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Assassin's Creed 2.5
on January 3, 2011
The Assassin's Creed story continues with this direct sequel to Assassin's Creed 2 (AC2). Again, you are placed in the role of Ezio. Instead of going from city to city in search of your targets, you remain within the city of Rome. Assassin's Creed Brotherhood adds some new elements and changes some things around a bit for yet another great game in the saga.
Story: The story of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood picks up directly following the events in AC2. Due to various events, Ezio finds his way to Rome and seeks to undermine the efforts of the delusional Cesare Borgia and his scheming family. As with the previous game in the franchise, the story here is deep and the characters memorable. Caterina Sforza also makes a reappearance, but isn't quite as vulgar as she was in AC2, which is a bit of a disappointment. The character Lucrezia Borgia is also introduced, and, although she is an antagonist, she is one of the most compelling and tragic characters in the game. It is not quite as long or as deep as AC2, but it is certainly better than most.
The visual style of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood is very similar to that of AC2, it is Italy and done within the same time period, after all. The difference here is that Rome is ancient, filled with ruins, so unpainted brick or marble is available for you to climb on. The stunning chapel climbing sequences are mostly gone, in favor of the ruins, so you rarely get to see the fine, ornate, detail that Renaissance Italy was known for, but certain areas are the city are beautiful to look at. As someone who enjoys the history of the Roman Empire, and yes Byzantium is included in that too, setting the story in Rome was a treat. As soundtracks go, this is also well done. Some of the tracks sound like they belong in the HBO series "Rome" and use vocals quite a bit.
Gameplay: Put simply, the gameplay in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood mostly mirrors that of AC2. There are several new additions that further refine the gameplay, making it even better, mostly, than the previous installments. If you enjoyed rebuilding and upgrading Monteriggioni in AC2, Rome has got you covered. You can open a number of shops to heal you, make weapons and armor, dye clothes, and paintings. There are other structures you open, like banks, landmarks, aqueducts, stables, a fast-travel tunnel system, and guild buildings. All of these provide gameplay benefits and net you cash every 20 minutes. Open every building, and you get a very useful cape. It would have been nice if, in renovating all structures in a given area, that area would become more noticeably better, but as it stands, the difference is very subtle.
In Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, there is also the new guild system. There are three main guilds, thieves, courtesans, and mercenaries, along with an additional assassin's guild you control directly. The three primary guilds give you side quests and a challenge board. Complete every challenge and the guild owner will give you a special item. Individual side quests open over time as you progress through the game. The assassin's guild is very interesting, you recruit assassin's from Rome's population to fight for your cause. These assassin's level up and can be sent out on missions or used to help you in a fight by providing backup or to rain arrows down on your enemies. Although the assassin's guild is fun, once they reach the maximum levels, there really isn't much for them to do except sending them out on the difficult "starred" assassin missions, which net not only florins but also rare items, or calling them into battle. You do not have access to your assassin's guild during certain gameplay sequences where they would be most useful, but you can use them fairly often.
The full synchronization concept is also introduced. In previous installments, you get a mission telling you to do something, it is then up to you to determine the best method to accomplish this. In Brotherhood, you still have that option, but if you accomplish the mission in a certain way, you synchronize more fully. As your overall synchronization meter fills, you gain special memories from earlier events. These memories are triggered at various benchmarks, such as 30% overall synchronization all the way up to 75%. Mercifully, the developers stopped at 75% knowing that not everyone has the patience to go much beyond that. Keep in mind that if you fail the full synchronization requirement, and the game will certainly let you know this, and decide to suicide yourself to back to the checkpoint prior to the event you failed, you will still have failed in the requirement. If you want to try it again, you have to restart the mission entirely from the beginning.
Everything starts at the Borgia towers which dot the landscape. These break Rome up into several zones, some of which are totally inaccessible for arbitrary reasons not connected to the story. To get new assassin recruits and access to buildings, you must dispatch the captain of the tower and then burn it to the ground. Each captain is given a star rating which is meaningless if you played any previous installment of Assassin's Creed. The rating is supposed to indicate difficulty, but, I was able to take down a five-star tower the moment it became available when Ezio first entered Rome without guild backup. Removing the towers removes a certain number guards or makes them weaker in that zone.
One of the most talked about additions to the franchise is the inclusion of multiplayer. There are several multiplayer game modes to choose from. Alliance is where the six players are split into three teams, all sent to hunt other teams. Team work is crucial in alliance. Man hunt is another mode, where two teams take turns being both the hunter and the hunted. Wanted is a mode where you are assigned targets, often other players, and you go assassinate them as solo agents. There is a spin-off to the wanted mode, and that is advanced wanted where gameplay is shifted forcing a more stealthy approach as the compass, which points you to your target, is reduced in effectiveness. Players can choose from a number of characters to play as, all of which are generic in appearance, allowing the players to blend in with crowds more easily, or even stand next to an identical non-playable character to throw off would-be assassins. The whole system is ranked up to level 50 with bonuses at each level, and you gain points for stealth on top of simply killing the target. This is used to discourage players from merely running around killing everything since the points gained just killing are relatively low compared to the bonuses given for actually being an assassin.
There are other minor tweaks to the gameplay. You now have shop quests which require you to scour fallen enemies and treasure chests for rare items that can be combined to make new equipment. There really is no real reason to get paintings or buy every piece of weapon and armor in the game since there are no completion benefits or trophies in doing this. The annoying flag mini-game makes a return, but with a twist. Some of the flags are hidden the Romulus lairs, which are similar to the assassin's seal quest that ultimately yielded the Armor of Altair in AC2. These lairs can be tricky to navigate, so it is likely you will miss one or two flags. Completing these lairs grants Ezio the Armor of Brutus and Dagger of Brutus, which are both the best armor and short weapon in the game, unique in many respects. The dagger is very useful, civilians and enemies sometimes cower and the animations using it draw upon how Brutus killed Cesar with vicious stabs, being both effective and brutal. Da Vinci also makes a return, giving you a parachute if you destroy the war machines he is contracted, forced, to build. These are fun mini-games allowing Ezio to take control of tanks, naval cannon's, and bomber aircraft. Brotherhood also introduces execution's. If Ezio counters or kills an enemy, he can follow through and cause a one hit kill on any nearby enemy, even brutes. The trick is to know which enemy is going to attack next and kill them before they hit you, stopping the execution. If you pull off the execution, you can follow it though to another enemy, and another, and another, without anything stopping you other than an enemy breaking your streak with a hit.
Misc.: Assassin's Creed 2 was considered my game of the year for 2009 and I believed Brotherhood would join it in 2010. Sadly, this was not the case for a few minor reasons. AC2 is a deep game with plenty of story elements to keep the player engaged for many hours. Brotherhood is similar, but not quite as deep, only going as far as nine memory segments. With few exceptions, the side missions assigned by the various guilds are very similar with little to add to the story, nor do they form small story arcs encouraging you to play them all. The rebuilding of Rome is also fun, for a while. You do gain discounts and new items in opening up shops, but, aside from this, nothing really changes all that much to the city. Hearing the populace talk about Ezio or the assassin's more, the buildings being cleaned up, or even flying the assassin's or the Auditore flag, similar to how they flew at Monteriggioni, would have been nice. This would give the feeling that the assassin's were tipping the balance in Rome.
The assassin's guild is also very useful and fun, but, Ezio's guild seems very separate from the game with none of the missions bleeding over into the main game. It would be nice had Ezio been given direct involvement in some of the missions, or if he could lead a team on special missions. As it stands now, the guild doesn't really have much impact on the story with the exception of a few memories. In fact, you could recruit people and not bother to use them at all in the game and not lose much. The guild of assassin's can be useful as backup or to rain arrows down on your enemies, but I found myself rarely needing them, especially after leveling them up, which is quite easy.
The main issue that kicked the game a few notches down on my "Game of 2010" list centers around multiplayer. I usually don't play multiplayer, it gets repetitive too quickly and there is nothing affecting the game's canon in it. Although there are a number of modes and character archetypes to try, it does get old. Moreover, unless you have several friends you can invite, you will be stuck with a least one person not acting stealthily, racing from rooftop to rooftop to get the next kill. It often seems as though many players are trying to take a multiplayer shooter strategy, which is get the most kills, and apply it to a unique multiplayer experience that discourages this type of gameplay. This makes multiplayer less fun since the whole point of being an assassin is to kill without being seen until the last possible moment. I would have liked a Demon's Souls multiplayer mode where you can bring in other gamers to help in some cases, or, have them hunt you down in the single player game should something go wrong in a mission. Instead of outright failing a mission if you are detected, a player could appear in the city and hunt you, even after you completed the main assassination. I would have found this type of multiplayer more compelling.
It should also be noted that this game has multiplayer trophies. You could squeeze every last bit out of the single player experience, even hunting down the irritating flags, and still not get the platinum trophy unless you invest almost as much time in multiplayer as you did in single player. As someone who often does not play multiplayer or find it enjoyable, this is a major let down. I probably would have gone back after finishing game to get the more difficult trophies had multiplayer trophies not been added, but since they were, why bother? For a mostly single player game in a single player franchise, these multiplayer trophies should have been removed in favor of bonuses in single player campaigns or just stripped entirely as a stand-alone feature granting UPlay points.
Overall, in the single player game, it is an improvement in terms of mechanics. Expanding the rebuilding game and adding in the assassin's guild was a fun addition, but it really doesn't do much to change the game. The full synchronization concept is interesting and there are rewards for doing it. Thankfully, the developers make it goal to get full sync, but set it up so unless the player actively ignores doing it, it is almost certain they will get the reward for completion. The war machines side missions are very fun and I would like to see more. The hecklers have also been toned down a bit and thief races are few. Overall, it is a great game and a worthy addition to the franchise, but, for me, it just wasn't as good as Assassin's Creed 2 if only by a tiny amount.