Assassin’s Creed II (2009) by Ubisoft

A decade since Altair made his debut in Assassin’s Creed, the franchise is well and alive, having returned after a short hiatus with popular games like AC: Origins and the more controversial AC: Odyssey. With the announcement of AC: Valhalla, I thought it was time I gave the franchise another try and see if they were something I’d enjoy. I had tried playing the first game a long time ago but had grown tired of it quickly. It was too dated to be enjoyable and the whole experience was a bit repetitive. But my friends insisted that I play AC:2 as Ezio (the protagonist of the story) has one of the best stories out of the ongoing series.

So I picked up the game (for free thanks to a quarantine offer by Ubisoft) and gave it a shot. I think on the whole, I would rate my experience of this, social stealth, assassination based, action-adventure, game as mixed.

There are definitely aspects of this game that are stellar and make you want to play more. The free running, which is a defining feature of the series is one of them. It feels incredible to leap across the rooftops of renaissance Italy. But the same free running is plagued by the character jumping off great heights cause the camera tilted the wrong way. Considering the series was born out of “Prince of Persia”, it seems incongruous that the game would still struggle with making climbing and navigating falls seamless. Perhaps I am not considering the time the game came out in but other reviewers have noted their frustration with this too.

Another stellar aspect of the game is the social stealth. It feels quite cool to stalk people through crowds, hidden blade up the sleeve. However, unlike in the “Hitman” games, where you actually seem to blend into the crowd, here it feels ‘gamey’ in that it is not convincing at all. This is made worse by the fact that the assassinations are never stealthy. They feel loud and showy, often causing the crowds to react. As such you never really get to feel like a master assassin that no one has seen or heard.

This brings me to the most frustrating part about the game. The AI. Good lord these soldiers are dumb and annoying. They all gang up, are easy to kill, but hard to avoid. So you inevitably land up mowing through them like a renaissance marine instead of a renaissance assassin. Other instances like when you stealth up to a pair of them and assassinate the one, and the other remains oblivious, are equally frustrating. Did killing their colleague make them forget he existed? Or are they pretending that I am not there? It feels odd how the soldiers do not react to these so-called stealth assassinations when the only other explanation for their colleague disappearing is them jumping off the roof.

That said, the game has some great music, scored by Jesper Kyd who has since become a name in himself. The dialogue is particularly stellar, with the last rites that Ezio performs being the stand out moment of every assassination. While the graphics are not particularly impressive, they do the job and there are even moments where you appreciate some of the added detailing.

The story, which is what convinced me to play the game, is…alright. The beginning is truly moving and gripping. But the middle of the story meanders and repeats the same beats, offering little in the way of actual character growth. By the end Ezio has grown ten years older (the story jumps forward a few years every now and then) but only about 10 therapy sessions wiser, and a lot of people had to die for it.

On the whole, the game is quite enjoyable though a bit repetitive. It certainly tries to offer variety in mission objectives but railroads the player to assassinate in specific ways, making them feel rather restricted. Which would be fine if the methods were imaginative or cool, they are unfortunately more or less the same. I really hope that the sequels build on this base and truly embody the motto of the series, Nothing is true, everything is permitted.

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