Monday, May 18, 2015

Assassin's Creed 2 review

    In honor of the Assassin's Creed: Syndicate trailer release, I've decided to go back and try to finish all of my reviews for the Assassin's Creed games up to the present. It's a bit late for most but, if nothing else, they'll hopefully be fun for readers who remember the games fondly.

    Assassin's Creed 2 remains, for many fans, the benchmark by which other Assassin's Creed games are judged. Its protagonist, Ezio Auditore, has surpassed Altair for most recognizable character of the franchise. He was so beloved that he starred in not one or two but three major games with a CGI movie epilogue for his adventures.

The architecture you get to run around on is gorgeous.
    Likewise, the game was considered a massive improvement over the original in terms of gameplay as well as storytelling. Praise was not universal for the sequel, though, as many felt the series also backed away from its more controversial themes regarding religion and moral relativism.

    The premise is divided into two separate stories, the same as most games in the series. In the present day, Desmond Miles has just escaped Abstergo Industries and discovered he is the key to finding a the legendary Pieces of Eden (technological artifacts of immeasurable power). Introduced to fellow Assassins Shaun Hastings and Rebecca Crane, Desmond must continue to probe his genetic memory to gain further clues to the Pieces of Eden's location.

    This leads us to Desmond's ancestor, Ezio, who is a stark contrast to the dour and humorless Altair. Whereas the original game was overly serious and somber, Ezio's adventures have the general theme and attitude of a swashbuckling historical epic.

Desmond gets a lot of character development this time around and I really started to like his story here.
    Without spoiling events, Ezio starts out his life both happy and carefree with a family that quickly ingratiates itself to the player. Events quickly disrupt that life for Ezio and he finds himself on a collision course with the most infamous corrupt Pope of all time: Rodrigo Borgia. Ezio must work behind the scenes to thwart Rodrigo's attempts to take over Italy from behind-the-scenes and weaken him enough to strike directly.

    This involves stabbing, parkour, and more stabbing.

    The game is a little more scripted this time around than in the Holy Land, giving you basically one or two paths to successfully reach the majority of your targets. There's a few exceptions to this so it doesn't feel like you're being confined but I felt a slight restriction in my freedom from the original game. This is compensated for by giving Ezio a great number of new weapons and devices, most of which are made by the game's most famous guest-star, Leonardo DaVinchi.

The parkour and stabbing was improved from the original game as well. Albeit, you still stick to walls when you don't want to.
    I give props to Assassin's Creed 2 for creating an eclectic cast of supporting characters to prop up Ezio's journey, too. The game wouldn't be nearly as entertaining if not for Claudia, Leonardo, Uncle Mario, Caterina Sforza, and your various Assassin mentors. Even minor characters like Christina and Lorenzo D'Medici make an impression for their short time on camera.

    The game has a surprising number of strong female characters, which is something that a lot of games are lucky to sport only one of but which Assassin's Creed 2 has several. Some are love-interests but quite a few simply are important members of the plot with their own agendas. Caterina Sfroza is a character I never expected to be a love interest of a video game protagonist but it works wonderfully in the context of the game. Really, I regret the games didn't do this for other historical female characters (or male in Aveline's case).

    The cities are not as advanced as they would be in later games, obviously, but I enjoyed the sheer variety of the locations you manage to visit. You get to Florence, the Vatican, Venice, castles, dungeons, palaces, secret thieves guilds, and carnivals. The graphics may not be eye-popping anymore but they're perfectly sound and that is better than a lot of games of its period. The sidequests and collecting is not as as advanced as it would be in this game but there's plenty of fun to be had tracking down every collectible on the map. The only ones I object to are assassination missions for Lorenzo D'Medici since, really, killing his political enemies is hardly heroic.

    I should mention that Assassin's Creed 2 is one of those games which benefits strongly from purchasing its DLC. The Bonfire of the Vanities and Siege of Foril were originally supposed to be part of the game and it shows. When played together, they add some truly epic set pieces which are a shame to play the game without (even if they're not strictly necessary). The fact Salvanarola was portrayed as a religious reformer who went too far rather than a complete caricature was a welcome bit of historical accuracy.

The opportunity to get in a fist-fight with a corrupt Pope is not to be missed.
    Speaking of history, its presentation in the game is better than I expected. While something of a gross simplification of Renaissance Italy's politics, here's plenty of legitimate scholarship on display here. While Rodrigo Borgia wasn't the papal version of Lex Luthor, the fact the game educates about things like the Pazzi Conspiracy is a definite feather in its cap. As I mentioned it to my students, there's nothing you do to make real history more bloody and exciting.

    In conclusion, Assassin's Creed 2 is just an awesome game. It's the perfect sequel for launching a popular but mixed-reception game into the multi-game global franchise it's become today. This game stands well on its own but also led to the equally-excellent Brotherhood, which we will be reviewing next.



  1. I think Black Flag was the pinnacle of the series.

    1. Eh, it's kind of a tough call for me as the two games are so very different. Black Flag is probably my favorite of the games but it's also the one most far removed from the major plots of the game. Edward doesn't become an Assassin, after all, until the very end of the game. Whereas Ezio's journey across Assassin's Creed 2 and Brotherhood is all about him rising to the position of leader in the Brotherhood as well as becoming aware of what it means to be one. But I'm not going to say you're wrong either.