Sunday, September 11, 2011

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - A Worthy Mercenario

To conclude my build up for Assassin's Creed: Revelations, I will now look at Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Released in 2010, Brotherhood continues the adventure of Ezio Auditore after the events of Assassin's Creed II. I wasn't sure about how I would feel at first considering the fact that the game before had me hooked for days on end the first time, but thankfully I found myself enjoying Brotherhood, although not as much.

One thing to get out of the way first is that while playing, the major theme of leadership quickly becomes more prominent. The grand majority of the game takes place in Rome, which starts out under influence by the Borgia family. In order to heal the city, Ezio has to take out the captains of a dozen towers and then burn them to gain control of it. The more this occurs, the more rebellious the people will become and the more willing they will be to aid the Assassin cause. Rescuing citizens from guards during this period will allow you to take them under your wing as an apprentice, able to send them on missions across the continent to help make them stronger. As their level increases, they gain access to more powerful armor and weapons, gradually ranking up to become more like Ezio himself. These trainees can also be called forth in combat should the situation call for it, and thankfully they can hold their own solidly, even more so the stronger they became beforehand.

Speaking of combat, the way guards can be fought off is the single most significant improvement Ubisoft has made in this entry. Not only are guards more competent, implementing techniques such as sand throwing to make things more challenging, but the action overall is faster paced thanks to the new execution system. If Ezio strikes a single enemy enough to completely kill them, he can quickly leap over to the next nearest one, depending on weapon range, and kill them in a single hit regardless of armor or health. This not only looks cool, but is integrated very well, giving the player an incentive to switch their loadout occasionally just to see what sort of animations can be pulled off.

In addition, the game expands on the economy system introduced before by involving not just one small area, but all of Rome. Once the influence of the Borgia is lifted from a given area, Ezio can invest in renovating shops and tunnels and rebuilding aqueducts and landmarks, increasing the value of the city as well as allowing more opportunities to purchase on a whim. The effects of this extend to the people, with shops starting to bustle with more finely dressed individuals.

While there aren't too many story missions compared to the previous game, they are at the same time a lot more varied. Throughout most of them the player is forced to follow checkpoints to get to the end, which can seem somewhat like the game is on rails and yet not so simultaneously. However, they do help set up some amazing moments, such as Ezio being able to break into Rome's biggest stronghold. Just about every mission now includes a "Full Synch" opportunity, such as killing the target with a specific weapon, completing it within a time limit, or most commonly going without being detected. Not only does this add to the replay value of the title, but it gets first time players to work hard at the goal from the get-go. Equally good are some of the secondary missions, such as obtaining the Romulus Treasure, which is well worth the effort, or obtaining new weapons from Leonardo for more assassination and exploration options.

As for the story itself, it's shorter than Assassin's Creed II and a bit less interesting to watch unfold. While the leadership theme continues well until the end, it just simply doesn't seem as well thought out or complex like before. In fact, it's the characters that are more interesting to see, such as the devious and incestuous Borgia family. Desmond Miles also gets more screen time here, as the player gets to explore the world outside the Animus at any time to gain more insight on his side of the story. Overall, the story ends rather abruptly with a somewhat rushed lead-in to the next installment.

Now the important part of the series is the conspiracy angle, where nearly every historical figure on the planet is either an Assassin or a Templar. Between this and what comes out of the next part of The Truth, known as The Miracle by some, the mythology can get a little frustrating to figure out. It's almost as if Ubisoft is getting dangerously close to bathing themselves in this part of the series. I would actually like to see this conclude in future games, so I hope the studio decides to dial it down a little and make sure they don't make it more confusing than it really needs to be.

Finally, the only other flaw is the technical side of things. Just like with Assassin's Creed II, the graphics may be a welcome step forward, but the draw distance still suffers. Textures are much more consistent, such as grass staying only one way or buildings looking beautiful even from far away, and yet there is still some pop-up with the people. However, this is only minor, and I do praise the fact that this severely decreased.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is not only a great improvement from Assassin's Creed II, it manages to stand out as a separate game and not feel like an expansion pack. While it does feel more like the series is shifting toward more of an RPG focus, complete with item requirements, I would love to see where it all leads in Assassin's Creed: Revelations and beyond. If you haven't already played this game during the year it's been out, I suggest you do so now.

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