Assassin’s Creed II

Last September I posted about Assassin’s Creed, which I picked up in the 2009 Christmas sales on Steam. In 2010, the sale I was waiting for came along and I picked up Assassin’s Creed II—and it is excellent! Kudos too, to Ubisoft for offering an additional discount to owners of the first Assassin’s Creed game, which I happily took advantage of!

All the fun stealth and conspiracy elements of the first game are here—in a beautifully rendered Renaissance setting, and with oodles more content. The first game took me 24 hours to reach the finalé. I’m 19 hours into ACII and don’t think I’ve hit the halfway point yet. Nice!

You start exploring the life of Ezio as a youth, before learning of his assassin heritage. You learn more of his life and motivation, but I won’t spoil that here. And fear not, Ezio masters the assassin arts with enviable speed!

Graphics definitely got a boost and look fantastic in 1080p—sadly, my 9800GTX (or more likely my 2.2GHz CPU) struggles a bit in some scenes, but not enough to spoil it. The story also has a boost. Continuing directly on from Assassin’s Creed, Desmond and Lucy (Veronica Mars) escape the Abstergo building and meet up with a couple of other modern assassins. Desmond then gets into their animus and from then on it’s all about reliving the life of his ancestor Ezio (he was reliving Altair in the first game).

This whole memory aspect has a nice Matrix style twist to the game. And it’s very clever—you can’t die in a memory, you can only lose synchronisation. This plot device also controls when new areas open up. Venture too far and the game will reset to put you back in sync with Ezio’s actions. I find this more believable than the closed bridges in GTA 🙂

Controls are still a little whacky, at least they aren’t named “button 4” anymore. I had to remap the action buttons so the XBox360 controller colours matched the icons on screen, which definitely helps. I haven’t done as many accidental assassinations so it must be better! Other icons are somewhat mysterious—it is hard remembering which buttons are on the triggers and bumpers. Right bumper is “high profile” though—hold it down to add wow factor!

Showmanship will earn notoriety faster though (and could they have found a more awkward word than notoriety?) The notoriety system is much better. Guards won’t bother you too much at first, but if you start leaping around or knifing folks like—well, like an assassin—folks will start to pay attention. After too many incidents, you will be notorious. Guards will become instantly suspicious of you. Unless of course, you blend in…

Blending is much the same, but no longer requires a conveniently placed group of monks. You can blend with any group of passersby, so long as you stay in their midst. Hiring courtesans is even more effective (not sure why!) with the added bonus that they are able to distract guards when needed. This is highly useful for stealing treasure from guarded rooms!

Actually, getting minions—the courtesans, mercenaries and thieves—to do your dirty work is highly viable! They money system is generous so hiring them when around is almost always a good bet. Better than getting Ezio into a mess all on his own…

Gone are the repetitive missions and dialogue. The game flows confidently, sending you between cities. A great number of missions contribute directly to the story in this game, but there are a few side missions—races, assassination jobs, and beating on unfaithful husbands.

More fun is when you find a pickpocket in the vicinity—you can chase him down and tackle him (non-lethal) and keep the money yourself! Believe me, you’ve earned it. Those rooftop chases are crazy hard sometimes! Yep, it’s renaissance Italy and it’s full of colourful characters. And, this time, subtitles!

There are more soldiers and weapons. Ezio wields dual hidden blades, a knife and sword. You can buy new weapons as you progress and briefly pickup dropped weapons too. In addition to daggers and swords, there are mauls, hammers, axes, smoke bombs and poison. And probably more I have yet to discover.

Enemies are armoured, some more than others, and use different fighting styles. The combat is simple to control, and effective, even with the added variety. Successfully execute a counter and you’ll be treated to a nice little cut scene of Ezio showcasing his leet skills. But there are new stealth takedowns too—from haystacks, underwater or rooftop edges.

How you approach each task is up to you. Sandbox and stealth for the win! Can’t wait until we see Brotherhood on the PC later this year!