Enjoyable, but the improvements over II are somewhat minor
In 2009, Ubisoft shocked the gamers of the world by releasing one of the greatest sequels of all time, Assassins’ Creed 2. It was a huge, unexpected step forward in an industry that is riddled with lazy big publishers crapping out sequels like cheap toys rolling off of an assembly line. It would have been borderline impossible for Ubisoft to one-up themselves again like that for Assassins’ Creed – Brotherhood. It should come as no surprise to you then that this game, which came out only 12 months after II, is much more of a minor iteration than its predecessor. It is still a fun game, but most of what is fun in “Brotherhood” was also in Assassins’ Creed 2. There some good additions here and there, but they are still somewhat minor to the experience. The biggest disappointment in the game, however, is in its story, which basically drags for the entire time and then ends on another cliffhanger without moving forward.
The strength of this game, and every other game in this series, is still the basic set of game mechanics. 75% of the time at least, you are still doing what you did in the first game -- flying across rooftops with the grace of a ballerina – perching atop a magnificent church steeple and enjoying a breathtaking view that stretches miles – making guards look like buffoons with your almost superhuman agility – stalking enemies, pouncing on them like a cat, and then scampering away up the walls before the guards can figure out what happened. The engine is still very impressive, and the animations are tops in the business. The first Assassins Creed gets its share of grief nowadays, but make no mistake, that game left behind some very strong DNA for its successors. That strand of DNA formed the backbone for the superb Assassins Creed 2, and for the still enjoyable “Brotherhood”.
The single player campaign for “Brotherhood” has a ton of content. If you had any fears that it was just a token add-on to a multiplayer game, those fears will be gone before you are halfway through with it. There are tons of missions, both story-related and non-essential. The RPG/Sim-ish elements from Assassins Creed 2 return, and have been expanded. In “Brotherhood”, you can buy or repair literally hundreds of structures, buildings, and businesses to claim them as your own. You can upgrade your armor and buy all kinds of artwork for your home. In addition to tons of collectibles, there are now a few (pretty mundane) item collection quests that you can complete to unlock new items in shops. Best of all, you finally get to visit Rome. How could anyone not want to scale the Colisseum and take a great big leap of faith off of the top?
The biggest addition to Brotherhood is the ability to command other Assassins. Throughout the game, you can help rebellious citizens struggling with guards. When you save them, they join you in the Assassins’ Guild, and then you get to signal them to assassinate enemies. You can also send them out of town to perform assassination missions for money and earn experience points. The whole Assassins’ Guild idea is a wonderful one, but it doesn’t add as much to the experience as you would have hoped. Mission management is uninteresting and it feels like a spreadsheet. There doesn’t feel like any compelling reason to send your assassins on a mission, other than to be a completist or get a little extra cash. In real time, your assassins are somewhat overpowered, so summoning them almost feels like pushing the “win” button. It is still fun to do though, especially when you are in some remote area and you see a cloaked figure climb a ladder and stab an enemy in the back.
The gameplay in this series is its strength, but it is also related to the weakness of this game – by the time that you get to “Brotherhood”, you have already spent 50+ hours counter-slashing guards, climbing buildings in brown and gray locales, and stabbing enemies in the back. Even Assassins Creed 2, as excellent as it was, started to wear thin by the end. Brotherhood is even worse in that regard. In some ways, this game suffers from the ability of the previous games to provide so much content that you were getting sick of it by the end. There just aren’t any improvements in the game that change the experience enough to solve that problem. There are lots of new kill animations, but it doesn’t take very long to see them all. There are a few interesting missions where you track down Leonardo da Vinci’s crazy inventions, steal them, and destroy them. The missions have mixed results – some of them are fun, but a few of them are bad, and the hang glider mission is downright awful. Adding to the occasional monotony is the annoying topography of the countryside. Many times, I found myself trying to reach a nearby objective, only to end up on a five minute detour to get around an unclimbable obstacle. This game would have benefitted from a GPS-style pathfinding function to make it less tedious. The most unwelcome addition to the game has to be the return of the arbitrary, “insta-fail if you get detected” mechanic. This is a downright infuriating feature that should have remained buried in the early oughts, where it belongs.
The stalking, sneaking, and assassination mechanics are still good enough to carry the game through its weak points. Unfortunately, after a while, you almost forget while you are even doing any of it. That is because the story sees virtually no development between the beginning and the end. The Borgia are the enemies in the game, and most missions simply involve killing somebody who is supposedly important to them. “This guy sympathizes with the Borgia – kill him.” “This guy is sending out for reinforcements for the Borgia – kill him.” “Kill this Borgia captain.” “Kill this hooker who is passing secrets to the Borgia.” By the end of the game, you will wonder why their whole family isn’t extinct. After you finally get to kill the big boss, the big picture, modern day story finally takes over for the end. After some suspense, you get nothing but a bunch of annoyingly cryptic dialog and a cliffhanger ending that explains absolutely nothing. It didn’t leave me with a desire to play “Revelations”, as it feels right now like the whole “Templars vs Assassins” story is just being strung along. Assassins Creed 2’s story of a young, brash man developing into a seasoned leader was great. The story in “Brotherhood” is an outright disappointment.
Complaints aside, “Brotherhood” is still a pretty easy game to recommend if you enjoyed Assassins Creed 1 and 2. The second game, especially, was so good that even a minor iteration on it is worth playing. If you haven’t played it yet though, I recommend waiting for a while in between games, as all of them are long enough to wear out their welcome by the end. These games don’t typically leave you wanting more, which makes me wonder how much longer Ubisoft can continue to make this an annual franchise.