by Christopher Park
previewed on PC
A Renaissance Man
Assassinís Creed was an unexpected smash-hit. Ubisoft always expected it to sell well, but not two and a half million-in-four-weeks well. With a sizzling new property on its hands, there was only one thing for Ubisoft to do: make a sequel.
Enter Assassinís Creed II. No longer taking place during the Crusades, Creed has moved up in time by a couple of centuries and found itself a new main character. Expect to play as Ezio Auditore de Firenze (Ezio for short) during the Renaissance, an era known for new ideals, the development of linear perspective, and, apparently, a time when people were getting offed by an enigmatic assassin.
Other than the fact that Ezio is a nobleman who dabbles in assassination, very few plot details have been released. There is no telling how the ending of the first game will tie into the sequel. With such a dramatic shift in setting, it will be interesting to see how characters like Desmond will make guest appearances (does his assassin lineage extend all the way to Italy?). Although the Crusades setting was original and incredibly daring, Ubisoft has made the right choice in starting from scratch, because revisiting a familiar would only dilute the experience.
Two Blades are Better than One
With the jump in time comes an advance in technology. Expect to see more modern upgrades of previous weapons, as well as entirely new inventions. One upgrade is the dual-wielding assassin blades. While the addition of an extra blade seems superfluous (What, you are going to stab him in the neckÖ again?), the developers must have plans for it. A brand new power is the ability to fly, courtesy of none other than Leonardo da Vinci. Though flight could turn out to either be a minor portion or an integral part of the game, it sure sounds exciting. Ezio will also be able to utilize his enemyís weapons and gear, granting him access to things like halberds, maces, and spears. Expect new enemy unit types to compensate for your newfound skills.
Speaking of da Vinci, your new set of contacts is based on historical and scholarly figures from the era. This includes NiccolÚ Machiavelli, Caterina Sforza, and Lorenzo deí Medici. You may know none of these people, but expect to get a mini crash course in history when you play the game, because they were major power players in their time. How they will come into play with the gameís story is a very interesting mystery to say the least.
If I Have to Eavesdrop One More Time...
Assassinís Creed was consistently criticized for its repetitious structure, with many missions lacking depth. You needed to complete a handful of mini-quests before each assassination, tedious tasks that did not impact the mission at hand and were only good for padding out the length of the game. Ubisoft hopes to completely remove that problem by increasing the amount of mission types to a healthy 16. Whether they will genuinely help with your assassinations remains to be seen, but as the amount of side missions has practically tripled, consider it a good thing.
There are also a few major gameplay changes. Now, you wonít have to hide in specific crowds, like a group of priests, to sneak past set patrols. You can hide in any crowd, an ability that, if done well, could finally unlock the true potential of the social stealth aspect. Besides hiding, Ezio will also have some more proactive solutions. He will be able to swim (falling into a body of water was a death sentence in the first game) and take down guards Sam Fisher-style.
Assassinís Creed II looks like it is trying to do what any good sequel tries to do: fix everything that did not work, and improve on what did, while shaking things up so that they donít feel stale. With a new setting and the feedback taken directly from criticisms of the original game, this sequel could easily be an even bigger success than the first game was.