Ezio Auditore in Assassin's Creed: Revelations could be a double for Dos Equis' "most interesting man in the world." If you have been following his adventures since 2009's Assassin's Creed II through its 2010 sequel, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, he is.
His dramatic life in the 15th and 16th centuries is fleshed out across three separate, major installments to Assassin's Creed, and he isn't alive to know it. He lives in the DNA of his modern-day descendent, Desmond Miles, a former bartender who's been dragged into a centuries-long conspiracy between the Templars and the Assassins. Using a device called the Animus and the idea of genetic memory, Desmond relives the past of his ancestors —in a race against the Templars to discover an ancient secret with world-shattering implications.
Stepping into the series now would be like picking up a season of "Breaking Bad" by watching the last season and expecting to know what's going on. Revelations doesn't do much to help newcomers get up to speed. That doesn't make it unplayable, but much of the emotional impact of Ezio's final adventure will be lost on those who haven't been along for the ride.
It's a fantastic send-off as you rub elbows with the famous personages of 1511 AD. An older and wiser Ezio returns to the roots of the Assassin Order at its long-abandoned mountain fortress of Masyaf to find guidance for his quest and life, and he finds the Templars waiting. Narrowly escaping, he must race to keep them from uncovering the secrets within the ancient walls of the Order's former home. To do that, he heads to the Ottoman Empire's capital at Constantinople.
It is more than 50 years following the fall of the Byzantine Empire and its capital city. Ubisoft's designers have made it another cosmopolitan sandbox boasting a historical flavor that not many other games have addressed as well and consistently as Assassin's Creed. The cast of characters, both fictional and historical, are handled with an equal measure of humor, care and respect.
Fans of the series have plenty to look forward to in Revelations, although it gets off to a slow start because there aren't as many memorable characters. Yusuf, who Ezio meets when he arrives at Constantinople, is seemingly absent for most of the game despite his role as the city's top assassin. At the same time, listening to Ezio's thoughts on his journey and watching Altair's life unfold after the first game gives the story a well-deserved emotional anchor, especially for players who have been with the series since the beginning.
With new gameplay mechanics, including the ability to lead your own Assassin's guild, Brotherhood could have had its own number as Assassin's Creed III. Revelations, on the other hand, delivers a rich story but doesn't quite match its predecessor's flair for gameplay.
Much of what fans have enjoyed about the series is here: sandbox exploration, weapon and armor upgrades, a fighting system that turns anyone into a living weapon, and a vast city filled with hidden mysteries. The guild system from Brotherhood also returns, allowing Ezio to recruit downtrodden and bullied citizens of Constantinople to perform missions throughout the Mediterranean and bring in much-needed coin.
The combat system has survived largely as it was from the previous chapters, although introducing new players to the system feels largely impersonal because it rushes right into the story following the events of Brotherhood. A no-fuss tutorial system covers everything from dodges to the nearly godlike counterstrike system, which allows Ezio to dispatch hordes of soldiers without breaking a sweat.
Bombs are a new addition, although I didn't use them often until much later in the game. Ezio is able to create explosive devices from ingredients that he can filch from the dead or buy from black marketeers, once they're unlocked in the game. Though he can only carry a small amount at the outset, bombs come in three varieties: diversionary, lethal and tactical.
Diversionary bombs lure guards out and come in different types, from smoke distractions to sound-based tricks. Lethal bombs are self-explanatory. Tactical ones include smokescreens and debilitating stink bombs. Each bomb can be made from different "shells," such as ones that break upon impact or have a wire trigger. Gunpowder also plays a role in the size of an explosion, and the final ingredient determines the effect, whether it's poison, shrapnel or skunk oil.
These new toys tickle both the tactical and creative crafting bug in would-be assassins, but as I stated earlier, they didn't see a lot of use until much later in the game since Ezio already has a sword, crossbow and poison darts. Bombs are a nice addition that opens up interesting angles in dealing with the Templar trash, but it's probably possible to play the game without actually using them.
Ezio's ability to clamber up walls and land safely in haystacks — and now rose bushes — from impossible heights hasn't changed much aside from the addition of a grapple hook. This allows him to slide down rope tethers and extends his reach to the edges of rooftops or ledges. Even this add-on doesn't seem like it does much other than allow Ezio to assassinate people while sliding down a zip line. After so many hours of relying on Ezio's ability to reach convenient ledges and window sills with his own hands, the hook isn't much of a game-changer.
Other changes seem even more out of place. Templar dens are scattered across the city, bullying the locals and making life miserable for everyone within their reach. Businesses, such as banks and tailors, can't be opened for use unless Ezio deals with them by taking out the Templar captains heading them. That's fun since it plays right into Ezio's strengths as a surgical assassin.
When the Templars want it back, a minigame pits Ezio in a "tower defense" scenario, allowing him to send in assassin crossbow- and riflemen and build barricades. Using "morale" points earned with kills and attacks to purchase units, it felt about as out of place as the RTS minigame in Double Fine Productions' Brutal Legend. Losing the minigame results in the loss of that assassin's den, and it prevents you from renovating structures within its area of influence since the Templars now own it. Reclaiming the den with a little wetwork opens up the area and is much more fun than the defensive minigame. Fortunately, this only happens if you draw too much Templar attention, and that can be mitigated with a few convenient bribes to heralds or taking out the occasional corrupt official. By doing that consistently, I only had to face this minigame twice during my playthrough.
Recruited assassins can also be assigned to take over cities around the Mediterranean, though this is handled through menu options instead of action. It's the same guild management sim from Brotherhood used to cultivate your guild of killers, but it's been beefed up with more targets. It's not much of a change from the last game, aside from the increased amount of content, which ironically makes it feel more like a nagging spreadsheet than an occasional diversion. This is because city control is always being contested between you and the Templars. Owning a city and building it up is good for your bottom line when it comes to experience and extra cash in the bank. On the other hand, especially late in the game when I already had a fat bankroll and owned all of Constantinople, it can be thankfully forgotten.
Multiplayer comes with a free three-day trial, but after that, one must enter a CD key — uhh, I mean Uplay Passport code. Introduced in Brotherhood, multiplayer now has an integrated story line with content that specifically caters to those who hunger for more information about the Templars' motivations and their corporate cover, Abstergo. As before, multiplayer takes the campaign's toolbox and allows you to use it against everyone else.
New modes have been added in to beef up the unique hide-and-seek multiplayer, such as a headquarters-based mode set around chests or Artifact Assault, which it played off as "capture the flag." There's also Simple Deathmatch, which removes all perks, abilities and the target guide compass, making it a tougher contest of skill. A larger number of ranked rewards as experience is earned, though a lot of these seem to be cosmetic, like changing your character model's look or picking a new pattern for your personal logo. A new Abstergo "credit" system is also integrated so players can purchase specific upgrades instead of waiting for them to become available. The added customization options and new modes breathe some life into the multiplayer, and they're welcome changes for fans and a great experience for newcomers.
Revelations also carries some of the same baggage from the last iteration, such as the lack of an option to find players with similar skill sets or even a browser to look through the larger spread of multiplayer types instead of leaving it to chance that someone is playing on a map or a mode that you like.
Aside from the story, the changes to Revelations' gameplay feel as if the developers are struggling to find new ways to fight the Templars. The series' annual cycle might be partly to blame, as Creed runs the risk of burning through its ideas instead of fleshing them out. Brotherhood kept to that schedule and managed to remain fresh, setting a high bar in favor of this approach. With Revelations, however, it is showing signs of wear. A number of bizarre glitches were harder to ignore: the AI spun in place because they were confused about where to go, assassins stood around after being called to help, people walked into walls, and a couple of quests broke and required a chapter restart.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations is still an adventure that no fan should be without, if only because it leads right into the next chapter. At the same time, the underwhelming start to an otherwise intriguing story, alongside changes that seem more cosmetic than practical, makes it seem that the formula hasn't aged as well as Ezio has.
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