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Assassin's Creed II Review

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Assassin's Creed II elaborates on the good ideas of its sneak-and-stab forebear, making an experience that requires far fewer excuses to enjoy.


 Back in the saddle.
After an uneven start, the Assassin's Creed series is finding its footing in its second chapter. The original was an imperfect gem, a game with more heady concept and spark than staying power--qualities that, frankly, make it the ideal candidate for a more potent sequel. It would seem that the developers at Ubisoft Montreal have put considerable thought into how to bring some color and depth to the detailed and occasionally brilliant sketch work provided by the original Assassin's Creed, and that effort has paid off generously.
 
Assassin's Creed II has a bit more to offer those already familiar with the high-concept intricacies of the original, where you played as a bold and highly serious young assassin named Altair living in the Holy Land during the Crusades. Although, really you were playing as Desmond Miles, an average every-man strapped into a genetic memory machine called the Animus. Locked-up in a high-security facility, Desmond was forced to play through this whole Altair scenario by a high-tech, ultramodern, and exceedingly diabolical order of Templars, who are searching through history for clues concerning some ancient artifacts of supernatural power that they hope to use to end their centuries-spanning war with those do-gooder Assassins. If all this premise is just whizzing clean over your head, you may want to read up before jumping in here. Assassin's Creed II makes some token effort to catch up new players, but after a quick summary reel, it picks right back up from the final shot of the first Assassin's Creed and doesn't look back.

 
After an efficiently eventful opening, it's established that, with the Templars on the move and Desmond in the custody and employ of the Assassins, it's time for Desmond to start his training to become a proper, real-live killer. In a plot device of distinctly Matrixian construction, Desmond trains by hopping into the Animus (well, an Animus, anyway). This time he's playing through some of the more eventful moments in the life of an ancestor named Ezio Auditore, a privileged young man living a rambunctious, devil-may-care life in Renaissance-era Florence, Italy. In a striking and somewhat peculiar move, you start off your Ezio experience with one of the biggest events for anyone: birth. This is the first sign of what becomes one of the clear differences between this game and the last--a protagonist you can care about.
 

The cities are as key to the game's character as Ezio himself.

Altair was a bit of a blank slate, a character defined by his post. He was a total bad-ass, no doubt, but he often came off as callous, and for all the long-winded philosophical tap-dancing that went on, there was never any insight into the character. With Ezio, you watch as an incredibly justified vendetta drives him from brash bon vivant to brutal and unrepentant assassin, albeit one whose interests seem to line up with the greater good. Ezio's a colorful character, but much of the game's vibrance comes from the cities it takes place in, most notably Florence and Venice, both of which have such incredibly distinctive feels. The game definitely looks better when it's rendering the cramped city life than the sprawling countryside in between, though there are now numerous fast-travel points that make it easier to skip the flyover areas.
 
Not content creating lively, convincing renditions of real places, Assassin's Creed II weaves itself freely into the tumultuous history of Renaissance Italy, linking Ezio's path and the secret war between the Templars and the assassins with real historical figures like Lorenzo de'Medici, Dante Alighieri, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Leonard da Vinci, along with numerous, lesser figures. It's a move that doesn't necessarily make the game's fantastical events somehow more plausible, but it's done well enough to bring some verisimilitude to the setting in general.
 
That the events of Ezio's life are basically just a crash-course training session for Desmond make it hard to get too invested in Ezio's fate. You won't spend much time at all outside of the Animus in Assassin's Creed II, but the game still finds some fun ways to play around with the whole metafictional premise, an angle that's responsible for two of the game's most striking moments. Storywise, Assassin's Creed II has all the connective tissue of the second act in a trilogy, building on the original while creating more questions than it answers, and setting things up for what should be an interesting part three.
 

  Altair is a figure of reverence, but Ezio could mop the floor with him. 

Despite the distinctions that the characters and locales provide, the biggest differentiator between Assassin's Creed and Assassin's Creed II is that there's just so much more stuff to do here. Nearly all of the discreet systems from the first game have been evolved and elaborated on in some meaningful fashion. This starts with Ezio himself, who benefits from the resources that his social station provide, though he's also generally just a superior specimen. Ezio's more agile than Altair, able to scale buildings more rapidly and gracefully. He's better in a straight-up fight, where the timing's been relaxed a bit and you're given the additional ability to disarm your foes, making their weapons your own. Ezio's dual wrist-mounted blades give him more--and more unflinchingly brutal--assassination opportunities.
 
He's more capable at disappearing into a crowd, able to blend in with any groups of pedestrians wandering the streets, toss out handfuls of coins to create a commotion and distract guards, or simply hire a group of comely courtesans to provide mobile cover. While Ezio has more means by which to dodge security, guards now have more memory of your action. Too much high-profile wetworking will leave you with a notoriety level that makes it harder to get around, though you can then reduce your notoriety level by tearing down wanted signs, bribing heralds, and murdering corrupt city officials. Then there's entirely new elements, like an economic system where the monetary investments you make into the small, dilapidated town surrounding your family villa, will pay out dividends that you can spend on new weapons, armor, color schemes for your outfit, and more.
 
Ezio's quest for revenge leads him on a series of thinly-disguised tutorials, various configurations of assassination assignments, and some crazy, one-of-a-kind set pieces. Though a certain murder-fatigue can set in after a while, the game does its best to stave it off with regular changes of scenery and plenty of extracurricular activities. There are thankfully no flags to be collected, though there are still race, courier, and assassination side missions to take on. You'll find labyrinthine tombs that require crackerjack timing and confident command of Ezio's full set of abilities to traverse. Monuments are laced with secret symbols that, when found and activated, mete out pieces of a puzzle left behind by a less fortunate Animus subject. You'll randomly happen upon pickpockets and enemy couriers that can be hunted down for profit. Most of the time, you don't have to seek out diversion; it's much more likely that you'll just naturally get sidetracked on your way to murder someone else.
 

 Tag, you're it!

This isn't to say there aren't some grievances to be leveled against Assassin's Creed II. Like the original, there's too much recycled voice work in the world at large, and if I never again hear the Italian-tinged voice that cries out “money, money, money!” when you toss some coins on the street, it'll be too soon. The semi-auto nature of the way Assassin's Creed's traversal systems work is a big part of what makes it feel so slick, but it can also backfire on you. Considering Ezio's high-wire lifestyle, it's usually pretty frustrating and calamitous when a your intended direction isn't interpreted the way you might hope. Lastly, this is, generally speaking, a pretty stunning-looking game, from the scale and detail of the world to Ezio's subtle, deadly movements, which makes it that much more surprising that all of the facial animation is as awkward as it is.
 
I came into Assassin's Creed II with a certain qualified affection for the original, and was thoroughly pleased with the lessons the developers learned between the two. But this isn't a reinvention, it's a refinement. Assassin's Creed II offers, fundamentally, the same kinds of thrills as its predecessor--leaping from rooftop to rooftop with surefooted ease, appearing out of nowhere to kill your target with a quick blade, then vanishing effortlessly into a crowd. It's just been expanded, streamlined, and overhauled in ways that bring it closer to grace and make it a much easier game to recommend.

Disclosure: The game featured in this review is or was an advertised product on giantbomb.com.
139 Comments
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Posted by ajamafalous

Good to hear that it's better than the original; might pick this one up.

Posted by Snail

The first requires no excuses to enjoy...

Posted by Pie

And it comes with a splinter cell demo! 
 
Sounds like I will be getting this instead of left 4 dead 2

Edited by Galiant

This'll be an interesting read.
 
EDIT: Well, no, still not interested in this game. It sounds too much like the first game.

Posted by InFamous91

Can't wait to get my hands on this game. Definitely buying AC2 tomorrow.

Posted by Sweep

One of my main issues with the first game was that the key mission assassinations often came down to running in and slashing everybody to bits. Is there more subtlety in the sequel?

Moderator
Posted by CarlZehTard

Great review, looking forward to this one for sure. Just sad pc version wont come out til next year :(

Posted by RiotBananas

"
Disclosure: The game featured in this review is or was an advertised product on giantbomb.com."
 
Do they put this in incase people are like "OMGS YOU GET PAID TO SAY ITS GOOD" ?

Posted by Ghost_of_Perdition

Can't wait to get my copy later today. Between this and MW2, I'll be busy for a while.

Posted by Jayzilla

Thanks for the review Mr. Davis. Good stuff. I am glad that they did indeed change what they said they changed in the game. I am also still hopeful that we will be playing as Desmond training, and then becoming an assassin in modern times for the third installment. I was hoping that would be the case for this game, but then they decided to make a Jewish assassin who ends up being related to an Italian assassin who is friends with Leonardo Da Vinci.  Whatever.

Posted by Afroman269
@RiotBananas said:
" "
Disclosure: The game featured in this review is or was an advertised product on giantbomb.com."  Do they put this in incase people are like "OMGS YOU GET PAID TO SAY ITS GOOD" ? "
Yes. Can't wait to get this game but after spending most of my cash on uncharted 2 and MW2 I'll just get this along with Left 4 Dead 2 for xmas
Posted by Yummylee

One incredibly improved sequel right there, I frankly despised the first one but the AC2 looks to be what I was hoping to experience with the original.
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Posted by DukeTogo

The game looks good, but the people look like PS2-level animation in their faces.  Perhaps making it for 13 languages meant they ran out of time and had to just make the faces all sort of half-ass talking so they weren't talking out of sync.  It makes the game look bad in all the footage, so much so that I was on the fence about picking it up until I heard it was isolated to that aspect.
 
As it is, the last game went to the bargain bin pretty fast, so I'll likely just wait until next year for it.  Unless I see another of those 3 for 2 deals again.

Posted by kennybaese

I really dug the first game, in spite of some of the stuff that was wrong with it, so I'm super stoked for this game. It's nire to have something that I can play that's new since I can't seem to get into MW2.

Posted by Blair

Ryan, thanks for the review.
 
Your praise tipped my hand.
 
I'll pick it up on my way home.

Posted by Floppypants

After reading the article, you'd think this is a 5-star game.  That "money, money, money!" line must be infuriatingly annoying.  Oh well, I look forward to playing it.

Posted by erinfizz

Hey Ryan - Did you mean "discrete" systems maybe? 
 
Not my kind of game, but a very nicely written review.

Posted by RobotHamster

Probably won't be picking this one up for a while 

Posted by CloneTrooper

I really did enjoy the first one, I loved the Crusades setting as it was something I havent really seen in too many games...
 
It just got let down with a lack of variety in Missions and frustrating Alert Levels in the end stages where I couldnt walk 6 feet without alerting someone and having to either run across half the city or fight 10 - 15 Guards.
 
Im giving Ubisoft another chance with this and hope they took on board the criticisms of the first game, plus the Italian setting is something you dont see that often either but in looking at it closely, it does suit the Assassin's Creed brand to a tee.
 
I did Pre-Order the Black Edition as well, im a sucker for a well put together Special Edition I must say.

Posted by Evilsbane

With how you spoke about it sounded like a 5 out of 5 but ill take 4 out of 5 any day well I am off to pick this up!

Posted by Chaoticpattern

The core aspect of the first game was never a point of contention for me. The fact that the second game has taken the more and bigger approach is entirely welcome.

Posted by empfeix
Posted by Venatio

Hmm I was expecting a 5, but 4 is still good

Posted by niall077

looks like it fixes the problems I had with the first. 
 
 
will pick it up after xmas.   (damn college/MW2 taking all my time away)
Posted by Jimbo

You're a harsh mistress, Ryan.  That's my favourite type of mistress.

Posted by phoenixflames

As an owner of a 360 and PS3, is there any noticeable differences in the performance of the game on the systems? 
 
I played Assassin's Creed 1 on 360, and I remember hearing on Podcasts that the PS3 version had some problems. Is that no longer an issue for AC2? 

Posted by Legend

  Disclosure: The game featured in this review is or was an advertised product on giantbomb.com 


..and 4 stars 

This is why I love this site. Seriously, you guys are awesome.
Posted by stinky
@empfeix said:
" anyone know how metacritic takes giant bomb score?  somehow they figured out giant bomb gave it 80 out of 100 which is the lowest score wtf? 
 
http://www.metacritic.com/games/platforms/ps3/assassinscreed2 "
5 star reviews. each star would then be worth 20 points to make 100. 
i take it math is not your strong suit.
Posted by Apathylad

I wasn't a fan of the first game, especially after the excessive amounts of hype the game received. I also recall that EGM's review caused Ubisoft to give the magazine less coverage of their games, or something to that effect in a blog post by Dan Hsu.

Posted by Legend
@stinky said:
" @empfeix said:
" anyone know how metacritic takes giant bomb score?  somehow they figured out giant bomb gave it 80 out of 100 which is the lowest score wtf? 
 
http://www.metacritic.com/games/platforms/ps3/assassinscreed2 "
5 star reviews. each star would then be worth 20 points to make 100. i take it math is not your strong suit. "
I think he meant that four stars doesn't really reflect an 80% rating when compared to the way other gaming websites rate games. The way I interpret GB reviews is as follows:
five stars:  ~95%  four stars: ~ 85%  three stars: ~75%  two stars: ~65% and one star: ~50% or less
This is of course my opinion, and others might have other interpretations of the five star rating system because it's really not meant to be equal to an exact percentage.
Posted by saaytin

Great review but the score seems a bit low compared to the text. 4 & 1/2 stars perhaps?

Posted by alConn
@Galiant: To me it sounds nothing like the first game except the whole assassin thing...very different in structure.
Posted by Brendan
@RiotBananas said:
""
Disclosure: The game featured in this review is or was an advertised product on giantbomb.com."  Do they put this in incase people are like "OMGS YOU GET PAID TO SAY ITS GOOD" ? "

Unfortunately, pretty much. 
Posted by hermes

I don't want spoilers in the comments section, but can somebody send me a PM explaining how do you meet Da Vinci and Alighieri at the same time? Those two lived 2 hundred years apart... Its like a game having Clinton and Lincoln as cameos.
Posted by ribeye

my only gripe with the first one was how repetitive it got towards the end, i only finished it out of spite, kinda like twilight princess 
 
and the cities kinda pretty much looked the same all the way through 
 
i can live with boring, identical cities if i have to but unless they fixed the amount of repetition as the game goes on, i think i'll pass

Posted by Metal_Mills
@Snail said:
"

The first requires no excuses to enjoy...

"
Yeah, there was no enjoyment even with the excuses.
Edited by skrutop

Despite its shortcomings, I had a ton of fun with Assassin's Creed.  I'm glad to hear that they've improved the areas that I disliked.  I also like that this series is heading towards having Desmond figure as the main protagonist in the future.
 
That being said, this seems like one of those games that will drop to $30-40 around January/February, so I'll just wait until then to pick it up.

Posted by Kohe321

Great review! I will definitely get this game, thanks Ryan.

Posted by teh_destroyer

Good review, I will wait to buy it during the dead gaming part of the season.

Posted by UKSamwise

Can we please stop converting the stars into percentages. If you want to know what the stars mean look in the FAQs.

Posted by Dudacles

Sounds great. I'll pick it up... At some point.

Posted by MeatSim

Sounds like they fixed all the big complaints of the the first game. I am gonna check this game out sooner or later.

Posted by Sinkwater
@Pie said:
" And it comes with a splinter cell demo!   Sounds like I will be getting this instead of left 4 dead 2 "
I just bought a new copy from Best Buy and all the Splinter Cell insert gave me was ringtones and a wallpaper...no demo.  I'm pretty sure the key code is the same for everyone, too.  Mine was CONV1C71ON @ www.splintercell.com/ac2 if you want to try it out.
Posted by Milkman

Who gives a crap about this game?
 
It's Tony Hawk Tuesday! WOOOOOOO!!!
 
But, for reals, I really liked (loved?) the first Assassin's Creed but I think I got my fill. Too many other games to catch up on. This looks like one of those that is going to get lost in the shuffle.

Posted by W0lfbl1tzers
@RiotBananas said:
" "
Disclosure: The game featured in this review is or was an advertised product on giantbomb.com."  Do they put this in incase people are like "OMGS YOU GET PAID TO SAY ITS GOOD" ? "
Yes. It should be there anyways. I trust these guys with their reviews but every website should be required to have this kind of disclaimer if they are getting paid to advertise a game or even went to a review event. It should be a standard for any credible website.
Posted by TheYear20XX

Great review, looking forward to picking this up.

Posted by supermike6

I'm definitely going to get his game for Christmas. I was going to get it just because I wanted to see the rest of the story, but now that I know that it improves the first one a lot I'm even more pumped.

Posted by Binman88

Thief! You steal from me?!
 
Can't wait 'til my black edition arrives... in 2010. (PC)

Posted by JackSukeru

Fine, I'll give it another go then.

Posted by RagingLion

Well hello Assassin's Creed II, I'm shielding my eyes from most of this review because I want to go into the game as fresh as possible.  A little disappointed with the 4/5 stars - not based on the review, but I thought it had the possibility to be awe-inspiring to most.
 
I know I'll enjoy it myself, anyway, though - I guess I have to wait till March before I can.

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