Repost: Assassin’s Creed II Review

My time with the original Assassin’s Creed is numbered less than a single hour. Meaning that I only played it for a very short time on a friend’s Xbox 360. So most of the complaints of the first game were lost on me when I began the long journey of Ezio Auditore da Firenze in Assassin’s Creed II.

Throughout my adventure in Renaissance Italy as Ezio Auditore da Firenze, I found a game that was equal parts engaging story, interesting platforming, and frustrating combat. Overall, Assassin’s Creed II contains so much content that even the small issues with the title do not outshine the impressive game that Ubisoft released.

For those who played the original, the title begins after the events of the first game with Desmond escaping from Abstergo and the Templars with the help of Lucy. Ezio is the next ancestor that Desmond must live through to learn the abilities of an Assassin and find out more of the war between the Assassins and the Templars.

The story of Assassin’s Creed II takes place over some decades, with Ezio starting as a young man who “works” for his father while maintaining a less than admirable relationship with some of the other families in Florence. Soon after beginning the game, Ezio’s family is framed and his brothers and father executed. Ezio leaves Florence with his mother and sister for his Uncle’s villa and begins his mission of revenge against those who plotted against his family.

At this point the game opens into its open-world mission structure allowing for completion of missions and side missions at the leisure of the player.

Assassin’s Creed II‘s story is amazing, covering many years and experiences for Ezio. But the issue with the story is jointly tied into the graphics of the game. Ezio looks like the least detailed character in the game along with Desmond, who share an understated resemblance. Along with the apparent lower detail, Ezio, along with every other character in the game do not age. It would be easy to expect that twenty plus years would change the appearance of characters. Other characters look life-like and the animations (which look like a mix of mo-cap and standard animations) are amazing.

Also, the years in the game forward abruptly after the assassination of key characters in the story. While this is not a real issue, sided with the lack of aging of the characters, the new time setting does not have a real effect on the story. As the story progresses Ezio meets many people like Leonard Da Vinci, who helps Ezio with decoding the codex pages and upgrading weapons. He also meets thieves, prostitutes, and mercenaries; all who play an important part of the story.

Gameplay for Assassin’s Creed II following two paths: running/climbing and combat. The platforming in Assassin’s Creed II is excellent. Ezio can climb and run through the streets of Italy just as well as running on the rooftops or swimming. Animations for climbing are excellent, Ezio grasping and reaches realistically and his running is effected by the terrain.

Combat is a little more difficult. Since Ezio is an Assassin and not a fighter, combat is more based off countering and positioning rather than outright button mashing. There are different types of enemies in the game ranging from the quick and agile to the fully armored Templar Knights. Even with Ezio fully equipped with dual wrist blades, a rapier, and his short knife; the most effective way to win combat is to dodge, counter, and constantly move.

Though there were some instances where it was impossible to counter everything and once Ezio takes a hit; enemies can plow through their combination with Ezio receiving every attack. Though upgrading Ezio’s armor and weapons becomes easy about a third way through the game.

The open mission structure is paced perfectly, with an ample amount of side missions including viewpoints, decoding glyphs, races, assassinations, and beat downs, among others. Each city that Ezio visits has these missions and they could take as much time as the story did to fully complete. Completing the viewpoints helps the most. Even with the map opening as Ezio moves throughout the city, having the whole map open during missions helps a lot.

Sound in Assassin’s Creed II is excellent, with the surround sound best in the crowds of the city. From each speaker, the city sounds alive. Most of the conversations and combat are front loaded, so only during the quieter times does the game really show the environmental accents, like when completing the puzzles for the six seals to acquire Altair’s armor.

The puzzles during sections of the game really tested my memory of the controls, quick thinking on how to move through areas as fast as possible, and remembering the subtle hints that the game gave. Assassin’s Creed II was smart in not creating puzzles that would annoy most players. In fact, the mistake that are made teach more than harm.

Assassin’s Creed II is a great game. The story is fully realized, though it ends in a strange third act and epilogue, the journey of Ezio from man to Assassin is one of the most memorable stories. Top-notch voice acting keeps it believable and the platforming in the game is on par with Uncharted 2. Once the proper approach to combat is learned (dual blades for the win!), the game becomes much easier. Assassin’s Creed II contains so much content and with the announced DLC, it is a game that no one should miss.

Review copy provided for review purposes

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