Assassin’s Creed Restrospective: Part II

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By Kimberly Kuxhause
 
The success of Assassin’s Creed left the world wanting more, and more they received. Two years after the introduction of the first game, Assassin’s Creed II hit the shelves with a revamped story and boy did it deliver. The story evolved as the side quests became more intricate and the characters more enticing, resulting in widespread critical acclaim. What improvements were made that caused such a dramatic increase in quality? Perhaps it’s that AC II allows a little bit of everything for everyone. Do you like exploration? Complete the crypt quests. Do you enjoy trophy achievements? Try to collect all the feathers and perform assassinations in interesting ways. Are you interested in Ezio’s or Desmond’s story? Explore the glyph markers and have Desmond take occasional breaks from the animus.
 
In order to properly flesh out the multiple side quests available, basic gameplay changes must first be considered. An enhanced weapons wheel is added, allowing a range of new weapons and actions to choose from, including a dagger, a rudimentary firearm, medicine, throwing knives and throwing coins to distract guards and civilians. These alone allow for completion of new stealth tactics while completing missions. The health bar is updated; a logical choice as people in real life don’t automatically heal after major battles. This update makes medicine more of a necessity to have stocked, whereas before it was an underused resource. The temporary notoriety surges after completion of blocks in the first game has grown into a notoriety system where Ezio constantly rips posters, bribes heralds, or assassinates officials in order to operate as normal. I admit, these small tasks became somewhat of a chore, but the change fixes a more serious issue in AC I of over simplistic gameplay. Altair could get away with practically any crime but now, players must concern themselves with their actions instead of flying blindly into battle, only to disappear a second later. The ability to loot bodies is also added, which refills Ezio’s medicine, weapons, and cash resources after fights. That way, if a player can’t afford to purchase medicine, they can still obtain some.
 
Speaking of money – in AC II we have money and the option to purchase more weapons and armor! Instead of relying on the main plotline’s progression to improve the character, Assassin’s Creed II allows the player to assert control over Ezio in the beginning stages of the game. However, it’s not required. That alone, the increased freedom, makes AC II stand out from its predecessor. You can choose to immerse yourself into the game, make money to improve your hometown and character, or you can skip the extras and get to the heart of the game by doing what you can with what you have. What freedom! This feature really lets the player make the game their own and gives motivation for collecting weapons, art, and armor, and exploring the larger world of Assassin’s Creed. Even if you finish the main storyline you can still improve your character or explore Italy, which extends the game past the plot’s lifespan.
 
Yet what helps increase a player’s interest in AC II the most is the addition of elaborate side quests. No, I’m not talking about collecting flags like we did in the first game – though that does still exist with the inclusion of Petruccio’s feathers and to a certain extent finding/retrieving Codex pages – but of the crypt missions and glyph markers. Crypt missions allow those interested in environment exploration to strut their stuff. The levels involve multiple sections of climbing and racing to test the player’s proficiency and speed. Even if that’s not your cup of tea, completing these missions will eventually unlock Altair’s special armor, so the player can still find joy in these tasks. Glyph markers inform the player of real life historical landmarks while also giving more background information to Desmond’s story. As we spend the majority of the time living Ezio’s life, these missions serve as a great way to increase a player’s knowledge of Abstergo’s tyranny. It keeps the player cognizant of the overarching story thereby maintaining the player’s interest in the long run over the course of several games. It allows real history and fictitious history to combine in a truly mesmerizing way. These side missions include a lot more motivation for completing extra tasks, unlike the Templar assassinations and flag collection of the first game. Yet it also gives the option to learn more, if the player so chooses. The amount of narrative content included is truly baffling and encourages full immersion into the game. In the end I did find some of the information to weigh down my interest, but the problem was soon fixed – I just closed the page and returned to Ezio’s journey. The game allows so much freedom and so many options that it’s hard to rail against any one component. If you get frustrated or bored the player can move on to another section. You can always come back to that quest later. (Although I admit, the glyph markers can be difficult to relocate once you’ve passed them. It’s a small, but persistent, issue.)
 
We find that Ezio’s story parallels Desmond’s. As Ezio realizes his work as an assassin, Desmond understands a little more about the world he was born into. Ezio’s journey is a brilliant story of personal growth and the cyclic nature of revenge. Ezio attempts to avenge his father, but in doing so sees the Templars, his targets, grow in numbers. However, though the storyline is top notch, it does still present some issues. Besides the brothel owner, (who isn’t expert in fighting), we get little in the way of strong female characters or assassins. Sure, Claudia grows into her role in later games, but first she needs a whole lot of protection from her older brother. The game doesn’t suffer too much from it and the issue is somewhat rectified in later games. I also would have loved of Desmond’s story in this game, but his limited storyline does makes sense. Desmond is primarily in the animus so that he might be trained – the group only realizes later what Ezio’s story can offer them.
 
Other issues are small ones present in the gameplay itself. Within glyph marker quests we receive insights into possible future games (ahem, George Washington holding a piece of Eden!) which is quite interesting to contemplate, but some of these puzzles are surprisingly hard (In particular, identifying small items within pictures of art). There’s a slight issue with purchasing weapons – if you’ve bought a good weapon, but later purchase more from a shop to complete your collection, you’re left with the last weapon you bought. In order to fix it, you have to travel back to Monterrigioni to reequip your favorite. To remedy the removal of monks, the game allows the character to hide in any group, but you can no longer automatically blend. It can be difficult to keep the slow pace of groups you pass. Guards are far more persistent than their predecessors, and will root you out of haystacks. The play can now assassinate out of these haystacks, but their persistence significantly hinders a quick getaway. If you’re used to the ease of hiding in AC I, there’s no doubt you will be surprised at first.
 
Overall, these issues are miniscule in relation to all of the improvements the game features – the updated weaponry, pickpocket ability, new assassination techniques, crypt missions, etc. The narrative elements increased tenfold and their content enveloped me completely into the Assassins’ world. If AC I was the bait, AC II was the trap that ensnared me. Though I did a few issues, ultimately I asked myself – what game is truly perfect? In the end, the release of Assassin’s Creed II showed a steep learning curve and left players waiting on the edge of their seat for the next game. The only question was, would the sequel be up to snuff?


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