Game Reviews

Retro Review – Assassin’s Creed II: The Best. May it Never Change.

Ubisoft, Assassin's Creed II

I was really impressed with the first Assassin’s Creed release. From the beginning, Ubisoft showed us they had something special with the cinematic trailers that helped capture everyone’s attention. I remember my parents (who never play games) seeing one of the cinematic trailers teasing its release and they were filled with questions. They wanted to know what it was and when they could watch it. They changed their mind on watching it when I explained they would have that option if they let me hook the Xbox 360 up in the living room. Even still, my point remains: everyone’s imagination was captured by these trailers and it marked a turning point for video games. The game itself proved to be good as well, despite some flaws that unfortunately held it back from reaching its potential. Ubisoft still released a great game though and it led to a great series being born. There have been ups and downs along the way but still mostly good games, objectively speaking. I am still hoping for a remaster though that replaces many of the mechanics and design decisions with those from later releases. In the meantime though, the Ezio Collection is releasing on PS4 and Xbox One in November and I for one can’t wait. It had been years since I had replayed Ezio’s games and so I wanted to go back and revisit not only my favorite but one of the greatest responses to fan feedback ever made: Assassin’s Creed II.

Ubisoft, Assassin's Creed

(Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft)

There were a lot of things that helped the original stand out, but the biggest of these was the sense of wonder and mystery. The frame narrative with Desmond and within the animus as Altair was also driven forward by the freedom and ability to tackle each area in the order that the player decided upon. Third person sandbox style games weren’t new but how Assassin’s Creed handled it was interesting and different. It was nice being able to feel like an assassin. The cinematic and up-close conversations with Altair’s targets after their assassinations were thought provoking and helped propel the already interesting plot forward. It was in these moments where the game shined the brightest. The moments in between, however, began to feel like a chore for myself and many others after the first few hours. I enjoyed being able to get information by eavesdropping or filling up my map by synchronizing with a viewpoint. I would just get frustrated and even bored with how formulaic it began to feel. The controls being overly sensitive or just not feeling responsive and the mechanics themselves not feeling fully executed (heh) just added to the frustration. It was a prime example of a beautiful game that struggled to surpass the flaws that were holding it back. I ended up finishing the game but it took me months. I finally just committed to playing a few hours every weekend because it helped the game feel less monotonous and compensated for the game’s flaws a bit if I split it up more.

In the end though, Assassin’s Creed is still a good game. It’s very difficult to go back to now and for good reasons too. The series has catapulted forward with the improvements it’s made. It was with Assassin’s Creed II where Ubisoft systematically went through and just improved everything based off of all the feedback they had received. Critics and gamers alike let Ubisoft know what they loved and what threatened their otherwise good experience throughout the journey with Altair – and Ubisoft listened. Everything felt new, fresh, and better. And now, when I go back and replay Assassin’s Creed II I don’t rush through it to get to the big moments and crucial story points. I enjoy taking on the role of Ezio, perhaps more than Desmond does strapped in an animus. How much that has to do with me reclined next to a beer and not in an animus is hard to say but either way, I was excited to revisit this experience.

Assassin’s Creed II begins with Desmond almost immediately after the events of the original game. It’s really cool being thrust into the story right after the end of the first game and not just seeing a cutscene. The cutscene that does play is just to recap anyone who skipped the first game so they feel more at home playing its sequel. It’s also nice learning more about Desmond’s story and the overarching narrative with Abstergo. Now, I won’t lie. I lost interest in Desmond’s story after Revelations but this is back when it was more interesting and featured a more cohesive plot. It begins with Lucy pleading with you to get into the animus quickly and she promises to explain everything when she can. You’re born as Ezio Auditore and then back out and escaping Abstergo with Lucy. As you fight off some guards and sneak past some others you learn that Lucy is an assassin and a take in a bit more about what’s going on. You end up at a hideout where two other assassins, who are a part of your group, are waiting to introduce themselves. After meeting them and learning their roles, you’re back in the animus and playing as Ezio. There are more moments of Desmond’s story in the game but I will say that the story of Ezio Auditore is what makes this game so great.

Ubisoft, Assassin's Creed II

(Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft)

Assassin’s Creed II is a beautiful game. There are some pop-up buildings and textures here and there but character models, backgrounds, and the overall graphical effects look good and help build a convincing world. The character models look much better in this game than the previous entry and Italy is a beautiful place to explore. It feels, and looks, much more lively this time too and it makes it that much more compelling to invest in emotionally. I particularly enjoyed learning about landmark locations and also really enjoyed the inclusion of people like Leonardo Da Vinci. There’s a lot of history and alternate history here that is weaved into an interesting tale and universe. I always enjoy climbing viewpoints in this game because the view alone is worth more than the added map data. This game has aged a bit but it still looks really good. I don’t think anyone would have trouble replaying this game due to the graphics. I was definitely in awe of the graphics much more often than distracted by their shortcomings, even with it being almost seven years after the initial release.

Ubisoft, Assassin's Creed II

(Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft)

I’ll never forget the “real” opening of Assassin’s Creed II where Ezio and his older brother, Federico climb a viewpoint together and look over the city. They discuss how great life is and how they hope it never changes. The camera pans out and the magnificent music of this series takes over. It’s a beautiful opening and one of my favorites from the series. It just goes to show how much more meaningful Ubisoft intended Assassin’s Creed II to be compared to the previous entry in the series. I think they succeeded with this in every area too. The characters are much more memorable and I feel much more invested in Ezio’s struggle than I did with Altair. I cared about the supporting cast and wanted to help them. I felt pain and loss whenever Ezio did and shared in his victories. It’s a very emotional journey and it’s one that I felt more than invited to. I felt as though I were a part of it. I rarely experience this much immersion in a third-person game but that’s one of the many things that separates Assassin’s Creed II from other games in not only the series but also the genre it belongs to.

The core gameplay is very similar to the previous game in that you’ll be going through the main story and assassinating major targets. You will need to get information on them and there will be things you need to do leading up to the assassinations as well. The events leading up to the assassinations themselves are much more fun this time around and everything feels more meaningful. There are story related things and character interactions that add a lot of life to the game that also serve to further the narrative as well. It doesn’t feel as much like going through a checklist this time around. The story weaves through these assassinations and you’ll learn a lot more about your targets before you even get to them and it adds to the experience so much. It feels like you’re assassinating someone and not just having to go kill someone that you’re told to, and then learning a bit of info before and after. It’s very refreshing and despite the main gameplay being very reminiscent of the first entry in the series, it feels more real this time. There have been so many improvements and tweaks that you’ll actually feel like an assassin.

The gameplay mechanics are not only fixed with this release but also just completely improved upon. A great story needs to be cradled with great game design for maximum enjoyment and Ubisoft delivered. To put it simply: this game is a hell of a lot of fun. As someone who has completed it a few times, I do wish I could have free reign of the world a bit more quickly but this isn’t a major setback by any means. We still have a more natural and fluid tutorial than many other games and it’s wrapped into the introductory and exposition set-up chapters that don’t take too long to complete. The major benefit to this is a solid opening and, of course, you know how to control Ezio completely and have learned how to control his many actions to maximum effect, so playing through the rest of the game feels more natural and fun. For the other 70% of the game you can focus on being Ezio and conquering his enemies. Every facet of gameplay here is just so exciting and fun that it’s rare that I skip anything. Optional missions of all lengths are fun and provide a nice break of pace from the main storyline. My favorite among these are the Assassin Tombs you can excavate for the seals and of course loot and bragging rights. These are a lot of fun. They vary in length but normally took me around forty five minutes to an hour to complete. The surge of joy felt upon reaching the end of these is very satisfying. Platforming is the main focus of these side missions but there is also some light puzzle solving and sometimes there are even enemies to deal with. They’re a lot of fun and highly satisfying to complete start to finish.

Ubisoft, Assassin's Creed II

(Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft)

If you’re looking for something shorter there are beat-up missions where you’ll knock someone’s teeth out for a good cause or races, courier missions and more. There’s also a constant and prosperous side quest featured in the town you live for the majority of the game. You invest money into the town to rebuild and renovate to restore it to its former glory. This helps the town and also makes you money too! The amount of money you make increases by how much of the town’s renovations are completed. This is something that’s fun to revisit throughout each chapter and is satisfying to complete every step of the way. There are a lot of things to do in Assassin’s Creed II and it’s relaxing, rewarding, and fun to not only tackle the majority (or all) of the objectives but it’s also nice being able to tackle them when you want to.

A great soundtrack can definitely add an extra layer of shine and immersion to a game and this is exactly what composer Jesper Kyd accomplished with Assassin’s Creed II. It’s very emotional but subtle when it needs to be. The music knows when to be big and when to whisper into the player’s ear to just add a bit of ambiance. From Ezio’s opening with Federico atop a viewpoint to deep inside a mysterious assassin tomb to the big and cinematic moments; it always provides another layer of personality to the world surrounding you. Kyd utilized a thirty five piece string ensemble and thirteen person choir to provide the music needed for emotionally gripping moments and large sweeping musical gestures. The sound effects are just as solid. From the clinks of swords to the impact you hear when you assassinate someone up close with your hidden blade. Assassin’s Creed II sounds wonderful and if you have the option to experience it in surround sound then I would highly recommend it.

The magic of Assassin’s Creed II is everywhere. This is a beautiful world in every sense of the definition; from the game design to the music to dual narrative to the believable and convincing cast of characters. You will absolutely not only feel as though you have taken on the identity of Ezio Auditore da Firenze but you’ll also enjoy the whole ride. Ubisoft has slipped a bit in more recent years but replaying this masterpiece reminds me of what they are capable of when they put their minds to it. Assassin’s Creed II is a defining achievement of the last generation that helped bring the full potential of storytelling and gameplay for third person games to the forefront of the conversation. I have enjoyed other releases all the way up to Unity and Rogue but this is the highlight and peak, in terms of everything coming together in an Assassin’s Creed title. There have been other games in the series with technically better visuals and gameplay and even some other good stories but this is where it all lined up perfectly.

Ubisoft, Assassin's Creed II

(Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft)

Assassin’s Creed II is incredible and well worth your time. If you’ve played it before but it’s been a few years then it’s absolutely worth replaying. I hadn’t played it since mid 2011 and this was just as much of an engrossing and awe inspiring journey as it was then. Ezio’s tale is a tightly woven one and I think Brotherhood and Revelations are worthy sequels as well, but this is where it all started and it’s the best of the three. If you don’t already own Assassin’s Creed II then it’s pretty cheap now and definitely worth picking up. The Ezio Collection is releasing on current gen consoles in November and it will include all of the DLC and the two movies that all come together to tell the full story of this legendary assassin.


To read our thoughts on the Ezio Collection when it releases make sure to keep it right here on Bagogames! If you want to talk about Assassin’s Creed II, the series or all other things gaming, burritos, and cats then feel free to reach me via Twitter @mrjoshnichols. Thanks again for reading and until next time, Happy Gaming!

Retro Review – Assassin’s Creed II: The Best. May it Never Change.

9.5

Score

10/10

    Pros

    • Emotionally moving and compelling story
    • Tight controls and improved mechanics
    • Beautiful graphics
    • Gripping soundtrack
    • Fun and beneficial optional content

    Cons

    • Pop-Up Textures Can Be Distracting
    • Combat is Sometimes Too Easy

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