The first Assassin's Creed was one of the most anticipated titles of 2007, and rightly so. It featured a satisfying blend of action and stealth, three fully realized, gorgeous cities, and a freerunning mechanic that made exploring them a blast. The game's sequel, aptly titled Assassin's Creed 2, doesn't drastically change the formula from the first game, which certainly isn't a bad thing.
Assassin's Creed 2 continues the sci-fi odyssey of Desmond Miles, a bartender who becomes entangled with a shady corporation known as Abstergo Industries. With their highly advanced machine known as the Animus, Desmond is able to replay the memories of his ancestors, virtual reality style. In the first game, Desmond took control of Altair in the year 1191, during the Third Crusade. This time around, you play as a different ancestor - Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a resident of Florence, Italy during the 15th century. At the beginning of the game, Ezio is just a young nobleman; however, his family is eventually betrayed, and his father killed. So, in his quest for vengeance, he becomes an assassin.
Ezio isn't just a simple clone of Altair, although they may appear similar at first (heck, he can SWIM!). Assassin's Creed 2 will allow players to experience 30 years of Ezio's life, from the time of his father's death, to when he becomes a master assassin. Also, whereas Altair felt like a stooge at times for doing whatever his master told him, Ezio is completely driven by vengeance, and certainly feels more human because of it. Ezio also has some new abilities that will make his life as an Assassin easier, such as two hidden blades, which allow him to dispose of two guards simultaneously, and the ability to dye his clothes to match certain situations.
Combat has received some tweaks, making the fighting system more complex this time around. Enemies have boxes over their heads, representing their stamina, and as Ezio fights, his opponents will eventually get tired. When their stamina is low, you can perform certain moves such as a disarm, allowing you not only to take away an enemy's weapon, but kill them with it as well. In addition to his trusty hidden blades, Ezio can utilize an assortment of weaponry, including swords, pikes, axes, and even poison. He also has access to smoke bombs, which are great for escaping when guards are in hot pursuit. If you're all out of smoke bombs, however, Ezio can always improvise; throwing a handful of coins on the ground will cause beggars to scramble madly, providing a great distraction. All of Ezio's new toys can be selected from an item selection screen, which gives you a lot more choice in how you want to go about assassinating your targets than in the first game.
Another new feature in Assassin's Creed 2 is Ezio's ability to hire help. Mercenaries can be hired to fight guards, allowing Ezio either some assistance in a brawl, or just a few seconds to escape. A less violent alternative would be to hire some prostitutes, who can hold a guard's attention like glue, allowing Ezio is walk by like he is invisible. Hiring help isn't cheap, however. Luckily, the game introduces a new economic system that will allow Ezio to be able to afford such assistance. You can also purchase new equipment, such as better weapons and armor, which will add some variety and even customization to your assassin this time around.
Speaking of variety, Ubisoft's prime concern going into Assassin's Creed 2 was to make the game more diverse than the original. As Altair, it wouldn't be uncommon to do the same three information gathering side missions, assassinate your target, and then rinse and repeat. This time around, Ubisoft wanted to make the primary missions more story driven, and less linear than in Assassin's Creed. Side missions are still in the game, but they play a less prominent role, and actually look pretty fun. Taking on an assassination contract is an example of a side mission, which basically consists of a cool kill that Ubisoft felt didn't fit into the main story, but was too awesome to leave out of the game entirely.
The new notoriety system in Assassin's Creed 2 is just one motivator that will encourage players to participate in side missions. As Ezio goes about raising hell in Italy, he will become notorious, simply meaning that guards will be on the lookout for him. The less subtle you are in your actions (e.g. slaughtering guards in the streets), the fuller your notoriety meter will become. You could try and accomplish a mission with a full notoriety meter, however there will be more guards, and they will be prepared for you. There are a multitude of ways to lower your notoriety, such as removing wanted posters found throughout the city, and killing guard captains. The system is a nice touch, as it makes you suffer the consequences of your actions, yet isn't overly penalizing for those who like to hack and slash their way through missions.
Being a sequel about assassins, there is obviously a plethora of new ways to assassinate people in Assassin's Creed 2. One such way would be jumping off of a roof onto an unsuspecting guard, launching your wrist blade into his throat, as his already dead body breaks your fall. Oh, and since Ezio has two hidden wrist blades, he can kill two people at the same time doing this, such as if two guards are standing close to each other when talking. You can also incorporate the environment into your assassinations this time around. When shimmying on a ledge, you can reach up, grab a guard, and hurl him off to his doom. Or, when hiding in a haystack, you can quickly pull an enemy into your hiding spot and dispose of him silently. New ways of killing people is never a bad addition to a game, and once again, adds some variety to Ezio's already lethal arsenal.
The graphics are pretty much the same from the first game…which is perfectly fine: the cities are still jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and exploring them should be just as fun this time around. The player models during cut scenes leave a little to be desired, but one look at Renaissance Italy will make you forget all about them. Instead of fiddling with the already impressive graphics engine, Ubisoft made the smart choice and tweaked the two aspects of Assassin's Creed that fans felt weren't handled so well: combat and mission variety. A deeper, more complex fighting system as well as a new way in going about story missions looks to fix these issues. Add in new assassinations, the ability to hire help, and purchasable upgrades, and you've got what looks to be a pretty stellar sequel. If you enjoyed the first game, then Assassin's Creed 2 should definitely be a top priority on your list this holiday season.