Throwback Review: Assassin’s Creed 2- Leap of Faith

I mentioned in my Sonic Generations throwback review that I’d be spending a decent chunk of this summer catching up on franchises I’d missed out on when I was younger, and Assassin’s Creed another series I’m working my way through. I started with the second installment because I’d heard the first wasn’t very good (although I’ll certainly get to it later), and it… was…

Incredible. Not perfect, no, it starts slow and sometimes the freerunning works against you and the combat falls just a tad short, but I still had a blast for just about all of it.

The Assassin’s Creed series features the ages-old conflict between the Assassins and the Templars, framed by a present-day narrative where Desmond relives the memories of his Assassin’s ancestors to learn their techniques and find relics known as the pieces of Eden. You don’t care about that, though, you just want to freerun through renaissance Italy and slaughter some Templars. Assassin’s Creed II follows the story of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a citizen of 15th century Florence. After Ezio’s father discovers that the Pazzi family is planning to assassinate Lorenzo de’ Medici, ruler of the Florentine Republic, he tries to present evidence condemning Francesco de’ Pazzi. However, the Pazzis and fellow conspirators ensure that all the men in Ezio’s family are publicly hanged, and Ezio only survives because he’s out on an errand when his house is invaded.

~~Spoilers for a nine year old game below~~

After failing to rescue his family, he becomes obsessed with avenging them, committing the next years of his life to ensuring he eliminates everyone involved with the death of his family. He travels across Italy, eliminating countless enemies and meeting valuable allies (including Leonardo DaVinci himself), and finding mysterious codex pages. As the game approaches its third act, his allies reveal themselves to be Assassins and induct him into their cult order. They teach Ezio about the pieces of Eden, ancient artifacts of untold power, and tell him that the codex will lead them to one.

Once the codex is completed, the Assassins discover that it’s a map, and the macguffin they seek is in Rome. Rome just so happens to be where the game’s final boss, Templar big boy himself Rodrigo Borgia, is about to become Pope Alexander VI. Ezio immediately departs and assaults Borgia, but Borgia holds two pieces of Eden and overpowers Ezio, then flees into a hidden chamber beneath the church. Ezio follows him, beats him to a pulp, and spares his life, because that’s just what you do with final bosses after slaughtering every one of their lackeys. Sure, Ezio, killing Borgia won’t bring your father and brothers back, but that random guard who was doing his job, yeah, he dies no problem.

Ezio takes the artifacts from him, and we learn of the First Civilization, creators of the pieces of Eden. They were wiped out in a solar flare similar to one that soon threatens modern-day Earth. Minerva, a prophet of the first civilization, delivers this information to Desmond through Ezio, and we’re back to the framing story and officially done killing people, so we’re about done here.

~~Spoilers Over~~

Assassin’s Creed has become popular for several mechanics, and we’ll start with freerunning. Most of the time, it’s a lot of fun. You start with a tutorial where Ezio races his brother up to and across a roof, teaching you the basic controls, and after that, you get to run around wherever you’d like. Unfortunately, it’s a little rough around the edges. To prevent requiring frustrating precision from the players, everything you can freerun on has a bit of a lock on, but it’s tilting when you’re trying to run away from a swarm of guards and Ezio randomly starts climbing onto a box on the side of the street. There are also times when you won’t lock on, and Ezio will start trying to stumble up a wall instead of using the springboard immediately to his right.

Still, it works more often than it doesn’t, and you get every opportunity to use it. Completing the map, doing races, stalking people, escaping guards, or just moving around the world; you spend a decent chunk of your game on rooftops. Freerunning has been a series staple since the first game, and with good reason.

If you’re not running around in rooftops, you’re probably assassinating people, and since it’s kind of in the name of the game, you’re given plenty of ways to do it. Sneak up on them and stab them with a hidden blade, get the drop on them and stab them from above with a hidden blade, hang from the roof they’re patrolling and stab them with a hidden blade before dropping them to the ground, hide in a hay cart and stab someone with a hidden blade and hide their bodies in the hay, poison them, kill them in a duel with a sword, obscure their vision with a smoke bomb and skip the duel altogether, beat the crap out of them until they fall to the ground and stab them, throw knives at them from a distance, shoot them with a pistol you keep hidden in your gauntlets(???)… the list goes on.

Despite all this, combat does get a bit stale. If you’ve already engaged someone and you don’t have anyone else to distract them, all the hidden blade assassinations are out, and you’re left with only your sword, knife, blades, and smoke bombs (if you have any). Bombing them means you can kill them quickly for a short period of time, but if you’re out of those, it’s time to fight. While they’re are a few different strategies to employ, such as using different weapons on different enemies, grabbing someone to slit their throat or throw them towards someone else, and countering, you spend a lot of time in duels, and rhythmically hitting “attack” and waiting for an opportunity to strafe or counter gets tiring after a bit. However, there’s a myriad of missions in all sorts of different formats to keep things interesting… even if some of them just outright suck.

Specifically, the “don’t let anyone see you” type missions can go deepthroat a cactus. This is by far the most frustrating, as if any guards or enemies are made aware of your presence, you lose immediately. Say you find a lone, solitary guard, and want to kill them in case the cause trouble later. If you sneak up behind them and stab them, that’s all fine and dandy, but if they see you on your way, then you’re screwed. You can game over in the process of killing them, even doing so would turn you to incognito. The very last level of the game is structured like this, and it blows.

However, I don’t have that many more complaints. Other than a slow start, a few sucky missions here and there, slightly flawed mechanics, and combat that gets boring after a dozen and a half hours, Assassin’s Creed II is fantastic. Exploring renaissance Italy is tons of fun, there’s a deep story with themes of freedom and power, exploration of the religious corruption of the time, plenty of murder and vengeance to go around, entertaining characters based on real people, a framing narrative if you care, and plenty of optional content.

After you unlock your uncle’s Villa, you have the option of pumping money into it to give yourself shopping discounts and having the city earn more and more money, some of which you get to keep. You’ll get paid for both assassination contracts and “beat up” missions, wherein a women will hire you to find her cheating husband and knock some sense into him, giving him a brutal beatdown until he swears to change his ways. I’m sure you’ve seen the iconic images of Ezio standing on top of the tallest building in the area, and there are over six dozen of these lookout points to find to synchronize your map, giving you a view of the area as well as some freerunning practice.

All in all, Assassin’s Creed II is a great introduction to the franchise; you can skip the first unless you’re interested in the series’s overarching plot, but even then it’s easy enough to figure out. Ubisoft has given us hours of entertaining content, and if you’re at all interested in breaking into the series or even just looking for an older open-world title to see how the genre has evolved, ACII is a solid go-to.


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