52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 48
Assassin's Creed II
Release Date: November 17, 2009
Developer: Ubisoft Montréal
ESRB Rating: Mature
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
It was a couple years ago when we were first introduced to Desmond Miles, the Animus and Abstergo Industries in Assassin’s Creed. The game displayed enormous potential but fell short of achieving “must own” status. Still millions of gamers fully enjoyed the adventures of Altaïr Ibn La-Ahad, even if it left them with more questions than answers.
The story in Assassin’s Creed II picks up where it left off at the end of Assassin’s Creed. The last time we saw our friend Desmond Miles, he was still being held captive by Abstergo Industries, forced to relive the events of a distant relative. It appears that Desmond is the key to something that Asbergo Industries badly wants. For the reason of not giving away any spoilers, I will just say that Desmond once again goes back into an Animus, just this time it is not to locate an artifact but to learn the skills required to become an assassin. The memories that will aid Desmond to become an assassin are those of Ezio Audituerre de Firenze. Ezio lived in Italy during the Renaissance. His father and brothers were slain by a “friend of the family”. Ezio vowed vengeance. With the aid of his uncle, Ezio learnt the skills needed to accomplish his goal, but in the process got entangled into something much larger.
It does not take long to figure out that while Ezio shares the incredible acrobatic skills and incredible agility, he is not Altaïr. Ezio is much more fleshed out as a character. We gamers get to witness his birth, to view his womanizing youth the moment it was all taken away from him. We watch as this happy young man becomes a merciless killer. We become emotionally attached to the character, learn to care for him. Ezio is not just another assassin. This is something that never occurred in all the time I played Assassin's Creed.
Assassin’s Creed stunned the gaming world when it was fist shown with its amazing visuals. Hard to believe but the developers at Ubisoft Montréal managed to squeeze more graphical prowess from the Xbox 360 and deliver a game that is graphically superior to its predecessor. In Assassin’s Creed II, the cities are larger, the building more complex and the character models better defined and animated. There is a much larger variety of virtual citizens this time around.
Sound quality is excellent, but some of the accents feel a bit exaggerated. There could have been a lot more dialog lines recorded for the crowd as a lot of the lines appear simply carried over from the first game. There is also a slight synchronization issue on occasion. Nothing extreme, but still noticeable.
Gameplay mechanics does not vary from the first title very much. The game is still about exploration in the guise of assassinating specific targets. Ezio can go just about anywhere in his quest to accomplish his task. This was a very wise move as the first game was by all standards a very good game, but it had some minor issues. This is not to say that there is nothing new in the game, quite the opposite as there is a lot of new stuff introduced that correct just about all issues encountered in the first outing.
One of the most important new additions to the game is the new monetary system. I would not have expected that the simple addition of money to a game to have such drastic and beneficial effect on gameplay. As Ezio completes quests, locates items or “borrows” from the citizens of the land, he will receive some florins (currency of Italy). These florins can have a great influence on the type of game being played. The first and most important usage of money is to purchase armour and weapons. Armour plays an important role in expanding how much damage Ezio can endure. Weapons will ensure that Ezio can inflict damage in return. If a battle does not go as planned, Ezio can use gold to purchase some medical services or purchase a few health packs allowing him to heal himself.
Florins can also be used by astute gamers to ensure that Ezio does not need to fight to begin with. All over old Italy, there are mercenaries, thieves and women of loose virtue ready to do ones bidding for a few coins. Each type of group has specific advantages such as thieves can also climb buildings while mercenaries are stronger to take on larger groups of enemies. Money can be used in a more direct way by tossing a handful of coins on the ground causing a very effective distraction that attracts crowds and guards alike. With the simple additions of money, the game becomes more immersive and enjoyable by providing the gamer with more options to complete each mission creating a true sandbox style of gameplay.
Another way to spend and earn florins will be to upgrade the family villa. An upgraded and renovated villa will generate income by way of business and tourism. Upgrading shops will also provide Ezio with a discount on any purchases. While running from rooftop to rooftop, Ezio can drop to the ground level to purchase paintings from the various art merchants. A few hundred florins can net a nice new Tintoretto or Brunelleschi while a few thousand florins will pocket the latest work by Raffaello Santi. All a great deal I assure you.
Ezio is very adept at climbing just about any surface. The only problem with this is that most targets will be ground level. When on the ground, Ezio will need to keep a low profile. This is easily accomplished by using real world stealth which is not to sneak by under a cardboard box, but to blend into a crow so that Ezio goes unnoticed till it is to late for anyone to stop his attack.
At times stealth or climbing capabilities will not be sufficient and Ezio will need to make a stand. Unlike Altair, Ezio has the benefit of "modern" day technology (provided by a family friend I will not name) and can use daggers, smoke bombs, throwing knives, dual blades, swords and more. Weapons can be borrowed from opponents (but not kept) or purchased from a blacksmith.
As Ezio perform specific acts (he is an assassin after all), he will gain notoriety. Once his notoriety becomes full, he will be attacked by guards on sight. An empty notoriety will allow our hero to roam the streets of Italy unchallenged. Notoriety can be reduced by removing wanted posters, bribing heralds or eliminating corrupt officials. The method of keeping Ezio's notoriety low is up to the gamer.
All of this may sound a bit daunting, but the extremely fined tuned controls are extremely intuitive and render just about any move, be it climbing, jumping or fighting very easy to pull-off.
The world of Renaissance Italy is a place of danger, intrigue, corruption and collectibles. The game world is filled with stuff for obsessive gamers to find. Unlike the first game that had Altair hunting down flags that served no purpose other than unlocking achievements, all the collectibles in this game do share a game play purpose (on top of unlocking achievements). Across the world are several hundreds treasure chests that supply Ezio with much needed florins. Ezio can purchase treasure maps from art dealers to aid in locating all the treasure chest making the task quite simple and fun. There are also thirty codex pages to be found. The location of the pages will only be revealed by scouting an area via an aerial view. Codex pages provide Ezio with new weapons and skills. Other collectibles include statues that provide gold, feathers that will unlock new weapons. Beyond all this, there are six hard to locate tombs that contain an object to unlock….you will have to see it for yourself (no spoilers here).
Not really something to find, but old Italy is also filled with things to do. There are so many possible side quests to complete that when an actual assassination mission comes up, it is exciting and not mundane as it was in the first game. Understand that all the side quests are optional which makes completing them all the more rewarding and fun.
My only real complaint with Assassin' Creed II is with the enemy artificial intelligence. Enemies, guards, peasants, all appear quite stupid. Thieves stand close to treasure chest filled with florins, but never stop to look inside. City guards will raise the alarm when the bodies of other guards, stationed outside a building to protect a treasure or codex page, has been discovered and start running around the block and climbing buildings looking for the perpetrator,but do not bother to look inside the actual building. These are just a couple examples of how unrealistic the AI would react to simple situations. Actually after four years of gaming on the Xbox 360, I think that realistic AI is still a few generations away so I will not knock ACII down on that aspect alone.
A couple years may appear to be a short amount of time, but it was time well spent by the developers at Ubisoft Montréal as they took the technical concept that was Assassin’s Creed and turned it into sequel that surpasses its predecessor in every aspect creating that “must own” title.