Assassin’s Creed II – This Time it’s Personal!

MINUS FIVE-HUNDRED MILLION POINTS FROM UBISOFT FOR THIS —

“Itsa Me! Mario!!!”

…Really? Really, Ubisoft Montreal? You’re reading my review of Assassin’s Creed II.

Basically this is going to play out much like my last AC review (which if you haven’t read yet YOU ARE WRONG!!!).  I want to break it down into the basic elements, expound upon each, and then wrap it all up at the end.  I can already say that I really enjoyed the game and I am psyched about the third installment, but the game definitely still has issues.  The good news is that they fixed a lot of stuff from Number 1.  However, that made way for brand new problems to arise. But enough teasing exposition!  Lets get into it:

  • Story
  • Gameplay
  • Christian Element
  • Overall Judgement

Story:

I get to switch it up from the last review and start with the stuff that didn’t work very well, which is sad, because I really had high hopes for this game and I wanted so badly for it to work.  But alas, Story fell rather flat in Assassin’s Creed II.

The plot and motives of this game are a bit worse than number 1.  Assassin’s Creed had an decent linear plot (in fact it was too linear) whereas this one has a very confusing and weak structure.  The first game was involved a complicated plan by the Templars to rule the world, with very little confusion as to what I was supposed to do.  It’s a little harder to follow the second game as it is all over the place – the revenge story of Ezio, the meta of Desmond, and the Meta-meta of Subject 16’s glyphs.  I liked the new avenues the series was heading in but it just got too hard to stay up with what exactly was going on in the story.

In case you didn’t know, the story follows Desmond who is busted out of Abstergo by Lucy (who is a kick-a Assassin now). They go to a warehouse and plug him into an new Animus, intending that the bleeding effect  help him become an assassin quickly (another interesting bit of pseudo-science). From there how you drop into the life of a different ancestor – Ezio Alditore in Italy during the Renaissance.  Ezio (pronounced “Et-see-o”) discovers his father was an Assassin…after Papa and baby brother get executed by the corrupt government.  The rest of the story involves you running around, enacting revenge on those who have ruined your life. Oh and there is a bit of Desmond in there…WHICH IS A PROBLEM!!!!

They STILL haven’t figured out that this is Desmond’s STORY!!!!!  We get more interaction and development of his character, and of the world outside of the Animus, but ultimately the focus is still on the world of the past.  I just wish they would get around to explaining the future through more direct characterization rather than relying on the events of the past to give light to the whole narrative.  It’s hard to look back when I don’t know what defines where I am.

As for motives:  In the first game you killed wicked men bent on world domination as part of a self-discovery journey that lead to humility and wisdom.  THAT’S AWESOME!!! Simple yet engaging and interesting, despite being about murder and control.  ACII seems to just be about a punk 20-something seeking revenge on semi-wicked men.  He helps theives overthrow a government that was oppressing the city, which I thought was an interesting blend of moral correctness and amoral action. He works a lot with….not so upstanding ladies.  And he goes around murdering people because they have “ties” to his family’s execution.  Not exactly as clear cut ethically as I would hope for.  I honestly don’t know why I was killing people other than because my character was a blood-thirsty revenge junkie.  Not a good premise for an ethically charged game.

One last point – another disappointing ending.  You get a bleepload of backstory (-ish) and then it throws you out into real world and you feel exactly like what Desmond’s last line before the credits is – “WTF?!?”   The “during-credits” stuff was cool but I can already tell that the trend is to end it all on cliff-hangers and in the middle of plot points.  I don’t want to ruin it but suffice to say the franchise takes a MAJOR genre shift at the end of Assassin’s Creed II.

Ultimately I found the plot hard to follow and really convoluted, marred by unethical motives and general disdain for the actual plot of the story.  Hate to say it but it just didn’t show up. I am interested enough to get the next game but it is going to have a lot of ground to make up before I feel satisfied.

Story Rating:  5//10

Gameplay:

Now that the bad stuff is out of the way, we can get to what really rocked about this game. Ubisoft Montreal really stepped up their game in the sequel and fixed a lot of the problems from the original Assassin’s Creed.  They made a game that was fun to play, fun to explore and fun to come back to, which is really all we can ask!

Something I was worried about before I started playing was how the introduction of skills was going to go.  In the first game they start you with nothing and you work your way up from there.  I was afraid that this would be the case in the sequel, but I quickly found that they understood this and took care of it.  They reward those of us who are playing the series by starting us with what we had from the previous game and they let it grow from there.  In essence the abilities stacked so I knew much of what to do already, and the game focused on teaching me a second set of skills on top of that.  Very well done on the developers’ side.

The controls were very good and I was so glad to see that the had FINALLY made combat interesting! The hidden blades are now really handy!  And on top of that you can customize you weapons and learn to fight in different styles, making for unique gameplay for each player. The fighting is fun and the advancements in the weapons system actually makes it more interesting to play.  Also the development of little helps like the wall jump when you’re climbing fill the gaps from the first game and make the world so fun to explore and discover.

On that note, the environments were fantastic – nice and open, yet pointed and full of things to do. I loved exploring Venice and the streets of Florence, as well as work with vehicles and FINALLY be able to SWIM!!!!  It appear that in the thousand years between AC 1 and 2, the Assassin’s developed an antidote for their allergy to water! 🙂  In seriousness though, the worlds were well constructed and fun. My only critic is that in order to switch weapons or armor, you have to go back to your home base; you can’t just swap out anywhere.  I lost the best sword in the game during a fight and I had to go all the way home to re-equip it.  Other than that little hiccup it was great – I loved having my own town and getting to deal with money (another issue I had with the past game).

I saved the biggest plus for last – the side quests are actually fun and end in bonuses for the player! Looking for Codex pages, glyphs, and the Assassin’s Tombs was actually interesting and rewarding. The Feathers….meh.  But it is nice to really want to go find that stuff.  And with rewards like Altair’s armor, money, achievements, and…oh…just a little thing like….STORY ADVANCEMENT, going after the sidequests is both fun and reasonable – one of the biggest problems from the first game.

Overall, the gameplay is awesome!  I am still enjoying playing around in the world, trying to find the last of the glyphs and such, and it is just amazing.  1000% growth from the original game makes Assassin’s Creed II a joy to play, then and now.

Gameplay Rating:  9//10

Christian Element:

This game is a lot less heavy on the religious side than AC1.  Honestly there is very little mention of Christianity in the game other than the Latin Epitaph Ezio gives to all his victims and a plot mention of the Papacy at the end (and by then we know to hate the character, not the institution).  You do move around and by a lot of churches in each town but again they really don’t make as big a deal of the Christian element as they do in game one.

Now they do deal with more ethics issues broadly.  As mentioned before, the motives of Ezio are rather….questionable.  He spend a lot of time (and money) on employing…”lady’s of the evening” to distract guards and provide assistance.  Some sexual jokes occur but all are PG rated at most.  There are a couple of PG-13 scenes but ultimately nothing that lasts too long or is overly raunchy.

Basically you just need to be ready for what you are getting into.  There is truth that can be found in the story but Assassin’s Creed II definitely has less moral upstanding than the first game. Murder and Revenge as narrative drive are just not as good as the Road to Humility journey of Altair.

Overall, I definitely would caution new players to be careful here as the sandbox formula can let you do some bad stuff (murder innocents, etc). However, I think with a basic understanding that the ends don’t justify the means and being careful not to get carried away, anyone can really enjoy a good game with an interesting premise and storyline.

Overall:

Though the motives were severely lacking and the plot convoluted and hard to follow fully, I have to say that I really enjoyed Assassin’s Creed II.  The open world style was fun to explore and gave me a lot to do.  Combat was much better than the AC1 and the customization of styles of fighting created a unique gameplay for me.  And ultimately I think it serves a good exposition to the REAL STORY, which I am looking forward to getting in the third game.

I say have fun with it, go throw some money at people, have a good time, and get what you need from the plot so we can move on to the good stuff.  This is Better – I look forward to Best.

Overall Rating:  8//10

Well there you go!  I am very excited for Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which I do now plan to play (whenever I can get the chance).  I don’t know if I will be able to beat it before the release of Revelations but I will certainly try. 🙂  I am discovering a real love of video games and what makes them work, so if I am able I hope to get a few more reviews out on classic PS3 franchises.

On a similar note of what is to come, my next review will be…..interesting, shall we say…  As part of the Summer Film Challenge (which I am still trying to finish) I had the….pleasure(?) of watching Being John Malkovich…  Yeah.  So that is my next review.  Also, if you haven’t already, check out my review of the Melancholia trailer on Art of the Trailer.

Yup!  So thanks for sticking around, check back soon for the BJM review and maybe someday in the near future I will be able to complete the Trilogy of Assassin’s Creed. 🙂  Let me know what you think in the comments and don’t forget the best advice in the game:

Press Circle to Gentle Push!

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Author: Tyler D. Welch

Filmmaker, Storyteller, Scholar

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