Lucy: “We have to go.”
Desmond: “What’s with the blood? Are you okay?”
Lucy: “Look, we have maybe ten minutes - maybe - before they figure out what I’ve done. If we’re not out of here and on the road before then...”
Desmond: “Wait, we’re leaving?”
Lucy: “Desmond, I promise I’ll answer ALL of your questions. Later. But right now, I need you to just shut up and do what I say. So please - get in the Animus.”
Assassin’s Creed II is the sequel to the first Assassin’s Creed, but also the first in a trilogy based on the same character. The second game continues where the modern-day storyline of the first left off. AC2 is a third-person open-world game based on concepts established by its predecessor, but builds upon and expands on each of these concepts as much as possible.
This time Desmond, who is the modern-day protagonist, uses the Animus device to relive the memories of another one of his ancestors. That’s when we meet Ezio Auditore, living in the violent backdrop of renaissance Italy, a young man on his way to becoming an Assassin.
Assassin’s Creed II reconstructs a number of Italian cities for the player to explore, although some areas are initially inaccessible. The main campaign is fixed and has to be completed linearly and completed missions advance the plot forward. However, there are a lot of side-quests which you can pick up along the way which keeps you busy and give you the illusion of non-linear gameplay. These side-quests also have the added advantage of giving you better abilities or upgraded health. This is where Assassin’s Creed II really shines in putting the player into diverse set-pieces.
The graphical aspects of the game are also improved compared to AC1, with a more detailed main character as well as richer backgrounds. The game’s cities immediately welcome you to step in their streets, giving you a sense of realism heightened by the crowds running around them. The soundscape is also very effective in making you believe that you are actually there.
Assassin’s Creed II also has better combat mechanics, also helped by the improved weapons that you can discover. Double hidden blades allow you to assassinate two enemies at once for example. Enemies can also be killed from hidden areas as well as pounced upon from higher ground. Ezio also has a basic gun in his arsenal and a number of ways to cause confusion in the streets to distract the guards and avoid conflict entirely.
The game is also a collector’s dream. Keys to open the vault to Altaïr’s armour can be obtained by completing dungeon missions requiring you to leap around areas with precarious ledges in a nod to the Prince of Persia series. Ezio is also a collector of feathers, paintings, weapons, and codex pages. Some items you can buy from shops, but the latter are required and must be stolen in order to discover the location of the final boss.
Assassin’s Creed II also introduces a notoriety system to keep the player in check. Kill someone and your notoriety rises. Keep misbehaving, and past a certain point, soldiers will attack you on sight. So you cannot go out killing people at will, although there are means to reduce the notoriety and keep it in check.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed II is an excellent sequel that improves upon the original in every way. Mostly it’s about the feeling that there is more stuff to do to keep you busy, giving you more value for money. Speaking about money, Assassin’s Creed II introduces shops and the possibility to purchase items to customise Ezio’s loadout. I did find the act of searching for and looting money to be a bit annoying, especially having to hold the hand button for a few seconds as Ezio repeats the same animation over and over. This can be forgiven though, as the rest of the experience is awesome and the first third of Ezio’s story is a must-have.