Today, after what amounts to several days of addiction-style playing, Maynard and I finished Assassin’s Creed II, the sequal to last year’s unsurprisingly titled Assassin’s Creed.
Previously and previously, I had written not one but two reviews about the game wherein I complained about many flaws and bad design decisions therein – one before full completion and one after. Because my opinion about the game changed so radically with completion, I decided to wait until I was done playing this one.
Bullet Points, I Can Haz Them.
1) It has been a long, long time since a game addicted me to this level;
2) My playing it got Maynard addicted, and he ended up logging more hours into it than I did;
3) All the shit I hated about the first one is gone.
4) In my opinion, it is currently tied with Batman: Arkham Asylum for my Game-of-the-Year (my review)
Ten-Thousand Feet Fall Into a Bale of Hay.
Assassin’s Creed 2 is a third-person perspective parkour platformer with plenty of pernicious perfidity in the form of fatal face-stabbings and stupefying stunts. It has four primary gameplay elements: killification, explorification, renovation, and stamp-collectification.
If you’ve ever played any of the modern Prince of Persia games, you’ll have an idea of how the parkour/platforming mechanics work. While the first game’s parkour was ultimately kind of weak, this one uses a lot of the actions from the 2008 Prince of Persia reboot. The controls can be both super fluid and frustratingly difficult. However, while in Prince of Persia, the parkour is super important, AC2 is more about the act of, you know, assassinification of dudes.
Hence the title.
Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby.
Oh, man. There are sooooo many great gameplay elements introduced here.
First, unlike the first game, where you could only blend into certain types of crowds and had to follow their pre-defined paths, you can blend into any crowd now. You immediately become invisible to guards if you’re standing in a crowd. It’s a kind of “group camo” and it’s a powerful bit of strategy.
Second, (and the most useful element, in my opinion) is the ability to hire groups of NPCs to do your bidding:
1) Whores, who are “excellent” at distracting guards for you, cannot follow you on rooftops, and are shit-ass at fighting for you;
2) Thieves, who are “okay” at distracting guards for you, can follow you over rooftops, and are “okay” at fighting for you;
3) Mercenaries, who can’t follow you over rooftops and cannot distract shit, but are “excellent” at killifying people for you.
The best part of any of these groups is that hiring them provides you with a “group camo” that moves with you. I spent a hell of a lot of time wandering the cities surrounded by a bevy of hookers.
Much like my real life.
The collectible system has been revamped and is actually fucking useful and fun. There are about five major kinds of collectibles, and they range from treasure chests to paintings to pages of the Assassin’s Codex (you want all of them), to Assassin Tomb seals (you really want all of these – there are six, and getting each one is a hell of a lot of fun), to the trivial (eagle feathers).
Most of them are used to increase the value of your family’s villa, which is the entire “renovation” gameplay. As your villa gets more valuable, it earns more money. This bit was a bit unbalanced; about halfway through the game we discovered we had no real need to obtain money because we had a stash of 300,000 florins on hand at all times.
The most fun (for me) collectible were the “glyphs”. Unlocking each one was a kind of “memory hack” that sort of explained where humanity came from – the origin of the species, as it were.
Gone are the tedious, repetition missions. Gone is the unavoidable combat. Gone is the tedious combat. Introduced are a bunch of cool new weapons (poisoned blades, a pistol, multiple assassin blades, etc.).
Time Keeps on Slippin’, Slippin’, Into the Future.
Storywise, AC2 is a much tighter, well-built beast than it’s predecessor. The game takes place in 15th century Italy. There are several major cities that you will get to explore fully (Florence, Tuscany, Forli, and Venice) plus a couple “half-cities” (the Villa, a country-side, and eventually a bit of Rome).
There are a couple really famous people that you interact with for a bit (who knew that Machiavelli was a member of the Assassin Order?) but the bee’s knees is that you have a big relationship to Leonardo Da Vinci. Leonardo does all sorts of cool things for you – building your bad-ass weapons, translating Codex Pages, giving you missions, whatever.
The cities themselves are vibrant, living things. Each one has a deep history and identity and they do a good job of immersing you in the culture and time.
The “core” story arc – the one that takes place in the “present” – is significantly better explained and much tighter. There seems to be A Plan now, and that will pay out in the next game (I expect – it kind of ends on a “To Be Continued”).
And In the End…
Buy this game. It’s easily 40 or 50 hours worth of stabbifying fun.