Sunday, September 26, 2010

Assassin's Creed II: First Impressions

Today I'm talking about Assassin's Creed II. The first one is one of the two (yes, that few) titles that I have for my 360 that I got sometime last year, because it looked really cool. (Honestly, the AC1 cover is really awesome. I should post a pic of the drawing I did of the creed on the back, with the Assassin's symbol.)

Anyway, it was a good game, but nothing special. Among it's myriad drawbacks were incredible amounts of repetition, unrealistic level design (seriously, those rooftops are literally meant for running around on!), annoying sequences back at Abstergo, and really, really bad AI. Of course, the idea was absolutely awesome, it's the best usage of platforming in a game I've ever played, and possibly seen. Uncharted 2 probably outdoes it, but not by much.

They fixed almost everything. It's just... awesome. ACII has more depth than any action game in recent history: collectibles everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, these really awesome platforming sequences (my favorite part), much, much better pacing and overall story, a whole bunch of new abilities, weapons, and things to customize, and characters that are actually interesting and likable.

First: collectibles. The flags from the first game have been replaced with feathers, of which there are only 100 in the entire (huge!) game, but that's only the beginning! Another minor one is treasure chests. There's 330 of them, and they can have significant amounts of money, but you get more for completing the main storyline and there's no achievement for them. There are also two main side-quests involving collectibles (main meaning hey, they actually have story! Interesting story, too...), the first of which is finding these glyphs left by Abstergo's previous prisoner, known as Subject 16. There's several different kinds of puzzles you have to solve. I haven't finished this one yet, and I have no clue how it's going to turn out. The next one, and my favorite, is the Assassin's Tombs. These are platforming masterpieces unlike anything I've seen. They get steadily more and more complex, from crossing the rafters of a church (harder than it sounds) to a 4-part discovery that.... I haven't finished yet. Still awesome, though. The final one (I may have missed some) are codex pages written by the first game's protagonist's, Altair, that, when decoded, allow you to increase your health or gain new weapons. (One of the first: Double hidden blades. AWESOME!) Oh, and the guy that decodes these codex pages and makes the equipment is none other than Leonardo da Vinci. Who is also awesome. More on that later.

Slightly related is the upgrade system. You use Florins (money) to buy all sorts of things, from weapons and armor, to new shops at your villa (technically it's your uncle Mario's.), and paintings. This system is surprisingly deep, with the ability to upgrade all your different shops, increasing the town's value as well as giving you discounts, and renovating the town with everything from brothels to barracks to churches, which also increase the value of the town. The town's value determines how much tourism you get, and thus how much money you earn. The money is put into a chest every 20 minutes, but you have to come get the money every hour and 20 minutes or it's lost. The only reason I can think of for this decision is to remind people that they really do need to come upgrade the villa and buy armor and stuff, which is actually kind of brilliant--if they did it on purpose.

Oh, and I want to talk about the weapons, and then the combat. There's so many weapons this time around! There's two kinds, swords and small weapons, analogous to the sword and knife from the first game, and there must be well over a dozen of each, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. You can also disarm enemies and use their weapons, which is awesome to the point that you can easily win an entire fight just be disarming enemies and killing them with their own weapons ad nauseum.

The entire combat system is also considerably deeper. Along with the disarm move, there's also a strafe move that can be really cool if used right. One time I was fighting one of my main assassination targets and his guards, and, after I killed his guards, I just sidestepped around his attack, ended up behind him and stabbed him in the back. That move is pretty hard to accomplish, but it looks absolutely awesome when you pull it off.

The pacing is much steadier this time around. The main storyline isn't so sharply split into investigations and assassinations, but there are pros and cons. The build-up is much more enjoyable, with a lot more story, but the actual assassination tends to fail to distinguish itself from what happened before. I kind of miss the main assassination missions from the beginning, where you use all the information you gathered to find the best place to strike, and then go and carry out your plan. The enemies don't seem to get enough time in the lime-light either-- the story tends to focus on the people helping you accomplish your goal, instead of why your target is so evil. There are exceptions, and these exceptions are marvelous, but sometimes it's just a little anticlimactic-- probably my least favorite change from the first one. What I would have done is just made the build-up sequences more interesting forms of the ones from the first game, instead of random-seeming thefts and interrogations like the first game.

My last topic tonight is the characters. The total of likable characters went up from 0 (ok, Malik was pretty cool sometimes. Probably the most fleshed-out of the characters.) to 3. There are two new characters back in the real world, along with Lucy (who gained several levels in awesome) helping with the project, and both of them are pretty cool. Shawn is this British guy who investigated his way into finding out about Abstergo, and the assassin's picked him up before they could off him. At first, he seemed like just a jerk, but after a while he turned into that awesome British jerk kind of guy. The other one, Rebecca the Animus 2.0 tech, is less awesome, but still cool.

Finally, there's da Vinci. So cool. He's just so eager and nonchalant, going about building all these awesome inventions. He comes off as fairly innocent sometimes, but is occasionally surprising. I'm not quite sure why I like him so much, but I do. And I'm sure I will more once I get to test out his greatest invention...

Anyway, Assassin's Creed II is awesome. They've fixed almost everything about the first one, come up with a bunch of new awesome things, and put it all together seamlessly to make a really, really awesome game. Sign me up for Assassin's Creed III!

I should finish it sometime this week, and look for a more traditional review a little bit after that. Early next week, perhaps. Oh, and don't forget to listen to the Halo: Reach podcast that should be up fairly soon! (It's supposed to be up, I'm not quite sure what happened.)

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