Despite playing through both of the first two Assassin's Creed games, I wouldn't call myself a huge fan. While I respect what Ubisoft is trying to do, I had a hard time falling into love with some of its annoying quirks. Thanks to the emphasis on a new multiplayer mode and the return to 16th Century Italy, I fully expected to have another so-so time with Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. But that isn't the case. I came away from this newest installment reinvigorated and ready for the inevitable Assassin's Creed III.
When I loaded the game up I was ready for a side-story or something inconsequential to the main game's narrative. Boy was I wrong; Brotherhood picks up right where Assassin's Creed II left off. After a brief video recap, we're back to Ezio in Rome collecting the mythical Apple of Eden. He escapes back to Monteriggioni, where he prepares to take some serious time off from his killing ways. He has the money, the woman, and a city of adoring fans, Ezio is at the top of his game.
Sadly, Ezio's happiness is fleeting. Without warning, the peaceful town of Monteriggioni is attacked by Cesare Borgia, the son of Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI). Even with four or five working cannons, our hero's forces were defeated and the town was reduced to rubble. With the townspeople safely fleeing through the secret underground tunnels, Ezio is out for blood. His plan is to move to Rome and set up a brotherhood of assassins, all leading up to taste of sweet revenge.
Confused? Then it's probably because you didn't play Assassin's Creed II. Players that dig into this without going through the first two games will be utterly baffled from beginning to end, even with the tiny recap at the beginning. Newcomers will be even more perplexed by the present day Desmond story happening concurrently with Ezio's adventure. Needless to say, this is not a great starting point for the Assassin's Creed virgins.
However, for anybody who had a great time killing historical figures from the 15th century, Brotherhood is an essential part of the Assassin's Creed story. Thankfully it's more than just a good story, it's also a great playing adventure game full of memorable characters, exciting set-pieces and one huge twist that will have players scratching their heads until all is revealed in Assassin's Creed III. This sequel may not have a number after its name, but it's every bit as important as any other installment.
The gameplay is largely the same, with Ezio using stealth to take down his enemies. He does this by blending in with the large crowds, jumping in hay bales and using the rooftops to plan daring attacks. He's the same killing machine we came to love in Assassin's Creed II, only now he's really pissed off about the destruction of his city. This rage is underscored by the reworked combat mechanic, which rewords players for being aggressive. Gone are the slow and drawn-out battles. In their place are slick fights that look every bit as good as they play. This is the first time I've had fun fighting guards in an Assassin's Creed game.All of the action takes place in Rome, a large city full of familiar landmarks and faces. It won't take long for Ezio to get mixed up again in the drama of the city, forced to run errands for friends and kill people to gain more information. There's a sizable story here, one that includes a lot of really exciting events in famous buildings and outdoor locations. Usually I would be disappointed by returning to a familiar world (see my Crackdown 2 review
), but I was excited to travel back to 16th century Italy. This is such a rich time, a perfect setting for a game like this. I'm glad the developers had a chance to dig deeper into the fiction of this world.
It doesn't hurt that there's always something to do in Rome. It takes a few hours before it becomes clear, but Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is a completionist's nightmare. There's so much to do here that it's almost intimidating. When not taking on story missions, Ezio is working to eliminate the Borgia controlled areas of Rome. He does this by killing a marked officer and then literally burning down their tower. It's not subtle, but it sends a message. Once he's destroyed the Borgia control, Ezio is free to invest in local shops, banks, landmarks and more. The more property he owns, the more money is earned. It won't be long before our hero is rolling in more money than he knows what to do with.
Another new gameplay mechanic involves using your brotherhood to fight your battles for you. As he makes his way through Rome, Ezio will pick up a few followers that will train under him. Players choose to either keep these computer-controlled characters around for protection or send them off to fight far away battles. Either way, these characters are gaining money and experience from each battle. At home these fighters are just waiting for you to push the button. They spring into action by jumping out of hay bales or leaping down from a rooftop. Not only are they great at taking down guards, but they make such a commotion that it's easy for Ezio to sneak past undetected.
All of these ideas make Brotherhood a more interesting game, even if the story isn't quite as epic as previous installments. I was happy to see that the present Desmond and the other present day elements were saved for the beginning and end, leaving the Ezio portions of the game uninterrupted. The good news for Kristin Bell fans is that the user is now able to control when they enter and exit the animus. Considering how dull present day is (not to mention how annoying those characters are), I didn't have a lot of reason to exit Rome.
Actually, that's not true. I had plenty of reason to leave Rome, but it wasn't to hang out with Lucy and her science buddies. Instead it was to play Brotherhood online. Much had been made about this game's online multiplayer component leading up to its release, but I was skeptical that the developers would be able to translate Assassin's Creed's unique gameplay into the online arena. They have. While I won't say it's the highlight of the package, there's no denying how much fun Brotherhood can be online.
The concept is surprisingly simple: You play an assassin trying to blend in with the crowd, stalk your opponent and take them down without being noticed. Points are earned by how quietly you perform the attack, the skill level and more. It's up to you to earn as many points as you can before time runs out. There's just one problem - you are also a target. This means that while you stalk your prey, you will need to be mindful of who else is trying to kill you. It's a nerve racking experience that leads to some truly tense matches.
Much like the recent Call of Duty sequels, players are rewarded for leveling up their virtual assassin. Online players who put a lot of time and effort into their character will earn new abilities, new clothing options and even extra characters. It won't take long to earn powers that make it easier to blend in with the crowd and run faster, all making you rethink your online strategies. It's a cool concept that I would like to see explored in future Assassin's Creed games.
I'll be the first to admit that this game genuinely surprised me. I knew it was going to look good and the voice acting was going to be spot-on, but I had no idea that I would have this much fun controlling Ezio again. This game is full of new gameplay mechanics that improve that game in substantial ways, all while reminding me why I enjoyed Assassin's Creed II in the first place. And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, the game offers a worthwhile online multiplayer mode. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood proves once again that this series is headed in the right direction.