Assassin’s Creed has come a long way since its inception eight years ago. Despite a shaky start with the gorgeous-but-lacking inaugural stab-’em-up romp, the series found its true form with the sequel, and has since gone on to become an annual juggernaut that has sold over 50 million copies worldwide. Still, once the Ezio trilogy came to a close, the quality of the action has been a mixed bag, culminating in the bug-ridden fiasco that was Assassin’s Creed Unity back in 2014.
With Assassin’s Creed Syndicate taking the action to the much-requested Victorian London setting, PSU thought it would be a good time to look back at the series and reexamine the classic Assassin’s Creed II; a game that we feel is unequivocally the series’ high-point and has yet to be beaten.
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EZIO AUDITORE IS STILL THE BEST PROTAGONIST
Assassin’s Creed II’s Italian Stallion is everything the likes of Altair and Connor isn’t; likeable, charismatic, passionate, and good for a laugh. Indeed, Ezio isn’t just the best protagonist the series has produced to date, but he also ranks as one of gaming’s all-time greatest heroes, right next to the likes of Solid Snake and Lara Croft. Voiced to perfection by Roger Craig Smith, Ezio is a multi-layered character who goes through a genuine journey of his own, from brash ladies man to a wise, throat-slitting assassin highly revered among his fellow brotherhood members. While some of his fellow leading assassins come off as stoic cardboard cut outs, Ezio’s nuanced characterisation makes for one of the most dynamic, well-rounded heroes that you instantly root for and it’s not long before you get caught up in his compelling tale of vengeance and soul searching.
IT HAS THE BEST LOCATIONS
While Brotherhood’s Rome was impressive in its sheer scope and mission variety, Assassin’s Creed II wins out by the diversity of its four main locations: Florence, Venice, the Tuscan countryside and Forli. While not as vast as the sprawling Rome, each location is brimming with architectural beauty, whether it be the sumptuous, gothic powerhouse that is the Santa Maria de Fiore, the stunning St Mark’s Basilica or the beautiful canals of Venice. Even though the game runs on last-generation hardware, one cannot deny that every landmark has been meticulously detailed, right down to every spiral, brick and crevice. If this game doesn’t make you fall in love with the idea of visiting the real-life locations in Italy, then you must have a screw loose.
THE NARRATIVE IS THE MOST LAYERED, EMOTIVE IN THE SERIES YET
Assassin’s Creed has been a mixed bag in terms of narrative threads over the years, but 2009’s epic in our opinion stands above the rest. Yes, this is largely in thanks to the brilliant protagonist, but Ezio’s tale wouldn’t have the same punch without the vast, eclectic cast that complements the young Italian’s story of vengeance and self-discovery. From the eccentric and jovial Leonardo Da Vinci to the corrupt and malevolent Borgia family, Assassin’s Creed II’s portrayal of most of the most iconic figures of the renaissance are both captivating and respectful, offering a multi-layered story that is impossible to put down. The narrative itself encapsulates so many themes too; it’s not just about Ezio’s rise from the brash womanizer to heroic assassin, but the other threads that are woven effortlessly into place, covering a deeper conspiracy between the assassins and templars that stretches far beyond a man’s thirst for vengeance. With such a great script and convincing performances from all involved, Assassin’s Creed II’s 20-year storyline has yet to be topped.
THE GAMEPLAY WAS A GREAT MIX OF OLD AND NEW, AND STILL FELT LIKE ASSASSIN’S CREED
Ubisoft’s annual stealth-’em-up series has slowly distanced itself from the trappings of hooded blokes weaving inconspicuously in and out of crowds brandishing a hidden blade. If anything, the core DNA of the Assassin’s Creed series well and truly went out of the window when pirate ships became the latest craze for a budding assassin, and as great as the likes of Black Flag were, they didn’t quite capture that quintessential gameplay template like Assassin’s Creed II did. Building on the slightly stiff mechanics of the original game, Ezio’s adventure succinctly captures the feeling of playing as a hardened killer; it innovates without compromising the series’ blueprint, and offers enough tactical freedom to make each encounter fresh and exciting. Not only that, but its array of missions were spot on. Players could tackle the main quest at any point, or venture off the beaten track and take part in some decent side activities, whether that be delivering letters (a great way to test your parkour skills), duffing up cheating husbands (flexing your new hand-to-hand skills) or delving into the economics of your uncle’s villa and surrounding town (a nice precursor to the renovation aspect that would develop in future Creed adventures). One might say Brotherhood refined these mechanics more so, but it was Assassin’s Creed II that really nailed the template after a shaky start and made people stand up and take notice.
Will Assassin’s Creed ever be better than Assassin’s Creed 2? Drop us a few words in the comments section below.