Monday, August 29, 2011

Assassin's Creed II - Improved Accuracy

With the success of Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft launched the first sequel, Assassin's Creed II, in 2009. The game continues the story set up by the original and gives some more insight and depth on the events surrounding the Assassins and Templars. Having now experienced it for the second time, I can happily say that I still thoroughly enjoyed playing through a simply amazing game that just has to be seen.

While the player still experiences the ongoing struggle between the Assassins and Templars, they do so under the guise of Ezio Auditore Da Firenze, another ancestor of Desmond Miles. Gone is the repetitive gameplay of the predecessor, instead replaced with a more naturally flowing and linear story combined with more varied side missions that can be tackled at any time. On top of this, the collectibles present actually contribute some worth to the game, both figuratively and literally, increasing the player's in-game wealth or unlocking desirable items and content that make the process more engaging.

Along with this, the puppeteering mechanic featured before has been tweaked to be more intuitive and keep the parkour action feel like a blast. The best part is that the backdrop features some of the most beautifully and faithfully recreated cities like Florence and Venice that not only make the game a lot bigger, but create an environment more interesting to explore. Although the graphics are improved, I have a minor complaint that may be considered nitpicky; the game appears to have a short draw distance, which means that final textures often don't appear until you're really closing in on a single location. While pop-up textures are somewhat expected from an open-world game, it is a little odd to see shadows, plants, and even people appear out of thin air.

For a sequel, the story this time around is a lot more intriguing than before, written in a way to please returning fans and yet also let newer players piece it together for themselves. It's very interesting to see how just about every major historical figure is involved in one way or another, written in a way that seems plausible. Ezio is also written fantastically as a more sympathetic character than Altair, as well as a more engaging one, since we see him evolve more as a character. To say how would give away the plot, so I won't say much else here. The pacing is alright, but can feel a little disjointed should the player decide to do any side missions in betwenn main ones. At the same time, there is less seen of the world outside the Animus although this helps to make Desmond's side plot have more weight.

The game also introduces a new economy system, allowing players to earn and collect more money on the side at a reasonable speed. This also doubles as a building simulator, as players also cultivate the growth of a villa throughout the decades by increasing its value, achieved by using florins to renovate the immediate area. At the same time, it introduces a slight RPG aspect by allowing players to customize Ezio's armor, weapons, and color scheme at the villa or through shops.

One flaw from the previous game was the combat, another feature improved upon here. This new system introduces a multitude of potential weapons like polearms and throwing knives that can now be used in combat, now including the hidden blade. The contextual functions are also widely expanded upon here, allowing for disarming techniques and special moves depending on the weapon, such as throwing sand when unarmed or sweeping using a long weapon. Indeed combat feels like more of a blast, and yet perhaps this contains the only true flaw of the game: enemy AI. Guards will often just stand in place for a minute before actually striking, allowing for plenty of time to prepare a counterattack. When you decide to attack one yourself, they will often be able to block or counter the assault and lead you to mash the attack button in the hope of getting a shot in. In these cases I used a smoke bomb or other weapon, but that still felt a little frustrating even with effective usage. If the guard AI and pacing were more consistent, it might have made combat feel more like a fun challenge of skill.

Assassin's Creed was a game that needed improvement, and the sequel definitely delivers for the most part, being one of the only games I have been truly addicted to. While slight improvements could have been made, it's still near flawless as it is, proving that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. I can wholeheartedly recommend this game for anyone with an interest in Assassin's Creed, as this may well be a classic from the current console generation.

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