Twenty-two years ago, I stood where I stand now – and watched my loved ones die, betrayed by those I had called friends. Vengeance clouded my mind. It would have consumed me, were it not for the wisdom of a few strangers, who taught me to look past my instincts. They never preached answers, but guided me to learn from myself. We don't need anyone to tell us what to do; not Savonarola, not the Medici. We are free to follow our own path. There are those who will take that freedom from us, and too many of you gladly give it. But it is our ability to choose – whatever you think is true – that makes us human... There is no book or teacher to give you the answers, to show you the way. Choose your own way! Do not follow me, or anyone else.
Assassin’s Creed 2 was the first game I played in the series, and I consider it not just my favorite game of the series, but one of my favorite games of all time. Sure, the games that came after AC II are superior on technical aspect, but they don’t have quite match the same level of attachment as I have for this game. Almost everything that was bad in the first game was fixed in this one, as Ubisoft takes the franchise to the right direction; let’s go back in the time of Renaissance. A warning though, this review is rather long and contains several spoilers for the game.
The game picks up were the first one left off, with Desmond escaping from the Abstergo Facility with to Lucy’s help. She leads him to an Assassin hideout, where she intends to train him using the Bleeding Effect to pick up his Ancestors’ abilities through a new and improved Animus. The focus also change from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, playing this time with one of Desmond’s ancestors, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Ezio is like many young men of his class and age: rich, carefree, spending most of the time wooing the ladies (and then some) while jumping from roof to roof in his home in Florence. It all goes to Hell the day his father and brothers are arrested and executed, victims of a political plot that absolutely ruins his family. Seeking revenge, Ezio discovers his father was a Assassin and he has passed his mantle to his son and after fleeing with his mother and sister (both traumatized by the whole ordeal that leaves the former mute) to his uncle’s villa, he begins to track down those responsible for tearing his life apart. Meanwhile, Desmond begins to experience the side effects of being exposed to the Animus for too long, fearing he will end up just like Subject 16 (his predecessor that was driven insane and end up killing himself and drawing signs with his blood across his room). As befitting the game nothing seems like the way its is and it wall comes crashing down… Into a cliff-hanger.
AC II ditches most of the interactive aspects from the first game to a more cinematic perspective, having shorter cutscenes without the endless barrels of exposition dragging down the player interest. This time, the plot is much easier to get into as well, it’s a roaring rampage of revenge. The formula is typically somewhat simple: find a guy that has a name, kill out of him, proceed to track down that name, kill him for another name, repeat until ample revenge has been taken. He roared. He rampaged. And he got bloody satisfaction. And the man at the top of the list that Ezio wants dead is Rodrigo Borgia, aka “The Spaniard” and Grandmaster of the Templar Order that is enacting a plan to bring all of Italy under his heel, placing his loyal bootlick in charge of the cities across the peninsula, and he ordered his father executed because he was a Assassin that uncovered their plans. And its up to Ezio to finish his father’s work and foil their plans along the way. The first ones that meet the end of his blade are the Pazzi family, rivals of his own family that were secretly Templars that wanted to take over the city of Florence. From there, he kills down the other collaborators throughout Tuscany and sets to Venice, and root out corruption in the city of canals.
As the game progresses, Ezio uncovers a mysterious plot through the search of codex pages left by Altair, the hero of the previous game, that can apparently unveil the power of Eden itself. Turns out that both the Assassins and the Templars are in search of the Vault, whose locations are a mystery and is said to contains countless Pieces of Eden (if you don’t remember from the first game, they are artifacts of immense and terrible power that could bring unparelled destruction to the wrong hands). These codex pages are necessary and you need to find all of them to know the Vault’s location. Its also mentioned that a individual known as the Prophet might be the only one to access the Vault once its located, but his nature is still vague while Ezio is busy making some bastards pay. As ten years pass since his family’s death, he seems to be lost as all the conspirators are dead until he learns that Rodrigo Borgia might be the Prophet himself and he is about to lay his hands to the Apple of Eden! Thankfully he is able to retrieve the artifact from the villain’ hands with the help of the other Assassins (who turned out to be people that he befriended along his quest) who reveal to that Ezio might be the Prophet they have been looking for. He is then officially inducted into the Assassin Order.
12 years pass, with the downloadable content “Battle of Forli” and the “Bonfire of Vanities” taking place in between, Ezio is ready to take on Rodrigo, now sitting on the Vatican as Pope and arguably the most powerful man in all of Italy. This is where the game reaches its climax, anti-climax and climax again if that makes any sense. As Ezio storms through the Vatican, he discovers that Rodrigo holds the Staff of Eden and is able to control people with its power, except Ezio who is holding the Apple to protect himself. Even with its power, he is unable to defeat Rodrigo and is stabbed and left for dead as his archnemesis enters the Vault. Quickly recovering, he confronts Rodrigo down there and challenges him to a fist fight. If you think that invading the Vatican and trading punches with the Pope himself hits the HSQ and all kinds of awesome, trust me it really isn’t; the final boss is pathetically easy. Its not even funny how unchallenging he is, you can just grab the Pope by the collar, headbutt and bitchslap him all you want. Honestly I am not even that pissed because the boss fights in the AC games never have been that challenging (Hell, Robert de Sable was built up as Altair's arch-enemy in the previous game and can get killed in one stab).
But that is not the worst part, trust me, its comes right after you beat him. Ezio decides he is done and will not kill him because it won’t bring his family back.
He decides he is done and will not kill him because it won’t bring his family back.
WTF, Ezio? You spent 12 years of your life searching for this guy, killing everyone that was involved in your family’s murder and now you have him right there at your mercy you will not do it? I mean, sure you could argue he outgrown his thirst for revenge at this point, but Rodrigo was about to enslave everyone to his will with a mind-raping device and he is a monster who will kill anyone that get in his way. As Ezio’s duty as a Assassin, he should stop him by any means necessary. That was such stupid move, because it happens out of nowhere with no foreshadowing and really, I don’t see any point in sparing the main villain in the end, especially when so many people died so that you could get to him. (Honestly when I saw the demo for Brotherhood where Monteriggioni is destroyed by Borgia’s forces I was like “See Ezio? That is what happens when you spare your enemies. Specially one as treacherous as Rodrigo!!”) Of course, the reveal that Rodrigo never was the Prophet shatters resolve and he is left as shadow of his former self, being only allowed to live because his worst enemy let him, it makes some sense, but it left a bad taste in my mouth...
But what comes after may blow your mind so that is why I keep under spoilers for people who don’t want to see.
Entering the Vault, he doesn't find any other Pieces of Eden or the power of God as the Templars expected... He finds a hologram image of a woman named Minerva, who speaks in a cryptic manner directly to the player and reveals a shocking twist that would set the stage for the next games; she is actually a member of a ancient and forgotten civilization that came before mankind. They created humans in their own image to be their serfs and ruled over them as “deities”. When the humans lead by Adam and Eve (as the Truth video shows below) rebelled with the power of the Pieces of Eden, the two races were locked into war, too blind to notice a sun flare that wrought a unspeakable devastation upon the planet, killing billions of beings in the process. While both races survived the catastrophe and despite their own survival, the First Civilization were unable to fully recover and began heading toward extinction. And then she warns that another catastrophe will happen at the end of 2012 and its up to the player (Desmond himself) to prevent it. As the memory closes he puts it best what everyone who saw that for the first time.
What the f*ck?
It gets even better, if you can tell by the clues in the glyph puzzles, there is something very special about Altair and Ezio's bloodline. They have the Eagle Vision that is able to identify friend from enemy and locate their targets, and is most certainly not a human ability, and it was meant for Ezio to open the Vault. Subject 16 mentions that is in our blood, being the result from the union between gods and men. You can assume that Altair's family and by extension, Desmond himself might not be fully humans... Which is downright confirmed in the next game. They pulled a genuinely good twist here.
Desmond wakes up with his friends hurrying to leave their hideout because a Abstergo team is closing in. In a badass moment, Lucy throws a pair of Hidden Blades to him and now Desmond is able to replicate Ezio’s moves. After fighting a wave of Templar goons and trading trash talk with Dr. Vidic, the Templar leader from the first game, our Assassin heroes were able to get out by the skin of their teeth. As the team is left dumbfounded by the twist above and want to figure out what is going on, they hook Desmond back to the Animus in order to search for more clues… the End?
If you thought the cast of the first game was particularly lacking with the only memorable characters being Altair, Al Mualin and Malik and, they fixed this problem with our new cast of characters. Ezio is a much more likable and sympathetic character due to tragedy has been wrought to his family rather than his own mistakes like Altair. In the first memory alone, he is introduced as a very brash youth that shows his great deal of care for his family (such as catching some feathers for his sickly brother, beating up his sister’s douche ex-boyfriend and shares some hilarious banter with his mom). It can be said that Ezio is a escapist character in his own right; he is handsome, smart, charming, is rich, travels around the world, fights bad guys, uses cool weapons and a flying machine, is friends with a lot of cool people, many women are attracted to him (both in the game and in real life as well) and so forth. Its almost impossible to hate this guy. He is sorta like Batman, only clad in white and killing people. Maybe that is why Ubisoft thought it was a good idea to make three games about him.
The other characters are just as interesting, as typical in the franchise taking historical basis, Ezio's best friend is none other than Leonardo da Vinci, who helps decrypt the codex pages, create new gadgets for him to use and is the reason for many players to restart the game again when they miss that QTE in Venice where you are supposed to hug him. Among Ezio’s allies there is Caterina Sforza (the countess of Forli that serves as another love interest for Ezio/1463-1509), Lorenzo de Medici (the defacto ruler of Florence and friend to the Auditore family/1449-1492) and Niccolo Macchiavelli (the famed philosopher who is a Assassin himself in the game/1469-1527). The head honcho himself is Rodrigo Borgia (1431-1503) that would later become the Pope Alexander VI in 1493 until his death, and he was reported to be one of the most decadent Popes in history. Other characters, even if they have a brief appearance in the story, leave a very strong impression such as Rosa, the Venetian thief that flirts with Ezio a lot and I would have loved to see her back, but sadly I learned her actress Lita Tresierra has died (:’( and Bartholomeo d’Alviano, a Italian condottiero that appears near the end game and doesn't know the meaning of indoor voice, delivering one of the most hillarious monologues I've seen in fiction. Others like Christina (the girl that Ezio beds earlier in the game) are left with a very tiny part in the story and have their roles expanded into Brotherhood. I will talk into more detail about her in the next game, because apparently she served a much greater role to Ezio’s character arc than just one night stand and I would prefer if that happened in AC II, but it was cut from the final game. (Note, its still present in the game novelization).
The Templars themselves seem to have dropped the well-intentioned extremism from the first game and now are only after their search for power. They don’t even care if the world goes to hell so long as they can be on command. It’s best this way, because you don’t have any remorse in ending their lives for being actual villains instead of horribly misguided. While the game doesn't show them kicking puppies left and right like in the first game, the Database has videos showing the background for the Templar targets that highlight their ruthlessness and cruelty. If you know history, you believe they would have been that bad, when the Renaissance nobles engaged in all sorts of backstabbing and
the game of thrones all the time. In fact, not even the big good himself Lorenzo Medici was exempt from the political play to further his own power, while Caterina Sforza didn't have trouble killing children. If anything else, they weren't much different from Rodrigo Borgia as far as methods and motivations go in real life, he only happened to be in an opposing side. As in the game itself, they receive the historical heroic upgrade becoming the noble allies of our dashing hero.
As far as the Modern Days go, Desmond still serves as an audience surrogate to the players and is thrust into a situation where he is out to make himself more useful, by training with the Assassins memories. Along with him Lucy, who turned out to be a Assassin that helped him escape the Abstergo building, and another two assistants Shaun Hastings (who serve as the British comic-relief that provides exposition on the history acconts) and Rebecca Crane (the tomboysh engineer that developed the Animus 2.0.) that provide a nice foil to each other and are a mostly welcome addition to the storyline. By the end game, Desmond will become much more important and is saved from the scrappy heap, set into the right direction and becoming the hero we love later in the series.
Like its predecessor, it’s a non-linear sandbox style game set on Italy spanning 24 years between 1475 until 1499, with the player being freely able to roam the cities of Florence (Ezio’s birth city ruled by the Medici family during the game and also where the “Bonfire of Vanities” DLC takes place), Venice (the famed city of canals where latter part of the game is set and my personal favorite city in the game), the beautiful countryside of Tuscany, Forli (a coastal city ruled by the Sforza family where the DLC “Battle of Forli” takes place) and, at the endgame, Rome (where you confront Rodrigo Borgia, now Pope Alexander VI), with the villa of Monteriggione serving as home base for the Assassins in place of Masyaf of the first game. This time, the game is split into a total 14 sequences and two of them being DLC.
Several aspects having dramatically improved such as combat, navigation, system, HUD frame, a day and night cycle along with other new aspects added due to the Animus from the first game being replaced by the Animus 2.0. In fact, the most common aspects in the AC games had their start on Assassin’s Creed II.
Much like Grand Theft Auto, there are story missions available (labeled “memory starts”) for the player to begin whenever they want to along with side missions such as racing, courier, beat em up and minor assassinations, instead of searching and investigating clues in order to find your target in the first game. There is at very least 200 missions in the game, which are most varied and much more fun to play with.
Combat has been updated now, allowing you to disarm your opponents, carry more weapons, use a variety of different swords and daggers as well smoke bombs, poison and later fire guns. You are not just able to fight with the Hidden Blade, you are equipped with two in each arm. There are new methods of assassination such as ambushing enemies from hiding spots and pulling enemies down to their deaths. The enemy AI has been also improved, they will now search for Ezio inside haystacks and benches, and the guards appear in different forms, requiring different strategies to defeat each one of them (agiles can dodge your attacks, seekers are impervious to weapons, except your fists and etc). Unlike in the previous game, you are unable to regenerate health as time goes on, you need to visit a doctor or ingest medicine to heal major wounds.
You are also able to swim freely around (but not climb threes yet), and while the obstacles from the first game like the beggars and lepers are gone, they have being replaced by minstrels. Whenever you walk near one of them, they will stay in front of you and play songs and will. Not. Get. Out. Of. The. Way. Even when you are in middle of a escape, they think its most appropriate to get jump ahead and block the passage. What is worse is that you can’t brutalize them cause the way you want because if you do, your notoriety will jump through the roof (unless if you are wearing a city cape and you only receive them in the second half and the end game). Of course you can always throw money to get them out of the way. Oh, yes. Speaking of money…
It was also in II where the economic system was introduced, allowing you to carry money in order to purchase weapons, armor and items as well as commission the services of mercenaries, thieves and courtesans to help you out in fight, distracting enemies or serve as hiding spot; pay doctors to heal your major wounds; tailors will dye your clothes and art merchants will sell paintings for your home and treasure maps. Speaking of home, your home base, the city of Monteriggioni, is in a state of disrepair, and you can invest your money to restore it back to its former glory. Any money invested in Monteriggioni will increase its value, and the city gain a high income from rent, takes and tourism as Ezio upgrades it, and earning much more money in the process.
Assassin’s Creed II has a ridiculously amount of side content for you find such as glyphs scattered across the cities that are actually encrypted files left by Desmond’s predecessor Subject 16 that reveals the background for the conflict between the Assassins and Templars, as well as the nature of the Pieces of Eden, that if you manage to uncover all of them you unlock the Truth video (Welcome to the mind f**c). There are also 100 feathers that are very hard to find that, but you do it in the memory of Ezio’s little dead brother Petruccio. If you manage to recover all of them, the reward can be quite disappointing for most people (it’s the Auditore cape that makes your enemies attack you on sight whenever you wear it), but you also release Ezio’s mother Maria from her catatonia, being silent for so many years thanking Ezio for not forgetting her. Honestly that heartwarming moment was more rewarding for than anything else.
So yeah, there is a lot of plenty awesome stuff here and while I love this game to death, I can’t ignore its flaws – it wouldn’t be fair if I did so. I think the greatest flaw that most people will agree with AC II is that it’s the only entry of the series that is unable to replay the main story memories in the same playthrough. The side missions? No problem. But if you want to go back and do that QTE where you hug Leonardo? Too bad you gotta restart the game. Seriously, many people were upset for missing that QTE they went through the whole game again to get there (and that only appears in the second half of the game). It’s a shame because there are many missions I would replay over and over again in AC II.
The other flaw that I can think of is the Flying Machine missions. Of course I don’t expect people to agree with me because let’s face it, that idea is sooo goddamn cool. The problem with the Flying Machine lies in the control; it’s very slow to turn sideways, and whenever you turn down you are most likely to crash. It doesn't help you are gradually loosing height in the air unless you pass over a fireplace to get back up. It’s so hard to get used them to it due to the sudden change in gameplay, I sincerely believe you will not pass on these missions on one try the first time you play it . Oh I will just put this up here: you can expect me to rant a lot over the flying mission on Brotherhood, because they made it worse there…
The soundtrack and voice acting are brilliant. I have to say Roger Craig Smith does a fantastic job as Ezio’s voice actor; I would even say, no one else can voice Ezio but him. I mean you can have anyone else to voice Chris Redfield, Sonic , Siegfried from Soul Calibur and Gilbert Gilford from Code Geass, but there is anyone that can do Ezio Auditore da Firenze like Roger dies. And now he is voicing Batman in Arkham Origins. Hehehe the irony…
One of the sound quirks that have been introduced is the tendency for foreign words to pop up in middle of English dialogue. While many people pointed out to be very annoying, personally it didn’t bother me at all, I actually found very amusing when the characters used Italian profanity and you at least have the subtitles to help you understand what it means. That happens because of a glitch in the Animus 2.0. that doesn’t translate very well dialogue and leave some words in their original language.
Now the soundtrack is very beautiful, a huge step up from that repetitive and dull from the first game. I loved it so much I always hear in MP3 with my favorite tracks being “Venice Rooftops” (the race theme) is very upbeat and fast pace combining a ethereal choir that puts you the in the mood to run and jump very fast; “Dream of Venice” that fits the city very well and returns in Brotherhood as the theme of Rome; “Tour of Venice” that would make a amazing romantic theme (Yeah I really like Venice :P) “Earth” when Ezio dons his father Assassin robes, “Florence Tarantella”, “Home in Florence” and Ezio’s own theme “Ezio’s Family” a very sad tune that only plays in the game opening and credits. The only song I don’t really like is the “Notorious” theme, it’s a very dark and dreadful theme that plays so long you are Notorious and never goes away even when you enter a fight. But I guess it fits the occasion so it’s okay…
Though you no longer see the huge landscapes from the previous game, AC II remains a very gorgeous looking entry. The cities are rendered in such detail you can climb everything around and there are many recognizable landmarks like Basilica di Santa Maria in Florence and the Basilica di San Marco in Venice that will make a historical geek like me giggle. I said many times before and I will say it again, Venice is my favorite city in Assassin’s Creed II, it’s my favorite part of the game and is the most beautiful one. Even so, Florence has a certain home-like charm and Tuscany is a very pleasant rural area.
9/10 - While many minor things hold back its potential, the good stuff certainly outweighs the bad. It’s a very good way to be introduced into the Assassin’s Creed franchise, as I know many people who were introduced in such way and love the games because of it. It may not be the best but it’s my personal favorite one. I really, really recommend you to check it out even if you played the first game and was turned off by it. Way to go Ubisoft. You've made something that's so amazing.
Thank you guys for reading, I appreciate the comments and your own opinions on the game as well. On the next review, we will look at Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. Until next time =)