mission structure, easy combat, and wonky platforming. These are the exact gripes I had with the original Assassin's Creed, and the sequel is no different. A more well structured narrative provides better context for your exploits, but this cosmetic face lift wasn't quite enough to blind me to its underlying shortcomings. Fans of the original will certainly find a better package here, but anyone looking for some significantly improved gameplay would be best served elsewhere.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.