Assassin’s Creed II was the game that introduced me to this series and it more then delivered. It was a big hearty game that took several steps towards fulfilling the promise of the original, with new mechanics, more variety in game-play, and a brand new setting: renaissance Italy. It was a big leap, in other words a worthy sequel in every regard.
Brotherhood on the other hand might have a harder time in trying to prove itself. Instead of moving to a new time period, it continues directly after the events of Assassin’s Creed II, only with the action shifting entirely to Rome. Like the previous two entries before it, Brotherhood also comes with a modern day component. The game cuts between the two time periods yet the bulk of the game takes place in Rome.
Ubisoft Montreal had stressed that Brotherhood had a number innovations and evolutions that were designed to keep the experience fresh. I can easily say without a doubt that there is easily as much content in Brotherhood as there was in Assassin’s Creed II. But will it be enough to help this title distinguish itself from the previous entry? Let’s find out shall we?
After confronting Rodrigo Borgia and having his mind blown far beneath the Vatican at the end of Assassin’s Creed II. The story picks up with Ezio ready for some well earned and well needed rest and relaxation. Sadly its not to be as Cesare Borgia (Rodrigo’s son) is pissed off and mounts a full scale attack on Monteriggioni which is destroyed and Ezio’s looses everything in the attack. This means of course that after spending 20 plus hours working towards unlocking Altair’s armor and all sorts of weaponry, its lost in mere minutes forcing players to begin afresh.
Ezio then proceeds to travel to Rome determined now more then ever to remove the Borgia family from the history books. The city itself is divided into twelve districts, each of which is overseen by a Borgia tower which represents their control over the area. As long as the tower stands, soldiers are out in force, shops remain closed and the people are oppressed. Assassinate the tower’s Captain and burn it to the ground and then shops will open for business. Ezio is then able to renovate the different shops, (black smiths, tailors, banks, stables etc) and these all add to his income in much the same way renovating Monteriggioni did in Assassin’s Creed II. The more shops that are open, the more items will become available and perks for Ezio to get. For example, the more tailors that you open, the more pouches for carrying knives and medicine will become available whereas the more banks are open, the more money Ezio can store.
It’s important to note that while the Borgia towers are a key element of the game’s structure, they’re not actually central in taking down Cesare and the rest of the Borgia. You can actually finish Brotherhood without destroying the towers. Instead they’re about earning income, unlocking items, gaining apprentice assassins, and reducing the presence of Borgia guards across the city. By destroying a tower, players can make missions in that district easier for themselves by ensuring that there will be less guards around.
As fans of open-world games would expect, a lot of the players time will be occupied with missions, and activities that may not always advance the plot. It’s easy to get sidetracked for hours finding treasure chests, taking on assassination contracts, doing missions for the various guilds or trying to level up your relationship with them, exploring the world or climbing the landmarks like the Coliseum. Subterranean environments return in the guise of Sons of Romulus missions. These make for a nice change of pace, as the focus is very much on movement puzzles over combat.
Leonardo Da Vinci is back as an ally too, and once again provides weapons and certain upgrades for Ezio. Turns out he’s also been pressured into creating war machines and other weapons for Cesare, so it’s up to Ezio to destroy the plans and prototypes. This sees you wielding a chain-gun mounted to a horse and cart, piloting a boat with a naval cannon, gliding in Leo’s para-glider modified to fire bombs, and manning a renaissance-era tank. These “mini type games” aren’t exactly exciting, but they inject a little variety into the game-play.
There are three major changes that try to switch things up. The assassin’s guild, little tweaks to combat, and the ability to ride your horse anywhere. Recruiting assassins who can be called upon with the press of a button is obviously the big change and it works very much as advertised. When a Borgia tower is destroyed, it opens up a slot allowing Ezio to rescue/recruit an ordinary citizen of Rome. To call out to your fellow brothers, all you need to do is target an enemy and hit the L1/Left trigger on the PS3/360 controller. Depending on the location and level of the assassin, he or she might ride up to the target, or drop down from above. It is really cool to watch, and once you have six assassins, you have three groups that can be called, with a sort of cool down time that lasts a few minutes.
The assassins themselves gain experience through combat, but they can also be sent out to complete contracts around Europe. The greater difficulty the mission, the higher XP and cash reward. These missions overall only take between five and ten minutes to complete and ther interface is easy to use. With each level gained, you can boost either armor or weaponry, and as your assassin recruits rise through the ranks, they’ll also unlock more advanced options, such as the ability to use smoke bombs. As a side note, your recruits can die, but you’ll likely only lose a couple in the entirety of the game.
The overall point of the recruits is to show that Ezio is now a leader of men and women. The scale of the fight has changed as its now no longer just one man against a tyrant. The assassins work in that sense, but when it comes to actual game-play, they actually serve to make the game less challenging. Assassin’s Creed II was by no means a hard game, but in that game, players had to work for their kills. Here it’s a simple matter of directing the Death from Above. With a single button press you’ll unleash a kill which while cool, is also slightly hollow.
Hand to hand combat is amazingly entertaining, however. In addition to dodging and countering, Ezio can now kick an enemy to open him up for a hit while stringing together successful attacks. This in turn allows him to dispatch enemies even more efficiently then before. The highlight however would have to be the sub-weapon system. Why would you just attack an enemy with your sword, when instead you can slash him and then shoot him in the face? These new combo kills are both brutal and satisfying and you won’t tire of seeing the many and varied animations that they offer.
While the combat is fun, it’s not without its drawbacks and issues. I personally still found the lock on mechanic to be rather picky. There are also a few other glitches, namely Ezio’s unfortunate habit of occasionally leaping from high up for a kill, only to bump into a pole or something similar on the way down and land flat on his face. His abilities on horseback have also expanded here as well. Not only can he take a horse almost anywhere in the city, but he can also leap from one horse to another for an assassination.
Rome itself is a dynamic and interesting world with all sorts of systems that can impact upon Ezio and be used by the players. If you run around the city killing fools, then your notoriety goes up. The guards will instantly pay closer attention to everything you do. Players can lower their notoriety by ripping down wanted posters, bribing heralds, and even killing witnesses just like in Assassin’s Creed II.
One element however that is both new and annoying at the same time is that Ezio now has an additional objective or challenge in order to achieve full synchronization in a mission. These range from time based challenges (complete a mission under a set amount of minutes) to combat related challenges. (don’t take damage, kill only your target, and beyond) These are a decent inclusion for the hardcore players who want to get 100 percent on every mission but for those who are more casual, might find it annoying that after everything they went through, they only got fifty percent.
Perhaps the biggest improvement comes in the form of multiplayer. This comes as both refreshing and inventive. In a neat little twist you’re actually playing as the bad guys: abstergo agents (the modern day templars) It turns out that this is how they train to hunt the modern assassins.
The basic idea of the multiplayer component is that you are given a target to locate and kill, while you yourself are also being hunted by another player. You can use your mini map/radar to track your enemy yet the game takes place in bustling locations full of NPCs so it’s possible that your target will try to blend in with the crowd to evade you. A unique ability transforms all the people around the player into their character model, while another lets you change character models altogether.
Brotherhood has four multiplayer modes altogether. Wanted and Advanced Wanted are free-for-alls, with the latter being a more challenging version of Wanted with tweaked rules. For example the radar/mini map is less accurate in this mode. You’ll only ever be able to narrow down your opponent’s location to the general vicinity. This in part can lead to a very tense game of observation, looking for tells that could reveal your target. Alliance on the other hand sees the players split into pairs, and as the title suggests, you both have to coordinate your hunting, while Manhunt divides the players into two teams, one team hunts, the other hides. The hiding team can earn points for remaining undetected and the closer the stay to one another, the more points they receive.
Overall all Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is a great game, but it’s hard to whole-heartedly recommend. This is really a title designed for fans of Assassin’s Creed II as it’s a continuation of that story. But the simple reality is that people who finished that game wants something new, or at the very least something that represents a clear step forward. Brotherhood doesn’t deliver that. The game doesn’t advance the wider story arc very far. The new mechanics don’t really add a great deal and the mission designs rarely explore new game-play possibilities.
That said, Brotherhood really looks fantastic, with a step up in the graphics department particularly on PS3, and a massive and varied city to explore. It also introduces an innovative multiplayer component for which the team(s) should be applauded. At the end of the day it really comes down to what you are looking for. If you’re new to the Assassin’s Creed series, then this is a solid entry, but picking up the threads of a convoluted story may prove to be a challenge. If you’re already an experienced fan of this franchise however, expect to tread similar ground to the last title.