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It seems like every generation of games a couple have the potential to push the boundaries of what can be done in games. Assassin's Creed was one of these titles but ultimately it was wasted potential as the game was marred by cliché game conventions and a hero with no personality. None of that made Assassin's Creed a bad game; critical and commercial response was generally positive, but it never reached into the realm of greatness.
As with most titles over the last few generations though, Assassin's Creed was destined to receive a sequel and it has finally arrived. Assassin's Creed II picks up shortly after the events of the first one, finding Desmond still locked away in Abstergo Industries, a modern day version of the Templars. Lucy Stillman, the research assistant from the original game, lets Desmond out setting up a daring escape from the building. Desmond however is not free as Lucy hooks him up with the modern day Assassin's and Desmond once again goes into the Animus, the device that allows him to experience the lives of his ancestors through inherited memories locked away in his head.
Assassin's Creed II ditches the setting of the Crusade era Holy Land for Renaissance era Italy and as such the "hero" of this game is a new long lost relative of Desmond, Ezio. Unlike Altaïr from Assassin's Creed, Ezio is not a trained assassin. In fact he has no real desire to be much of anything except a womanizer who delivers stuff for his father. Unfortunately life does not always go as wanted and Ezio is thrust into the secret society of assassin's after his father and brothers are executed due to an overarching conspiracy. Ezio's vengeance and ultimately his process of learning how to become an assassin is the reason Desmond is in the Animus.
Whereas Assassin's Creed was hailed by some as Grand Theft Auto: The Crusades, it never delivered upon that claim in either gameplay or story. This time around though, the entire story from top to bottom features a stronger, more cohesive narrative filled with more realized characters. In addition to the better developed story overall, the presentation of the story is done much better as well. Ezio, unlike Altaïr who had conversations from a static viewpoint, has conversations and interactions shown in a more cinematic light. When each individual piece is combined, Assassin's Creed II delivers the most satisfying narrative in a game this year. A great narrative though does not make a great game and Assassin's Creed II is a game, so it in turn needs to deliver a fun and satisfying gameplay experience on top of its fantastic narrative.
One of the biggest complaints of the original game and something I had major hangups with personally was the way missions were structured. Specifically how players would have to make Altaïr perform certain tasks before he could actually assassinate his mark. It makes perfect sense that Altaïr would have to do a little down and dirty investigative work on his mark before attempting to kill him but by the third mark the tasks were overly repetitive and worst of all not fun to perform. Assassin's Creed II almost completely gets rid of these menial tasks and plays as a more open, open world game because of it.
With the new freedom players can jump right into the action and the game has plenty of it to spare. One of the early assassination missions has Ezio and a small army, yes I said an army, storming a village. The battle is astounding to watch, let alone participate in and Ezio, with his unique skill sets is tasked with performing certain actions that help turn the battle in your favor. It may seem counter-intuitive to have an assassination where an army is your backup but it works within the narrative and most missions Ezio will not have backup to help him out, relying on his skills, equipment, and surroundings.
Fairly early into the game Ezio is introduced to the Leonardo DaVinci and DaVinci will become friends with and help Ezio over the course of the game. One of the first things that DaVinci does for Ezio is fix a set of hidden blades that Ezio is given. These blades are the keys to stealthy assassinations and some of the most fun the game has to offer. Very few things in the game are as satisfying as countering an attack and thrusting the blades into the attackers throat. DaVinci has more than a few surprises in store for the player as they progress and each addition adds a practical gameplay use as well as being fun to toy around with.
Better than the original in every single aspect. This is the game that the first wanted to be.
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