Game Review: "Assassin´s Creed II"

Written by: Lillith Sinclair

Desmond Miles has broken free of Abstergo with the unexpected assistance from Lucy, who has been revealed to be a contemporary Assassin. Thanks to his awakening through the eyes of Altair, Desmond now knows he must become an Assassin himself and join the fight against Abstergo who have also revealed themselves to be the villainous Templars. Lucy hustles Miles to a safe house where they meet with two other modern Assassins, the intellectually belligerent Shaun Hastings (Danny Wallace) and the tech whiz Rebecca Crane (Elisa Schneider) who has created their very own Animus. Lucy tells Desmond that he must once again step back in time and body in order to discover the whereabouts of the Apple of Eden, the treasure so coveted by the Templars. This time however, Desmond’s genetic ancestor is Ezio Auditore de Firenze (Roger Craig Smith aka Chris Fucking Redfield), a young, hot-headed Florentine who discovers the hard way what it means to cross the Templars in 15th century Italy and the cost of revenge demands the highest price.

While Assassin’s Creed was a solid if heavily flawed introduction to the Assassin vs. Templar saga, Assassin’s Creed II massively improves on almost every aspect that was non-existent or forsaken in the first game. For one thing, rather than going to and from every contract, the game incorporates a genius economy system of which he may rebuild his stronghold, Monteriggioni by renovating Villa Auditore, the town the villa presides over as well as re-open and improve shops such as doctor’s surgeries, blacksmiths, tailors, art merchants, brothels, guilds, and other communal services.

The game takes a massive leap forward in detail- the regions of Florence, Venice, Forli and other geographical landmarks of the Renaissance look and sound impressive. Every locale has its own design and sensation and you never feel as if you are looking at the same place over and over again. Care and expression was taken during the construction of this game, which much is crystal clear. When Ezio’s greaves clack on the tiled rooftops of houses and cobblestones of streets, it simultaneously sounds rich and organic. When he traverses up buildings that reach ridiculous heights with perilous corners and drops, you feel the sheer scale.

The populace of every city mill about on their daily business and take note of all of Ezio’s actions, be it running rough-shod through a crowded market, leaping across awnings and taking a nasty spill on the pavement. You will hear folks say “What on earth is he doing?” “Have you been drinking?”, “Hehe, a novel way to get about I suppose!” and my personal favourite: “What a lovely, tight ASS!”

There are various NPC’s that Ezio may interact with such as intercepting messengers, acting as an errand boy, helping out disgruntled wives who know their husbands have been unfaithful by beating the shit out of the cheating weasels, taking part in races throughout towns and across rooftops as well as entertaining side missions that you are rewarded for completing such as Lorenzo di Medici’s own personal hit-list.

Not only has the world of Assassin’s Creed II expanded, it has a functional life of its own and there is never a moment of dead or negative space. And that isn’t all! Ezio may also explore six impressive and creative tombs where a legendary Assassin was buried where he is able to obtain rare items as well as respectable sums of money and a very special token that can be used to unlock the legendary Armour of Altair that can be found in the sub-level of Villa Auditore which pretty much makes you a GOD. Every one of these tombs has a particular motif to them as well as a healthy dose of puzzle solving and physical challenge. It may take you several attempts in order to master them, but none of them are unfairly punishing, plus the result is always worth waiting for.

Speaking of using intellectual prowess a brand new feature was added: throughout Desmond/Ezio’s world, you will see strange, glowing glyphs that only show up whilst using the Assassin’s second sight, Eagle Vision. What do these things mean? Who put them there? It is a mystery that you are permitted to unravel as you progress through the game because all of them are clues to a deeper enigma.

The game permits Ezio to purchase a rich arsenal of weaponry ranging from blades, war hammers, axes, a prototype handgun (designed by none other than Leonardo Da Vinci), smoke bombs, poisons and throwing knives. The beauty of this feature is the fact all of these tools come in useful for various missions and scraps. They all possess their own pros and cons and you are able to access them from a simple yet effective HUD. Along with obtaining new weaponry, Ezio acquires several exclusive skills and equipment throughout the story that aid him tremendously. A major example involves the opportunity to pilot Da Vinci’s flying machine over Venice to assassinate a high-profile political leader holed up in a fortified palazzo by night.

In addition to the gameplay, the story is such a radical change from the first game. While we travelled with Altair for a relatively short time during his pilgrimage of perdition through the Holy Land, we bear witness to Ezio Auditore growing from a reckless, free-spirited cock of the rock to a hardened, highly skilled and wise Assassin. Ezio’s story would from that point become a saga of sorts, following the man throughout his various trials and tribulations.

AND HE CAN SWIM!!!!!! You could almost call Assassin’s Creed II the Fellowship of the Ring chapter of the saga, what with its building of plot foundation and character . . . only, you know, more action-packed and less whiny. BOOSH.

Furthermore, and perhaps the most crucial ingredient to this entire affair is the character of Ezio himself. Although his Levantine predecessor Altair is legendary Ezio is the first true humanistic character. Throughout this game alone, we stand alongside him during three key points of his life: his birth, his youth and finally his adulthood. Ezio Auditore is a fully fledged individual and arguably the best protagonist in the AC series from a character standpoint. He’s not made from iron, nor does he allow himself to succumb, at least not without a fight. He gains wisdom through circumstances and it is left up to him how he will utilize it. Truly, he could choose to remain an Assassin or flip over to the Templars given his complicated personality. He’s not flawless, he can be a prick at times, but he is a character the player becomes wholly invested with. Assassin’s Creed II remains as personal a story as any, and mayhap still remain the best in the series thus far.
Any criticisms? A few, but they come from a more subjective experience. While Ezio seems a little faster than Altair, sometimes the most ridiculous and unfortunate things can happen due to several touchy controls. For example, while trying to win a race, Ezio may overshoot a landing platform and land on the ground or someplace away from the general racing trail and that costs valuable seconds which ends up in the event being lost. Another case involves when being chased by guards who are out for Ezio’s blood, you just can’t catch a break because they are on you like a seagull with a chip. Considering the closer architecture, it doesn’t take long to amass a convention of agiles, regulars, captains and brutes to be so far up Ezio’s backside he can almost feel them touch his rectum.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s fantastic the guards have been given more intelligence and diversity because it offers the player the opportunity to be crafty and cunning to help Ezio give enemies the slip, but a badly timed leap here or a botched jump there can add more minutes onto a chase that you are already getting sick of.

The final point is not a fault so to speak, but nonetheless an obvious observation; apart from Ezio himself, none of the people in his life age. Considering this game spans a close to three decades, I would expect Ezio’s friends and relatives to at least get some grey hair or crow’s-feet , or show some evidence that this prolonged tale of revenge has taken its toll upon them rather than just our main Smashin’ Assassin.

Overall, Assassin's Creed II is an astronomical improvement to the first game, dare I say a bar-setter. With a deeply personal and affecting story paired with an almost epic in scope backdrop, the second chapter in Desmond Miles’ battle against the Templars is a must-play for gamers and armchair history buffs alike.

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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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