on 4 December 2011
After the amazing intro to the franchise with Altair, I knew that I was going to want to play the next game in line. Activision had a lot to live up to with the interactivity with the world, (mostly) realistic game physics and movement and outstanding graphics and locations. As well as this, Creed had been slated repeatedly for the fact that the fights and the missions were just too similar so that by the time you were drawing to the last mission, you just didn't want to go through it all again. And the massive killer, the pointless collectible flags. You would spent a painfully long time combing through the maps trying to find somewhere around 600 flags to discover that they don't unlock anything and develop your gameplay at all, they just wasted your time hugely.
So I was eager to see how Activision would would build on Altair's world and story, and also whether Desmond would actually do anything of interest to the story, rather than just being in annoying cut scenes between missions. Well I wasn't disappointed with what I got to say the least. From the start, I discovered that I had a fluid game with an improved game-play. The fighting was more realistic, where people now attacked you at the same time, rather than just being polite about it and going one after the other. You actually find out a lot about Desmond, and his story is finally interesting and even integrates with the story. The new locations are just as breath taking and well made, not once having a repetitive layouts you could see in other games such as caves in Dragon Age: Origins. The characters in-game are interesting and surprising, i.e. Leonardo da Vinci. New gear and the chance to finally choose your weapon collection help add to the game-play, where every weapon has it's own kill styles, so that every weapon appears to be different when used. Collecting feathers actually got you thing in game (auditore cape and a war hammer). The introduction of money to the game really improves the feel too, as you choose what to buy and when, so your characters development as well as the villa is all down to you, as your use of money will determine how quickly your weapons/armor improve and how much income the villa generates. The missions are fresh, bringing new ideas to the story, removing the monotony later on in the game.
Two things stood out to me above all others though in this game, and they are that you grow up with Ezio in game, and that the closing sequence leaves you with many questions. The fact that you grow up with Ezio means that you see him develop, you make mistakes, you gain wisdom and you begin to understand him. You see how he changes the more time he spends being an Assassin, becoming a character you can truly understand. This really brings the game to you, presenting a character that you can almost relate too (aside from the murdered family and excessive womanizing). The closing sequence though is the real point of interest in the game. After going through the whole story line, seeking revenge for a murdered family and searching for understanding, you get to the closing section of the game, and you are completely blown out of your mind. Your perception of the game changes, and that of Creed 1 also. It makes you step back and really think about what just happened. It clearly is begging for a follow-on game, but you want it, so it doesn't matter, as it is so well written that you just have to find out what the heck it all means. So as not to spoil the surprise for anyone, I won't describe what happens, but let's just say that you won't see it coming, even if you complete the truth video side mission, you still will be wanting an explanation for what the heck just happened.
Obviously, the game isn't perfect, there's minor glitches in the fighting and they still haven't latched onto the fact that some of the leaps of faith just wouldn't leave you living after doing them, but at the end of the day, the positives by far outweigh the negatives. Activision has presented an outstanding game that really immerses you in itself, blowing you away with it's sheer enormity of the scale of open maps and character pools, a hugely inter-woven story line that keeps you guessing and yet another phenomenally well made game. Definitely worth buying and seeing through to the end, and what made me become a true Assassin's Creed fan.
I hope people enjoy this as much as I did,
on 19 May 2013
2007 was the year when the first title of the now hugely popular Assassin's Creed franchise saw the light of the world, and despite being panned by many critics due to its repetetive gameplay, the graphics of this game back then were stunning - there was no other game that could bring huge cities to vibrant life like Assassin's Creed did with Jerusalem, Damascus and Acre. The game's mysterious futuristic plot and crusades setting also made it unique and enjoyable, as there are very few video games taking place in this period - at least in third person. Two years later and a sequel was released, Assassin's Creed II. The buildup to this game was intense. I remember watching all the developer diaries where the team talked about beinging Renaissance Italy to life, improving the gameplay in every way imaginable, putting more emphasis on storytelling - you know - all the stuff that would get a gamer salivating. But then the truth hit you like a solid concrete wall: this game was to be shipped with a DRM so horrible, that it would make you cringe for years to come - you could not play this game without being always online, and there was no way around it short of pirating the game.
As a result, many boycotted this game, but thankfully Ubisoft then removed this draconian DRM, so I finally got to play this game and here is my review. Unlike its predecessor, where you could replay story-related DNA sequences anytime you wanted to, the problem with Assassin's Creed II is that you cannot get to do so without having to restart the whole game. This becomes especially evident since some cutscenes are peppered with interactive sequences where you can slightly change the flow of a cutscene if you press a button at the right moment, and it is impossible to know exactly when such things will happen, thus leaving you with a sense of loss the moment you miss such a chance. For example, if you didn't hug Leonardo, you'll feel like a douchebag for the rest of the game.
The makers of Assassin's Creed II have put an incredible amount of detail in the design of the game, building upon their experience of having recreated the Levant in the original Assassin's Creed, thus bringing Renaissance Italy to lavish life. This level of sheer awe reaches its zenith when you enter the interiors of some of the - what am I saying? - THE most lifelike cathedrals ever seen in a video game. As if these cathedrals weren't detailed enough on the outside, their inside, usually the location of an Assassin's hidden tomb, is filled with breathtaking detail. From exquisite recreations of gold-inlaid frescos to the marble pillars and arches that support the sheer size of the building and the eerie music that plays in the background, you're in for a real treat when exploring these locations.
Story and gameplay mechanics have been vastly improved over the original Assassin's Creed, so much in fact, that Assassin's Creed II is one of the few games in the gaming industry that can truly be considered a sequel and an improvement, at the same time.
When it comes to story, we are introduced to many more characters than the prequel did, and most of them are properly fleshed out, i.e. portrayed with depth and realism. You actually start caring for Ezio's family and also find many of the characters that are later introduced to by sympathetic, even downright human. The story missions are thrilling and always have you do something unique, compared to the prequel, where you just gathered clues to assassinate a character in the same monotonous fashion throughout the entire game. For example, you may find yourself steering a horse-drawn carriage being chased by bandits across the countryside, or assaulting a fortified town with over a dozen mercenaries, or rescuing a damsel in distress via a gondola.
When it comes to gameplay, the changes are equally noticeable. Apart from an improved combat system that includes taunting, deploying smoke bombs, poisoning enemies or disarming an opponent and killing him with his own weapon, perhaps the most obvious addition is the introduction of money. You can buy armor, weapons, equipment and renaissance paintings from the various shops in the cities. Merchants can also dye your outfit in a variety of region-specific colours and designs. The money needed to give you all these things can be found either in hidden chests (whose locations can be pinpointed using a treasure map you purchased), or by the money you earn by renovating your own private mansion and attracting visitors who come to see the relics you have collected. You can also loot dead enemies for a few coins and other spare equipment, as well as carry them to hide them from sight of other guards, although I never found this necessary enough to require usage. Did mention Ezio can swim?
As in the previous game, you got your main sword, your dagger, your hidden blade and your throwing knives, but now, several other weapons make an appearance, including a second hidden blade with which you can, if timed correctly, quickly dispatch two foes at the same time. You can also perform assassinations from above or under a ledge or while hiding in a haystack. You can also hire people who help you distract any pursuing guards, such as mercenaries, thieves or prostitutes.
In light of all these improvements of the game, the developers have still not improved upon their game engine's flaws, which have been imported from the prequel, the most obvious of them being the horribly poor shadow rendering. Shadows on walls etc. are only crisp up to a distance of about two metres. If you move slightly further away, the high-resolution shadows get replaced by a low-res blur that just looks horrible. It would have been fine if they had increased this scaling distance to eight or ten metres, as that is usually the distance in a city where the crowd or other structures would anyways obscure your view. But two metres just doesn't cut it. I also get the impression that texture scaling has gotten worse - buildings on the other side of a Venetian canal, for example, look noticeably low-res and flat compared to your immediate vicinity, where buildings look realistic and highly detailed.
It's hard to say whether the in-game engine is outdated or not - if the developers had worked on bettering this horribly short scaling distance, I would say the engine looks stunning - with the exception of vegetation, of course. Trees and grass look horrible in this game, but the strengths of the game lie in detailed renaissance architecture. So because of this, the visuals can look great, and below mediocre at different times. And I'm making use of maximum graphical settings here, of course.
Overall, Assassin's Creed II yields over 30 hours of diverse, challenging gameplay. I doubt you will be able to finish the game from beginning to end in one "go", and by "one go" I mean without taking a longer break (that might even last several weeks!) due to boredom or by playing other games in between. For example, I started playing this game rigorously back in Fall 2011 and after finishing about half of it, lost interest and only picked the game about a year (!) later to finish it. So despite all these innovative improvements, the game simply has a sheer length that causes you to lose interest about halfway in, but I guarantee you will keep coming back, at least this was my case (and I usually play all my games from beginning to end within a week or a couple of months, in the case of rpgs).
Lastly, the soundtrack. If I had one word to describe it, I would say: AMAZING. Jesper Kyd (also the guy who composed the prequel's soundtrack) has completely outdone himself this time and delivered a stunning masterpiece that will leave you speechless. The OST is mesmerizing as it is grand, I would definitely recommend you purchase the retail soundtrack so you can listen to it again and again, and let his music carry you away to worlds bedazzling and beautiful.
This game definitely deserves all 5 stars for gameplay, as the experience is amazing. However, because Ubisoft decided to not give a damn about the graphical opportunities a PC version presented to them, thus keeping the draw distance extremely limited and thereby destroying much of the beauty of the game they themselves spent so much time in creating, and because they introduced the horrible, horrible draconian DRM policy (one of the industry's WORST), I have to deduct three full stars from the perfect score. Because if I didn't, it would mean that a developer, as long as his game is fantastic, can sell you all sorts of crap along with it, and you wouldn't mind. As gamers, we just will *not* let that happen. Assassin's Creed II (PC version, that is), will always remain a prime example in gaming history of how a wonderful game can be utterly ruined with disgusting DRM policy. Usually, people say "it has horrible DRM? Then it's probably not worth it - don't bother with it." But Assassin's Creed II is pretty much the only title to date, where this does not apply - the game is perfect, but the DRM is the exact opposite. A sad piece of gaming history was written through the initial release of the PC version of this title, so that all may remember the sheer duality of perfection and ruin created by the same company using its most talented designers, and its most greedy marketers.
A two, out of five stars, but I will show mercy and award the game another two because Ubisoft has finally seen the error of their ways and now allows you to PLAY THE GAME OFFLINE thanks to updating the uplay service. Assassin's Creed II is now 100% recommendable and you would really miss out on a stellar game if you still haven't picked up this jewel. A four, out of five, and all five stars for gameplay.